Sunday, June 22, 2014

Bill Ranford Swatch Card

I wrote about Bill Ranford some four years ago with a post that I thought was heartfelt at the time but seems a bit negative in retrospect. I won't go back to re-edit it, because as a child, he did take the place of two of my favourite goalies - Patrick Roy and Grant Fuhr - although, to his credit, he did so with a bang, winning the Conn Smythe trophy and the Canada Cup MVP titles ahead of Mark Messier and Wayne Gretzky, respectively, so he really took full advantage of his window of opportunity and jumped on it.

But what seems more impressive now than his two Stanley Cups with the Edmonton Oilers (1988 as Fuhr's backup and 1990 with the roles reversed) is his work as the Los Angeles Kings' goaltending coach.

Considering current Colorado Avalanche goaltending guru François Allaire is pretty much the godfather of the position (working through Patrick Roy's three Conn Smythes, Jean-Sébastien Giguère's Conn Smythe and Cup in separate years, now Semyon Varlamov's superb comeback), the top-5 goaltending coaches has to be rounded up by the New York Rangers' Benoît Allaire (it runs in the family) who has worked with Henrik Lundqvist, Martin Biron and Cam Talbot while letting them all keep their distinctive styles; Stéphane Waite (Jimmy Waite's brother), winner of Stanley Cups with two different young goalies (Antti Niemi and Corey Crawford); Roland Melanson (multiple award-winning or -nominated goalies such as Roberto Luongo, José Théodore, Jaroslav Halak, Cristobal Huet, young Carey Price, Jeff Hackett), inventor of the ''one pad down along the goal line while hugging the post when the puck's in the corner'' move, which is perfect for stopping impromptu passes and/or deflections; and Ranford. (For the record, my former favourite was Sean Burke, who has since been promoted to the Phoenix Coyotes' Director of Player Personnel).

Except I rank Ranford second on this list, and perhaps first on the ''last three-to-five years'' list. During his tenure, Jonathan Quick has become a two-time Cup champion and Conn Smythe winner, a Vezina nominee and silver medalist. This season alone, though, two goalies have posted better numbers than Quick, each playing in a quarter of the season - 19 games. Youngster Ben Scrivens went 7-5-4 with an incredible 1.97 GAA and .931 save percentage (3 shutouts), while rookie Martin Jones went 12-6-0 with an unbelievable 1.87 GAA and .934 save percentage (4 shutouts). That's 7 shutouts in 38 games, which just add to Quick's 6 in 49, for a whopping 13 shutouts in a single season.

The season before that, Jonathan Bernier posted a 1.88 GAA and .922 save percentage in roughly a third of the Kings' games. And while Bernier had been a fixture on the team since 2010, Erik Ersberg had had the call in 2009-10, also with a 2.40 GAA and .906 save percentage that rivaled Quick's.

As a matter of fact, the difference between the pre-Ranford Kings and just his first season in L.A. is astonishing:

They went from 6 goalies with just one whose GAA was below 3.00 to 3 goalies all under 3.00; they doubled their shutout numbers and their team save percentage was up by over 50 points. And that was just the start, as I've demonstrated before.

And so perhaps Ranford ranks in another category as well: the excellent goalie coaches who had also previously been exceptional goalies, with Burke and, to a lesser extent in regards to his playing days, Melanson. And Roy, who probably does have some input with the goalies as the Avs' head coach.

And so today I pay tribute to Ranford's second Cup win as the Kings' goaltending coach (and subsequent 3-year contract extension) with this card, from Upper Deck's 2006-07 Trilogy set (card #HS-BR of the Honorary Swatches sub-set, with a blue swatch likely from the Oilers' blue away uniform):
It's a pretty basic design, compared to what the Trilogy set would offer in later years, but it works well.

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