Leafs: The Lost Art of Being an NHL Goalie – The Flopper Generation

Mar 23, 2017; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs goalie Curtis McElhinney (35) guards the net against the New Jersey Devils at Air Canada Centre. The Maple Leafs beat the Devils 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 23, 2017; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs goalie Curtis McElhinney (35) guards the net against the New Jersey Devils at Air Canada Centre. The Maple Leafs beat the Devils 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports /

The artistry and craftsmanship of being an NHL goalie seems to have been lost with the flopper generation. In a conversation with former Leafs goaltender Glenn Healy, we examine the one position in sports that has changed drastically in recent years.

It isn’t often in professional sports that a position changes everything about what it was and completely re-invents itself from the previous generation. Today’s athletes are much bigger and faster than their forefathers, but the fundamentals have stayed pretty much the same regardless of the sport.

Pitchers are still throwing the same three pitches they have been for 100 years. Basketball players are still trying to shoot a ball through the same size hoop as generations prior.

Darryl Strawberry in the 1980s and John Olerud in the 1990s swinging in the batter’s box look identical to that of Ted Williams in the 1940s. Bill Russell in the 1950s, Julius Erving in 1970s and LeBron James in 2017 all look similar driving the ball to the basket and pulling up for an 18-foot jump shot.

If you go back and look at NHL highlights of goaltenders from the 1980s or 90s in comparison to today’s NHL goalies you will notice some drastic changes. The equipment was almost non-existent for NHL goalies in the past but that all started to change on Nov 1, 1959, when Montreal Canadians keeper Jacques Plante wore a mask for the first time.

However, the size of equipment and the stand-up style of the goalkeeper stayed the same from Plante’s days in Montreal in the 1950s right up to the early 2000s, when we saw the likes of Patrick Roy, Martin Brodeur and Ed Belfour dominate their position for a generation.

Then all of a sudden, out of nowhere, NHL goalies started flopping.

Glenn Healy, who had a 15-year career as a goaltender in the National Hockey League, is an NHL analyst for MSG Network . We discussed some of the factors involved in how there was such a dramatic change in the style of goaltending.

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“Once there was an evolution of goalie equipment where a pair of deer hair goalie pads would weigh 20 pounds to foam pads that were six pounds; and they never got wet,“ said Healy. “Then you would see bigger goaltenders getting east to west quickly.”

When you watch an NHL game today, there is very little craftsmanship in the goaltending position in comparison to the goalies of the 80s or 90s. Guys like Billy Smith, who led the New York Islanders to four straight Stanley Cups, was an artist to watch.

Opposing shooters had to think about what Smith’s next move was going to be. Would he stand up? Go down? Or would he dive at you with a poke check?

Hall of Fame keeper Roy stood 6-foot-2, so he could’ve implored today’s goaltending tactics and simply flopped on the ice on each shot on goal. However, Roy used his athleticism and aggressiveness to back stop Montreal and Colorado to Stanley Cup titles.

Now it seems the NHL simply finds the biggest guy in a pair of pads and sticks him in the net.

” You don’t draft a guy now who isn’t six feet tall,” said Healy.

The star goalies of Healy’s generation, Mike Vernon (Calgary) and Grant Fuhr (Edmonton), as well as Healy himself, were all in the 5-foot-8 to 5-foot-9 range.

“When you’re Ben Bishop and you’re 6-foot-6, you go down on your knees and most of the net is covered,” said Healy.

Regulation NHL nets are 72 inches wide and 48 inches high. Many of the taller NHL keepers wear pads that are 36 or 37 inches long so when they flop into the butterfly position, it is darn near impossible to find an inch of space to put the puck into the net.

The NHL did impose some changes to the size of goalie equipment prior to the start of the 2016-17 season. But when you turn on the Leafs game on Saturday night, you still see Frederik Andersen and Curtis McElhinney flop on every single shot that comes their way; partly because that is exactly what they’ve been taught.

How many times have we seen a highlight this season of Auston Matthews or Alex Ovechkin picking the top corner on an NHL goalie who simply flopped to the ice when if he stood his ground, the puck would’ve hit his blocker or right in his chest?

“You’ve got a lot of good goalies in the league and the position has improved greatly,” said Healy. “Carey Price might be the last hybrid where he is not down on the ice on every single shot.”

Next: Looking at the Leafs' Safeguards in Goal

The next time you tune in to watch Jackie Redmond deliver the highlights on Sportsnet, just count how many goals go in that could have been prevented if the goalie didn’t flop onto the ice and simply stood his ground. Although save percentages have improved greatly amongst today’s goalies in comparison to their counterparts of generations past, the art of goaltending has lost its je ne sais quoi.