Its as Vancouver as the Steam Clock and the Lions Gate Bridge. As sure as we love a goaltender in this city who plays for the Vancouver Canucks, we will grow to hate him. Perhaps every one. Let's take a trip down memory lane and see who pops up as the road to our current Goalie We Love To Hate...from the top!
70-71 Charlie Hodge, George Gardner, Dunc Wilson. Charlie Hodge is now a scout in Vancouver for the Lightning, mainly around his Lower Mainland home. He retired after a 15-13-5 record in 35 GP in his one season here. Retired when he could not reach a deal. Mr Gardner played 2 forgettable seasons with the Canucks. 6-8-1 in 18 games that first year. It was way better than the 2-14-3 in 24 games the next year! They were the old guys though. The first young "goalie of the future" was Wilson. His tale via Wikipedia here. Sued the team over a misdiagnosed mole.
71-72 Dunc Wilson, Ed Dyck, George Gardner .Those teams were not very good. The Canucks played in the East division for a while, and it showed against some of the powerhouses that resided there. Ed Dyck was a 3rd rounder in '70, so he was the first "home grown goalie" Got in 12 games that year, and was 1-6-2, with a 3.66 GAA.
72/73 George Gardner, Ed Dyck, Bruce Bullock . Well, Bruce was not the answer. In his 14 games, he was 3-8-3 with a GAA of 4.66! Ouch. Like I said, bad teams. We had 22 wins in 78 games ( 22-47-9 ) Hope I am not missing someone here. OOps! Dave McLelland! 1 win, 1 loss, and 5.00 GAA.
73/74 Ed Dyck, Jacques Caron, Gary "Suitcase" Smith . Lets face it. The other two were also rans. The first "star" goaltender ( no offense to Hodge and Gardner ) was Suitcase. Bigger than life. After sharing the Vezina with Tony Esposito, he was traded here. His first season, on a team that finished 24-43-11, his record was 20-33-8 ( 20 of his team's 24 wins! ) and a respectable for the times 3.44 GAA and 3 shutouts. His Wiki page here.
74/75 & 75/76 So, you get the point. Our goaltending sucked for a while, but was only part of a bad team. As hockey has always been. Its not just coachspeak that you "win and lose as a team". Its a trueism. Now that we have gotten to this point, what happens with the highly touted young man. Well, it was the first year in the Smythe division instead of the powerful East. Instead of teams like the Leafs and Habs, we had the Hawks, Blues, North Stars, and Kansas City Scouts.
With Gary Smith playing 72 of 80 games in 74/75 ( and you think AV loves Luongo! ), he had a 32-24-9 ( 32 of 38 wins by the team ), a 3.09 GAA, 6 shutouts and went to the All Star Game. He finished 4th in Hart Trophy voting, and Bobby Clarke accepted the trophy saying that Smith "deserved" it. He followed that up with a less stellar season ( as did his team ), but they made the playoffs again. Of 32 wins, he won 20 ( 20-24-6 with a 3.50 GAA ). It was rumoured back then that he was a character ( owned racehorses, once got scored on while checking his bets on the arena scoreboards, was definitely a "man about town" back then ), but still was a pretty good goalie, and the fans loved him. But after this season he was traded to Minnesota for Cesar Maniago. ( the story goes that it was precipitated by his going to a party in the British Properties at the owners house and comparing either his wife or daughter to one of his horses for facial beauty...he was gone within the month )
So, for the rest of the 70's, here's but a few names that were trotted out with various levels of ineptitude and or success. Murray Bannerman, Gary Bromley, ( loved that mask! ) the return of Dunc Wilson, and Glen Hanlon. Carrot Top was the only one that caught the fan's imagination as the "savior". None grabbed the brass ring.
So, the 70s saw one superstar goaltender, and he was tossed aside for calling the boss's female family ugly. That's OK right? Starting in 1980, we had Richard Brodeur! The King! (Wiki here ) Well, sorta. He started out well, and had his best season in 1982. He rode that until he was traded in March of '88 for Steve Weeks. But if you look at the numbers linked, most seasons post '82 were decidedly average. Nonetheless, the man gets line ups around the block at any personal appearance now. I loved him in '82. I just wonder why he gets a pass on the suckage post '82, and current crease holders don't get the same benefit. Kind of puts paid to the "goalie graveyard" argument for Vancouver. He was the transcendent talent of the team in the 80's, but here are some other names from that era. John "Cheech" Garrett. Frank Caprice. Wendell Young, Troy Gamble, and in a 1987 trade with the Devils, a young Kirk McLean. Let's face it. Our team had another bout with suckage then. Never made it out of the first round in the 80s.
But we did get a great stand up goalie in Kirk McLean. Check his numbers. An All Star in '92, great numbers. Part of that? An improving team, but it was Kirk McLean as well. In '94, we all know of "The Save", and the run to Game 7 of the Finals. I loved this guy as our goaltender as well. Playoff successes on both sides of the '94 run. But it was time to go in 1998 ( in a trade that brought back Sean Burke ) as well. We dispose of our goaltenders here in the graveyard! Not getting the numbers and asking for too much money now? See ya! And again, Kirk McLean is treated as a goalie god in Vancouver for losing in the Finals.
OK, so, the list of guys and their numbers between the once in a decade talent of Captain Kirk to when we acquired the next once in a decade talent in Roberto Luongo in '06. Garth Snow, Corey Hirsch, Petr Skudra, Felix Potvin, Maxime Oullet, Johan Hedberg. Martin Brochu. Kevin Weekes and Bob Essensa. Alex Auld, Tyler Moss and the immortal Jason LaBarbera. All of them, to lesser and varying degrees, were sold to the fans as the "next great young goalie". Hell, I remember when fans would try to tell me how Cory Hirsch was the NEXT ONE. How many times was smoke blown up our asses about Kevin Weekes back then. Its not unusual that they all came up a little short under the glare of the spotlight here.
(Note, Dan Cloutier gets a line by himself, in recognition of his being the living embodiment of goaltenders and expectations in this town! ) One that definitely was burned by the glare of the spotlight.
This is where I think the "goalie graveyard " comes from. It was the long train of goaltenders after Kirk McLean that could not live up to his legend. So, into that, you drop a guy that has the top numbers of any goaltender coming in. Who sets the world on fire in his first playoff series here, outduelling Marty Turco in a goaltender's master class. What a first impression!
So, after that, the struggles against the Hawks for two years, the coming so close in the past season, it seems to some that we are getting a depreciating asset, and bemoan the long contract. The season where he was dealing with his wife having his first child and having to be in the hospital for weeks while he was on the road trying to play hockey was a watershed for some of the chattering masses. I, myself, was pretty understanding, even though I was of course disappointed in the team's collapse. But, for a segment of the fanbase that has been told each successive hire its the next "One", they jumped on it, and the man, Unfairly.
Some made up their minds to hate right there. Others succumbed along the way to their dark side as the playoffs in various years played out. All I can say, it's a TEAM game. Blaming the goaltender is sometimes OK on a weak goal, but far more often, its a combo of a mistake and the goalie not being able to make that amazing save. Yet, with the hate of not having the "One" still percolating just below the surface, in Vancouver, its become a pastime ( like Sudoku for puck fans! ) for some to break down every goal and assign blame. We are just weird like that. Thank you Al Gore for the Interwebs!
The thing is, Roberto Luongo has made a ton of amazing saves since he has been here. By any metric you want to use, his numbers are either the best, have set Canuck records, or, even when you adjust for new rules as the Canuck Library does here ( a MUST HAVE link for Canuck fans anyhow! ), Roberto Luongo has, or should have, earned the benefit of the doubt from the fans here.
Sadly, there is a segment ( minority I hope!), where he will not be able to do anything. I would remind them that, while I too love the promise of Cory Schneider. But he has 18 career wins to this point.
Anyhow, there you go. The goalie graveyard attachment to Vancouver is not totally insane. But its apparent that it is uneven in this city, and adjusts by whim. I am not sure what Roberto Luongo can do to prevent being labeled with all sorts of things he is not. Maybe its part and parcel of a 60+ mildo contract and what comes with that. Let us hope we can judge the man on his doings, not what we think of his media driven public persona.