What do the Edmonton Oilers, Buffalo Sabres, Arizona Coyotes and Carolina Hurricanes all have in common? All four teams in the NHL’s basement, and all four teams are there because of weak goaltending. Would the ‘Canes or Sabres be in a playoff spot with the aid of a solid backstopper?
Maybe. Maybe not, but there’s no wiggle room in this league for sub par goalies. Talk to any of those general managers, and they’ll tell you the same thing. That NHL-ready goalies just aren’t available on the open market. That line is absolute garbage, and it’s time to call these managers on the carpet for not being proactive in addressing their needs.
Ask the Columbus Blue Jackets whether or not high-end goalies are ever available, and you’ll get nothing but a chortle. A chortle!
Yesterday the Minnesota Wild made an attempt to save their season by trading for Devan Dubnyk. Is he the second coming of Patrick Roy? No, but he could be an upgrade. That’s more than the aforementioned bottom feeders have cared to seek out. Minnesota added Dubnyk for a third-round pick. That’s it. It’s not a valueless asset, but let’s stop pretending that goalies aren’t out there for the taking.
When Steve Yzerman took over the Tampa Bay Lightning, he had Dwayne Roloson as his starter. Not the kind of netminding a Stanley Cup contender is built around, so he was proactive in his approach. He traded a trove of draft picks to the Nashville Predators (none of which have turned into NHL contributors yet) for the then-promising Anders Lindback. When the giant Swede didn’t pan out, Yzerman went back to the well again and traded Cory Conacher and a fourth-round pick for Ben Bishop.
Bishop has since evolved into one of the NHL’s better netminders, and the Lightning are the sixth-best team in the league. The 6’7″ goalie hasn’t been a world beater, but he hasn’t needed to be. The Lightning can’t lose games because of goaltending, and they almost never do.
Can the Coyotes say the same about Mike Smith?
Where would the Wild be if they had addressed their netminding situation this summer, when it was obvious that there was a problem there? Niklas Backstrom is 36 and is two seasons removed from his last acceptable campaign. Josh Harding was kicking walls and Darcy Kuemper was largely untested.
— Toronto Star Sports (@StarSports) September 19, 2014
Who thought that would be a recipe for success?
The best team in the league this year has been the Nashville Predators. Peter Laviolette has been a boon, while Filip Forsberg and Mike Ribeiro have clicked marvelously. That wouldn’t be enough to take last year’s 19th-best team all the way to the top of the mountain alone though. The difference for the Predators has been Pekka Rinne. He has been a world beater, but way back in 2004, Nashville traded with the Lightning for his draft rights, sending Timo Helbling the other way.
Michael Hutchinson has been a rock star for the Winnipeg Jets, pushing Ondrej Pavelec for the top goaltending spot. He signed as a free agent after the Boston Bruins let him walk for nothing. The Wild would be a playoff team with a goaltender like Hutchinson, end of story.
With today's 2-1 shootout decision, three former Bruins backups (Khudobin, Hutchinson, Johnson) each have a win against Boston this season.
— Al Daniel (@AlHockeyscribe) January 4, 2015
Frederik Andersen was drafted in the seventh round by the Hurricanes in 2010. The team failed to sign him, and now he has a 24-6-5 record for the Anaheim Ducks—the team that picked him up in the third round in 2012. Ten goalies were selected ahead of Andersen. Those 10 goalies have combined for four starts. Total.
On to the next one.
No one has a stronger GAA in the league this season than Brian Elliott. The Ottawa Senators flipped him to the St. Louis Blues in 2011 and now he’s climbing the organization’s historical chart for wins and shutouts. It’s also worth noting that highly touted (though much maligned) goalie prospect Jacob Markstrom passed through waivers a few months ago, and was another netminder that could have been added for free. He currently has a .936 save percentage in the AHL and has his career back on track.
If there was just one or two instances of strong netminders being unearthed with low draft picks or for nothing in trade, then maybe we could chalk it up to luck. GM PDO, if there is such a thing. That’s clearly not the case though. General managers that address this position with vigor have been rewarded for their efforts, while GMs that sit on their thumbs are rewarded with lotto picks on a yearly basis.
It’s as simple as that.