Michel Godbout is a contributing writer and chief anchor at TVA Sports.
José Théodore and Patrick Lalime are the most recent former NHL goalies who’ve gone from the net to the press box.
In Lalime’s case the transition started after he played out his last season with Buffalo putting an end to a stellar career during which he was one of the NHL’s dominant crease keepers, especially in Ottawa.
“Broadcasting and goalie coaching were the two top things on my list when I retired,” Lalime said. “I got a first taste of broadcasting during the 2007 playoffs and I was hooked. It lets you stay close to the game while talking about what you know and what you love about it.”
In Théodore’s case, the relationship just started. Sitting at home in Florida, he was waiting for a call from an NHL team willing to give him another shot.
“The call never came really, so I picked up the phone and called TVA Sports to see if they’d let me work with some of the boys like Patrick Lalime, Eric Fichaud, Simon Gagné and Mathieu Dandenault,” Théodore said. “I needed to feel like I was part of a team and stay close to the game.”
“There’s a very similar adrenaline rush as when you play,” he said. “It’s not as stressful but you’re on the spot, you get the butterflies and have to perform. Just like playing goal, when you face a shot, and now a question, you have to react.”
Doing so with less of a filter has been an adjustment.
“The big adjustment is to call it as you see it,” said Théodore. “When you play, you do interviews but you never want to make waves so you don’t always say what you’re thinking. Now I’m on the other side so it’s an adjustment especially when you know the player you’re critiquing.
“In the end, it’s the way we see the game. Goalies process a lot of information when we play: is the shooter a righty or a lefty? Does he have a passing option? As goalies, we see the game in a global way, how it unfolds. I think that’s why we have an edge when analyzing a game on TV, so for us broadcasting is a natural fit.”
Being so analytical, both guys have picked apart how the game has changed since they left but also during their tenure.
“The biggest change I saw during my career was the mental preparation side,” Lalime said. “Sure we went from the Patrick Roy-style butterfly play to a more block style of game, less flopping around and being more in control for the rebound. But I think goalies turned a huge corner when teams started better preparing their players on the mental side. Working more on visualizing the game before you actually play it.
“Goalie coaching helped huge in that way. When I went from having a goalie coach visiting me three times a month to a full-time goalie coach like Stephaen Wait and Jim Corsi, everything changed for the better.”
That comment prompted Théodore to add: “I think goalie coaches should follow a goalie for his entire pro career. When a goalie gets traded the coach follows him. Just like the coach/player tandem in tennis and golf.
“Think about it, the goalie gets to a new team, new surroundings and then he has to deal with a new goalie coach that may want to change his whole game,” Théodore continued. “Often it’s a disaster! It would be a lot easier if his goalie coach follows in tow and the tandem can keep working on things they’ve been doing all along. After all, your goalie coach knows your strengths, your weaknesses and how to prepare you mentally. I think the goalie would be much better off that way when he gets to his new team. And the team will reap the benefits much sooner.”
It’s an interesting concept for sure. Just as interesting was what the former keepers had to say about their own game and how they’d play differently if they were still in the NHL.
“I’d play deeper for sure,” said Lalime. “It gives you a better chance on every shot because there’s a lot more playmaking inside the blue line now and if you’re out to challenge the shooter too much you’re going to get burned. Look at Lundqvist, he always has a chance on every shot. Mike Smith and Carey Price too. I did the one knee down at the end of my career and it helped, now it’s the reverse-VH and it looks pretty effective.”
Théodore surprised me with his answer.
“I wouldn’t change much to be honest,” he said. “I tried a lot of the changes during my last years. The taller pads made me slower. The side-to-side pad slides made my vulnerable on high shots because of my size (5-foot-11). After trying all that, I found that the t-push across and getting set for the shot still gave me a better chance to make the save. I built my game around foot speed and even if I slowed down a bit with age, quick feet still paid the bills. I think guys now are down way too quick and they can’t track the puck. They rely too much on their size and covering the bottom of the net.”
That said, he quickly adds “guys are unbelievable these days. Scoring chances are much higher than when I played and goalies still manage save percentages in the +920s. If they were playing in the 90’s they’d have won the Vezina!”
Both Théodore and Lalime will now have plenty of time to see future Vezina winners. From their analysts chairs they’ll have hundreds of great saves and bad goals to talk about. And that’s good news for fans, because when these two credible performers weigh in, you’ll know they can talk the talk because they walked the walk.