Friday, February 6, 2004 Updated: February 13, 10:00 AM ET
Between Periods: Live from Minnesota
By Jeffrey Morris
We're coming to you from icy Minnesota and the NHL FANtasy this week, where it's cold enough to make Janet Jackson actually want to add pieces of clothing rather than remove them. And in lieu of her stunt at the Super Bowl, rumor here has it that plans to have Jeremy Roenick rip the pocket off of Ken Hitchcock's shirt have been deep-sixed once and for all.
As we look back at the first half of the season, one of the most shocking statistics has been the caliber of goaltending that we have seen.
Remember, this was the year that the NHL was supposed to have opened up. Goalie equipment finally entered the post-Roy era. The NHL continued its annual but seemingly fruitless promise to cut down on clutching, grabbing, obstruction, and all of the crap that goes along with it. While many NHL players are still upset with what they have to endure on a nightly basis, teams are starting to utilize their forwards more in a defensive role. For an example of this, take a look at the Vancouver Canucks. Their line of Markus Naslund, Todd Bertuzzi and Brendan Morrison has not only remained the most explosive line in the NHL, but they are also playing very well defensively. While last year, the Canucks were a run-and-gun team that was hockey's version of the 1970s San Antonio Spurs, they have transitioned into a very responsible team in their own end and have helped make Dan Cloutier a better and more effective goalie.
So it only makes sense that NHL goalies are on pace to absolutely shatter the NHL season shutout record. Certainly, the run that Brian Boucher of the Coyotes went on a month ago has padded this number, but another incredible year that has not been talked about nearly as much as it should be is being turned in by Martin Brodeur. Yes, the Devils play a trap and play in a system that makes watching them look like you're watching a game under water, but Brodeur has been absolutely brilliant and is turning in one of the best goaltending seasons in NHL history. Brodeur heads into the break with 10 shutouts in 48 starts, better than one shutout in every five starts. If he continues this pace, and as play tightens up closer to the playoffs, Brodeur has a better than average chance at breaking Tony Esposito's all-time shutout record of 15. His 1.89 GAA and his .922 save percentage also make him a lock for the Vezina Trophy, while the Hart Trophy is within reach should the hockey decision makers decide a goalie is once again worthy of the award.
All five of Boucher's shutouts came in his record setting string of consecutive goose eggs, but in 21 games he also has great numbers with a 1.99 GAA and a .931 save percentage. Phoenix is in a rebuilding phase with Ladislav Nagy and Shane Doan the cornerstones of the franchise with a tremendous wealth of depth in their system. Boucher has firmly established himself as the goalie of the immediate future, though he will eventually be challenged by David LeNeveu for the No. 1 job in a few years.
Here is a look at some of the other goalies in the league who have turned in remarkable seasons on paper and have far outlived expectations.
David Aebischer was announced as the starter before the season and the reaction was met with a collective groan. Remember, Marty Turco's promotion to starter met with the same result, and Turco responded with one of the best year's for a goalie in NHL history. Aebischer is 23-10-7 with three shutouts with a 2.05 GAA and a .928 save percentage.
John Grahame of the Lightning has fueled the Nikolai Khabibulin trade rumors in Tampa again with his amazing performance this year. Grahame is 13-6-1 in 20 starts with a 1.69 GAA and a .922 save percentage. Grahame is seen to be more consistent than the streaky but probably more talented Khabibulin, and may be the Lightning's man as they prepare for a run in the playoffs.
Robert Esche, in a platooning role, has given the Flyers outstanding goaltending with a 16-6-5 record, a 1.91 GAA and a .920 save percentage. He is out for about three weeks with an injury and it will be interesting to see whether or not the Flyers go out and land a goalie like Olaf Kolzig from Washington or whether they dip into their AHL team in Philadelphia and rely on Neil Little and Antero Nittymaki to get through until Esche returns.
Miikka Kiprusoff ended up in Calgary with the expectations of a season in the AHL. He has responded with an 11-3-2 record, a 1.48 GAA and a .941 save percentage.
Andrew Raycroft has become the favorite for the Calder Trophy by stealing the starting job in Boston and posting an 18-12-6 record with a 1.89 GAA and a .932 save percentage.
Martin Biron of the Sabres has been in and out of the dog house, and he is on a team that was expected to be sub-.500. Biron is 14-10-4 with a 2.47 GAA and a .924 save percentage.
And even last year's record setter, Marty Turco, has rebounded from a slow start and is playing phenomenal hockey right now. Turco has a 26-17-9 record with five shutouts, a 2.06 GAA and a .910 save percentage. He's also on pace to break the NHL's record for most minutes played in a season by a goalie.
Barnstorming: NHL goal scoring leader Rick Nash has been out this week resting a bruised foot. A decision on whether or not he will play in the All-Star Game will come closer to the game ... Eric Lindros, who was digitally remastered again last week and suffered yet another concussion, may be out for good. He wants to continue his hockey career, but is being careful after yet another concussion. His brother Brett had his career ended prematurely with concussion issues. Lindros has had injury issues this season but has been playing his best hockey in recent years for the Rangers ... Sergei Gonchar has finally been placed on the IR after missing a couple of weeks with a torn shoulder ligament. Talks of Gonchar being moved to the Leafs are still circulating, with Nik Antropov and Aki Berg being mentioned as possible candidates to go to Washington ... Claude Lapointe is back in Philadelphia after participating in the NHL's substance abuse program ... Jason King has been recalled by the Canucks after a brief stint in the AHL. King was the NHL rookie of the month earlier in the season but fell into a scoring slump ... Joe Nieuwendyk is expected out of the lineup until Feb. 10 with a torn oblique muscle. The same injury kept him out of the finals last season.
And if you're in Minnesota for the NHL FANtasy or the All-Star Game, be sure to stop by the Pacific Trading Cards corporate booth to say hi. I'll be the guy in the Senators jersey preaching to the masses about the travesty of Jason Spezza's conspicuous absence from the young stars game.
That's all for now. And since we're in Minnesota, until next week, I'll be somewhere in the 80s listening to my Purple Rain CD.
Prescott, Ont. native Jeffrey Morris is a former NHL beat writer who is the V.P. of Marketing at Pacific Trading Cards in Lynnwood, Wash. He can also be heard breaking down hockey regularly as "Ice Rink" on the Tony Bruno Morning Extravaganza. You can e-mail him at email@example.com.