There’s a feature I do every Monday on my own side of the blogosphere called “Absurd Goalie Monday,” which previews a goalie each week that may not have been able to reach their full potential because the organization didn’t have enough faith in the goalie or because they got lost in the pipeline of other prospects, leaving them to toil in the minors for years. When I look up and down the depth charts of some teams, while goaltending in their system may be a spoil of riches—it’s also a burden as well.
One team that really sticks out is the Washington Capitals. They were so deep in goal; they were able to trade away their former #1 goalie, Semyon Varlamov, to the Colorado Avalanche for a first-round pick. However, even with one young goalie gone—the Caps went out and signed Tomas Vokoun, jamming up the prospect pipeline once again. You look to the AHL, where Braden Holtby has been standing by for the Caps, playing well when he was called into duty last season and play solid hockey for the Hershey Bears. In the ECHL, the Caps have Philipp Grubbauer, who has been taken over the starting role as a rookie and playing hard enough to challenge for an AHL spot next season.
The Ottawa Senators are another team who seems to have created a mess by acquiring Ben Bishop before the trade deadline. While Bishop has played well in lieu of the injury of Craig Anderson and the constant faltering of Alex Auld; his acquisition is one that many question, especially with last year’s Calder Cup MVP Robin Lehner in their system. Of course, Lehner’s subpar season this year in the AHL could be what sparked Sens’ GM Bryan Murray to make the move, something has to give when it comes to who will be back-up to Anderson and who is the second-fiddle in the AHL.
Out west, the Los Angeles Kings already have a solid #1 in Jonathan Quick, however—the lines behind him of pretty decent goalies seem to be growing by the year. When Jonathan Bernier cracked onto the scene in the 2007-08 season, he seemed to be the guy that was going to be the next franchise goaltender. Bernier was sent back to the QMJHL that year, which may have stifled his growth, even though goalies take longer to develop than most skaters. And even though Erik Ersberg failed for the Kings and Quick emerged—the Kings kept loading up on talent. Jeff Zatkoff was drafted in 2006 and Martin Jones was signed in 2008 and both have developed solidly, but are stuck in AHL purgatory. In addition to all of that, J-F Berube is adjusting to the pro game after a decent major junior career in the QMJHL.
For the Calgary Flames, it seems the problem they have is that they aren’t waiting for their guys to develop before throwing them in behind Miikka Kiprusoff. Since Kipper’s first full season in 2005-06 (I discount 2003-04 since he missed most the regular season with a knee injury), he has played at least 70 games each of those years, playing 62 this year so far. Through that time, youngsters like Philippe Sauve, Matt Keetley, and Curtis McElhinney have come and gone, as have many veteran back-ups who didn’t pan out. Even now, it seems that Henrik Karlsson and Leland Irving are going to be the next ones on the track to be lost in the system and shuffled out for a more experienced option for the Flames. Yet, this is not so much a spoil of riches as a general mismanagement of growing talent.
Now, while those are only four teams I can think of off-hand; I’m sure there’s a few more out there. The problem goes with a team that not only has an established starter, but also no way to work them into the line-up at the NHL level and doesn’t really have the coaching to help them excel when they do get the chance to shine.
Luckily, there’s hope yet for GMs with an overflow of talent between the pipes. There are plenty of teams out there who don’t have those same riches and would be willing to trade a fair price to get said assets. As I mention in the first example, the Caps had enough guys to follow-up on Varlamov’s departure that they wouldn’t miss him so much. Of course, that’s not really helping them out right now, but all the same—they were able to get something solid back in return for a valuable needed asset for the Avalanche.
You could almost look to the Tampa Bay Lightning as a team that could load up on young talent, Dustin Tokarski notwithstanding. Whoever they could get may be a stop-gap until Tokarski is ready, as seen by Sebastien Caron being signed to be a guy to help end out the year and get Tokarski some seasoning in the playoffs in the AHL with the Norfolk Admirals.
The Columbus Blue Jackets are another team, despite the possibility of Steve Mason making a renaissance in net for them. That said, both teams could run into a problem like the other teams have and get too much talent, making the cycle start up again. Granted, the Blue Jackets are lost-cause when it comes to goaltending. A lot of prospects have come and gone from the Blue Jackets—Pascal Leclaire, J-F Labbe, Tomas Popperle, and Frederik Norrena, to name a few; all were talented goalie when they came into the organization and then left with a fizzle and did not have much success elsewhere.
Moving back to the Avalanche, they’re a team who has had issues keeping goalies around ever since Patrick Roy left. Twelve goalies have been in the Avalanche net since Roy retired in 2003, only three seasons have they had a 30-win goalie. Many people blame it on the fact there isn’t a goalie coach, only a consultant—Kirk McLean. That lack of coach really hampers some development for the goalies in their system, which makes the Avs have to look to free agency or trades because they can’t build from within.
GMs in a position like this are “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” when it comes to dealing with talent in the minors. They could have a lot, which is great when it comes to variety; but there’s going to be a time where they will have to move a talented goalie to an untalented team in order to get more in their system in other positions. However, they also don’t want to let a diamond in the rough go and have it come back to haunt them when all is said and done.
But more than the teams and management, you have to feel for the goalies that are actually in this mess by happenstance and not being able to adapt as quickly as some outlandish scouting report had projected. There are a lot of guys in the past who have been pushed out because of one reason or another. The goaltending position has always been a fickle one, as it is a keystone to any team. It’s a “what have you done for me lately?” position and if you aren’t excelling or have your past to fall back on, then you’re passed up. Plus, even if you do excel, the fact remains that a guy could be stalled by someone with more tenured with the big club, thus putting a branch in the spokes of a player’s growth and possibly their career.
The goaltending spot is always a hot topic of discussion because there’s so many moveable parts that aren’t going to get moved because of the fact that management doesn’t want to deal their best player, but they also don’t want to give them a chance to shine when it comes to the big show. It’s a position that’s a tightrope walk with little chance for error.
One slip and everyone is paying a lifetime for the mistake.