With Jonas Hiller throwing up a brick wall last night against the Edmonton Oilers it got me musing about just how good the so-called backup goalies in the NHL are these days. Hiller was spectacular last night, stopping 51 of 53 shots, and his GAA and save percentage put him right up with the league leaders.
Jonas Hiller is certainly not alone on the list of backup goalies who have been stellar between the pipes this season. Craig Anderson in Florida has been lights out, Pekka Rinne has twice appeared on Hockey Hermit’s NHL 3 Stars in the past two weeks, and Jaroslav Halak has been rock solid during a series of ailments to number one Carey Price in Montreal.
Some backups have been so good it could be argued they’ve already stolen the number one spot. Steve Mason has been spectacular in recent games, and Pascal Leclaire might see himself relegated to the role of backup himself following a season that saw him challenge for the NHL lead in shutouts with 9.
With the performance of backup goalies around the league right now it has me wondering whether we will start to see salaries of starting goalies come down as they lose some of their negotiating leverage. Now, certain top tier goalies like Luongo and Brodeur are always going to earn the big dough, and deservedly so, but second tier keepers like Tomas Vokoun or J. Giguere might find their hands tied a bit at the bargaining table with guys like Anderson and Hiller waiting to step up. With the athletic ability of every up and coming goalie and the incredible coaching these guys have access to there will likely be a shift towards league-wide parity when it comes to the goaltending hierarchy in the NHL.
Such parity also may have coaches playing their backup goalies more, shifting towards more of a two goalie system similar to the way things worked in the 80s. It was a different time back then for sure. In the years following Patrick Roy’s incredible Conn Smythe performance that led Montreal to the 1986 Stanley Cup, Canadiens goalie Brian Hayward played only 27 total fewer games than Patrick Roy (139 to 112). That would be unheard of in today’s NHL where several number one goalies now surpass the 70+ games played a season mark. It seems ironic considering today’s backups are much closer in talent to today’s starting goalies than Hayward was to Roy. I think it is only a matter of time until we see a return to the days of yore.
Whatever happens there is no denying that there are a number of exciting young goaltenders who will be stoning shooters for years to come. It is a good thing we have equally dynamic young forwards like Ovechkin, Crosby, Malkin and Kane, because these days it takes tremendous talent to beat an NHL-caliber goaltender, and it would be a shame if the league had to resort to gimmicks like making the nets bigger to prevent soccer scores in the NHL.