Every year, no matter how certain an NHL team’s starting goalie situation is, there’s always a chance that a backup goalie playing way over his head (or finally living up to his hype) could overtake the starting position. Last year we saw Jonas Hiller finally overtake Jean-Sebastien Giguere in Anaheim, rookie Steve Mason dazzled in place of the injured Pascal Leclaire, Martin Gerber was ousted in Ottawa, and Joey MacDonald had a serviceable season in place of injured Rick DiPietro.
So, in a feature we’re going to look at frequently this year, which goalies’ starting jobs are in jeopardy or could be challenged early on.
Starter: Vesa Toskala
Challenger: Jonas Gustavsson
This is a team Brian Burke is trying to put his stamp on and Vesa Toskala is not “his” goalie although it’s been acknowledged that Toskala is going to be the starter heading into the season. The Leafs are finally starting to feel pressure to produce results from ownership fans who are fed up with the teams of recent years. Burke has done an excellent job upgrading the defense in front of Toskala, however, if Toskala’s numbers begin to mirror his injury shortened 3.26 GAA and .891 SV% 53-game season last year, expect head coach Ron Wilson to make the switch to “The Monster” Gustavsson. The Leafs new defensive core is far too physical and intimidating to allow the kind of net-pressure Toskala witnessed last season; thus, putting Toskala on a short leash to produce in 2009-10.
Starter: Carey Price
Challenger: Jaroslav Halak, someone TBD
Sophomore slump or collapsing under pressure? Going from a year where Price wrestled the starting goalie job from Cristobal Huet in Montreal was a drastic change to one where he needed to constantly fight for his starting job against backup Halak. Similar to Toronto’s Brian Burke, GM Bob Gainey has hacked away at his team that struggled to make the playoffs after being in first place for much of the season. New faces on forward and defense, a new coach in Jacques Martin, and new pressure from fans and new ownership to put a winning product on the ice, just further increases the pressure on Price to play well. Soft goals will not be tolerated and Montreal fans will eat him alive if he proves to be the player holding back the Habs. Should Price struggle, expect to see backups Halak and Curtis Sanford challenge for the job but it wouldn’t be outside the realm of possibilities for Bob Gainey to pull some strings on a trade to bring in a goalie to help relieve some pressure (Josh Harding, Dwayne Roloson, Manny Fernandez, Manny Legace for starters?). This will be a very important season for Price.
Starter: Jose Theodore
Challenger: Semyon Varlamov
Jose Theodore had an excellent regular season last year posting 32 wins, 2 SOs, 2.87 GAA, and a .900 SV%. It’s the playoffs where Theodore struggled and had to take a backseat to Semyon Varlamov. Varlamov was outstanding when used in the regular season, 4-0-1, 2.37 GAA, .916 SV% but shined in the postseason, leading the Capitals to the second round but was ultimately ousted by the Penguins. Varlamov, 21, still has to prove he can carry a team throughout the season, not just in stretches where Theodore is struggling and coach Bruce Boudreau appears to have no issue handing the reins over to Varlamov. However, Theodore is playing in a contract year and, at 33, does not appear to be ready to hang up his skates yet either. Expect both goaltenders to make a strong push for the starting job this year.
Challenger: Jean-Sebastien Giguere, Jonas Hiller
Last season Hiller performed extraordinarily in a year that Giguere was dealing with injuries and the loss of his father. This season, however, coach Randy Carlyle is saying one of his premier goalies needs to earn the starting role – he’s not handing it to anybody just yet. That said, Hiller has to look like the favourite, backstopping the Ducks to a seventh game in the second round against the Red Wings. However, Hiller is an unrestricted free agent next year and the Ducks certainly cannot afford to have two starting goalie salaries on their payroll – Giguere is still under contract through next season making $6-million this season and $7-million next season. In a more likely scenario, this is the last season with Anaheim for one of these goalies so there is a lot more on the line here than just the starting job. With 18 back-to-back games this year and the 7th-most miles traveled, expect Carlyle to go with a committee until someone steps up as the clear number one.
Starter: Jonathan Quick
Challenger: Erik Ersberg, Jonathan Bernier
Quick was a stable goaltender for the Kings last year, called up after an Erik Ersberg groin injury and remaining with the team ever since. Quick is the only goaltender challenging for the job that posted a winning record last season (Ersberg with the Kings and Bernier with the AHL-affiliate Manchester Monarchs) but that won’t stop this from being a competitive camp. Bernier is an 11th-overall draft pick from the 2006 draft and a former QMJHL star. At 21, Bernier is ready to prove he can play with the big club. Jonathan Quick, however, is also looking to prove critics wrong this year after the Kings did not pursue a number-one goalie in the offseason.
Be sure to check back with DailyFaceoff.com throughout the NHL season as we will have up to date and accurate lineups for all 30 NHL teams including powerplay units. We will also let you know who’s starting in net for both teams in every game this regular season in our Between the Posts section.