With the discussion about whether Michael Leighton can become our longterm starter based off the playoffs, and all the talk last month over trading Jeff Carter or Simon Gagne for a goalie, I decided to take a look at where starting goaltenders actually come from. Don't worry, this won't be an in depth scientific examination of Canadian reproductive habits. Instead I decided to look at every starting goaltender in the NHL and see how their team acquired them.
Not included in this survey are, of course, the Flyers. I also left out the Senators because I couldn’t decipher if Brian Elliott (second to last player drafted in the 2003) or Pascal LeClaire (acquired via trade from Columbus) was their crappy starter. I left out Washington, because I believe the playoffs made it unclear whether I should consider free agent Jose Theodore or first round pick Semyon Varlamov as their starter. I skipped Tampa Bay because we all know The Story of Niitty, and will someday sit our grandchildren on our knee and tell it to them. Edmonton was avoided so I didn’t have to subject myself to even looking at that mess.
I have divided the remaining 25 goalies into the following categories:
TRADE - 6 of the 25 starters were acquired via trade.
Obviously it’s too early to comment on whether this worked out. But, Giguere’s career is interesting on its own. He was a high draft pick, going 13th overall to the Whalers in 1995 (three picks before Marty Biron and nine picks before Brian Boucher). He then spent the next six years in the Q and bouncing between the NHL and AHL, being traded to Calgary and then being sent to Anaheim for a second round pick (where, incidentally, he took Dominic Roussel’s job). So essentially he took six years from draft to starter (and another season to get good) and only cost Anaheim a second rounder.
Miikka Kiprusoff – From San Jose to Calgary for a 2nd Round Pick.
Kiprusoff was originally drafted in the 5th Round of the 1995 Draft, just a few picks before Chris Mason. He played in the Elitserien and SM-liiga before coming over in 1999. He dominated the AHL before being called up to the NHL, but he was unable to stay up and could not win the starter’s job when Nabokov held out. He eventually lost his backup job to the immortal Vesa Toskala, leading to his trade to Calgary. I think we all know what happened there.
I don’t think much needs to be said about Luongo. He was the 4th overall pick in 1997 by the Islanders, foolishly traded to Florida, and then traded to Vancouver for not very much. Bertuzzi played seven games for Florida before being dealt to Detroit. Allen has been a steady but not spectacular defenseman for Florida. And Auld was mediocre before being allowed to walk as a free agent. Luongo has been excellent for Vancouver. Incidentally, the two players Florida sent to Long Island were Mark Parrish and Oleg Kvasha, who had one all-star appearance between them. Florida also received Olli Jokinen in that trade. Luongo stands as perhaps the preeminent example of how little a goaltender fetches on the trade market.
Chris Mason – From Nashville to St Louis for a fourth round pick.
Mason was originally drafted in the 5th round of the 1995 Draft by the Devils and eventually signed with Nashville where, after playing in the WHL, AHL and IHL he was finally given a chance to start 11 years after being drafted. Eventually traded to St. Louis for a fourth rounder and has had two good seasons.
Tuuka Rask – From Toronto to Boston for Andrew Raycroft.
The 2005 draft highlights the conundrum of first round goalies. Here’s Rask 21st overall, and 5th overall is Carey Price. Rask was the top rated European goalie coming out of the Finnish elite league. Played two more seasons in Finland before coming stateside, and then put in two years in the AHL before backing up Tim Thomas and stealing the job from him.
At the time of the trade, Raycroft was coming off a rough sophomore campaign but had won the Calder Trophy and was an excellent goalie. Further, Toronto thought they didn’t need Rask because of Justin Pogge. Boston showed that you can get a starting goalie via trade, and they gave up a lot. But Toronto also gave up a lot to get a starting goalie, and that backfired just a little.
Tomas Vokoun – From Nashville to Florida for a 1st Round Pick and two 2nd Round Picks
I believe this is the model many here would like the Flyers to follow. Vokoun was a 9th Round pick in the 1994 draft (and not even the best goalie taken in that round). He played in the Czech Republic until 1995-96 when he came over to the ECHL, then spent the rest of the decade bouncing between the AHL, IHL and NHL (TRIVIA: His first game was in relief against the Flyers when he gave up four goals in one period. Can anyone name which Flyer scored four goals in that game?). He didn’t become a starter until 2002-03, eight years after first being drafted. Then he was excellent in Nashville and traded to Florida.
FIRST ROUND DRAFT PICKS : 3 of the 25 were drafted in the first round by their current team.
Marc-Andre Fleury – 1st Overall, 2004 Draft
Only the second goalie to go first overall, behind the forgettable Rick DiPietro, the Penguins tabbed him out of the Q. Even though he started immediately, he wasn’t what you would call "good" until 2007-08. The poster boy for taking a goaltender early in the draft.
Martin Brodeur – 20th Overall, 1990 Draft
This was an incredibly talent rich draft. Brodeur was sandwiched between Keith Tkachuk and Brian Smolinski. Owen Nolan, Keith Primeau, Jaromir Jagr, Darryl Sydor, Darren Hatcher, Petr Nedved and Trevor Kidd all also went in the first round (Russ Farwell took Mike Ricci one pick above Jagr, and people wonder why we sucked in the early 90s). Brodeur came out of the Q, would be in New Jersey by ’92, and became the starter in 1995.
Cam Ward – 25th Overall, 2002 Draft
Ward was the second goaltender taken in the 2002 Draft after Kari Lehtonen went second overall. At the time he was playing in the WHL, where he would play two more seasons before spending a year in the AHL and then splitting time in 2005-06 between the AHL and the NHL. Peter Laviolette would make him the starter during the playoffs, Ward won the Cup and has started ever since.
OTHER DRAFT PICKS - 9 out of 25, the plurality, were taken in rounds 3-9 of the draft by their current team.
Jimmy Howard – 64th Overall, 2003 Draft
Another player from the impressive 2003 Draft, Howard was drafted out of Maine by Detroit. After two fantastic years with the Black Bears, Howard spent four years in the AHL before being given the starting job this season.
Steve Mason – 69th Overall, 2006 Draft
Six goaltenders were drafted in the first two rounds before Columbus took Mason in the third out of the OHL. He’d stay there for two more years before making his way to the NHL where he won the job almost immediately.
Jonathan Quick – 72nd Overall, 2005 Draft
The Kings drafted Quick in the third round based off of his high school play. Quick would spend two seasons at UMass-Amherst, split a year between the ECHL and AHL, then eventually make it up to Los Angeles.
Ryan Miller – 138th Overall, 1999 Draft
The first round of this draft saw such immortals as Brian Finley (6th overall), Maxime Oullet (22nd overall) and Ari Ahonen (27th overall). The Sabres waited until the 5th round to snag Miller. He then played three years in college, played in the AHL, and did not become the starter until 2005-06.
Marty Turco – 124th Overall, 1994 Draft
The 1994 Draft was goaltender rich, and the Stars picked Turco in the fifth round out of Junior B. He played four seasons in college before spending two in the IHL and eventually making it to Dallas.
Henrik Lundqvist – 205th Overall, 2000 Draft
In the same draft where Rick DiPietro went 1st overall (and Brent Krahn went 9th), the Rangers plucked King Henrik in the 7th round. It then took him five years in the Elitserien to become NHL ready. That included him losing his roster spot at one point to the immortal Pat Jablonski. A true draft and follow player.
Jaroslav Halak – 217st Overall, 2003 Draft
Obviously, I hope that Halak is exposed as an absolute fraud over the next four games. However, 216 picks after the Pens took Fleury, the Habs found Halak in the Slovakian Junior League. He then bounced through the Slovakian elite league, the Q, the ECHL, and the AHL before finally becoming the back-up in Montreal. It took about six years from the time of drafting until the time of starting for Halak (and another year before falling before Pronger’s greatness).
Evgeni Nabokov – 219th Overall, 1994 Draft
According to Wikipedia (the mightiest source of them all) the Sharks had never seen Nabokov play. They just knew his father was good. Nabokov would come to America in the 1997-98 season and played in the AHL before being called up in the 1999-2000 season. He became the starter the next season and never looked back.
Pekka Rinne – 258th Overall, 2004 Draft
The Preds drafted him out of SM-liiga, where he was a back-up. Then three years in the AHL before coming up as Dan Ellis’ back-up, then he stole the job.
VETERAN FREE AGENTS - 3 of the 25 were signed by their current team as free agents after first playing in the NHL.
Signed last off-season by the Avalanche from the Panthers. Was originally a third round pick (twice!) and spent years bouncing between the AHL and NHL. This was his first year playing more than 35 games in the NHL.
Signed by the Thrashers in 2006 on a two year contract. Originally drafted by the Flyers in the 9th round of the 1994 draft (one of three starting goalies from that round). I personally remember waiting forever for him to come to the states. By the time he did it was 2000-01 and he was on his third organization, the Pens. He then bounced around, mostly as a back-up, before having an excellent season for the Thrashers this year.
The Islanders signed Roli for two years, $5 million. He was actually undrafted out of college, bounced around between the AHL and NHL (as a back-up), and didn’t get to start until the age of 34, and that was sharing time on an expansion team.
UNDRAFTED FREE AGENTS - 3 of the 25 were signed by their current teams out of Europe after not being drafted.
Although Backstrom debuted in SM-liiga in 1996-97, he never played more than 16 games a year until 2000-01. Then he jumped to the Elitserien where he spent a terrible season before returning to Karpat in SM-liiga where he was dominant. The Wild signed him to a one year contract and he won the starting job once Manny Fernandez was injured.
Hiller played four seasons in the top Swiss league before being signed by the Ducks. He came over immediately, took over as the backup from Bryzgalov, and eventually forced Giguere to Toronto.
Niemi was signed by the Blackhawks in 2008 after three years in SM-liiga. He spent the majority of his first season in America in the AHL. This year he came in as a back-up and, obviously, is starting in the conference finals right now.
WAIVERS - One goalie was picked up on waivers.
Bryzgalov was originally drafted in the second round of the 2004 draft by the Mighty Ducks. After spending the next season in Russia, he came stateside and played four years in Cincinnati. Eventually became Giguere’s backup, even splitting time and playing in the playoffs. Once Jonas Hiller was signed, the Ducks tried to trade him, could not find anyone, and placed him on waivers.
I did not undertake this study with a particular agenda. I am, however, skeptical of trading big pieces of this team for a goaltender. After looking at these 25 I am even more set in that belief. Only two goaltenders were acquired at the top of their game to be a starter, and only one of them (Vokoun) was really obtained at a high price. I can certainly understand how someone would draw a different conclusion, but I believe that this shows there are many other ways to acquire goaltenders.
The other thing of note is how many goaltenders took a while to flourish. Either because they were backups, because they bounced around the AHL, or because it took them a long time to come over from Europe. This makes me rather hopeful that one of our European goaltenders might hit. And frankly, I don't think there's any reason Leighton cannot be the new Roloson, or one of the other goaltenders who just took time to come into their own. It seems as if goaltenders are like lottery tickets. It makes sense to try to pick up as many as possible, and see which one hits.