Monday, 15 June 2015

Goaltending is still crucial, but not necessarily hard to obtain.

I understand that neither Henrik Lundqvist nor Pekka Rinne nor Carey Price appeared in the Stanley Cup Finals, but I think we're getting carried away a little bit with the nouveau idea that goaltending isn't valuable, that All-Star goaltenders are replaceable.  After all, you can get a decent goalie at half the price of a Lundqvist, so why should you overpay.

That's what the Oilers did last season.  They bought low on Victor Fasth and had traded for Ben Scrivens the preceding season.  And that tandem laid an egg.  Their team save percentage was .892.  And they're back to the drawing board this summer.

It's easy to say that you can find a Devan Dubnyk on the scrap heap, but the scrap heap has so many heaps, which one do you choose?  It wasn't that obvious, he went from Edmonton to Nashville to Montréal to UFA to Phoenix before he became the revelation that he was in Minny.

The Leafs thought they'd bought themselves their goalie on the cheap.  They got Jonathan Bernier, a former first-rounder the Kings had developed, for a second round pick, Matt Frattin and Ben Scrivens, it's almost one of those trade proposals you find on social media: "I'd love it if we could get Evander Kane, but I wouldn't give up Sven Andrighetto, trade Christian Thomas or Martin Reway instead..."

And now the Leafs are disenchanted with both Mr. Bernier and Mr. Reimer, and have to review their goalie situation.

So before we turn up our nose at an Eddie Lack as a trade target, a steadily-improving goalie who paid his dues in the minor, and has now started 80 games in the NHL, at the thought that he could get a second-rounder in return, we should remember the Anti Niemmis out there, the Anders Lindbacks, the cheaper options that don't get a team anywhere.

Sometimes you get a cheap veteran and it turns into a Devan Dubnyk-in-Minnesota season, but sometimes it turns into an Ilya Bryzgalov-in-Minnesota season.

Having said that, I do understand the idea that the difference between the best goalie in the league and the average goalie is practically negligible.  It's defensible, but the pendulum may be swinging too far in that direction.

I believe that the goalie position in hockey is as important as the quarterback position in the NFL or CFL. If you have a top quarterback and the other team doesn’t, you’ll almost certainly win. Same as if you have a top goalie and the other team doesn’t, you’ll win, maybe not certainly one game, but assuredly a series.

The big difference is that there are no replacement quarterbacks anywhere to be found. The dropoff between a starter and a backup is huge. The dropoff between the Top 10 or 12 QB’s in the NFL and the guys in the bottom 10 is impossible to make up.

Meanwhile, the improvement in the goaltending position in hockey, the athleticism and coaching they receive and the improved equipment, there isn’t that huge dropoff. A Carey Price and a Jonathan Bernier or Ben Scrivens are much more evenly-matched than an Andrew Luck versus a Blake Bortles or Jay Cutler.

The Phoenix Cardinals lose Carson Palmer and their season is over. The Ranger lose Henrik Lundqvist and plug in Cam Talbot, the Canucks lose Ryan Miller and sub in Eddie Lack, and they keep right on ticking.

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