On the Hot Seat is a column which will run on Saturdays and will discuss the likely changes between the pipes at the moment. Think of this as a primer that will go over basically any starting goalie position that might be in jeopardy whatsoever.
This offseason, when the Philadelphia Flyers signed starting goalie Ilya Bryzgalov to a contract worth an unprecedented nine year, $51 million, we all assumed they solved their ongoing problem between the pipes. Veteran Brian Boucher was not the answer, neither was journeyman Michael Leighton. However, Sergei Bobrovsky, aka Bob, was once seen as that long-term fix.
At the ripe age of 22, Bob helped the Flyers win the Atlantic Division and furthermore posted a respectable .915 SV% in the process. While there were concerns over his work ethic and stamina, he was just a rookie and the thought was he would be allow to grow into his role in the City of Brotherly Love.
Trading for Bryzgalov sounded like the perfect move on paper. Sign him to a reasonable deal as he mentors his countrymate into his job. After all, Bryz was already 31 and unlikely to play at an elite level past age 35 — think about how many 35+ netminders we currently have in the League and how much we actually value them at the draft table. However, Bryzgalov signed through age 40 with Bobrovsky looking at the starting gig by the time he hit 30.
Something tells me the younger Bobrovsky wanted no part of that as he seizes the gig just 22 games into the season. Don’t let the shabby peripherals fool you, Bob has been the better goalie over the past three games and the team needs wins to catch the revamped Pittsburgh Penguins.
Although we don’t think he takes the job, he could come close and steal upwards of 30 starts away from Bryzgalov. Check the starting goalies page on this situation today as either Russian netminder could step back in between the pipes.
Cory Schneider vs. Robert0 Luongo
Similar to the situation above we have a backup who makes much less money than his counterpart while getting most of the wins. In this case, Luongo has been questionable for two weeks with Schneider proving why he’s been in the same discussion as his elite teammate. Right now the stats aren’t even close — 2.02 GAA to 2.97 GAA; .927 SV% to .896 SV% — which should keep the speculation coming for quite some time.
If the Vancouver Canucks choose to trade away Schneider it would heavily deplete their depth between the pipes. The Boston Bruins proved last season that you need a highly capable and young netminder to push the starter, take away some starts and moreover keep them fresh. They paced Tim Thomas last season, getting him into only 57 games and figure to do the same thing this year. When Luongo gets hot, coach Alain Vigneault needs to start him with regularity but he also should sit him on back-to-back games unless he comes off something rediculous like back-to-back shutouts.
Having said that, Cory Schneider is coming off back-to-back shutouts tonight, he deserves the call on consecutive nights.
Tuukka Rask vs. Tim Thomas
After just mentioning Thomas and Rask, we figured we should further explain this situation in the same manner we’ve discussed it all season. Thomas, as mentioned at length, is a purely elite starting goalie. While his current 1.85 GAA and .936 SV% don’t currently lead the League, they certainly are nothing to scoff at — especially when you know he can sustain those totals over a full season.
In Rask, the Bruins have their goalie of the future. Right now they can test him against a powerhouse teamslike the Detroit Red Wings or in lower pressure situations like against the Columbus Blue Jackets or New York Islanders. He’s guaranteed to start 30 games and with Thomas an unrestricted free agent after the 2013, he represents the future in keeping this Big Bad Bruins team competitive for years to come. He’s quickly proving his sub-2 GAA and .931 SV% of three years ago were no fluke, this kid can help Finnish games.
Rask is a must own for Thomas owners and a great value as a third string netminder.
Brian Elliott vs. Jaroslav Halak
Brian Elliott is definitely the biggest surprise of the young season. After playing quite poorly for the lowly Ottawa Senators and Colorado Avalanche last season, it looked like Elliott would be playing somewhere outside the NHL. He barely beat out Ben Bishop for the backup role and even struggled to take Jaroslav Halak’s playing time in the early going. His future in the League certainly did not look bright.
Nevertheless, former coach Davis Payne ran him out to the crease with regularity and now new coach Ken Hitchcock is doing the same after getting a sample of his work. When Elliott backstopped Ottawa to a playoff berth three years ago, we knew he could get hot, red-hot actually. This season he hasn’t had a bad outing, winning five in a row, eight of his last nine and not allowing more than two goals in any of his 11 appearances. In fact, he’s only allowed 14 goals in 11 games, which is simply incredible.
Playing for Hitchcock, the ultimate result will be a low-scoring game so both goalies will finish the year with good numbers. Right now, it’s hard to argue with Hitch running Elliott out there every night.
Josh Harding vs. Niklas Backstrom
In a similar situation to the Blues’ conundrum we find the Minnesota Wild sporting a backup goalie who is simply surprising. We knew Harding always had the potential of a number one but injuries forced him out of the lineup way too often to trust him. He missed all of last season, How could you believe in him? Through scrutiny and injury, the Regina, Saskatchewan native has battled back, posting career numbers and taking starts away from Niklas Backstrom.
New coach Mike Yeo has brought the Wild back to their defensive ways, keeping the puck away from the netminder and winning with an unknown, unorthodox defense. In the days that this organization was successful, they rolled out two goalies. Whether it was Manny Fernandez and Dwayne Roloson, Manny Fernandez and Backstrom or now Backstrom and Harding, the two played more in tandem than as a clear-cut #1 and #2.
We may see history repeat itself in Minnesota which has helped both Backstrom and Harding keep their career years on track.
Dwayne Roloson vs. Mathieu Garon
Seeing as we mentioned Roli when discussing his former team, it only sounds fitting to mention him with his current organization. To disclose my personal opinion on Roloson: he cannot be trusted in head-to-head leagues. The veteran had a nice run in Tampa Bay and when motivated puts together a decent game but holds no consistency to be anything more than a spot starter. Furthermore, when you play him against a weaker team like the Winnipeg Jets, he allows for goals in 32 minutes only to follow that up with a 33-save beauty against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The only thing saving his grizzled, ornery job is the even-worse play of backup Mathieu Garon, who has allowed three-or-more goals in five of his 12 appearances. However, last night’s 23-save win against the Florida Panthers could have earned him a few more starts. As we saw last seaosn, coach Guy Boucher will use whichever starting goalie can get him a victory which would point the needle in Garon’s favor in the interim.
Neither goalie is one to fawn over, or even feel safe owning. If Roloson does not regain his consistency, expect GM Steve Yzerman to make another move for a starting goalie.
We hope you enjoyed our segment on starting goalies and fending off their backups as much as we enjoyed writing it. If there are glaring omissions such as the awesomeness of Ty Conklin or your love affair for Andrew Raycroft, let your voice be heard in the comments. Regardless, make sure to take all of the advice in and continue to check our renowned starting goalies section, which is updated all day until game time.