The last year before having a "reputation" goaltender, in 06-07, Alex Auld started 67 games. The guy that was "the man" before him, Dan Cloutier, only played 13 games, and Maxime Ouellet, Mika Noronan, and Rob McVicar ( only 1 game ) all saw time between the pipes. Quite a "roll call", eh ?
For the record, I think Auldsy was and is a very nice man, and I like his insights on TV, but he was not going to live up to being "the man" in a city like Vancouver. Roberto Luongo could. It would be four years before Cory Schneider was able to join him in a Jennings Trophy win in 2011. and guys like Dany Sabourin, Drew MacIntyre, Curtis Sanford, Jason LaBarbera, and Andrew Raycroft were the back up while he learned and dominated the AHL.
Now, it is Ryan Miller ( and yeah, I know about the season last year. I just believe his talent just did not disappear by moving to Lotusland ) and another guy who just had a great year in the AHL. The Canucks could have a very solid pairing going into this season. Could have...
The musical inspiration is from a band that, at one time, was more popular in America than any other band. It was brief, but I cannot remember a Canadian band that got to the heights they did. ( and I said band, Bieber does not count...;-). "No Time" might sum up how we feel about the denizens of the crease in Lotusland as well. We seem to have no time for the starters. They have to be perfect, all the time. Yet this town will fall head over heels for the backup, and it has been like that since 1970. Check this list here. That very first year, Charlie Hodge and, to a lesser extent, George Gardiner, were the goaltenders with pedigree. Hodge was 37, but he does have his name on the Cup six times. I can still remember hearing the adults I would watch games with that first season yelling at the TV to "play the kid more" every time they hated a goal. Guess who played 53 games in year two ? Dunc Wilson, that's who.
We have "no time" for the starter. In a game where, more than any other position, we dissect, analyze,and obsess over the math like we're John F Nash Jr. , yet we will take the word of just about anyone over our own common sense, so meatheads like Nic Kyprios then blather on about goaltending like they are experts. It is, in Canada, just part and parcel of the attention the goaltenders get. That's the job.
They talk endlessly about quarterbacks having "it" in America. In Canada, it is goaltenders, and how much of a "big game" player they are. Most of that talk ignores that, while both positions has an outsized effect, the game of hockey is a team game, and a goaltender can stand on his head and still lose if the team does not support him. You can't do it alone, no matter how good you are. We obsess about the net, because it is important, but with the levels it reaches in a Canadian city, the "goaltending question" can be deceiving. Like any other position, you are just a part of the team. Dig deep enough, and you will find fans of any team hoping for the AHL starter who is tearing it up to be called up and given the net when a veteran struggles. Even when the struggles usually are because the entire team is struggling. Such is life for the NHL goaltender.
Rollie Melanson arrived here in the summer of 2010, and while there was some ego massaging at first, Lui saw the positive benefits of our goaltending coach's teaching. When Ryan Miller got here last year, he had the same "concerns" as Loungo had at the time, who adjusted, and was a better goaltender for it. You do get some "cred' ", I would imagine, in the elite goaltender world when you have made ( at the time they hired him away, and you can see his teachings in the man's game to this day ) one of the best goaltenders in a long time better, with Carey Price ( and Halak too, a the time ) better. Luongo had an adjustment period. Miller, with the injury compounding things, had an entire ( truncated by injury ) season, in a sense, that was an adjustment period. If you look at his splits here, he had an average year ( but for Jan. ). But the 35 year old, at 6'2" and only 168 pounds has a pedigree that demands more respect than he currently holds amongst the Canuck Tea Partiers of the world. To them, the injured goaltender ( I liked Willie's year, but that was a mistake, not going back to the healthy Lack for the injured Miller, regardless of how well he played in the game before. You could see it on the ice in the way he moved in that final game. He should not have started that last game. Sorry Willie... ) is to blame for "letting" the Flames win.
I am of the mind that after an entire offseason to figure it out, the cerebral student of the game will have figured out how his game meshes with Melanson's teachings. Like Lui before him, Rollie allows the veteran goaltender to be natural within the system. We still saw Luongo come out and challenge, it was just at more appropriate times, rather than as a playing style. With that down time, not to mention being healthy again, I think we see a lot more of the real Miller, the "January" Miller, so to speak.
In a year where, once again, the "experts" will be saying everything one way and then backtracking later, ( like they did with this team last year ) , no one really knows until the blades hit the ice. Because the West is, no kidding, pretty good, and teams get better, the insecurities of our fanbase ( on display already this year, as every decision, trade and signing seems to stir em up. I mean, a lifetime hockey man, a second generation scout respected across the NHL has been called all manner of things this offseason. Good thing Jim Benning knew what he was getting himself into ! ) will be focused on the net. That is nothing new around here. It is just that Miller is now better equipped to handle it. This aint Buffalo, no matter how rabid Sabres fans think they are. In most movies, it goes "set up, action and reaction, and everything works out in the third act". We're in the middle part this year, where all the fun happens. Let's hope for a solid story arc with no surprises.
Rollie Melanson's likes working with young goaltenders. His influence was inevitably felt in who was kept this offseason, and after working with both Markstrom and Lack extensively, he decided his greatest reclamation project would be the one time first round pick, and that after plenty of time with both throughout last season. ( the backups always get more time with the goalie coach ) It is not a thing to be taken lightly. Rollie made Luongo better. Schneider became a star in he NHL. Now the next one on the assembly line, Eddie Lack, is going to be getting "paid" soon, because he was able to put the teachings of Melanson to good use. Markstrom is next up for Rollie, and with the decision in the offseason, he will be tied to Markstrom, whether good or bad.
I admit, my first impression of Markstrom was this ( and I have grown to absolutely love this addictive clip..."No, you're de better goalie" in that high voice... ) , and his initial time in Blue and Green has not been that noteworthy. His time in the AHL this past year, with his rebuilt game however, was very noteworthy. The thing we have to get with Markstrom is that his game before he got here, was, at least as far as the goalie guru around here thought, flawed. Rollie fixed up his movement, and put him, like the others, a bit farther into the net. Now, his 6'5" frame will work for him. Whereas before, pucks would get through the holes because he was moving, now, smaller movements and more control should mean his game is now NHL ready. He had a 1.99 and .934 in 32 games, and a 2.11 and .925 in 23 playoff games. By those metrics, he should be NHL ready. With the current situation, we are about to find out soon.
The Other Guys
Richard Bachman - When you look at his history, you almost get a whiff of Burr's story. Not totally, of course. He was actually drafted by Dallas in the 4th round in 2006. But his page here sure shows a lot of different places, as well as the Stars and Oilers. Such is life in the NHL when you are 5'10". Everyone else towers over him in the net in the NHL. Simple physics tells us why teams want bigger goalies, of course, as a larger body covers more of the six by four foot net. That he has played 49 NHL games at that size is something. Quick as a hiccup, his reflexes and reactions make up for his lack of mass. A solid AHL starter, he has an NHL average of .904, and a 2.93. Let's hope if he gets called up, it is a minor injury. Bachman can steal games and have hot streaks, but almost 3 goals a game is not that confidence inducing.
Joe Cannata - Think of Joe as a long term plan, and he is somewhere in the middle. He was drafted in 2009 in the 6th round, so he has lasted through multiple GM's. That might be a comment on the past Canuck goaltending depth, as he was always going to be behind several guys. He has went from 4 years in Merrimack College to the ECHL ( briefly, 7 games ) and then to the AHL, and by all reports, has taken a step with his fitness that is paying dividends in his play. I am looking forward to what kind of step he takes in Urica this year. He will start out backing up the more experienced Bachman, but I would like to see him try and take that net, and prove he is no "ordinary Joe".
Thatcher Demko - "The Next One". Hyperbole aside, Demko is the most highly touted of these three. He was drafted 36th overall in the 2014 draft, and the 6'4", 192 lber is all kinds of potential. A Team USA goaltender, he will be entering his second year at Boston College, where he had a 2.24 in 24 games ( 16--5-3 ) as a freshman. His NHL career will depend on how serious he is with finishing school, so there is no real timetable. He is probably two years away from a year in the AHL to "learn how to be a pro", but whether it is that long or not, he should only get better as he plays high level NCAA and National Team hockey in the meantime.
The NHL guys, there is the question of how Markstrom will do. The AHL guys, well, it is always a question when or if a guy like Backman can handle the NHL duties if the worst should happen. So, there are going to be a bunch of questions in regards to the net. Nothing new in Vancouver! Joe Cannata, I am actually positive about. I like that Trent Green got him fitter, and his play went up, because it means there might be more there. Richard Backman will probably be just an emergency callup if someone tweaks something, but I do find myself cheering for a guy that is an inch shorter than me, and able to hold the job of professional goaltender.
Goaltending could be a strength of this team, especially of Rollie is on the money with Markstrom. I do expect Miller to have a better year than he did last year. Do not underestimate the effect that being a newly minted dad will have as well. It would be nice if the marketplace gave him a little space, but that is probably too much to ask. Last year the Canucks were 19th in goals against ( 22nd in GA /G at 2.7 ). With an offense that was tied for 5th in GF /G, ( with the Blues, Flames, and Capitals ) if they can repeat their production, even getting that number up into the Top Ten defensively should translate into more wins. We shall see.