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12-12-2012, 06:02 PM
Mike Farkas
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I've watched nothing but Islanders games from that era the past few days - chiefly the 1982 and 1983 Stanley Cup Finals. I'm not prepared to present a meaningful report, though I don't think a couple extra games will change what I've seen so far.

Let's get this out of the way right now. I always default to the view of a scout or a coach when watching a game. I sat and watched and took notes on things as if I had never seen these players before ever (that #99 on Edmonton can play, watch out for him in the next draft...). Let me say this right now, because I had my doubts going in, Billy Smith is a very good goaltender.

Now, unfortunately, by the time I looked at the game analytically, goaltending had already evolved into what it has today. Cookie cutter. Watching these "pure" goalies from before the butterfly proliferated play is a treat. It's no wonder it's definitive who was the top tier and who was the bottom, there were good goalies and bad goalies. Just like there were good centers and bad centers, good defensemen and bad defensemen. Those elements still exist today, except all the goalies are basically the same. And moreover, the worst ones seem to end up winning. That's for another time...

So, I said that to say this: I didn't grow up in the era in which these goalies developed. I don't have that first-hand experience of the evolution of the position. Killion could probably do a better job pointing out the technical aspects of what I'm looking at with the old guard of net guardians. So I fell back on fundamental principles. Some say "positioning" - I say, "kind of..." ...the thing I look for is anticipation. I love a goalie that reads a play well, show me a goalie that can do that and I'll show you a pro.

That's why I get into trouble sometimes being called a hypocrite because I rail against "system" goaltenders like Thomas and Giguere and Osgood but am a heavy proponent of Martin Brodeur.

Brodeur has maybe the best anticipation I've ever seen. His read of the play is phenom status. That's why he was successful. That's why he's successful now, that's why he was successful when he started. Stevens or no Stevens. DPE or not. Trap or no trap. Multiple eras, all success. All from anticipation.

Anyhow, Billy Smith's anticipation impressed me a great deal. He's not flashy (as C1958 alluded to), he's not a gumby in the nets. It's really terrific and so easy to appreciate the different styles that clashed in the 80's there. The Oilers are a roller hockey team. It's up and back, here and turnover and back, and score and backhand pass and no-look and all's all excitement. With the Islanders, it's all very deliberate. Controlled breakout, three men back at all times (sometimes you feel like they're playing with an extra one...every time the camera pans over you're thinking "ok, I think I saw four Islanders back that way, this should be 1 on 1" and then they pan over and sure enough: it's always two. Always. It was uncanny).

Billy Smith is great at anticipating. His saves don't look amazing to anyone not paying close attention. But he tracks the puck so well and understands what kind of shot is coming and reacts. Some goaltenders from that era "throw a glove" at it and hope for the best. Smith put his glove in the right spot and made a save. I was very impressed. He catches it and quickly keeps the play moving to a d-man, they go D to D to ward off the forecheck and they're off. Only after it's sure that safe possession has been maintained does Bryan Trottier or Butch Goring or Anders Kallur leave the zone.

Smith is a fine skater and a fine goaltender.

Now with that said, I'll still take Fuhr over him for reasons already mentioned. Smith was not exposed to the elements on Long Island. This is what I always talk about, "don't let the stats create the narrative...the story unfolded, now see if the face-value numbers back it up and if they don't, something is amiss..." As we see by the style of play and the success of other goalies that played for the Isles during that time, the Isles were gonna make it work to some degree regardless. Smith was not a liability to the team though like, say, Osgood was to Detroit (can it, Wings fans, we know, he was the greatest and it's a conspiracy and the league is out to get him, we know... ). Or even if not a liability, a weak link. The weakest. There, that's better than liability. Less hate mail that way. Smith isn't that. He's very much a positive influence and a major cog in that dynasty.

This changes for me, not that Smith is over That's not gonna happen. That's incorrect, I feel. However, it changes that Smith will get his due from me sooner rather than later. I was feeling out as to how close to the "cliff" (40) Smith is going to get before I finally bend. That won't be the case anymore. This was a good goalie in a good situation. As much as I like to support goalies that out-performed backups and were on bad teams and weren't protected with left wing locks and neutral zone traps and kitties barring doors...there's no reason to discount Billy Smith like some of the other system goalies that will probably come up at the tail end of this project.

Sorry for the long post, I didn't want to discuss all this much yet, but it'll save me from making a longer post when my film work is done I suppose.

I want make it clear once more though...I don't think we should be prepared to put him on the list yet. But this isn't a goalie we should let sit and wait around for too terribly long either. Honestly, I was wondering if he was top-35 before I did this homework. Top-30 is no longer a question for me.

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