There's nothing else in sports quite like the goalie mask, a literal blank slate upon which a goalie — often regarded as the quirkiest guy on his team — gets to broadcast his id to the world. The result, over the years, has been a crazy and compelling collection of cryptic symbols, animal imagery, shout-outs to grandmas and/or sports heroes, terrifying cartoons, and lots and lots of airbrushing. This year, of course, is no exception. Here, we take a look at some of this season's best goalie helmets. (As always, feel free to render your own judgments in the comments!)
Best Literary Reference
"This may be one of the most scary mask[s] I've ever created," uber-popular mask designer David Gunnarsson wrote on his website, describing Dallas goalie Richard Bachman's new look. "We wanted the mask to have the same uncomfortable feeling you have when you just wake up after a nightmare." The helmet features images from The Shining — the famous twins, Jack Nicholson's terrifying eyes — in honor of Stephen King, who once used the nom de plume "Richard Bachman." ("There was a novel by Richard Stark on my desk so I used the name Richard and that's kind of funny because Richard Stark is in itself a pen name for Donald Westlake," King explains on his website, "and what was playing on the record player was "You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet" by Bachman Turner Overdrive, so I put the two of them together.") It's really too bad we don't have a helmet depicting scenes from King/Bachman's best work, The Long Walk, but I suppose psychological terror is kinda tricky to airbrush.
I can't say for certain, but there's a pretty good chance that the New York Rangers' John Mitchell was haunted by some fever dreams last night: Think something along the lines of Elephants on Parade, except with the Cheshire grin of Marc-Andre Fleury in place of all the Dumbo heads.
Fleury was in net Thursday night as the Penguins came to Madison Square Garden to take on the Rangers, who held a six-point lead over Pittsburgh in the Atlantic Division (and the Eastern Conference). By the end of the night, though, that gap had narrowed to four, as the Penguins defeated New York 5-2 based in large part on the play in net by the goaltender colloquially known to teammates as Flower. He stopped 29 of the Rangers' shots, five of which belonged to poor Mitchell, who was robbed every which way by the 27-year-old netminder. After one sequence in which Fleury, already down on his side after making some pad saves, managed to glove an attempt by Mitchell, the Rangers forward couldn't help but take out his mouth guard so he could laugh.
Earlier this week, Toronto Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke was adamant that he was not in the market for someone to supplement and/or replace Jonas Gustavsson and James Reimer in net. "We are not looking for a goaltender at this point," he said in an e-mail to The Globe and Mail.
That was before Gustavsson turned in a clunker of a performance Tuesday night. The Leafs, who are on the playoff bubble, lost to the New Jersey Devils 4-3 in overtime as Gustavsson was weak on the five-hole in regulation and unfortunate with his positioning on the overtime goal, which was headed wide but caromed off his equipment and into the net to erase what had been a late comeback by Toronto.
On Wednesday, Burke changed his tune on TSN Radio. "It's very hard to watch what happened and not wonder if we have enough [in net]," he said, before deploying the tried-and-true double negative: "I'm not sure that we're not going to be in the market [for a goalie] before we're done," he said. "The fact is we're losing games because we're not stopping the puck enough."
It's a tough time for goalies in Toronto, though I did enjoy the way this Toronto Sun headline sought to put a positive spin on whether Burke's words might affect his netminders' performance going forward: "Goalies already felt lowly."
With Toronto one of the teams that might be in the market at the deadline for a goalie, who would potentially be available? Here's a look at some of the names that have been floated as being goalies in play (not just for Toronto, but to other teams who may be seeking help in net) leading up to Monday's trade deadline:
In his 42 starts, Jonathan Quick has given up an average of 1.93 goals per game, making him one of just four NHL goaltenders with a GAA below two. Unfortunately, he's been having this All-Star season behind the league's lowest-scoring team, the L.A. Kings. Quick leads all netminders in shutouts, blanking his opponents six times. In the other 36 games he's played, though, the ones where he's let even just one measly goal trickle past, Quick has come away with a loss 21 times.
Last week, I watched losses no. 20 and no. 21 at Staples Center, where the atmosphere remains vibrant even as the team's offense has not been. The two games were like so many others the Kings have played this year: On Thursday they lost 2-1 in a shootout to the Calgary Flames, and on Saturday they fell 3-1 to the Colorado Avalanche. In both games, the Kings scored first but were unable to either add insurance goals or regain the lead after their opponents tied the game.
"SLASHVILLE," screamed the cover of The Hockey News's "Money Issue" that arrived in my mailbox just yesterday. "Suter. Weber. Rinne. Who Would You Kiss Goodbye?"
Like a multiple choice test, we can now eliminate at least one of those answers. The Nashville Predators, a team closely-watched around the league this season as it figures out how to handle a tangle of two top defensemen and a stalwart goaltender who are all on the verge of some form of free agency, began to unravel yesterday when they came to terms with goalie Pekka Rinne on a 7-year, $49-million deal.
It was a pretty sweet 29th birthday present for Rinne, who was drafted by Nashville in the eighth round in 2004. He has been part of a conveyer belt of goalies identified-by and developed-within the Predators' defense-first system championed by coach Barry Trotz and bolstered by legendary goalie coach Mitch Korn (who once worked with Dominik Hasek during his glory days with the Buffalo Sabres.) The Finnish netminder celebrated his birthday and new windfall with a 35-save shutout over the Phoenix Coyotes, his third blanking of the season.
Reaction to the deal has been mixed. On the one hand, Rinne is by most definitions one of the league's best in breed — he earned second in Vezina Trophy (best goaltender) voting last season and placed fourth for the Hart (the league's MVP) and so far has started every game for the Preds. On the other hand, goaltending can be a fickle position, that's a whole lot of dough, and Nashville's own status as something of a goalie factory almost ends up working against it — can't they just churn out a new, cheaper model?