Friday, September 28, 2007

Who's in goal?
Crease situations come into focus across NHL

Goaltending's a funny position in the NHL, as every year, it's a bit of a revolving door. Unknowns heading into last season like Niklas Backstrom and Johan Holmqvist became starters with playoff teams, while backups took over the top job by midseason in a handful of situations (Chris Mason, Peter Budaj, etc.).

With more than a few new jobs up for grabs this season, my guess is we're going to see more than a few netminders climb the depth chart in 2007-08:

Starter: J-S Giguere. Backup(s): Ilya Bryzgalov, Jonas Hiller
The surprise here is that this one isn't as straightforward as one might expect. Giguere's been hurt, hasn't played a preseason game and won't play at all in the next two weeks. Bryzgalov, meanwhile, has had the weakest preseason of the four Ducks goalies to see time in goal, while Hiller, a Swiss veteran, has been brilliant (4 GP, 0.98 GAA, 96.6 sv pct.). This is obviously Giguere's gig, but with Hiller holding the bigger contract among the backups, he might be headed for the minors until Bryzgalov can be dealt.

Starter: Undetermined. Candidates: Kari Lehtonen, Johan Hedberg
This one isn't anywhere near the slam dunk you'd think it is. Lehtonen's been struggling with a groin injury, and after a god-awful turn in the playoffs last year, coach Bob Hartley has made overtures about giving Hedberg more of a shot this season. Could be split duty while rookie Ondrej Pavelec gets up to speed in the minors.

Starter: Manny Fernandez. Backup(s): Tim Thomas
The Bruins' tenders were absolutely shelled last season, facing the most shots in the league — something that will be a rude awakening for Fernandez, who's enjoyed the comfy confines of the Wild's stifling system for nearly his entire career. Thomas has been slightly better in preseason, and this one could be more of a regular rotation if Fernandez struggles early.

Starter: Ryan Miller. Backup(s): Jocelyn Thibault
No controversy here. The Sabres will live in die in goal with Miller, as Thibault won't see much more than 20 games.

Starter: Miikka Kiprusoff. Backup(s): Curtis McElhinney, Brent Krahn
The starter's gig here is a no-brainer, and Kipper will get 90 per cent of the starts. Krahn's been out all preseason with a knee injury, and while McElhinney's been decent, there's still talk Calgary will grab a Cujo type to sit on the bench this season.

Starter: Cam Ward. Backup(s): John Grahame, Mike Leighton
Ward's been excellent in just 91 minutes of preseason action; Grahame had struggled until posting a shutout against Columbus last night. A lot was made of Ward's improved conditioning coming in and a bounce back could be in the cards. In any event, he'll play 60-plus games again, barring injury.

Starter: Nikolai Khabibulin. Backup(s): Patrick Lalime
There wasn't much of a camp battle here, as Khabibulin's the guaranteed starter after an improved 2006-07 campaign and Lalime knows his role. Neither has been all that impressive in preseason so far, and the 'Hawks have an awfully young defence yet again. But, hey, Bill Wirtz is gone.

Starter: Peter Budaj. Backup(s): Jose Theodore, Tyler Weiman
Make no mistake: The Avalanche's late charge up the standings was all Budaj, as Theodore barely saw any game action after Christmas. Theodore's recovering from knee surgery at the moment and hasn't seen preseason action, so Weiman may be on the bench to start the year. The 23-year-old was a CHL starter with the Colorado Eagles as recently as 2004-05 but is on the radar here after a strong camp.

Starter: Fred Norrena. Backup(s): Pascal Leclaire, Steve Mason
Norrena should get the reins this year as starter, but his nagging knee problem has meant 19-year-old junior standout Mason remains on the roster, playing preseason games, and he's done quite well up until a loss last night. Leclaire has been just so-so in three games played and needs a bounce back year to stay in the NHL.

Starter: Marty Turco. Backup(s): Mike Smith
The Stars have seen an awful lot of goals against in preseason, and Turco's goals against in 90 minutes of action prior to last night's win was 6.67. There's more of a battle here than you'll hear about, as Smith was phenomenal in spot duty last season and should get more of a chance than the 23 games he played last season.

Starter: Dominik Hasek. Backup(s): Chris Osgood, Jim Howard
This is the Dominator's team, but at age 42, he can't start as much as he used to, and the backups play an important role with the Red Wings. Even Osgood is getting up there at 34 and Howard's due for his chance soon given his solid performance in camp.

Starter: Dwayne Roloson. Backup(s): Mathieu Garon
Not much excitement here. Garon's injury insurance in case any Oilers decide to toss an opponent on Roloson's 37-year-old MCL. Both have been solid in preseason.

Starter: Tomas Vokoun. Backup(s): Craig Anderson
Another team with well-defined roles in goal. Anderson's been the league's top netminder in preseason, allowing just two goals in 150 minutes action and is more than ready for full-time backup duties after dominant recent stints in the AHL.

Los Angeles
Starter: Undetermined. Candidates: Jonathan Bernier, Jason LaBarbera, J-S Aubin
This one's a disaster. Or at least it will be if Bernier can't, at 19, make the jump from the QMJHL right into starting NHL duty. I would have bet my right pinky on LaBarbera being 'the guy' here heading into camp, but he's been god awful in two games (not to mention the team's tournament against European opposition) so that puts the Kings in a tough spot. Aubin's barely qualified for backup duty after his embarrassing burnout in Toronto last season. Still, Bernier has been terrific so far, and is one of the top young goaltenders in junior, so why not give him an audition?

Starter: Niklas Backstrom. Backup(s): Josh Harding
Similar to the situation in Dallas, the backup here will push for a starting role at the first sign of weakness. Harding's one of the NHL's real secrets in goal, and was the WHL player of the year as an 18-year-old back when I followed the game in those parts. Backstrom may have the big contract, but that won't mean anything if there's a sophomore slump in Minnesota.

Starter: Cristobal Huet. Backup(s): Carey Price, Jaroslav Halak
Another youngster throwing a monkey wrench into the goaltending mix. Huet likely gets first dibs on the starter's role, but with three goaltenders still on the roster, there's still a battle. Price led the Habs' AHL affiliate to the Calder Cup last spring and is neck-and-neck with Halak for the second spot.

Starter: Chris Mason. Backup(s): Dan Ellis, Pekka Rinne
The Predators' schedule is such that the backup may barely play early on, but at the moment, this one's undecided. Ellis, 27, has been nearly unbeatable in preseason, but, then again, the team's been airtight in terms of goals allowed regardless of who's in goal.

New Jersey
Starter: Martin Brodeur. Backup(s): Kevin Weekes
Weekes is still suffering from a concussion suffered in preseason but should be on board to open the bench doors by season's start. Zach Parise's older brother Jordan is in the system here.

N.Y. Islanders
Starter: Rick DiPietro. Backup(s): Wade Dubielewicz
No suspense here.

N.Y. Rangers
Starter: Henrik Lundqvist. Backup(s): Steve Valiquette, Al Montoya
Who plays behind King Henrik has been the subject of an abnormal amount of discussion this summer, as Montoya's age and salary come into play. Valiquette's far cheaper, but he's unfortunately played like a career AHLer through preseason and that may force the team's hand. The Rangers have allowed 19 goals in four games, but Montoya's been the best of the bunch.

Starter: Undetermined. Candidates: Ray Emery, Martin Gerber
This one's not decided, not by a long shot, as Emery's continued troubles after off-season wrist surgery opened the door for Gerber in the preseason and he's impressed in five games with a 94.7 save percentage. A hot start for either netminder could determine who goes the distance.

Starter: Martin Biron. Backup(s): Antero Niittymaki
No intrigue here, as Biron's played exceptionally well and could surprise as a top starter in Philadelphia.

Starter: Undetermined. Candidates: David Aebischer, Alex Auld, Mikael Tellqvist
A tough call here, and this may be the league's only true, three-man rotation (why not when they all cost, in total, less than the average starter?). Aebischer appears to have the inside track right now, although Auld's numbers are the best of the bunch in preseason. This could be a career-killing season for two of the three.

Starter: Marc-Andre Fleury. Backup(s): Dany Sabourin
Fleury hasn't played well in preseason, but he's really the only legitimate option in the organization. No. 4 on the depth chart looks to be some soul named Dave Brown, which just might be the former Flyers enforcer. (Ty Conklin's in tough.)

St. Louis
Starter: Manny Legace. Backup(s): Hannu Toivonen
Toivonen won the backup role here after battling with Jason Bacashihua in camp, and may be able to put something together after a horror show of a season in Boston last year. Legace's been lit up routinely in preseason, so who knows?

San Jose
Starter: Evgeni Nabokov. Backup(s): Thomas Greiss, Dimitri Patzold
An interesting fight continues to take place for the right to backup one of the best clubs in the league, and based solely on preseason play, Greiss is the winner here. The thing that may hold him back is the fact Patzold, a fellow German (from Finns to Germans in San Jose, I suppose), is three years older, but Greiss has the numbers — both here and last season in the AHL.

Tampa Bay
Starter: Undetermined. Candidates: Johan Holmqvist, Marc Denis, Karri Ramo
All reports have this at a three-tender race, without any indication of who the front-runner is. My guess is Holmqvist gets first kick at things by virtue of his numbers last season, but you never know with coach John Tortorella. It's going to be a tough assignment for whoever it ends up being, especially with Dan Boyle out.

Starter: Undetermined. Candidates: Vesa Toskala, Andrew Raycroft
In case you missed it, the sky is, in fact, falling in Toronto. Toskala was lit up like a Christmas tree when Buffalo cruised through here on Wednesday night, and has been soundly roasted in the local fishwrap for both performances in preseason so far. His GAA is a solid 5.04 and the team's playoff hopes — as well as the GM's future employment — pretty much rest with him. No pressure.

Starter: Roberto Luongo. Backup(s): Curtis Sanford
The only way there's a goaltending controversy here is if the league suddenly goes to bigger nets.

Starter: Olaf Kolzig. Backup(s): Brent Johnson
Same old, same old. Johnson did have a nice preseason, and an improvement from him would be a bit of a boost given he was 6-15-7 last season in relief.

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At 11:05 a.m., September 28, 2007, Blogger saskhab said...

Nice wrap up. I've been going through goaltending by division league wide on my infant blog, got 4 of 6 divisions done and should get the last 2 up this weekend.

An interesting note on St. Louis, they actually said that European veteran Jusso Riksman had the best camp of the 3 goalies in contention, but I guess the plan has always been to let him play in the AHL for a bit. Kind of strange considering the success of Backstrom last year without any AHL experience, but I guess it follows the paths of guys like Huet & Nurminen who were also Euro vets that went to the AHL for a year before making the NHL. Bacashihua should never have been considered for the gig.

At 11:32 a.m., September 28, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I predict that this post will be very useful to me come draft time. Thanks!

At 11:41 a.m., September 28, 2007, Blogger Unknown said...

Good review, James.

It's very tough to make goaltending decisions based on preseason (Which many players don't care much about), but many teams are finding themselves in a tough position.

What I like is that many teams aren't cementing themselves with a guy that "MUST BE #1" and allowing the best man, often, to win the job.

I'd like to see Sabourin do big things in Pittsburgh. Fleury is still too wild, for my liking, and Sabourin has a good track record behind him.

At 6:30 p.m., September 28, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

How about Calgary next season when Kiprusoff will collect 10M in Detroit?

Rumour here in Cowtown is that Sutter has given Kipper an offer that is borderline tasteless compared to what Kipper has done last three seasons.

At 9:20 a.m., September 29, 2007, Blogger FAUX RUMORS said...

1) The Flames know who butter's their bread. Kipper may have to wait a bit longer to sign that extension but he is NOT going to Detroit!


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