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HHOFer Brodeur explains why NHL goaltending is 'so volatile' now


Goaltending has become an unpredictable beast in the National Hockey League, as the game appears to be trending away from the days of the clear-cut, heavy load-carrying No. 1.

And Hall of Fame goaltender Martin Brodeur, who played nearly all of his 22-year NHL career in that role, is seeing it first hand.

“The sport has changed, but the position has changed a lot, just because of the workload that these guys are having,” the executive vice president of hockey ops for the Devils explained to TSN Hockey Insider Pierre LeBrun of The Athletic this week. “It’s so volatile, that position. One year, you can be the top goalie. The second year, it’s like you don’t even belong in the league. It’s weird how really volatile the position has become.

“Right now, around the league, there’s probably five guys that you could bank on - maybe up to eight guys. Back then, it was 30 guys. So it’s different. Like I said, I think it’s the workload, I think it’s the skill of the players. You know, for years it was, ‘The goalies are too good.’ You’ve got to find ways to score goals.

“Now it’s like, you have to find goalies to stop these guys.”

And the evidence has been slowly mounting. While netminder Andrei Vasilevskiy was the go-to netminder for Tampa Bay's back-to-back Stanley Cups in 2020 and 2021, last year's Stanley Cup-winning goalie Adin Hill didn’t start a playoff game until the second round.

Darcy Kuemper, who backstopped the Colorado Avalanche to the Stanley Cup in June of 2022, wasn’t re-signed by the team the following month. At the start of the 2018-19 season, Jordan Binnington was the No. 4 goalie on the St. Louis Blues’ goalie depth chart before leading them to their first championship.

Brodeur, who led the Devils to Stanley Cups in 1995, 2000 and 2003, is also seeing how it affects the current team this season. “Last year, we had (Vitek) Vanecek, who, going by the stats (2.45 GAA and .911 save percentage last season), was maybe a bit above average,” he told LeBrun. “But he helped give us the best year we ever had as a team in New Jersey. We had the most points ever in the standings in New Jersey last year. And I’m like, ‘I was on some pretty good teams.’

“With a little above average goaltending, we were able to do that. This year has been a little rougher obviously.”

This year, Vanecek has a 3.18 goals-against average and .890 save percentage. “It’s the system of 1A and 1B that’s going to create that,” Brodeur continued. “Because it’s always going to be, ‘We can’t play back-to-back (games).’ You’re so scared the No. 1 gets hurt. And so you baby that guy for the longest time.

“So these guys are playing 55 games. They should be playing 65 to 70 games like we did.

“I think we baby our goalies. I see it. I’m part of it. It’s like, my goalie coach will say, ‘He’s played five games the past eight days …’ I’m like, ‘So?’”

Brodeur is also quick to note that teams have had success with tandems in goal.

“It’s a good reality now — you need to have two goalies,” he conceded. “I think that’s where it gets skewed. Like, it’s hard to find that No. 1 goalie. You get it in Nashville. You get it in Tampa. You get it in Calgary. There’s a couple of places that have them. But there’s not many. A lot of them are tandems.

“You look at Boston. They’ve been living off the tandem for the last two years, you know?”

That said, Brodeur says that the overall skill level is better than ever in goal.

“The average goalie is better than when I played,” he told LeBrun. “They’re unbelievable (athletes). But you get to the games — it’s such a wide-open game that if you’re a young goalie … we see it now, because we moved our young goalies down and put two older goalies in. We see how experience counts.

“They freeze the puck at the right time. They control the game. All the little things. Not saying they’re going to win every game, but they play a certain way that really helps your team settle down.”

More from Martin Brodeur in Pierre LeBrun's piece in The Athletic.