Ah yes, the goalie conundrum, one of the oldest stories in the book. Great teams and the not so great teams are often defined in part by their goal-tending. And as the story goes, fans and the media are at times toughest on a team’s goalies. And as the story goes, Vancouver is often at the top of the list when it comes to critiquing goalies; even being labeled a “goalie graveyard” over the years.
Yes, it’s true that it’s their job to stop the puck, to keep games close and to close out games. Wins, and wins in tight games or games when the goalie absolutely steals the game are always met with praise. It is also true that when those close games swing in the other team’s favour or a game gets out of hand with a lop-sided score that the goalie is often the first one that is blamed for those losses.
And then there are the cautionary tales, those that become the ever dreaded “goalie controversy”. How well a goalie plays throughout the year, particularly down the stretch will define a team’s season as good, bad, great or terrible. And sometimes when your starter struggles or gets sidelined by an injury, that opens the door for a back up goalie to take the starter’s job. Let’s take a closer look at some of the goal-tenders from the Canucks most recent history:
Dan Cloutier. No, he didn’t win it all but he played a massive part in turning the team’s culture. Suddenly this team became one to watch with stand out seasons not just from Cloutier but players like Naslund, Bertuzzi, Morrison, and yes those ever humble Sedins. Yes, he didn’t do it on his own, he shared his successes with the team and when things did go wrong, it was often his faults that were highlighted and critics came out in droves.
Roberto Luongo. When he was winning, he could do no wrong and the city loved him; when he lost, everyone turned on him. It seems like everything was amplified when it came to Luongo, whether he was playing well or struggling. It still blows my mind how quickly an entire city will turn on one player. A player that took them to GAME 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals one day and the next was a scapegoat for all the mistakes made in that series and the following few seasons before his eventual trade. Never once did he place the blame on others, he was always the first one to take the blame even when it was not solely on him. How quickly it was forgotten all of the good things he did for the team and instead the focus became the loss of that one game and all the mistakes along the way. After game 7, the remainder of his time in Vancouver, he was almost never given the benefit of the doubt again and instead given a short leash with no room for mistakes. That shortened leash seemed to predict Schneider would be the next goalie in the line, BUT it was not so, and for a brief moment Luongo was back in the spotlight as the starter. The leash was once again cut short, leading coach to not start the “franchise goalie” in the outdoor game which became more of a spectacle than the actual game that took place that day. Cue to the deal that was impossible that suddenly happened in an instant, Luongo was headed back to Florida.
Cory Schneider. The one that got away or so some have thought since he was eventually traded to the New Jersey Devils. Initially many fans were angry that it was Schneider who was traded first and especially about getting a draft pick that became Bo Horvat(who had now become a fan favourite). It’s no secret that I was never Cory’s biggest fan but I’ve never denied his skill. He’s always had undeniable skill and he did make an impact in Vancouver. My only real frustration was the credit he was often given by the fans and media before it was ever earned. If Luongo ever faltered, it was almost always assumed that Schneider must be the answer, but if Schneider made a similar mistake, he was given the benefit of the doubt more often then critiqued.
Eddie Lack. Eddie was from the beginning a hit with the fans and the media. No, he didn’t always win but he ALWAYS had a sense of humour through it all. He always made time for the media and the fans. He can’t be blamed for the debacle that was the “Heritage Classic” when he was given the start over Luongo, that one is on Torts. It became again, a situation where no matter what Luongo had done, it was never enough and once again the back up was thrust into the spotlight by the coach and the fans.
Ryan Miller. Losing both of Schneider & Luongo to trades meant the Canucks needed to add another veteran goal-tender moving forward to help close the gaps. With Ryan Miller, he provided a stability in the crease that often went unappreciated during his tenure with the team. Yes, he had some tough nights as all goalies are prone to, but he also had some great moments that so often he was not credited for when they were happening. No matter the game, or the situation he always gave his best and always stood by his teammates. I’ll never forget him stepping up for Troy Stecher when havoc broke out. It wasn’t until his contract was over and he had signed with Anaheim, that many fans seemed to realize just how much Millsy did for the team.
Jacob Markstrom the goalie that could be, the one the Canucks received in the deal that sent Luongo back to Florida. It was a tough situation to come into, but he never complained, was simply grateful for the opportunity. With Lack and Miller set to be the duo in Vancouver, Markstrom spent his first full season with the Canucks in Utica having a season to remember. He led the Comets to AHL Calder Cup finals. The last two seasons, he has spent backing up/splitting games with Miller and being a pillar with the community. This upcoming season he will share the crease with Anders Nilsson as both get a chance to become bonafide NHL starters. The duo will also provide depth that allows Thatcher Demko another year further developing his game.
Thatcher Demko. A beacon of hope for the future. An impeccable college record, a solid first season in the pros with the Canucks affiliate team: the Utica Comets.
As the story goes, time always tells how each will prevail over their individual careers. As the story goes, the fans will love their goalies when things go well and be quick with honesty when things go south. Ah yes, the goalie conundrum, one of the oldest stories in the book.
As always, until next time, nuck said.