Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Finnish Goalie Hype?


1) It seems the NHL has gone through a series of goalie crazes over the years. It seemed at one point that almost every team had a Swedish goalie on their roster. Later it appeared that most elite goalies seemed to come from Quebec. With Roy and Brodeur being the most prime examples. So teams drafted every kid with French name and a goalie glove. Later with the emergence of Hasek, Czech goalies were all the rage, and names like Turek, Cechmanek, etc were common. A brief Russian goalie rage also occurred in the recent past. Today its the Finns who see to be getting all the scouts excited. Is it warranted, and why is it happening?

2) For the last few years now, Finland has been considered one of the cradles of goaltending by NHL scouts and talent evaluators. It seems that almost every team either has a Finnish goalie on their roster or one in their system ready to step in. Why does this seem to be so? We asked several folks in the know: What do all these Finnish goalies have in common? As one scout told us, each developed as an established star in the Finnish pro leagues first before making the jump to the NHL. He went on to say that 'The thought process over there (in Finland) has a preponderance of elite goalie coaches and the practice-heavy routine' as opposed to playing a heavy schedule of games as is done here in North America.

3) Goalies currently in the NHL who were born/trained in Finland: Mikka Kiprusoff, Vesa Toskala, Kari Lehtonen, Niklas Backstrom, Antero Niittyimaki, Fredrik Norrena, Hannu Toivonen, Karri Ramo, and Tuukka Rask . The ladder 3 are still unproven/rookies who have yet to make a mark, but are highly touted as their teams' heir apparent.

4) So lets look at the accomplishments of these goalies.


  • Mikka Kiprusoff: No one would/can dispute that has been one of the top goal tenders the past few seasons, as well as the best goalie to come from his country. Carrying his team into the Finals in 2004, and perennial Vezina finalist. (2006 winner) Despite a poor start this season, he remains one of the league's best.


  • Niklas Backstrom He would be next in line on the Finn depth chart in our opinion . Who despite being confused as being a Swede due to his name, was born in Helsinki and trained in Finland. He has had 1 good season and is doing well again this year. It could be argued that he plays in a system(Jacques Lemaire's Wild) that favours goalies.


  • Fredrik Norrena: A late comer to the NHL. Is no kid at 34. Played several years in the Swedish elite league before coming to Columbus. Even in front of their inexperienced defense/team has put up respectable numbers. A save % well above .900. Though few would place him in the top 50% of NHL goalies


  • Kari Lehtonen: Highly touted for the past couple of years as Atlanta's future, we have yet to see consistency from the year 24 old. The jury is still out and we're not saying he won't eventually become the 'next Kipper', and this in actuality is only his second NHL season, and he has the size etc, but so far we're not impressed.


  • Vesa Toskala: Seemed to be getting new life when he was dealt to the Maple Leafs from the Sharks. In San Jose he was Nabokhov's back up; putting up decent numbers and showing promise to be a #1. So far in TO he has not been the saviour. Better than Raycroft(not saying much), but not able to carry the team either.


  • Antero Niittyimaki: Like Lehtonen, was highly touted, but has yet to leave a mark. The Flyers clearly lost confidence that he'd soon emerge as a starter when they signed Marty Biron to a 3 year deal this summer. Could still re-emerge as he's still only 27, but right now is the team's backup and playing sparingly (On pace to play 20 games)


  • Hannu Toivonen/Karri Ramo/Tuukka Rask: All lumped together here due to their ages and lack of NHL experience. All are being touted by their respective teams as their 'goalie of the future'. None, thus far, have shown anything that would get us excited. Of course its seldom that a goalie under 22 is a starter/making an impact in the NHL, so the jury remains out on these 3.

5) Despite only Kiprsoff, and to a much lesser extend Backstrom making a huge impact on the NHL, we have to commend Finland for producing so many players who have enough talent to play in the NHL. To have 9 players in one position coming from a country that barely has a 5 million population is impressive! It would be the equivalent of the Toronto metro area producing that many goalies. That said, we have yet to see a reason for the hype. Unless we see several of the named players, or another who has gone under our radar develop, into another Kipper, we would see no reason to tout Finland as a goalie nursery. Surkea Suomi!

11 comments:

Shmee said...

I feel like every couple years, there is some "trend" in the NHL that is touted as the key to having a successful NHL team. As you point out, this is usually just hype from one player spreading to others. I'm over it (thought I will admit to being one of those people who had every "kid with a French name and goalie glove" on my fantasy team for a couple seasons).

Pucks on Broadway said...

Good analysis. While the Finnish goaltending system is still young, what I find more surprising is that the Canadian goaltender has really suffered. Your elite goalies are European for the most part and a decent Canadian goalie hasn't been drafted in a top round in a while. Any thoughts? Big fan of the site.

Jibblescribbits said...

I think Toskala in Toronto proves one thing...maybe it's not the goaltending that's the problem in Toronto?

FAUX RUMORS said...

1) Shmee: It does seem the NHL has frequent 'fads'. As soon as someone or team has success, everyone tries to follow/copy what they have done.
2) Pucks: These things tend to go in cycles. We're sure in a couple of years we'll see another crop of quality Canadian born tenders and then the league will inevitably start to over value EVERY goalie north of the border (as they are doing with Finland right now) Thanks for the compliment. We've added you to our Reccomeneded list
3) Jibble: Toronto is a difficult team to discern. On paper they should be decent. Sundin is having a great year. yet they are mired in sub mediocrity. Its partly inconsistent goaltending, but its also the GM/coach uncertainty. That needs to be addressed else they will continue to flounder

Jibblescribbits said...

I think Toronto's problem is team defense. They just don't have defenders. It's playing in the Toronto market where every defender has to be a flashy scoring type and not a stay-at-home guy. Same with forwards.

FAUX RUMORS said...

1) Jibbe: If thats the case, then blame comes down upon management(JFJ and Maurice) JFJ put the squad together(overpaying) spending 20 mil on a piss-poor defense and Maurice not using what players he has effectively/making them accountable.
2) All that said, they still are capable of getting into the post season in the genreally mediocre Eastern conference

Antzmarching said...

Faux, your assessment of the Finnish goalie situation seems dead on... What really stands out to me, is how unbelievably OVERrated Kari Lehtonen has been to this point in his career... With the exception of his size, which he neutralizes by going down every shot, I have yet to see what his hype is all about... In fact, he was part of the reason the Thrash were thrashed by the Rag$ in the playoffs last year...

Kipper is and has been stellar, as you have said... While he seems to be slightly slumping currently, I believe he will turn things around and keep Calgary around in the playoffs for a round or two...

And finally, how about a report on the American goalie situation next? Rick DiPietro has been proving me wrong for a couple of years now - he is emerging as one of the NHL's best... Miller and DP can match talent with just about anyone...

Antzmarching said...

On another note, HOW DOES JOHN TORTARELLA STILL HAVE EMPLOYMENT IN THE NHL???

FAUX RUMORS said...

1) Antz: Nice to have ya back from (another) vacation As for your last question. We totally agree that Tortorella is living on borrowed time right now. Probably helped by the Lightning ownership flux. Else we'd bet he'd not have lasted past the holidays. Its still possible Feaster will be given the green light to replace Torts, but it seems like a Isah Thomas/Knicks situation.
2) Kari certainly has done nothing on a consistent basis, but at 24 he still has time. He may need a good goalie coach to help his faulty mechanics
3) We agree that the US has been producing some top quality players across the board lately. Not just in net, but everywhere. Buffalo native Patrick Kane is the Calder favourite though the first half of the season in our book!

T. Lloyd said...

I agree that a lot of what we here is hype, but lets give these kids some time before we call them has-beens. I mean the guy we got from Toronto, Rask looks like he may be a pretty good goalie once he matures. It take these guys about 3-4 years of pro before they can be a starter.

La Grenouille said...

Quebec is the true place of goalie birth. We have all the best from our place. We are proud of all the great ones from here

 
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