Are elite Canadian goaltenders a dying breed?

Matt Horner
June 30, 2011

It wasn’t long ago when Canada had a plethora of riches between the pipes. Patrick Roy, Martin Brodeur, Ed Belfour and Curtis Joseph were all among the elite goaltenders in the world, making the act of selecting a Team Canada roster extremely difficult.

This abundance of talent at the position descended from a long line of great Canadian goaltenders that were the envy of the world. Fast forward to the present day and the situation is much bleaker.

An American goalie has won the Vezina Trophy the last three years and the only Canadian goalie to lead the league in save percentage since the lockout was Dan Ellis in 2007-2008.

Living legend Brodeur, once the prize of all goaltenders in the league, is approaching 40 and coming off his worst season in a decade. He has failed to lead the Devils out of the first round since 2007 and fell apart during the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, losing the starting job to Vancouver Canucks goaltender Roberto Luongo.

Luongo, despite being nominated for the Vezina Trophy after a dominant regular season, imploded during the Canucks’ four losses in the Stanley Cup Final and is once again facing questions about his big game ability.

Canada’s third goalie during the Vancouver Olympics, Marc-Andre Fleury, was originally considered the next great French Canadian goaltender but his career save percentage is under .910 and he’s only surpassed the .915 mark twice in his career. Of course, Fleury has already led the Pittsburgh Penguins to a Stanley Cup, but he has yet to meet the expectations inherent with being the 2003 NHL Entry Draft’s first overall pick.

Marty Turco, Canada’s third goalie at the 2006 Turin Olympics, struggled last season with the Blackhawks and will likely search for a backup role this summer.

Other goalies that showed promise early in their career like Pascal Leclaire and Steve Mason have failed to build on their initial success. Steve Mason has not posted a goals against average below 3.00 since he won the Rookie of the Year Award in 2009 and Pascal Leclaire is in danger of finding himself unemployed this summer after a few wasted years in Ottawa.

This year’s Entry Draft didn’t provide much promise either: only three goaltenders were selected before the third round and none of them were Canadian.

Though the future isn’t exactly glowing with promise, the outlook isn’t all bad.

Carey Price and Cam Ward made more saves than anyone else in the league this season and tied for fifth in the league in save percentage. Ward has posted three straight seasons with a save percentage over .915 and has already led the Hurricanes to a Stanley Cup. Price has rebounded marvellously from a few tumultuous seasons in Montreal and looks ready to join the upper echelon of NHL goalies.

Plus, two relative unknowns named Corey Crawford and James Reimer emerged in Chicago and Toronto respectively to wrestle the starting job from their teams’ incumbents.

Crawford finished sixth in goals against average and Reimer finished 10th in save percentage, although both will need to avoid the dreaded sophomore slump next season before being considered anything other than pleasant surprises.

There are also two backups who could begin to take playing time away from their teams’ starters sooner rather than later. The Kings’ Jonathan Bernier is one of the league’s premier prospects and produced a good rookie season playing behind Jonathan Quick. Cory Schneider produced a sparkling .929 save percentage in 25 games for the Canucks.

The old guard is changing and Quebec may no longer be the preeminent goaltending exporter, but there is enough promise on the horizon to suggest that all is not wrong with goaltending in Canada.

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The Author:

Matt Horner