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Thursday 3/23/23

It was observed the other day on the radio that I have been up and down with my thoughts regarding Bruins goaltender Jeremy Swayman, which is true. It can take a while to know what a player is until you're certain, or fairly certain.

For instance, I know what Chris Sale is all about. I'd be shocked to in turn discover that he's about anything than what I think he's about. With other players, I'd be some degree of surprised, but it could well be mild surprise, if I haven't seen all that I feel I need to see.

I don't know what Jeremy Swayman is all about. I think I have a pretty good idea. My sense is that he's a solid regular season goaltender, in the right spot. He's not a game-changer goalie. He has a propensity for letting in goals I'd deem as soft. And he can let those goals in when you figure that he's done letting in that kind of goal. He'll be on a run, and then a softie will cost his team the game, then another softie a little while later, then he'll have a run again that often seems to me more statistical than actual, if that makes sense. His numbers are there, but watching him I don't get the sense that he has a dominant presence in net.

I get that he's a good teammate, but personally I much prefer a goalie who doesn't want to share his net with another goalie. There's an edge to playing goalie. More of an edge at that position than maybe any other in sports.

Tim Thomas had the edge. Patrick Roy had the edge. Dominick Hasek had the stats and the highlight packages, but he didn't have the edge. Jim Craig, for an Olympics, anyway, had the edge. Grant Fuhr had the edge. Andy Moog--fine goalie--didn't. Ken Dryden--intensely cerebral, but had the edge.

At the same time, I also don't know what Linus Ullmark is. Is he just having a season-long run? A career year? Further, a career year in which he's protected because he only plays half the time for the most part? Is he Pete Peeters from 1982-83?

He might not be as good as Peeters. Peeters played a lot that Vezina-winning season, in which he was also MVP runner-up. He wasn't platooned. And he had enough other good years that you can make a sort of Hall of Fame case for him. Maybe not the most sincere Hall of Fame case, but you can do it. (For instance, though everyone tends to think that 1980s goalies mostly all sucked--which I think is wrong--you can argue that Peeters was one of the very best of that era.) He was never close to what he was in that one regular season, though. He wasn't close in the playoffs that year. That could be Ullmark this year.

I don't think it's necessarily a problem if the Bruins end up using two guys in the playoffs. You don't plan to; Ullmark starts, and so long as he's what he's been all year, he plays. If he slides, you put in Swayman. These are two guys that wouldn't have a problem with that. I hear people say, "But that's just not done!" Goalie doesn't mean what it used to. The reason for that is because these guys are all big, they all have the huge equipment, they all have the technique. Every goalie plays the same way. There are no styles. I find it very boring.

What you have, though, is qualitative uniformity at the position. Most goalies are highly effective. That's why you can now win a Cup without having that guy. In the past, if you didn't have that guy, you pretty much needed a guy to morph into that guy for a single spring. Bill Ranford in 1990, for example. Bill Ranford was never that guy again. The goalie position used to be like the quarterback position, but that's no longer true. You can win a Cup with a guy who is, relatively speaking, a guy. Who are the great goalies now anyway? There really aren't any, right? They are more interchangeable than ever before.

Here's a cool goalie aside: Roland Melanson, who was officially the Islanders' back-up goalie, was the second team All-Star for the 1982-83 season, and finished second in Vezina voting. The back-up played 44 games, to the 41 the starter, Billy Smith, played. Come the playoffs, the Islanders go with Smith, who goes 13-3 and wins the Conn Smythe, while Melanson plays in 5 games, going 2-2. So he got some time.

And you know what was made of this at the time? Nothing. The Islanders did what they thought was best for them to win their fourth Cup in a row. Think of this happening now. Social media impedes lucid thought and effective action, for fear of scrutiny and naysaying. Worked out for the Islanders in 1983, though.


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