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The Devaluation Of Goalies In The NHL

With Marc-Andre Fleury’s pending trade, whether it happens prior to the March 1st trade deadline or the June Expansion Draft, it got me thinking about where it all began.

Fleury was drafted 1st overall by the Penguins waaaay back in 2003.  A goalie being drafted 1st overall is an exceptionally rare event.  In the 54 NHL drafts, dating back to 1963, only three goalies have been drafted 1st overall —  Fleury, Rick “Glass Jaw” DiPietro in 2000 by the Islanders, and Michel Plasse by the Canadiens in 1968.  Thirteen defensemen have been drafted 1st, 16 wingers, and 22 centers, so goalies have definitely not been seen as a hot commodity at the top.

In fact, no goalie has been drafted even in the top 10 of the 1st round since Carey Price was drafted 5th overall back in 2005 by the Canadiens.  That’s an awfully long time for 30 NHL teams to all come to the consensus that it’s not worth drafting a goalie high.

So what happened to the notion that you have to build a championship team from the net out?  One major inflection point in thinking was probably the growth of a goalie’s equipment.  Look at Bruins’ goalie, Pete Peeters, during Mario Lemieux’s first goal in 1984:

His legs look like his normal legs with some thin padding.  His chest is covered lightly with a chest protector.  Now take a look at Sidney Crosby scoring a goal against Winnipeg’s Connor Hellebuyck last week:

Yes, the pads have recently been slimmed down, but that’s still a huge difference than back in 1984.  His chest protector looks like a medieval knight’s suit of armor.  I’m not saying that anyone can be an NHL goalie — far from it — but it seemed as if there is some prevailing wisdom that it is a more fungible position than in years past due to equipment being able to cover up some technical issues.

Another piece of thinking by NHL GM’s may have stemmed from the Chicago Blackhawks.  The Hawks won the Cup in the 2009-10 season with a then-26 year old Antti Niemi in net for them.  He was great in the playoffs, but they let him leave as a free agent immediately after the season.  They had cap problems, yes, and Corey Crawford right behind him, but it may have signaled to the league that the position was starting to get devalued.  As a postscript, Corey Crawford backstopped the Blackhawks to their Cup in 2012-13, so this dynasty-not-a-dynasty by the Hawks has had two different goalies over their 3 Cups.

Below is a list of the current top 20 goalies by save percentage in the NHL (minimum 25 games), as of 2/22/2017.  I’ve also listed what round and pick overall they were taken:

NAME TEAM SAVE % ROUND PICK OVERALL
D. Dubnyk MIN 0.933 1 14
B. Holtby WAS 0.926 4 93
M. Murray PIT 0.926 3 83
R. Lehner BUF 0.925 2 46
S. Bobrovsky CBJ 0.925 Undrafted
J. Gibson ANA 0.922 2 39
C. Talbot EDM 0.921 Undrafted
M. Smith ARI 0.918 5 161
T. Greiss NYI 0.918 3 94
C. Price MON 0.918 1 5
C. Crawford CHI 0.917 2 52
P. Budaj LAK 0.917 2 63
R. Miller VAN 0.917 5 138
P. Rinne NSH 0.916 8 258
R. Luongo FLA 0.915 1 4
C. Schneider NYJ 0.914 1 26
M. Jones SJS 0.913 Undrafted
F. Andersen TOR 0.913 7 187
M. Condon OTT 0.913 Undrafted
T. Rask BOS 0.913 1 21

Out of the 20, only 5 were drafted in the first round and only two of them in the top 10.  In fact, there are almost as many undrafted goalies (4) as first round goalies.  Interestingly, there’s a goalie represented from every round, except the 6th, but then there’s Pekka Rinne drafted in the 8th round, which doesn’t even exist anymore.

Fleury has had an outstanding career.  He currently ranks 4th all-time in wins among goalies drafted in the 1st round (he’ll eventually settle in at 3rd place over Grant Fuhr).  But that’s the problem — among the all-time goalie wins ranking, he’s tied for 16th, meaning it’s always been possible to find great goalies in the draft.  It seems as if the dynamic of the game has shifted in recent years to cause GM’s thinking to align with that notion.

But maybe that’s why it has seemed like GM Jim Rutherford has had a soft spot for Fleury.  Fellow 1st round goalies (Rutherford, 1st round, 10th overall, 1969, DET) have to stick together.

About Kevin Creagh (300 Articles)
Nerd engineer by day, nerd writer at night. Kevin is the co-founder of The Point of Pittsburgh. He is the author of Creating Christ, a sci-fi novel available on Amazon.