By Tom Hunter (@)
Last night on Twitter – nothing good has ever started with those four words but I digress – there was a bit of a debate about ranking goaltender prospects and where they should be drafted during the NHL draft.
Well, not really a debate. It was more like a couple foolish tweets followed by a beat down by a frightening new sub-set of Hockey Twitter – the inGoal Posse.
The tweets were from a writer that contributes to hockey-graphs.com. The premise was that goalie prospects should never be in the top-50 and very rarely in the top-100 of any draft. He then pointed out that Martin Jones was in this year’s Stanley Cup after never being drafted. The problem is, the guy in the other net – the one that won the Cup – was Matt Murray the 83rd overall draft pick in 2012.
There is the growing – and idiotic – narrative that “goalies are voodoo”. The truth behind that running gag is that people believe goaltending is no longer a position where a franchise needs to allocate assets – don’t spend high draft picks, and don’t spend a lot of money on your goaltending. Goalies come and go, and the rest of the team is far more important. Fill the net with a cheap goalie and all is good, as long as the team in front of him is built properly.
This is the second time in the past few months that this topic has irked me. Back in March, when the Leafs signed NCAA free agent Kasimir Kaskisuo, I had this same discussion with two different people – someone on Twitter and a former colleague in TLN Slack. They believed hoping to catch lightning in a bottle with a guy like Kaskisuo, is a far better strategy than drafting and developing your own goaltender. The phrase “you should never draft any goalies” was actually used with seriousness.
Two separate people said that developing a goaltender is such a crap shoot that there’s no need to ever draft one. Spend all your draft picks on skaters and find goalies elsewhere like they did with Kaskisuo. The problem is that this is a terrible terrible idea with little to no evidence to back it up.
After I finished smashing my head against the wall, I started to think about the topic.
At first, I thought that maybe this was my bias kicking in. After all, I am no even 32 yet and I already have early onset arthritis in my knees from being a goalie for the past 20+ years. I’ve been a goalie since I was 8, my favourite players have always been goalies, heck some of my favourite people are goalies. Of course, I might start to believe that goalies are more important than they actually are.
So sure, I’m obviously going to believe that there is more to finding and developing a goalie than voodoo or just dumb luck. But here’s the thing. Look back at the successful teams in recent history and you’ll see that it’s not just bias. If you want to be a Stanley Cup contender, drafting a goalie is very important.
We know that goalies like Martin Jones come along every now and then. An undrafted player that develops well and ends up being a legitimate NHL starter. Despite popular belief, guys like Jones or Henrik Lundqvist are few and far between. Looking back at the past 12 Stanley Cup finalists, Jones, Lundqvist and Tim Thomas are the only three starting goalies that weren’t drafted in the first three rounds of the NHL draft.
The remaining 75% of the teams in the Stanley Cup Final over the past six years were led by netminders that were selected in the first 85 picks of the draft – Murray (83), Crawford x2 (52), Quick x2 (72), Rask (21), Brodeur (20), Luongo (4), Bishop (85), Vasilevskiy (19).
I don’t know, to me that seems like drafting a goalie in the first three rounds and developing him properly is something teams should consider doing.
Now maybe you’re one of those people who think the Presidents’ Trophy is a better barometer for success – yes these people actually do exist. Since 2010, the starting goalies for the team with the best regular-season record have been; Luongo, Luongo, Crawford, Rask, Lundqvist and Holtby. That’s only one – Lundqvist – that was drafted outside of the top-100 and a run of four straight years where the Presidents’ Trophy winning team was led by a goalie drafted in the first two rounds.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to claim that team success is the best measure of a goalie’s performance. I’m simply pointing out that successful teams are not afraid to spend high draft picks on goaltending.
So if you see someone promoting an article or pontificating on Twitter, that teams should avoid drafting goalies in the first half of the draft next week, remember, they don’t know what they’re talking about.
Drafting a goalie is important – developing them is probably more important but that’s a discussion for a different day.
Carter Hart is a legitimate first round talent in this year’s draft. Evan Fitzpatrick and Filip Gustavsson are likely good enough to go in the second. There are a handful of others that should be drafted in the first 100 picks. If you want to learn more about the goalies available this year, look no further than Greg Balloch’s list of top-10 draft eligible goaltenders.
Whether some people think they should or not, there are going to be a number of goalies drafted in the first three rounds of this year’s NHL Entry Draft – with good reason. We all know it’s en vogue to push the idea that goalies aren’t as important and that you should always be looking for cheap alternatives but quite frankly at this point, that stance is nothing more than ignorance about the topic – either that or people are jealous that us goalies are a lot cooler than they are.