The New Ed Belfour?

Belfour

Most of us probably remember the final few years of Ed Belfour, an incredibly good goaltender with a long career whose final two seasons were bad enough to force him to move to Leksands to play goal. Still, it doesn’t hurt to review those seasons:

2002-03: 2.26 GAA, .922 SV%
2003-04: 2.13 GAA, .918 SV%
2005-06: 3.29 GAA, .892 SV%
2006-07: 2.77 GAA, .902 SV%
2007-08: Leksands

Now I just know I’ve seen a four-season pattern like that somewhere – oh right, here it is:

2005-06: 2.07 GAA, .923 SV%
2006-07: 2.46 GAA, .917 SV%
2007-08: 2.69 GAA, .906 SV%
2008-09: 2.83 GAA, .903 SV%
2009-10: ???

Actually, those question marks aren’t deserved. After all, the player in question has five more seasons on a contract with an annual cap hit of 5.83MM per season, so he’s going to get paid no matter what he does from here on out. Still, people must be just about ready to run him out of town, given the combination of salary and performance, right?

Not so much. From the NHL’s official site:

[G]oaltenders Miikka Kiprusoff, Niklas Backstrom and Evgeni Nabokov have been the three most dominant players at their position in 2008-09, making them the three most-deserving [Vezina]finalists.

There’s more. From a media poll on the league’s best goaltender published at USA Today:

1. Tim Thomas – 47
2. Steve Mason – 40
3. Niklas Backstrom – 22
4. Evgeni Nabokov – 22
5. Miikka Kiprusoff – 13

But surely the Edmonton media are pointing to the mediocre performance of this Flames’ goaltender? Again, not so much:

Nabokov is one of the eight best goalies in the league, in my opinion. He’s in that second tier below Brodeur, Luongo, Kiprusoff, Backstrom and Lundqvist.

With nine shutouts, and a goals-against average of 2.23, Mason should get some strong consideration for the Vezina Trophy as the best goalie, an award voted on by the NHL GM’s, although the Bruins’ acrobatic Tim Thomas (2.11 average, 931 save percentage), Calgary’s Miikka Kiprusoff (42 wins) and Wild’s Nik Backstrom (2.37 average, seven shutouts, 62 games), also have legitimate shots.

But I suppose that really doesn’t matter. Miikka Kiprusoff, who debuted in Calgary midway through 2003-04 and led them to the Stanley Cup Finals, did it with a .933 SV%. His save percentage has dropped every year since that cup run, and now sits a full thirty points lower, at .903 SV%. Of the 47 goaltenders to play 25 or more games, that .903 ranks 33rd – tied with Joey MacDonald, a 29-year old journeyman playing his first NHL season as the starting goaltender for the New York Islanders. And despite the somewhat farcical Vezina consideration Kiprusoff is receiving, what really matters isn’t individual awards – it’s performance on the ice. The simple fact of the matter is that the Calgary Flames are not going to go anywhere in the playoffs this season unless Kiprusoff turns his season around – and a first round exit for the fourth consecutive year might finally get people wondering about the Finnish goaltender.