Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Now I can finally catch up on important stuff

...like sports columns.

Like Tim Keown.

"After watching Matt Cassel and Brad Johnson and Brooks Bollinger, I stand by my earlier statement: A few weeks ago, when I wrote that quarterback is by far the most significant single position in professional team sports, I got a lot of flak from hockey fans who believe the goalie is more important."

My own flak can be found here. I didn't send it in to the man, and so I doubt that Keown actually saw, read, or even cared if he somehow saw or read, though I tried to be persuasive. Personally, I think my list of crappy QBs who have won titles (and Brad Johnson is on it) kind of proves my point about goalies being more key. It's easier to overcome a mediocre QB than a mediocre keeper. For that matter, let's look at the other two guys he cited:

Brooks Bollinger - came into his game with a huge defecit, couldn't rally. Both he and Johnson were beaten by the defending Super Bowl Champion Giants, who are (if anything) playing even better this season.

Matt Cassel - has the Patriots in first place in their division as of this writing.

Now, if Keown wants to argue that none of these guys is as good as the starters they've replaced, I couldn't argue. The starters are the very good Tony Romo and the world-class Tom Brady. Of course their teams will have difficulty in replacing a QB of that calibre. My assertion isn't that quarterbacks are unimportant, just that goalies are more vital.

Let's flip it over for the sake of discussion, and generate a list of mediocre goalies who have won the Stanley Cup....



OK, according to hockey-reference.com, here's the list of champions. I'll go back to 1968 and count off from there: that's the first year the league expanded from the "Original Six." (For fun, the goalies for the 1967 champs, the Toronto Maple Leafs, were Terry Sawchuk and Johnny Bower, both in the Hall of Fame. The backup guy was a Hall of Famer. There were simply too few teams to have any bad goalies for comparison's sake.)

This is the list of teams who won with "eh" goalies since then.

1990 - Edmonton Oilers, Bill Ranford. - Ranford came on at the tail end of the mighty Edmonton teams of the 1980's and took them to a surprise title, beating the Boston Bruins, who were backstopped by former Oiler Andy Moog.

And yes, I do notice that it took 22 years to find a guy who could possibly qualify. The guys before him? Gerry Cheevers, Ken Dryden, Bernie Parent, Billy Smith, Grant Fuhr, Mike Vernon... Maybe Vernon would be a notch below, but all the others are in the Hall of Fame, along with many of the successors, such as Patrick Roy. Martin Brodeur, Eddie Belfour, and Domenick Hasek will be joining them.

1998 - Detroit Red Wings, Chris Osgood. Ozzie is a bit of a special case on this list. There is a great deal of argument over exactly how good he is. With Detroit he has always had a great deal of success, but Detroit is an excellent team and has been for most of the past fifteen years. Vernon and Hasek also won Cups there, with Osgood backing up. People use that to argue against Ozzie, along with a couple of bad years in St. Louis. But when he went to the Islanders in 2001-2002, he led them to the playoffs for the first time since the fishstick years. It's easily their best season since 1993. Meanwhile, the Red Wings tried to get by with Curtis Joseph and Manny Legace for a few years, and were dumped. Personally I think he's fine, and guys like him and Vernon only look iffy compared to the all-time greats who have also won two titles as starters.

2004 - Tampa Bay Lightning, Nicolai Khabibulin. The "Bulin Wall" is a good keeper currently working in Chicago. Tampa's Cup was his best season. He only seems like he's kicked around a lot, but he went right to the Blackhawks after his time in Tampa. Before that, he was a Winnipeg Jet/Phoenix Coyote, and acquitted himself well behind some lousy teams - good prep for being a Blackhawk for the past few years. They've begun to turn it around now, and Khabibulin is playing very well, winning a goalie duel with import Cristobal Huet.

2006 - Carolina Hurricanes, Cam Ward. Ward was a rookie that year, so the jury is still out on him. He's lost a bunch of weight and reported this season in great shape. He may move off of this list.

The only other guy one could consider including is Anaheim's J.S. Giguere, but I think he should be on the much lengthier list of excellent keepers. Besides his Cup win he led the Ducks to the 2003 Finals and won the Conn Smyth trophy (playoff MVP) despite losing the title to Brodeur. He has a very good reputation.

In the end, the list of shaky goalies who win is much shorter than that of shaky QBs. I really hate to pick on Tim Keown, whose writing I really enjoy; if he isn't convinced then we'll just have to disagree politely. All I ask is that he stop saying stuff like "It's pretty much unquestioned" when in fact there is a lot of good questioning going on.

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