John Garrett: Being crazy helps

Has the job of an NHL goaltender become so dangerous that even 50-Cent's body guard and Plaxico's posse shy away from it?

Tuesday, 02.12.2008 / 8:25 PM / Features
By John Garrett
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John Garrett: Being crazy helps
Roberto Luongo has averaged 72 games a season over the past five years. He's now watching games from the press box.

Martin Brodeur has played in 70 or more games a season for the past ten years. He is on the injured list. Nikolai Khabibulin is hurt. Evgeni Nabokov has missed a couple of weeks and so has Pascal Leclaire. Marc-Andre Fleury, Manny Legace and Kari Lehtonen have missed some games and Rick Dipietro has only appeared in three games. The goaltending position has had a rash of injuries. Why?

The game has changed. Goaltending has become an exact science. Goalie coaches teach repetition as the key to success.

The butterfly style is based on the premise that if a goaltender can cover the bottom of the net where most goals are scored, and take away as much space in the net as possible, their save percentage will invariably rise.

BUT, the human body isn't built to bend that way. The butterfly position - knees on the ice, legs splayed - puts an enormous amount of pressure on a goaltender's hips and knees. How many goalies underwent hip surgery before the butterfly became so popular. Now it seems to it's a common occurrence.

INSIDE THE BOX
John Garrett is a former Canuck and currently the colour commentator for Sportsnet.


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And it's not just the hips. When a goalie goes into the butterfly, he is vulnerable to groin injuries. This is what happened to Roberto Luongo and Nikolai Khabibulin. But why has the number of injuries increased so dramatically? The real reason has nothing to do with muscle and tendon, at least not directly.

The salary cap has led to clubs allotting a set amount of salary to the goaltending position. Most teams invest the majority of that money on the best goalie available. His backup is paid to be an insurance policy. He is not expected to win games by himself.

The number one goalie is expected to play at least 65 games, and as many as 75. He's paid to do the job and is counted on to perform night after night.

The rationale is pretty sound: three-point games simply do not let the good teams separate themselves from the bad. Every game is a big game. Only seven points currently separate fifth and 14th in the Western Conference, and only eight points separate sixth and 15 in the east.

Last season the Canucks missed the playoffs with 88 points.

The schedule makers have a tough job but there rarely seems to be much consideration for the wear and tear of playing goal every night, not to mention the travel and stress involved.

When you consider that the goalie is the only player who is on the ice for the entire sixty minutes, you really get an appreciation for the problem.

J.S. Giguere had to leave a game in Detroit with dehydration after looking at 38 shots in two periods. There is very little down time in a game like that. Roberto Luongo got hurt in an afternoon game at the tail-end of a four-game trip that saw the Canucks go from New York - where they played the Islanders and Rangers - to Minnesota and back to Pittsburgh. It made no sense.

The Red Wings made a three-game swing through Western Canada and finished in Vancouver on a Monday. They went home and played on Wednesday against Montreal. Needless to say they lost. The new rules have definitely opened up the game and created a lot more scoring chances, which in turn puts more pressure on the goaltenders.

Power plays start in the offensive zone so the goalies have to get in shot mode right away. Defencemen can't clear the front of the net the way the used to, so the goalie is constantly trying to find the puck. He's in his crouch looking around and through bodies. He has to be concentrating all the time. He can't even come out to play the puck outside that ridiculous trapazoid.

I was told that you had to be crazy to be a goaltender. Maybe not, but it certainly helps.