I cannot estimate how many books I have read concerning the Montreal Canadiens. There's simply too many good ones to start me listing them. What I surely can do, is separate the very good from the redundant. When it comes to Canadiens fans, there are the casual ones, and then there are the obsessive "need-to-know-every-detail" types that great books are written for.
I fall into the latter category. I want a book that informs me of many things I did not already know. I judge books in that manner, because I guess that if a book manages to please the most die-hard of die-hards, it can't help but enlighten the casual fan. If you, as a reader, have read this site for any length of time, you know full well that I fall headlong onto the "crave new information" type of fan and book enthusiast.
Great books come to us by authors as interested in the subject manner as we are. Such authors seek to piece puzzles together, taking a shovel to dig historically through forgotten archives, and emerge with a fresh context in which past events are honestly presented for appreciative readers.
Todd Denault's "Jacques Plante - The Man Who Changed The Face Of Hockey" is one book that reminds me of onions, Shrek, Bob Dylan, and women. It has many layers, in terms of levels of appreciation, and one read through it just cannot be enough for any articulate reader to seize the whole of the story told. It should be read more than once, to appreciate the tentacle of tales within it. The more I have read, the better my appreciation. No one is about to receive my used copy as a gift anytime soon!
Back when Todd Denault and I did our first interview back in May of 2009, it was about five months from when the book was to be released, and of course, like everyone else, I had not yet read it. Now that I have read the book four times over, I have a much deeper perception of it. The one thing I must state that stands out most, is that while it is a biography of Jacques Plante and the innovations he brought to the goaltending position, the book also serves as a compelling read on the Canadiens 1950's dynasty. Recently, at this site, I endeavoured to tackle the Canadiens 1950's dynasty, and the Plante bio by Mr. Denault served as a perfect detailed guide through all events in that time.
This coming October 26, Mr. Denault will see the release of his second book "The Greatest Game: The Montreal Canadiens, the Central Red Army, and the Night That Changed Hockey." In the coming weeks prior to it's release, Todd and the EOTP crew will sit for another Q & A session. On that same October day, "The Man Who Changed The Face of Hockey" will become available in paperback edition.
Leading up to those events, I thought it would be timely to chat Todd up once more on Jacques Plante, seeing that goaltending is a constantly hot topic amongst Canadiens fans. For this time around, EOTP contributors Chris Boyle, Kevin van Steendelaar and Francis Bouchard were asked to take part in providing questions to Todd and we touched not only on Plante's historical resonance, but also on his role on the Canadiens' great dynasty, the Patrick Roy era, changes in goaltending styles, as well as current goaltending viewpoints. I hope you enjoy the results.
Q & A with author Todd Denault
Q - Having read the book again very recently, it strongly dawned on me that it also made for excellent look at the Canadiens 1950's dynasty that Plante was an integral part of. Case in point, from the moment Plante joins the club, pretty much every playoff game he played in is recounted with some detail as to the events surrounding it. Additionally, there is great exploration given to the distinct personalities who had to interact with Plante, such as coach Blake and defenseman Doug Harvey. Of course, it would be impossible to write on Plante's achievements without due dilligence to the many supporting storylines, but what I'm most curious about is whether there was one dominant person in team circles that affected Plante more than another on or off the ice. With Plante being a notorious loner in some senses, but a maverick in other ways, would it have been possible for any personality on a team full of strong characters to have a profound personal effect on him? A - Maurice Richard, being the captain as well as such a profound influence on the lives of his teammates exerted a strong influence in the dressing room. Keep in mind that many of the players on that 50's dynasty (Beliveau, Geoffrion, Moore, etc ..) were a decade younger than him, and had grown up with him as their idol. I would suggest that most of the players on that particular team revered the Rocket. Obviously, Toe Blake as the team's head coach was a very powerful influence on the team as well. But I think that the one player who set the tone for that team, both on and off the ice was Doug Harvey. In the book I recount a few examples of Harvey's off-ice leadership. Away from the rink he was the one person, above all that many of his teammates turned to. On the ice Harvey dominated the game in a way that few other players have. To use a football analogy he was the quarterback of that team. He was the one who led the team up ice, surveyed the play in front of him, and then made the decision as to where to place the puck. Offensively, the entire Canadiens scheme was predicated on his ability to put the puck on the tape of a speeding forward. On the power play he directed the attack. But what made Harvey so dominant wasn't his control over the offensive side of the game but his ability to maintain that level of control defensively. In short, he was able to disrupt the other team's offensive attempts with ease. I'm not sure that any player ever controlled the puck and subsequently the pace of a game, in both ends of the rink like Doug Harvey. Obviously this influenced Plante, and having a defenceman of that calibur playing in front of you can't help but steady your own play. I think that Plante had a comfort level with Harvey that he maybe didn't have with any of the other defencemen he ever played with. On the ice the two men trusted each other completely and were able to seamlessly work in tandem. As I recount in the book, it was Harvey who before anyone else encouraged many of Plante's innovations, such as roaming and even playing the puck. Both Plante and Harvey were pragmatists at heart. If they tried something new, and it worked, then they would continue to do it, in spite of what others may have viewed or said. Each of them gave little heed to the comments of others and played the game and their position - their way. Off the ice they went their seperate ways but on the ice they were an almost unbeatable tandem for the Canadiens.
Q - Having read the book again very recently, it strongly dawned on me that it also made for excellent look at the Canadiens 1950's dynasty that Plante was an integral part of. Case in point, from the moment Plante joins the club, pretty much every playoff game he played in is recounted with some detail as to the events surrounding it. Additionally, there is great exploration given to the distinct personalities who had to interact with Plante, such as coach Blake and defenseman Doug Harvey. Of course, it would be impossible to write on Plante's achievements without due dilligence to the many supporting storylines, but what I'm most curious about is whether there was one dominant person in team circles that affected Plante more than another on or off the ice. With Plante being a notorious loner in some senses, but a maverick in other ways, would it have been possible for any personality on a team full of strong characters to have a profound personal effect on him?
A - Maurice Richard, being the captain as well as such a profound influence on the lives of his teammates exerted a strong influence in the dressing room. Keep in mind that many of the players on that 50's dynasty (Beliveau, Geoffrion, Moore, etc ..) were a decade younger than him, and had grown up with him as their idol. I would suggest that most of the players on that particular team revered the Rocket. Obviously, Toe Blake as the team's head coach was a very powerful influence on the team as well. But I think that the one player who set the tone for that team, both on and off the ice was Doug Harvey.
In the book I recount a few examples of Harvey's off-ice leadership. Away from the rink he was the one person, above all that many of his teammates turned to. On the ice Harvey dominated the game in a way that few other players have. To use a football analogy he was the quarterback of that team. He was the one who led the team up ice, surveyed the play in front of him, and then made the decision as to where to place the puck. Offensively, the entire Canadiens scheme was predicated on his ability to put the puck on the tape of a speeding forward. On the power play he directed the attack. But what made Harvey so dominant wasn't his control over the offensive side of the game but his ability to maintain that level of control defensively. In short, he was able to disrupt the other team's offensive attempts with ease. I'm not sure that any player ever controlled the puck and subsequently the pace of a game, in both ends of the rink like Doug Harvey.
Obviously this influenced Plante, and having a defenceman of that calibur playing in front of you can't help but steady your own play. I think that Plante had a comfort level with Harvey that he maybe didn't have with any of the other defencemen he ever played with. On the ice the two men trusted each other completely and were able to seamlessly work in tandem. As I recount in the book, it was Harvey who before anyone else encouraged many of Plante's innovations, such as roaming and even playing the puck. Both Plante and Harvey were pragmatists at heart. If they tried something new, and it worked, then they would continue to do it, in spite of what others may have viewed or said. Each of them gave little heed to the comments of others and played the game and their position - their way. Off the ice they went their seperate ways but on the ice they were an almost unbeatable tandem for the Canadiens.
Q - In hockey history, much has been written concerning players who have affected the way the game is played. Players like Bobby Orr, Wayne Gretzky, Bobby Hull with his curved stick blades to some extent, have all had a profound influence the how the game has evolved. On the Canadiens dynasty team of the late '50's, there was probably never a more revolutionary group of players gathered together on one team. When you think about it, there was Plante the roaming goalie, who assisted and communicated with his defensemen better than any puckstopper before him; Doug Harvey, who had the smarts, skills and poise to control the rush and every other aspect of his game; Boomer Geoffrion's slapshot, and how employed from the power play point gave the Canadiens its most devastating weapon; a bevy of fleet footed offensive talents like Claude Provost, Floyd Curry, Ralph Backstrom and Donnie Marshall employed in defensive shutdown roles. There was this whole revolutionary approach, combined with the superior talents and all around game of players such as Beliveau, Moore and the Richard brothers, guided by the old school coaching style of Toe Blake. Could it simply be that the Canadiens won all those Stanley Cups back in the day because they were simply so far ahead of the competition in terms of thinking the game, that it took years for everyone else to catch up?
A - I think that's part of it, but I think that when one looks at the contents of that particular team - one of the five greatest goalies ever, one of the five greatest defenceman ever, and a first and second line of forwards consisting entirely of Hall of Famers - well, no other team before or since could claim to have as much talent on one roster. At the end of the day the credit for that rests with Frank Selke. In terms of the players on that team being so revolutionary I think the credit for that has to go with Toe Blake, who allowed his players the freedom to play in such a way.
Thanks to Selke, the Canadiens were clearly miles ahead of the other teams in the areas of scouting and development. For example, in 1950 the undisputed top-three junior age players in the country were Jean Beliveau, Bernie Geoffrion, and Dickie Moore. All three belonged to the Montreal Canadiens. I can't imagine that a similar situation has ever happened before or since. When it came to scouting and development I'm not sure if any other teams caught up, especially in the era of the "Original Six."
Q - The book does a sound job of pointing out Plante's quirks and idiosyncrasies, of which there were many. One point that is touched upon is how much time he would spend going over the details of games, replaying goals over in his head, trying to understand how shots would beat him, knowing the shooter's tendencies best he could as well as disecting his own player's position on goals. With all that well established, and with his team mates knowing full well how studious he was, what then would explain the ambiguous manner in which team mates treated his quirks?
A - I think it's important to keep in mind how little interaction there was at that time between the goaltenders and the rest of the team. In this area the Canadiens and Jacques Plante were not unique, a similar dynamic took place in Detroit with the Red Wings and Terry Sawchuk. In those days there was a real lack of interaction and even understanding about the goaltender and what he went through. The image of a goaltender as the lonely man guarding the net, judged solely on how many pucks he stopped, and booed for the ones that made it past him was especially prevalent in this era.
Jacques Plante was never "one of the boys". He preferred his own company as opposed to socializing with his teammates and those who played with him respected his wishes. To this day, I think many of his teammates would tell you that they never really understood Plante off the ice. Henri Richard summed it up best when he told me that in his entire career "he never played with [a goaltender] that was normal". Personally, I think that when one doesn't understand something the natural inclination is to leave it alone and I think that may best explain the relationship between Plante and many (but not all) of his teammates.
Q - Given all his attention to detail, how is it that his team mates and coaches didn't seem to trust him, or believe him when he would claim to be injured, ill or suffering from the effects of his asthma, but yet would be surprised when he pointed out something such as the crossbars of the goal nets being lower in Chicago, Boston and New York?
A - When it comes to the "crossbar" issue I think it's important to remember how little authority in all walks of life was questioned at the time. That stands in stark contrast to today's society where authority seems to be questioned at every turn. In the late 50's/early 60's the opposite was certainly true. As for his teammates being surprised by the results of the "crossbar" issue I would have to disagree. I can tell you with near certainty that many of them found it amusing, typical of Plante, and weren't in the least bit surprised with the end result.
Q - Do you also find that there is a certain ambiguity in the notion that he would obsessively go over the details of goals, yet never seemed to accept the blame for the pucks that beat him?
A - I think his refusal to accept blame for goals that went past him was more of a temporary mental technique than anything else. By blaming others for a goal scored against, Plante was effectively banishing the goal from his mind - an effective technique for any goaltender. By convincing himself that the goal was through no fault of his own he could also maintain his confidence - again, a very important consideration for any goaltender. Plante strongly felt that he had to always remain ultra-confident in front of his teammates, fearing that if he showed the slightest bit of doubt that it would permeate the whole team. The fact that he studied his goals against AFTER THE GAME and ALONE speaks to this.
Q - In researching for the book, I imagine that you came across much information on Plante's predecessors, peers and contemporaries, as well as the goalies in his wake who were influenced by his techniques and innovations. Which of those goalies, when Plante arrived on the NHL scene, influenced his thinking most, and which goalie once Plante was established most resembled him in style and method?
A - Jacques Plante was a true student of the game and watched his fellow goaltenders intensely. In his formative years as a professional Terry Sawchuk was probably the one he studied the most. Of course, in the early 50's there was no goalie better than Sawchuk and for a young Plante I think Sawchuk represented where an eager Plante wanted to be - at the height of his profession. I think that throughout his career Plante always thought of Sawchuk as the measuring stick. Ironically, it was only when Sawchuk finally started wearing a mask in the fall of 1962 that Plante felt that he was finally accepted for doing the same.
Plante's greatest student and most devoted follower was undoubtedly Bernie Parent. I go into detail about their relationship in the book but I'll share something that Frank Orr, the long-time Toronto Star columnist, told me. "Bernie Parent in those two Stanley Cup years with Philadelphia was a carbon copy of Jacques Plante. Watching him, it was as if you were watching Jacques Plante in goal for the Flyers."
Q - Prior to Plante, the position of goaltending seems to have been an unexplored science. He of course, changed all that. In many ways, the chronicalling of every facet of the game, which Plante detailed in books, enabled every goalie to look at the position more scientifically, and for outsiders to have a better understanding of it. In time, that brought about the advent of the goalie coach, specializing in everything from training, to techniques, to a goalie's mentality. Hence, in many ways, Plante was the very first goalie coach, and he not only changed the face of the position with the goalie mask, but he also greatly helped reinvent the entire body of how goaltending was approached. I'm thinking of the quote by Ken Dryden, featured in the book that says "there are a fair number of great goalies, but few important ones. Jacques Plante was an important goalie." With that in mind, do you feel that perhaps, his popularizing of the mask, for many people, overshadows the multitude of other improvements he brought to tending goal?
A - I think that without a doubt the donning of the mask, at least in the eyes of most of the public has over time, overshadowed all of Plante's other innovations. Oddly enough with all the discussion recently about the incident leading up to that pivotal moment, I'm beginning to wonder if people are starting to remember Andy Bathgate more for that fateful shot than his Hall of Fame career.
With all that being said there is no more famous piece of hockey equipment than a goaltender's mask and in my mind that's why there's so much attention paid to it. One of the main points of my book, at least from my point of view, was to try and inform the reader that Jacques Plante was about so much more than just the mask.
Q - There's no doubt the Canadiens were a powerhouse from 1956 to 1960, yet they weren't far off from that standard in the following decade. Could the Canadiens could just as well have duplicated that sucess in the fifties had they had either of Glenn Hall, Terry Sawchuck, Johnny Bower or Gump Worsley in nets. The argument could be this: the Canadiens, still an extremely strong club, went on to win 4 Cups in 5 seasons in the 1960's with Rogie Vachon and Worsley in goal, so in that light, how important was Plante to the 1950's Canadiens? Was he an irreplaceable element on the team? Were the Habs so strong it wouldn't have mattered who was in goal then, and does this perhaps put some thinner in Plante's legacy?
A - Undoubtedly the 1950's represented a golden age of goaltending. I asked Dickie Moore this same question and he told me that Plante's was an essential part of that Canadiens dynasty, a part in which his unique skill set allowed the team to succeed. Here are the reasons that he gave me.
- Plante's ability to go out and play the puck.
Moore told me that he felt that the arrival of Plante was the key turning point in the Red Wings/Canadiens rivalry in the mid-50's. Detroit's offensive strategy at the time largely consisted of shooting the puck into the oppositions end and then violently banging the retreating defense corps into the boards, and in the aftermath passing the puck towards the slot. The theory went that not only would the defencemen weaken physically but also mentally, eventually leading to them becoming a little skittish when they went to retrieve the puck. Having gained a physical and psychological advantage, and with forwards like Ted Lindsay and Gordie Howe, the Red Wings offense would only be that much more potent. Plante's ability to go into the corner and gather the puck forever altered this crucial part of the Red Wings attack. Suddenly you have negated the Red Wings physical advantage and as a result the defencemen are fresher and Plante has by himself changed the nature of the play from being defensive to offensive. Such was the importance of this particular facet of Plante's play that the Red Wings lobbied the league to have it deemed illegal in the form of a rule change. The fact that Plante was the only goalie in the league who regularly roamed from his net and played the puck and its importance in the Montreal style of play in this period helps to explain part of Plante's value to the Canadiens aside from stopping the puck.
- Plante's strength in net allowed the Canadiens to pursue an all-out offensive style of play.
According to Moore, the Canadiens head coach Toe Blake put in a system almost entirely based on offense, popularly known as "Firewagon Hockey" for two reasons - his overwhelming offensive talent on the roster and because of Plante. Blake wanted to constantly apply pressure to the opposition and as a result this sometimes left Plante to his own devices - which when you have a goaltender as good as Plante in the net you can sometimes get away with. In many ways Plante had to endure some of the same things that Ken Dryden faced in the Montreal net a generation later, in that he would often have to endure long stretches with very little action and then be called upon to make a big save, or that he might have only twelve shots a game but ten of them may be high quality scoring chances. Scotty Bowman told me that it takes a very special goaltender to succeed in such conditions, mainly because most goaltenders are unable to maintain a high level of concentration through long stretches of idleness. Bowman went on to tell me that in his opinion Jacques Plante's level of concentration and ability to maintain it were amongst the highest he's ever seen in his career in hockey.
Q - For your book, you watched Jacques Plante in action through archival footage. In watching that footage, what are the things that struck you about Plante's style?
A - In watching the old tapes I was struck by how active Plante was, especially in contrast to the opposition goalie, who appeared to always be anchored to the goal. Plante was not afraid to assert himself into the play, whether it was winning a race for the puck or putting his body in front of an opposing forechecker. I also watched the old footage with an eye towards seeing if I could detect a difference in Plante, before and after he started wearing the mask thinking that maybe he would have been bolder with the mask. What I saw reaffirmed what Jean Beliveau had told me when I posed the same question to him. With or without the mask there appeared to be no difference in the way Plante played the position.
Q - One review, which wasn't a profound one at that, critiqued the book in one area, as almost a chronological history of the Canadiens itself rather, than focusing more on Plante's life during that period. Would you argue that this was primarily due to his widow / family's unwillingness to share personal information with you?
A - When one sets out to write a biography I firmly believe in scouring for any and all information that I can get on my subject. Part of the joy of the process of writing a book is that as you go along the book starts to reveal itself to the writer. When I started on the book I strongly felt that I wanted to write as much about Plante and the 50's Canadiens. After all it is as a member of that five-in-a-row team that Plante is primarily remembered. I also really wanted to explore his post-Montreal career which I felt had been a period of his career that had generally been overlooked if not neglected in most of the things I read about him.
As a writer/researcher, in an ideal world you would like to talk to everybody you have on your interview list. Of course, this is an unrealistic goal, but it is what you strive for. You have to respect the decision and motives of those who choose not to speak with you and it undeniably shapes the nature of your book. Early on I learned to live with the frustration that I woasn't going to know every last detail about Jacques Plante's life, especially off the ice. However, I also realized early on in my research the effort that Plante made throughout his life to have his life off the ice remain personal in a very public world. He was not a man who shared much of himself off the ice and remained an enigma to many of those who knew him the best and the longest.
Q - During his time in Boston, it is mentioned how Plante frustrated many players, notably defencemen, when he tried to instruct them in positioning during practice. Since the book's initial release, were you able to get any direct response from Bobby Orr or any other teamates on their time playing with him?
A - Jacques Plante's time in Boston could be best regarded as a period of mutual disappointment on both sides. There was a reluctance amongst many who played with him on the Bruins to go on the record with their feelings about Plante. I can only speculate as to their motives but I can imagine that they probably felt that there was very little to gain by maybe disparaging a man who has been deceased for over two decades.
Q - You grew up in the Roy generation and have watched firsthand how he changed goaltending with the butterfly style and having extensively researched Plante, who would you say had the larger impact?
A - In the great scheme of things Plante had the larger impact in that many of his innovations have now become part of every goaltenders repetoire. It's important to remember that it was Glenn Hall who really pioneered the butterfly style of goaltending. No doubt that Roy's success with the butterfly has spawned a number of imitators, especially those born and bred in the province of Quebec. However, in recent years we have begun to see a switch away from the butterfly style as many of the younger goalies are now playing a more hybrid style. No offense to Patrick Roy but his impact beyond statistics is based solely on the butterfly (and perhaps the balooning of goaltender equipment), which is by no means a universal part of today's game. I think it's also interesting to point out that of the three most successful goalies of the past fifteen years - not named Patrick Roy - Martin Brodeur, Dominik Hasek, and Ed Belfour, that none played with a butterfly style.
As I said before and going beyond the mask, Plante was the first to play the puck, pass the puck (ironically, two aspects that were not the strongest part of Patrick Roy's game), communicated with his teammates amongst other innovations. Every time the game is now played at any level or age you see these parts of the game that Plante pioneered in use. There's not many other players, particularly goaltenders, who can make the same claim.
Q - In the book's final chapters, there is the short anecdote of Plante meeting Roy in Granby in 1984, with the master not being altogether impressed with the kid's butterfly style. There is a pertinant note made there, when you suggest that Plante perhaps did not recognize his own stubborness in Roy's individualism. Both were very innovative and extremely competitive and both left a tremendous legacy. In the end, which one do you think was the better goaltender, and why?
A - Both men do indeed share many of the same qualities, foremost in my mind, an almost unshakeable inner confidence. It's hard to compare goaltenders from different era's since there are more differences than similarities - for example - travel is much easier today with the advent of private jets, the equipment is much more advanced, the use of video as a coaching tool, four rounds of playoffs, and so on.
When all is said and done you're talking about two of the five best to ever play the position. In comparing the two, it's very difficult to pick and choose amongst their on-ice accomplishments - each was able to elevate their game to the highest level when it was most needed. However, the one area where I think Plante has a small, but distinct advantage (one he has over almost all goaltenders mind you) is his longevity. To finish second in the voting for the Vezina trophy in 1970-71 and be named to the second All-Star team while posting the greatest season of save percentage ever - at age of forty - an age where Patrick Roy had already been retired for three years speaks to Plante's ability to maintain his greatness over a long period.
Q - It was interesting to read how Plante encountered Patrick Roy as a junior and felt he would not make it in the NHL. Would you agree that this was because Plante became too tied to his own methods? Francois Allaire, who later coached Roy, had developed and evolved Plante's methods in his coaching, after reading and cherishing Plante's original instructional book. Could it be that Plante failed to realize that the game and the technique of a goaltender had gotten ahead of him?
A - Plante was never a strong believer in the butterfly style of goaltending. In fairness to him at the time of his meeting with Roy, his disregard of the butterfly was the norm amongst many in the goaltending world. Of course, he had no way of knowing that Patrick Roy would become Patrick Roy.
Q: In the 30 years prior to the lockout it was rare for a team to win a Stanley Cup without an elite goaltender. Names like Parent, Dryden, Smith, Fuhr, Roy, Belfour, Hasek and Brodeur were essential to Stanley Cup success. Since the lockout, a long line of mediocre goaltenders (Emery, Biron, Nabokov, Roloson, Osgood, Leighton, Niemi, Turco, Huet, etc) has formed leading their teams on deep playoff runs. With the evolution of equipment, technique, personal goaltending coaches and less reliance on reflexes, it is increasingly harder to differentiate between the elite and the mediocre. Is a great goaltender still essential for playoff success? Has this technical revolution and interchangeability created less of a reliance on players like Plante, Dryden and Roy?
A - I do think that the gap between the best and worst goaltenders has definitely shrunk in the past few years. Add in that the league has never seen more parity and I wonder if the days of both dominant goalies and teams are a thing of the past. I also believe that your starting to see General Manager's throughout the NHL adjust to this reality and you're starting to see this reflected in the salaries afforded to goalies. For example, you're starting to see a larger priority placed on a true number one center which has become a much harder commodity to find as opposed to an above-average goaltender.
Personally I don't think that one goalie in recent years has established themselves as being at an elite level. For example, Ryan Miller was the best goalie in the league last year, but was he that much better than Tuuka Rask, who along with the Bruins helped to eliminate Miller and the Sabres in the first round last year.
At this moment there doesn't appear to be any goalie, even at the highest level, that doesn't have a flaw or two. In the past year many have speculated about a slip in Martin Brodeur's play, the inconsistency of Cam Ward, and how Roberto Luongo hasn't lived up to the impossible expectations put on him.
Last spring when the Flyers went to the finals I don't know if anybody could claim that Micheal Leighton was a key reason. Not saying that he didn't play well but I thought that there were many playoff games were the Flyers suffocating defense was the key to their success. And in my opinion, there didn't seem to be any noticeable depreciation in the Flyers play when Brian Boucher was in the net. In other words, all Leighton and/or Boucher had to do was be competent in the Philadelphia goal, which they both were. With all that being said, I don't think that anybody could say that Patrick Kane's Stanley Cup winning goal was anything but weak and one must wonder if the Flyers would have captured the Cup had they had a better goaltender.
Q - How do you think Plante would have stood in the current NHL system, that has more restrictions on where and when goaltenders can play the puck?
A - I'm reasonably certain that Plante would have been very outspoken against anything that he viewed as a restriction on any goaltender.
Q - What do you think Plante would have thought of the "non-proportional" pads, in terms of relying on equipment vs overall skill, that were being used by most NHL goaltenders until this season?
A - Obviously there was no bigger advocate for better equipment for goaltenders than Jacques Plante. However, I think he would be disappointed in any innovation that reduced the goaltenders need for skill. For Plante, maybe more so than anybody else in his day, viewed goaltending as the most skilled of all hockey positions.
Q - If Plante were alive today, which current NHL goaltenders do you think he would have the most appreciation for?
A - Martin Brodeur for a couple of reasons. On one level there is all the success that Brodeur has enjoyed but I think that Brodeur has done all of this while not playing the butterfly style (keep in mind that Plante was not a big advocate of the butterfly) but instead a sort of hybrid. Brodeur's ability to play and pass the puck would also have impressed Plante. Of course, the fact that the NHL changed the rules to combat Brodeur's puck handling would have no doubt amused Plante, who faced similar threats of rule changes throughout his career.
Q - With all that you have learned and know about goaltenders, if you were in Pierre Gauthier's shoes after the last playoff, would you make the Halak trade as he did, or not, and why?
A - Well, depending on your perspective, at the very least it was a courageous or foolhardy move on Mr. Gauthier's part. Personally, I think that the Canadiens brain trust had some questions about Jaroslav Halak's ability to play fifty to sixty games over the course of the season. In light of that, I'm not sure that the organization wanted to fully commit, especially financially to Halak.
In all the talk about the trade I don't think that enough attention has been paid to why the Canadiens kept Carey Price. Many (especially on the blogosphere) have speculated that Price staying with the Canadiens is due to the unseen hand of Bob Gainey, who many believe still runs the team. However, a few weeks ago I was speaking with a long-term NHL executive and well-respected former General Manager who told me that if Pierre Gauthier is the G.M. then he has full control of the Canadiens. In other words, when Gauthier has previously been the G.M. of a team he has been the undisputed boss of the organization. This person I spoke to told me that without that control Gauthier would never have taken the reins of the general managership. So why Carey Price? Simply put, I believe that the Canadiens feel that the ceiling on Price's talent is higher than Halak's and that he is capable of carrying the load in a way that Halak may not be able to.
As for the trade. Well, we won't know the real answer to that question for a couple of years. Anything that is said right now is based on speculation. With all that being said, and knowing that the Canadiens weren't looking to take on salary, I think that Gauthier did pretty well in securing Lars Eller and Ian Schultz in return. Understandably much of the focus on the trade has been on whether Price can live up to the expectations, which are undoubtedly high. However, I think that Lars Eller may be an overlooked key to this deal. If Eller becomes a top-six forward in the not too distant future for the Canadiens then I think that many will be forced to revaluate their judgements on the merits of the trade.