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Grant Fuhr: Toronto thought Zach Hyman was expendable shipping him to Edmonton

25 Mar | news | BY Betway Insider | MIN READ TIME |
Grant Fuhr: Toronto thought Zach Hyman was expendable shipping him to Edmonton
Source: Alamy Stock Photo

Ahead of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, we down with goaltending legend Grant Fuhr to talk about his career on one of the greatest teams in NHL history.

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Were you surprised the Edmonton Oilers didn’t acquire a veteran backup goaltender for the playoffs to support Stuart Skinner?

Not really, I think a lot of it comes down to the salary cap. When you’ve already got one guy on a $5M deal, and yeah, he’s in the minors, but it’s hard to bring in another goaltender. As everybody knows, there’s always a shortage of goalies, so if you do bring somebody in, it’s usually on a big ticket. In the salary cap era, if you’re trying to build a winning team, it’s hard to squeeze two big name goalies into your umbrella. If you do that, you’ve got to give up pieces somewhere else. To win a championship, you can’t give up those other pieces.

Is it important to have a veteran goalie on the squad to help guide younger goalies?

I think the dynamic has changed. When I came into the league, I didn’t have a goalie coach for the first 13 years, so your partner was your guy to bounce things off of. Whereas now a lot of guys have their own goalie coach, the team has a goalie coach, there’s a director of goalie development, so you’ve got a lot of guys in the system who you can bounce ideas off of. Which means you don’t really have to have that veteran guy now. You can go with two young guys, because you have other guys for them to talk to. Whereas back in my day, the veteran was important, because he was literally your only sounding board.

Do you think our understanding of goaltending is behind because goaltenders are almost playing a different sport than skaters?

Yeah! You’re looking at basically three hours of being engaged. For me the biggest misnomer that everybody talks about, that you hear about, is save percentage. I’m not a fan of save percentage. I’m a fan of ‘Can you make the right save at the right time?’ And they don’t have a dynamic for that yet. At some point they’ll come up with it, it’s getting better and better. But every building counts shots differently. So, save percentage I kind of throw out the window. I look at quality of saves at opportune times in the game. Can you make that save to change the momentum of the game? Can you make that save to save a game? That’s more important to me, and win. It was like that when I came into the league, and it’s like that now. Can you win a game when it’s on the line? That to me is the biggest statistic there is.

Goaltending metrics are improving but are arguably not yet sufficient – do you think statistics are able to properly convey how a goaltender is performing?

Unless you play the position or have played the position, it’s hard to understand. Yeah, you can get the basics. You can get your shots on goal, your save percentage, you get your goals against average, but those don’t tell you what kind of goals they’re giving up. Are they good goals? Are they soft goals? What created that goal? What created that dynamic? For the average fan, there’s things they wouldn’t think of that lead to what a goalie has to do. For me, with the guys here in Coachella when they give up a goal, what caused the goal? Is it a stoppable goal, or a not stoppable goal? I look at the old-fashioned dynamics. Can you make that save that maybe you’re not supposed to make that turns a game around, or saves a hockey game? I still think those are the most important assets.

How much do you focus on save selection?

I’m not so much worried about save selection as I am rebound control, where’s it going? It doesn’t have to be pretty, it just has to work. If it works, where are you putting the rebounds? And are you putting more strain on your defencemen, and more strain on yourself? So, it’s what you do with the save, not so much the (type) of save that you make. A lot of guys don’t catch pucks anymore, they knock pucks down. Well, if you control rebounds, you control the game, if you can catch the puck.

A lot of the focus on goaltending appears to now be on blocking. Goaltenders often say if you’re on your game, the puck is hitting you in the chest, with the more acrobatic saves becoming less common – except for Marc-Andre Fleury! Do you feel that’s the case?

He’s a bit of a throwback! It doesn’t have to be pretty, just has to work. And again, if you can catch the puck it’s controlled. If it hits you in the chest and drops down, you still have to corral that puck. If you can’t, now your defencemen are working harder, and you’re working harder. But if you catch it, everything’s easier for everyone else. If you can put rebounds in the right places, it’s easier on your forwards and easier on your defencemen. I think you can tell if a guy is playing well more by where his rebounds are going.

Looking back on your career with the Oilers, is it true that Wayne Gretzky went by the New York Islanders’ locker room and everyone was nursing their wounds instead of partying after their Stanley Cup victory in 1983?

That’s actually a true story! That first year we got to the finals in 1983, we were still having fun and enjoying it. We left some on the table. To be a championship team, you have to empty the tank. The Islanders emptied the tank, and yeah, they celebrated a little bit, but they also had a lot more ice bags than we had. It was a lesson for us that you need to empty the tank and leave nothing left at the end of the day. It’s part of growing up, it’s part of learning, and you learn from the good teams. The Islanders learned from the Montreal Canadiens before. We learned from the Islanders. You see teams that win three, four, or five cups, it’s that dynamic of leaving everything on the table, and realizing that every game the next year will be like a playoff game, because everyone wants to beat the defending champion. If you look at those Islanders teams, that’s four straight years of playing nothing but playoff games. There’s a lot you can leave on the table, and it’s hard to win.

When you’re watching games now, can you tell when a team isn’t leaving it all on the table?

No, you can see it. If you’re looking for it, you can see it. You see the commitment to block shots, you see the commitment to making a backcheck, and when somebody doesn’t have it in the playoffs, you can see it. You can see the teams that really want it and are willing to pay a price for it.

You played for both the Oilers and the Maple Leafs in your career, who you do think is closest to winning a Championship?

Both teams are great offensively, but when it comes down to grinding it out against a heavy team for seven games, can you win the 2-1 game? We found out in the early 80’s with our team, we were a big offensive team, but we had to learn how to play those games. Play the heavy game, the hard grinding game. With Toronto the last couple of years, when they play big, physical teams, they struggle with it. Look at last year, that’s what the Florida Panthers were. A big, heavy, physical team, and they will be this year too. They’re going to have to learn how to play that game. Edmonton’s in the same boat. You look at the Vegas Golden Knights, Winnipeg Jets, and Vancouver Canucks, they play a big, heavy game, and they can win those 2-1 games. They’re comfortable playing in those games. Edmonton’s going to have to learn how to be comfortable in those games. Both those clubs are still in the learning process.

What was it like to be the last line of defence for an offensive dynasty team that wasn’t known for defensive play?

For me, I didn’t mind it. I enjoyed being busy, I enjoyed lots of work, and I got the best seat in the house to watch an offensive juggernaut. We knew we were going to score goals, and we also knew we were going to give up chances. The numbers were never going to be pretty, and I knew that going in. It didn’t bother me. I played in a junior system in Victoria (Victoria Cougars in the WHL) where it was the same thing. We were a great offensive team, but we were going to have some lapses defensively. Growing up and learning that it’s about winning, not numbers, I wasn’t worried about save percentage or goals against average. I worried about making the save to win a hockey game. If you look at it that way, playing on a team like that becomes a lot easier. You’re not putting the pressure on yourself about having pretty numbers, because guess what; if it’s a 5-1 game, the other team’s going to get some offensive chances, because the guys want to make it an 8-1 game. Which was fine! We wanted to win, and if you gave up a couple, it was fine.

In 1986-87 you played 44 games, the following year in 1987-88 you played 75 games. How difficult was that change in workload?

I loved it! I think that’s the thing; one, you have to enjoy playing, two, you have to have a reasonable pain tolerance, because usually you feel good the first day of training camp, and that’s the only day you feel really good. But at the same time, you prepare to play every day anyway. Even if you’re backing up, you’re prepare to play. So, if they give you the opportunity to play, why not play? I always enjoyed playing a lot. In 1995-96 I ended up playing 79 games, and I was old by then, it becomes a mindset.

Then in 1996-97 you played 73 games – how tough was maintaining that workload?

The 73 was a lot harder than the 79, because I was playing on a reconstructed knee. That was a little harder on the mind and the body, but at the same time, to be able to do it, I knew my mindset was good. There were days everything hurt, but at the same time, once the game starts adrenaline takes over, and things hurt less and you just play. I know teams are hung up on load management today, but to me it’s less physical, the question is whether your goalie is fresh mentally. That’s the biggest battle.

When you’re not mentally engaged, is it easier to get injured?

Yeah, your body can be tired, but your brain can get you over that hump. You look at a marathon runner, you might be able to run 15 miles, but there’s still 10 left. It’s the mentally strong people who can push through that threshold, and it’s the same thing if you’re going to play a lot of games as a goalie. You’re going to get tired at some point, but then you’ve got to have the mental prowess to push through it.

What was the transition like being traded from the Oilers to the Maple Leafs?

For me it was okay. I grew up in Edmonton and got to play in Edmonton, but as a young kid I grew up as a Leafs fan, because there was no Edmonton Oilers at that time. Out West you had Montreal and Toronto on TV at night, in the West it was mostly Toronto, so you became a Leafs fan. Going to the Leafs, even though it was the start of a transition there, it was still fun to be a Leaf. Yeah, it’s hockey crazy, Edmonton is hockey crazy too, but Toronto might be just that step over the top. At that time, you’re still getting to play in Toronto, in Maple Leaf Gardens. For me, that was a fun transition.

Jim Corsi once told the story that when you were with the St. Louis Blues, Al MacInnis would only take wrist shots in practice unless he didn’t like a goalie, then he would wind up. Apparently, Jon Casey faced a lot of slappers in practice, but you didn’t. Is that true?

That is a true story! He was always nice to me in practice, not so much when he played for Calgary though. In practice Al is very respectful, and Brett Hull is the same way. Good goal scorers are like that, they can bring the heat if they wanted to, but they know you’re playing every day, and they respect you.

How bad do you think MacInnis would terrorize the league today with a modern stick?

I saw him try out a composite stick, and it was exciting! He didn’t have the same control, so things would get away from him and hit the top of the glass, go right by the shoulders. It wouldn’t have been much fun for goalies. His first couple of years in the NHL everything was around head height, so you’d get a clean look because everyone was getting out of the way.

The Buffalo Sabres seem to be really struggling to get over the hump to exit their rebuild and become a playoff team, is it as simple for them as Devon Levi getting more experience and becoming a starting goaltender?

That would help, obviously you need good goaltending. But I think the biggest thing is depth. That’s the thing that’s been lacking there a little bit is their third and fourth lines. And yeah, they had Jack Eichel for a bit, giving them a good first line, but they didn’t have a whole lot behind it, or on the back end. When you don’t have depth, or your depth is being outplayed every night, you’re going to struggle to get to or win in the playoffs.

You got to play for some big franchises in your career, was there any market you wish you got the chance to play in?

I was pretty fortunate. I would have liked to finish my career back in Edmonton, but if I couldn’t finish in Edmonton, Calgary was close enough. My mom is from Calgary so finishing back there was okay. There are no bad cities in the NHL. It would have been fun to play in Chicago, Boston, or Montreal as an original six city, but if not, Edmonton was a pretty great place to play.

If this year’s Stanley Cup Finals is Edmonton Oilers vs Toronto Maple Leafs, who is Grant Fuhr’s pick to win it all?

Oh, I’ll still stick with the Oilers. It’s still in my blood. It would be a fun final because both teams are so offensive. In the first few games you would see both teams lean on what they do best, which is run and gun. That would be exciting! It would be media heaven. You’ve got Toronto, which everyone thinks is the centre of the universe, Auston Matthews who could score 70 or 75 this year, and then you’ve got Connor McDavid. It would be a fun series to watch, and the fun part for me would be Zach Hyman, who played in Toronto. Shipping him to Edmonton figuring he was expendable, and all of a sudden, he could score 50 or 55 goals this year.

Betway Insider

Betway Insider

The Insider is an editorial blog for Betway, one of the best betting sites, featuring sporting insight, intelligent comment and informed betting tips for football betting and all other major sports.

Betway Insider

Betway Insider

The Insider is an editorial blog for Betway, one of the best betting sites, featuring sporting insight, intelligent comment and informed betting tips for football betting and all other major sports.