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.
|2007-08 - Ondřej Pavelec
drafted 41st (2005)
|2006-07 - Carey Price
drafted 5th (2005)
|2004-05 - Antero Niittymäki
drafted 168th (1998)
|2002-03 - Johan Holmqvist
drafted 175th (1997)
|2001-02 - Pasi Nurminen
drafted 189th (2001)
|1999-00 - Jean-François Labbé
|1998-99 - John Grahame
drafted 229th (1994)
|1997-98 - Brian Boucher
drafted 22nd (1995)
|1996-97 - Jean-François Labbé
|1995-96 - Steve Shields
drafted 101st (1991)
|1994-95 - Corey Schwab*
(Albany River Rats)
drafted 200th (1990)
|1994-95 - Mike Dunham*
drafted 53rd (1990)
|1993-94 - Olaf Kolzig
drafted 19th (1989)
* 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:
|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.