Goaltenders and the 4,000 Minute Barrier


Written on 9/08/2009 by Jim Cerny

Was perusing stats from last year and noticed that only four NHL goaltenders logged more than 4,000 minutes of playing time: Calgary's Miikka Kiprusoff, Marty Turco of Dallas, Henrik Lundqvist of the Rangers, and Minnesota's Niklas Backstrom.

My hunch is that Kiprusoff---barring injury---may be the only one of that group to exceed 4,000 minutes this season, at least as far as NHL action is concerned.

The reasons for this vary depending upon the goalie in question.

Turco, who played more than 4,300 minutes---the first time he was over the 4,000 mark since the 2003-04 season---, will see less of the ice this season now that the veteran Alex Auld was signed by the Stars as his reliable foil. This should greatly enhance the play of Turco, as well as Dallas' chances of making the playoffs.

Lundqvist, who has logged more than 4,000 minutes in each of the last three years, will be Sweden's starting goaltender in the Olympics, adding to his big workload. To avoid completely wearing his franchise goalie out, Rangers coach John Tortorella has already hinted that Steve Valiquette---who won over the coach last season with his strong work ethic, and play when called upon---likely will get the starting nod more often than in the past.

And while Backstrom thrived under the heavy workload a year ago (NHL's 3rd best goals against average and 4th best save percentage), he also benefited from playing behind a Jacques Lemaire-coached team. Now that the defensive guru has left Minnesota for a return engagement in New Jersey, Backstrom might be in need of a few extra days off, with Josh Harding and Wade Dubielewicz both capable of proving adequate relief.

As for Kiprusoff, without a top backup---Curtis McElhinney again will be his understudy---he will almost definitely surpass 4,000 minutes for the fifth straight season, though he might benefit the most from fewer starts and minutes played. Kiprusoff's Flames have been bounced in the first round of the playoffs in each of the past four seasons. And the one year Calgary made a run to the Stanley Cup Finals in the spring of 2004, it came after Kiprusoff logged only 2,301 minutes during the regular season. You can argue that the lighter workload in the regular season helped fuel his magnificent playoff run that year.

Of course, what often dictates whether or not a goalie these days makes 70 starts and logs over 4,000 minutes is where the team sits in the standings. Kiprusoff, Turco, Lundqvist, and Backstrom all could not afford too many nights off last season because their respective teams were in dogfights all year to make the playoffs---Kipruoff's Flames and Lundqvist's Rangers did ultimately crack the top eight in their conferences while the other two were on the outside looking in.

Of the goaltenders who might make a run at 4,000 minutes this year, add the names of Roberto Luongo and Martin Brodeur. Both of these franchise netminders are annually among the league leaders in games, and minutes, played, though both were limited by injury a year ago. Also, with his star on the rise---and no significant backup behind him---Carolina's Cam Ward could break into the 4,000 minute group this year, as well.

What will bear watching, in an Olympic year like this, is to see how the condensed NHL schedule and grueling Olympic sked affects the likes of Lundqvist, Ward, Luongo, Kiprusoff, Brodeur, and others who represent their respective countries come February in Vancouver.

And on the other hand, will there be some goaltenders not playing in the Olympics who will be more fresh and able to start more games because they will have a two-week vacation in the middle of the season? Will their teams benefit, while others with Olympic goalies will be hurt?

The answer to those questions lay ahead, playing out in the months of March and April.

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