May 15, 2006

Grant Fuhr

Grant Fuhr was the best goalie in the world in the second half of the 1980's. He struggled once departing from Edmonton, but late in his career resurrected his profile to elite status once again with St. Louis.

Grant Fuhr was a highly talked about junior goaltender when Glen Sather used his 1st round (8th overall) draft pick in 1981 to select him. Fuhr was labeled as a can't miss prospect and the goalie of the '80s. His 78-21-1 junior record spoke for itself. Sather knew he had to have a great goalie in order to take his team to the next level. He had Gretzky to score goals, but he needed someone to stop them.

For the first few years, there was a bit of goaltending power struggle in Edmonton. Fuhr and Andy Moog would split the work, but Fuhr became the go-to guy once the playoffs rolled along.

The playoffs was when Fuhr was at his best. While Fuhr received little respect for his regular season play, he became recognized as the world's greatest goaltender because of his international play and the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Fuhr is recognized as one of the greatest playoff goalie that ever played. Spectacular sprawling saves were the norm in Edmonton during their Cup years. While most people give Gretzky and Messier the credit, it is highly unlikely the Oiler's would have been as successful as they were without the caliber of play Grant Fuhr supplied them.

It has often been said playing goal for the Edmonton Oiler dynasty of the 1980's must have been an easy job and that even an average goaltender could have done well. While it is true that the Oilers held on to the puck the majority of the game and would often give Fuhr large leads to work with, but they were also guilty of not supporting their goalie with much defensive help, especially in the earlier years during the regular season. During his prime, Fuhr's GAA ranged from a low of 3.43 to 3.91, which is extremely high for someone who is supposed to be the "best goalie in the world." But considering the Oilers' run and gun style and Fuhr's lack of support on many nights, those numbers are very respectable.

Fuhr's best season came in 1987-88 when he led the league in minutes played (4304), wins (40), shutouts (3.43) and then won 16 more games in the playoffs en route to the Stanley Cup. He also was named to the NHL's First All Star Team and won his only Vezina Trophy. He finished second to teammate Gretzky in voting for the Hart Trophy as the leagues MVP.

The season started with the 1987 Canada Cup. Many believe that that was the strongest Red Army team ever assembled. Many agree that that was the greatest hockey Wayne Gretzky ever played. It also marked the emergence of Mario Lemieux as a superstar like no one before him. It was a new generation's 1972 Summit Series. It might have been the greatest hockey ever played. And Grant Fuhr stood on his head! The Russians swarmed and swarmed but Fuhr continued to turn away shot after shot after shot. Remember right before Mario Lemieux's famous goal on a drop pass from Wayne Gretzky? There was mad scramble in front of the Canadian net, Fuhr kept the puck out. The results of the 1987 Canada Cup could very easily have been reversed had it not been for Grant Fuhr.

Fuhr fell on hard times towards the turn of the decade. An addiction to an unhealthy substance followed by the dismantling of the Oilers found him in Toronto. After one spectacular season he found himself backing up rookie sensation Felix Potvin the next year. He then moved to Buffalo just as Dominik Hasek evolved into the dominant goalie of the 1990s. Then he went to Los Angeles but things just didn't work out there either.

Fuhr, an excellent golfer, returned to form once he landed in St. Louis. He looked like he was 23 again, thrilling fans with his acrobatic style and is stealing games for the Blues which they have no business winning. It was great to see the living legend between the pipes back on top after most people had written him off.

So strong was Grant's play that many thought the Blues could go far in the 1996 NHL playoffs. However the Blues' playoff hopes ended when Toronto Maple Leaf's forward Nick Kypreos controversially crashed into Fuhr as the goalie was trying to cover a loose puck. Many suspected Kypreos deliberately ran the goalie with the intent of seriously shaking up Fuhr, and that's exactly what he did as Fuhr twisted his leg awkwardly. Fuhr's season was done, and so too was the Blues'.

Though he continued to play strongly in the following season, he was never able to repeat his excellence in year one in St. Louis. By the 1998-99 season, Fuhr began to show his age. Injury problems riddled Grant's performance and the Blues started looking for a replacement for the aging wonder. When they acquired Roman Turek from the Stanley Cup champion Dallas Stars, Fuhr and his big salary became dispensable.

In the summer of 1999, Fuhr's career took a dramatic turn.

Fuhr's playing rights were acquired by of all teams the Calgary Flames - the team that Fuhr had so many memorable battles with during his prime. Although its not Grant's fault, it seems so weird to see him tending the nets of the hated Flames now. Can you imagine Gretzky in a Flame's jersey? Or Messier?

However Fuhr had to undergo knee surgery during the season, which limited him to just 23 games in what proved to be his final season. One of his few highlites that season cam on October 22, 1999 when he further cemented his place among the game's all time best by becoming the 6th goalie in National Hockey League history to achieve 400 victories in the regular season.

The Spruce Grove, Alberta native finished his career with 868 games played, with a 403-295-114 record. He posted 25 shutouts and a career 3.38 GAA. In the playoffs Fuhr went 92-50 with 6 shutouts and 4 Stanley Cups. While his statistics are forever inflated and his greatness is underrated because of the way the Oilers played hockey, Fuhr will always be remembered as the goalie who would never surrender a big goal against. He let in more than most of the top goalies in history, but at the most crucial times it was Fuhr who stole the spotlight in Edmonton.

Grant also holds the records for most points in one season by a goaltender - 14 in 1983-84 (all assists). In total Grant picked up 46 career assists. Only Tom Barrasso has more in a career.

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