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Which NHL goalies are truly special and where does Gustavsson fit?

A goal in the last minute of a period is often a harbinger of things to come, good and bad.  The Leafs scored with 8 seconds left in the opening frame and that should have been a boost for them against the Blue Jackets.

 Unfortunately, it wasn't a 20-minute game.

Sometimes breaks even out.  Toronto’s first goal against Columbus came when MacArthur lost control but Kulemin was in the right spot to cash home a loose puck.  In the second period, Beauchemin saw the puck re-directed off his skate for an inadvertent turnover that led to the 2-2 goal for Columbus.  To me, that wasn’t a give-away as much as it was tough luck.

 That said, the Leafs continue to struggle with turnovers. I’m sure the stat (what team leads the league in turnovers) is available, but when you turn the puck over more than the other team, and they also block more shots than you, winning is pretty tough.

It’s hard not to like Boyce’s story.  It’s heartwarming when someone makes it to the “show” (second time for Boyce) by taking an unconventional route.  Not too many guys play Canadian university hockey before going on to play pro, much less in the NHL.  (I followed university hockey in my undergrad days and I remember a guy in the early 1970s who went from Tom Watt’s University of Toronto Varsity Blues to play a few games with the Boston Bruins.  I believe his name was Kent Rhunke, a fine skating winger.)  Boyce brings a lot of energy and teams always need that.

You know what would be nice?  If Bozak could get some breaks and have a really nice second half.  It was good to see him score in the first period. And that was a tremendous set-up for Armstrong in the dying seconds that could have tied the game at three.

 The young man has talent and he also faced some rather sudden (and unrealistically high) expectations at the outset of this season.  But as I’ve often posted, he can play and I think he can be a player in this league.  Last year, we were impressed that he could skate, make plays, win draws and kills penalties.  He still does those things.  But we somehow expected him to score a ton.  Not fair, really.

The commentators stressed that the Leafs were suffering from a kind of time-lag fatigue, after the inclement weather and serious delays the team faced because of the New Jersey trip Sunday-Tuesday.  I’m sure that’s true.  We do tend to expect too much from pro athletes, who do face serious challenges when it comes to playing through harsh travel, fatigue, illness and injury.

 At the same time, fans would probably be a bit more sympathetic if the Leaf players had been doing the actual shoveling in Jersey, rather than simply sitting on a plane for a few hours.


The truth is, relatively few current NHL goalies have maintained a consistent level of excellence over a period of years.

 When Gustavsson has a few good games with the Leafs, blue and white fans become hopeful that he may be “proving himself” as a bona fide NHL goalie.  When we project really optimistically, we maybe even start thinking he will become one of the league’s best.

 That status, however, is hard to achieve.

 First, let’s look at guys who are truly “all-time” playing right now in the NHL  The only obvious selection is Brodeur, who may finally be in the final stages of his brilliant and yes, generally consistent, career.

 Beyond that, though, I don’t know how many are really in that special category.  Patrick Roy, Dominik Hasek, Ed Belfour and Curtis Joseph all retired in recent years.  They were all outstanding, the first three likely Hall-of-Famers—at least Roy and Hasek, for sure.  Brodeur is the last of that era.

 If you look at the list of what might be called the most notable goalies in the league right now, these are the names I come up with (apologies if I have left out some personal favorites):
  • Hiller in Anaheim
  • Pavelec in Atlanta (big game Thursday night; great save percentage this season)
  • Tim Thomas (save percentage  of .947) and Tuukka Rask in Boston
  • Ryan Millar in Buffalo
  • Kiprusoff in Calgary
  • Cam Ward in Carolina (very hot right now)
  • Turco in Chicago
  • Steve Mason in Columbus
  • Lehtonen in Dallas
  • Jimmy Howard in Detroit
  • Khabibulen in Edmonton
  • Vokun in Florida
  • Jonathan Quick and Jonathan Bernier in LA
  • Harding and Theodore in Minnesota
  • Price in Montreal
  • Rinne in Nashville
  • DiPietro and Roloson with the  Islanders
  • Lundqvist with the Rangers
  • Brian Elliot in Ottawa
  • Leighton (injured) and Bobrovsky in Philly
  • Bryzgalov in Phoenix
  • Fleury in Pittsburgh
  • Niemi in San Jose
  • Halak in St. Louis
  • Luongo in Vancouver
  • Neuvirth in Washington
 Turco has had a nice career, but to me, Brodeur remains the only “all-time” goalie though I’m open to discussing other names.

 In terms of real All-Stars (and I don’t mean just guys who get voted to a mid-season All-Star team; I mean real end-of-season All-Stars) we could include Ryan Millar in Buffalo, Kiprusoff and yes, Luongo in Vancouver, despite his playoff foibles.  But beyond those guys, the other “high-end” goalies are virtually all individuals who have been brilliant at times, (even won Stanley Cups, in the case of Fleury, Ward and Niemi) but have also gone through significant periods in their careers and/or seasons when people wondered if they had lost something.  That list would include Fleury, Ward, Steve Mason, DiPietro, Lundqvist and Price, for sure, in Montreal.

 Hey, veterans like Tim Thomas, Roloson and Theodore have all had solid NHL careers, but all have also encountered consistency issues.

 This is all by way of saying, the guys who are brilliant almost all the time are rare— very, very rare.  Most of the time teams are lucky if they have a guy who fits into the category of brilliant at times, but not always consistent.

 It’s still very early in Gustavsson's career  (with a save percentage this season of .896 which hopefully will improve over time), but the ceiling most Leaf fans could probably realistically hope for is just that—brilliant at times, but inconsistent. 

 Anything more than that, for an un-drafted goalie, would seem to be more than we could have hoped for.        


  1. Jesus. The backhanded compliment, the almost bottom of the list.

    There is one goalie with better stats since 2002 in the NHL than Luongo. Broduer.

    He is simply one of the best goalies in the NHL.

    There should be a law about Eastern folk that barely see our games writing ANYTHING about our players out here.

    Nice pumping of Gustie's tires though.

    Not hoping and praying at all!

  2. To be clear, the list was basically in team alphabetical order. It didn't reflect my opinion as to who is currently "best".

    Luongo clearly has great stats and is a tremendously talented goalie. But until he delivers in the playoffs as the other "all-timers" I mentioned did, he won't be in that category, for me. But in terms of the current crop of goalies, sure, he's way up there.

    There's no question that, with regard to Gustavsson, Leaf fans are in the hoping stage. There's no proof as yet that he's a star in the making. He is agile, athletic, talented. And so are a lot of guys.

  3. Quote re Luongo: But until he delivers in the playoffs as the other "all-timers"...

    Quote from article: Patrick Roy, Dominik Hasek, Ed Belfour and Curtis Joseph all retired in recent years...

    So Luongo needs more playoff success but Cujo gets a free pity pass for playing in Toronto?

  4. marty turco is not in the conversation for elite goaltending at all. he has done nothing with his career.
    tim thomas hasnt been inconsistent. he rose to prominence with a vezina trophy year, had an injury plagued year where boston fell back on rask, and now back to health is at business as usual.
    vokoun has been the most consistent since the lockout, putting up excellent numbers on a horrible team, and i think should always be in the conversation with the millers, kippers and luongos
    further speculation has hiller, howard, and pavelec eventually rising to carry the torch

    and no love for nik backstrom in minnesota? when healthy, he's excelled in the trap system