Goalies 101: Talking About The Butterfly
There are a number of terms used by the goaltending communty that are understood differently by different parts of the hockey community. The differences in usage and meaning can lead to confusion and can make it harder for discussions about goaltending to bear fruit. In some ways, goalies and non goalies are often talking a different language. In an attempt to clarify some of these concepts, InGoal is bringing you Goalies 101, a series that aims to explore how goalies talk about goaltending. You can read the complete series here.
One of the most commonly misused terms is, ironically, one of the most basic of terms: the butterfly. The butterfly is and has always been a tactic – a save selection used to defend against certain kinds of shots and to put a goaltender into a position where a save can be made.
It is not a “style” or a description of a goaltender and hasn’t been in at least a decade. It is a tool that everyone – everyone – uses.
For a time the butterfly was so new that its use constituted a style of goaltending. When it first started to become popular in the 1980s, contrasting those who used the butterfly and those who used traditional standup techniques made perfect sense. Thirty years ago, calling a goaltender a butterfly goaltender meant that they embraced not only the move but the “set and block” philosophy that accompanied its first uses. In those early years it made sense to differentiate between players who hit the ice and those who did not.
Quickly, however, the butterfly proved its effectiveness.
It allowed the goaltender to cover the parts of the net that saw the most shots – along the ice and in the center of the net. It helped goaltenders to put the biggest part of their body, their torso, in front of the puck rather than waving a hand or foot at them. And so it was adopted by more and more goaltenders and filtered down into youth hockey.
There was even an intermediate style, designated a “hybrid,” that combined elements of both the stand up and the butterfly style. Hybrid goalies maintained a bit more mobility than early butterfly mechanics allowed while taking advantage of the benefits of the new technique and equipment. Think Dominik Hasek: using the butterfly as one of many tools but rejecting the set and block mentality that arrived with it.
But that, too, evolved over time. Variations of the butterfly appeared. In today’s game you will see the wide butterfly, the narrow butterfly, the full butterfly, a half butterfly, and even a butterfly lean used on the post.
Today the butterfly is the core of every goaltender’s game. No one at any competitive level rejects the butterfly. Everything about the modern goalie’s game is predicated on the butterfly save, from making it easier to get into or out of it to timing it to compensating for its shortcomings.
It no longer makes sense to talk about a goaltender as a butterfly goaltender or the butterfly as a goaltending style because everyone without exception plays a game built around the butterfly save.
So when someone describes a goalie as a butterfly goaltender, they are telling you precisely nothing. It is as informative as saying that they wear skates and have a glove and a blocker. When someone describes a modern goaltender saying that they “don’t play the butterfly,” they are overlooking the vast majority of what that goaltender does every game.
Sometimes the phrase “this player is a butterfly goalie” is used to imply a more conservative positional approach or one that involves an emphasis on blocking rather than reacting. In other words, get in position, get set, go down, and keep openings to a minimum. Or the implication may be that the goaltender in question doesn’t stay on their skates as long as others or that they are tighter in the arms and shoulders or that they tend to play mostly in the blue of the crease. By conflating all of those concepts with the use of the butterfly, this requires that readers and listeners guess at what is intended.
Some players do indeed move into their butterfly noticeably later, such as Pekka Rinne. The butterfly is still at the core of their game. Stance, gloves, sticks, pads, skates, protective gear. Even post integration techniques like the Reverse-VH are designed to allow for movement into and out of the butterfly.
In discussing goaltender tactics, in evaluating and scouting, in writing about and talking about goaltenders, it is time to retire the concept of the “butterfly style.” This no longer has relevance to what makes one goaltender different from his or her peers. It simply does not convey any relevant information about a particular player. Instead, we should recognize that techniques have evolved and spread to the extent that there may no longer be “styles” of goaltending at all.
A style is a cluster of traits shared by certain goaltenders. These clusters are gone.
The tools and traits that used to make up distinct schools of goaltending have spread though the community, blurring the lines that allow for such categorization. Goalies learn skills and techniques that are useful in specific situations. They put new tools in their toolbox, tools that they bring out in the appropriate circumstances.
Everyone has borrowed everyone else’s tools, copied them, integrated them, and sometimes even rejected them. What we see now are tendencies towards the use of favorite tools and towards indiosyncratic ways of integrating the different parts into a whole.
This integration is what now differentiates one goaltender’s look from another. It is what makes some goaltenders more successful than others.
So let’s look at the butterfly for what it really is: a technique central to modern goaltending rather than a meaningful description of a goaltender.