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Dan's View From Center Ice - 3/21/2013

by Dan Rusanowsky / San Jose Sharks

Martin Brodeur has joined Evgeni Nabokov as the only two goaltenders to ever score a power play goal.

It happened on March 21, 2013, in Raleigh, North Carolina, while the Devils were on the power play. Brodeur had just returned to action after missing over a dozen games with an injury. As he tipped the puck away into the corner, the Devils were signaled for a delayed penalty. With Carolina’s Dan Ellis leaving the ice for an extra attacker, Jordan Staal gained control and attempted to pass the puck back to the point to defenseman Tim Gleason.

Staal missed. Gleason reached. He couldn’t get it. It bounced off the side boards and went all the way down the ice into the vacated net. The score was 1-0, New Jersey, and since the future Hall of Fame goaltender was the last to touch the puck for the Devils, he was credited with the goal.

Of course, in noting all of this, I couldn’t help but recall that Nabokov also scored a power-play goal, on March 10, 2002, in Vancouver. The Sharks were also on the power play and the net was also vacated, but the reason why was because it was late in the third period and the Canucks were desperately trying to come back in the game.

Nabokov had the puck to the side of his goal. He fired it. The puck went the length of the ice and into the net. Nabokov had scored the first power play goal by a goaltender in NHL history.

The obvious difference between Nabokov’s historic moment and Brodeur’s is that Nabby actually shot the puck himself, without any help from his opponents. But there is one other difference as well: Nabokov remains the only European goaltender to ever score a power-play goal, and one of two “Euro goalies” to score at all. The other is Mika Noronen of Buffalo, but his was not a power play goal.

In the midst of all of this goalie talk, it’s also most interesting to note that their equipment has not only become an issue of discussion around the League, it came up as an important item in the recent GM meeting agenda, and for good reason. As has been pointed out in this space in the past, while the size of the goal has remained the same, goaltenders have gotten bigger, stronger, more athletic, and have been using equipment that goes beyond simply protecting its owner from injury.

You really start to notice it when you walk into an NHL locker room today and observe a goaltender, just off the ice, sitting in his locker stall, before he removes his goalie pads. What you see is the pad extending far above the goaltender’s knee. I think that I first noticed this effect a couple of years ago in Toronto, when I observed Jonas “The Monster” Gustavsson talking to a gaggle of reporters after a practice. “The name ‘Monster’ must refer to his pads,” I remember thinking.

This “thigh rise” and knee pads themselves are under scrutiny now, but there have been many ways that goaltenders have attempted to utilize their equipment to competitive advantage, to the point where there is no place for a player to score a goal. A number of years ago, Tony Esposito placed a small netting in the five-hole to cover some space. Patrick Roy and others began to wear hugely oversized jerseys in the hope that the puck would hit the area between the underarm and the torso.

These advantages were later disallowed, but the latest is the size of the pads. As Sharks GM Doug Wilson has said many times, when you have a piece of equipment that is called a “cheater,” alarm bells should go off!

Well, there’s another phrase that’s been used with good humor: “If you aren’t cheating, you aren’t trying.” I suppose it’s one thing to make the attempt to get away with something, then get caught, then get stopped, as opposed to actually admitting in open that a piece of equipment is a “cheater,” which is, as I understand it, a small piece of leather sewn in between the thumb and cuff on the glove to allow for more space coverage and less skill required of the goaltender.

All of the developments of shrinking pads and equipment size, along with maintaining vigilance for player safety is good. But I’d rather leave that debate for another time. Instead, I’d like to ask another question: who is the greatest goaltender of all time?

Well, in brief, I’d say that you have to break that down into several different eras of NHL history, since so much has changed over the years. But like the skaters, it’s pretty obvious that the best goaltenders of earlier eras would likely be top goalies today, and vice versa, even with changes in training, equipment, and more.

Let’s confine ourselves to the era from the Great Depression on, since Georges Vezina already has a trophy named for him. Here are a few subjective potential picks for greatest ever:

I’d like to pick Bill Durnan, Tiny Thompson, or Frank Brimsek, but in this era, I’m going to stick with the legendary Turk Broda of the Toronto Maple Leafs. He won 302 games, 60 more in the playoffs, and 5 Stanley Cups.

This is the Golden Age of great goaltenders. It is exceedingly difficult to pick between goalies such as Jacques Plante, Glenn Hall, Johnny Bower, Gump Worsley, and Terry Sawchuk. I’m going with Sawchuk, who is still 5th all time with 447 wins, and 2nd all time with 103 shutouts. He also won 4 Cups.

Battling Billy Smith? Grant Fuhr? Bernie Parent? Tony Esposito? Rogatien Vachon? Eddie Giacomin? No, I’m going with Ken Dryden. Yes, he played for Montreal, but when the pressure was on, this guy won 6 Stanley Cups in 8 years. The others are all very close.

There are some great candidates, but it is a tug of war between Patrick Roy and Martin Brodeur. I think I’m going with Brodeur.

There isn’t enough data yet, so that leaves us with four finalists: Turk Broda, Terry Sawchuk, Ken Dryden, and Martin Brodeur. Of those four, it’s a two-man race, Sawchuk and Brodeur, and I’m sticking to the present and saying that Brodeur has simply done it all. His recent goal is but a cherry on top of an amazing sundae.

But that’s today. The fun part of this exercise is that we can change our minds tomorrow, and forget about all of the talk surrounding goalie equipment, even though that is very important.

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