Neuvy's Calder Cup: Springboard Or Plateau?

Sean Simmers - The Patriot-News

As the memory of Simeon Varlamov's post-season heroics becomes softer (or perhaps further galvanized in the hearts and minds of Caps Country as legend), Michal Neuvirth has taken center stage, filling the void of Caps playoff hockey to provide a compelling 'tender tale.  Neuvy anchored the Hershey Bears toward the franchise earning an unprecedented tenth Calder Cup last night, and in surprisingly dominant fashion:  winning the Jack A. Butterfield Trophy as the most valuable player of the 2009 Calder Cup Playoffs, and finishing the post-season with a 16-6 record, 1.92 GAA and .932 SV%, and four shutouts.  Wow.

Last Saturday night, in Game 3, these eyes absorbed his mastery in earning but one of his four shutouts during the American league playoffs.  Particularly, he exhibited efficient and precise lateral movement, persistently square to the shooter, flashing leather when called upon to do so.  Against premier AHL scoring talent.

So, while Neuvy's body of post-season work is most impressive, what does it tell us about his abilities to perform at a consistently high level in the NHL show?  Is it a springboard to NHL greatness, or an early career plateau of pro playoff success?

To help answer that question during the long, hockey-less summer, let's put the young netminder's achievement in some historical pespective.  Below are the NHL career statistics, both regular season and post-season, of the "number one" goaltenders of Calder Cup winning teams over the last 15 seasons.  (Number one meaning that goalie who saw a majority of regular season and post-season action for his respective AHL club.)

All but three were age 25 or younger at the time of each goalie's respective Cup victory (or first victory, in the case of Jean-François Labbé), and thus arguably could have been considered NHL prospects.  The remaining three, Frederic Cassivi (2005-06 Hershey Bears), Wade Flaherty (2003-04 Milwaukee Admirals), and Martin Brochu (2000-01 Saint John Flames), should more properly be considered true veterans of the A.

Table of statistics after the jump.


Seasons GP MIN W L T/OT GA GAA SA SV SV% SO
2007-08 - Ondřej Pavelec
(Chicago Wolves)
drafted 41st (2005)
Reg. Season 2
19
946
6
10
0
54
3.42
491
437
.890 0
Playoffs
-
- -
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
2006-07 - Carey Price
(Hamilton Bulldogs)
drafted 5th (2005)
Reg. Season 2
93
5448
47
28
13
246
2.71 2795
2549 .912 4
Playoffs 2
15
867
5
10
-
45
3.11
427
382
.895 2
2004-05 - Antero Niittymäki
(Philadelphia Phantoms)
drafted 168th (1998)
Reg. Season 5
161
9042
62
61
23
454
3.01
4596
4142
.901 4
Playoffs
1 2
73
0
0
-
5
4.01
29
24
.828 0
2002-03 - Johan Holmqvist
(Houston Aeros)
drafted 175th (1997)
Reg. Season 5
99
5264
48
34
9
262 2.99 2389 2127 .890 3
Playoffs
1 6 370 2 4 - 18 2.92 168 150 .893 0
2001-02 - Pasi Nurminen
(Chicago Wolves)
drafted 189th (2001)
Reg. Season 3 125 7059 48 54 12 338 2.87 3519 3181 .904 5
Playoffs
- -
-
-
- - - - - - - -
1999-00 - Jean-François Labbé
(Hartford Wolfpack)
undrafted
Reg. Season 3 15 628 3 6 0 36 3.44 323 287 .889 0
Playoffs
- - - - - - - - - - - -
1998-99 - John Grahame
(Providence Bruins)
drafted 229th (1994)
Reg. Season 8 224 12363 97 86 18 574 2.79 5612 5038 .898 12
Playoffs
3 6 333 1 4 - 19 3.42 163 144 .883 0
1997-98 - Brian Boucher
(Philadelphia Phantoms)
drafted 22nd (1995)
Reg. Season 9 247 13903 92 103 37 629 2.71 6259 5630 .900 16
Playoffs
4 22 1310 11 8 - 45 2.06 534 489 .916 1
1996-97 - Jean-François Labbé
(Hershey Bears)
see above

1995-96 - Steve Shields
(Rochester Americans)
drafted 101st (1991)
Reg. Season 10 246 13630 80 104 40 606 2.67 6510 5904 .907 10
Playoffs
4 25 1445 9 16 - 74 3.07 751 677 .901 1
1994-95 - Corey Schwab*
(Albany River Rats)
drafted 200th (1990)
Reg. Season 8 147 7476 42 63 13 360 2.89 3474 3114 .896 6
Playoffs
2 3 40 0 0 - 0 0.00 13 13 1.000 0
1994-95 - Mike Dunham*
drafted 53rd (1990)
Reg. Season 10 394 21653 141 178 44 989 2.74 10701 9712 .908 19
Playoffs
- - - - - - - - - - - -
1993-94 - Olaf Kolzig
(Portland Pirates)
drafted 19th (1989)
Reg. Season 17 719 41671 303 297 87 1885 2.71 20118 18233 .906 35
Playoffs
6 45 2799 20 24 - 100 2.14 1376 1276 .927 6

Schwab and Dunham essentially split both regular season and playoff duties for the 1994-95 River Rats.

We see in this list one legitimate #1 NHL netminder (Kolzig's career numbers all wrapped up like that is something, isn't it?) and two that are "too early to tell" (i.e., the two most recent Calder Cup winners).  And one backup that can still once-in-a-while, say, stop all 21 shots in a period from one of the most offensively gifted teams in the league.  Honorable mention might also be given to Brian Boucher's solid playoff run with the Flyers in 1999-00.

And not only are the above NHL numbers in most cases mediocre, by that level's standards, several of these goalies soon left to play overseas:  Johan Holmqvist (2008, Frölunda HC), Pasi Nurminen (2005, Pelicans [Finland]), Jean-François Labbé (2003, Togliatti), and John Grahame (2008, Omsk).  So perhaps ultimate victory in the A isn't a very useful predictor of NHL success after all.

Further, here are the last ten AHL goaltender of the year winners:


Goalie Team
2008-09 - Cory Schneider Manitoba Moose
2007-08 - Michael Leighton Albany River Rats
2006-07 - Jason LaBarbera Manchester Monarchs
2005-06 - Dany Sabourin Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins
2003-04 - Jason LaBarbera Hartford Wolf Pack
2002-03 - Marc Lamothe Grand Rapids Griffins
2001-02 - Martin Prusek Grand Rapids Griffins
2000-01 - Dwayne Roloson Worcester IceCats
1999-00 - Martin Brochu Portland Pirates
1998-99 - Martin Biron Rochester Americans

Any of those additional names get your heart rate up?  Aside from some notable playoff success authored by Dwayne Roloson, we didn't think so.  And the jury has a long way yet to deliberate on Cory Schneider.

So, the bottom line is that Neuvirth's accomplishments to date, at 21 years of age, are wonderful, and at least validate his draft position.  But as much as he's played the magician for the Hershey faithful, there's an awfully big difference between "NHL real" and "AHL show." 

Nevertheless, we can't wait to see the goaltending battle commence, come September.

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