Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Elephant in the Room: The Leafs' Goaltending Situation

I miss Potvin and my “Felix the Cat” mini stick.

I miss Cujo and his playoff heroics. Though I don’t really miss his low production Mr. Sub commercials.

Heck, I’m even starting to pine over an aging Martin Gerber (kidding... kind of).

Consistent goaltending had long been the hallmark of Maple Leaf teams through the 1990s and into the early 2000s. It’s something I never really took the time to appreciate until it was gone.

Our keeper duo of Jonas Gustavsson and James Reimer have battled hard this year, and by all accounts are indeed trying their best each and every night. But as Sean Connery says to Nick Cage in perhaps my favourite scene of The Rock, “Losers always whine about their best, winners go home and [...errr hang out with] the prom queen”

Optimus Reim hasn't shown us much this season since sustaining a head injury, or was it a neck injury(?), or maybe a concussion(?), from Brian Gionta on October 22nd. His GAA of 3.01 and save percentage of .899 are a far cry from the 2.60 and 9.21 he posted last year in a mesmerizing run that brought the Leafs to the brink of a playoff spot. The payoff from that half season was a 2 year, $3.6 million dollar contract that set the stage for his development into our true #1.

This year, opposing teams seem to have adjusted to Reimer's ultra butterfly style. Scouting reports around the league undoubtedly suggested players to go “glove high” whenever possible. James is more of a shot blocker as opposed to a goalie that looks to make saves (Brodeur and Fleury as the best examples). His propensity to drop down to his knees on every shot has left upstairs noticeably open.

Conversely, the Monster has been somewhat of an enigma since arriving in the summer of 2009. His 6' 3" frame and exceptional reflexes had fans believing he was a number one goalie; however, the 3 years since have been a struggle. His numbers this season have been average, with a GAA of 2.84 and save percentage at .907, buoyed by strong play over the last 15 contests.

Gustavsson has been more controlled of late, showing patience, and allowing pucks to come to him. Early in his tenor with the Buds he would often over compensate on saves, forcing himself out of position and creating needless scrambles in the crease.

There have been moments over the past 3 seasons where I’ve been convinced either Jonas or James had the potential to be a strong starting goalie in the NHL. These moments have passed. Both men are certainly NHL-calibre goalies, and should have jobs as either the #2 or #3 on a team’s depth chart. They are not, however, the answer to the goaltending woes that have plagued us since 2004.

While a bounce back for Reimer or Gustavsson maintaining the play he's exhibited during this recent run of games are possibilities, the likelihood of either occurring isn't something I'm willing to bet next season's playoff chances on.

We at BCP have recently discussed the possibility of bringing in Evgeni Nabokov as a short term solution to lead a playoff push. Below, are 4 goalies that could provide long term stability, should Burke pursue them either at the deadline, or more likely, in the offseason.

Jonas Hiller, Anaheim Ducks
Age 29
2011-12 stats: 2.88 GAA, .905 S%

He is probably the name that makes me the most nervous. Having battled a serious case of vertigo last season, there are questions about Hiller’s ability to perform as a top tier 'tender. Signed for two more years, at $4.5 million he has a manageable cap number. His numbers this year are clouded a bit by the struggling players in front of him. Getzlaf, Perry, and Ryan have all had somewhat down seasons, and their best defenseman, Lubomir Visnovsky missed significant time to start the year. Hiller’s health will remain a question mark, but he’s definitely an upgrade for a number of clubs, Toronto included.

Josh Harding, Minnesota Wild
Age 27
2011-12 stats: 2.42 GAA, .925 S%

He long been cast as the back up to Niklas Backstrom on the Wild depth chart. Both goalies have performed well this season and played an important role in Minny’s hot start to the season. Backstrom is signed through next year at $6M and is only 33 years of age. The Wild have some needs to address both up front, and on defence with Brent Burns having been shipped out this past offseason. Harding was drafted in the 2nd round of 2002 and was once considered a top goalie prospect. Injuries have derailed him a bit, but you have to wonder if a change of scenery and a chance at the number one job would give him the opportunity to reach his potential.

Anders Lindback, Nashville Predators
Age 23
2011-12 stats: 2.65 GAA, 898 S%

His numbers this year certainly don’t jump off the page but at 6' 6", the hulking keeper, nicknamed “The Giant”, has shown flashes of brilliance in the past. With Rinne signing a seven year extension earlier this year, it’s clear Lindback will be relegated to the #2 spot for as long as he's a Pred. Every year Nashville struggles to produce offensively, as they're forced to rely on players like Hornqvist and Erat. Dealing Lindback could add some offensive jump to their top 6, while giving Anders the opportunity to thrive elsewhere.

Ryan Miller, Buffalo Sabres
Age 31
2011-12 stats: 3.15 GAA, 8.97 S%

What a difference a year makes. Miller, a perennial Vezina candidate, has struggled to find any sort of consistency this year. Making matters worse, his backup, Jhonas Enroth, has developed into a decent 1A option in net for the Sabres. It’s unclear if Buffalo will consider trading Miller as he still has 2 more years on his contract at $6.25M per season. At 31, it’s unlikely Ryan has simply “lost it” and at some point in the near future he’ll again be a top 10 goalie in the league. While the cap number isn’t great, he’s proven himself for nearly a half decade at the NHL level and could solidify any team’s goalie situation. We have our doubts as to whether Buffalo would deal him within the division but surely there aren't many teams looking to spend that kind of cash on their goalie.


Survey Champion said...


Hiller inst going anywhere, the ducks are flying again, and the only players i see moving are Blake, Selanne and Koivu.

Harding isn't any better than the two we have, what you get in him is an unproven backup (we've got 2 already)

Lindback is in the same boat, and his numbers make me wary to trade for him (who are we giving up) Macarther? who wants him
Given he has a big upside, but he is Gussy 2.0 in my opinion

Buffalo would be silly to trade their best player to a division rival. Plus he doesn't want to go anywhere PLUS PLUS he hasn't been able to stop a basketball since being run over earlier in the season.

I think the leafs are getting good enough goal tending to get to the playoffs, as long as the offense can stay consistent, which they haven't been all year.

It'd be nice to steal Rask back from Boston, but I'd say we'd have to kidnap him.

interesting read :)

Anonymous said...

If I'm not mistaken, Cory Schneider is a UFA at the end of this season (I could be wrong, but I think he is). I'd take him over any of those other guys (well, I'd take Miller, but that's not going to happen, he isn't leaving Buffalo).

However, given the play of Reimer last season, and this season prior to the injury, I think you are being WAY to premature saying he'll never be more than a backup.

With Gustavsson's strong play since, what, late November, and FINALLY getting a chance to gain some confidence and ROCKING IT, I also think you're being premature with him.

Curt S said...

Schneider is an RFA at the end of the year, so he's likely not going anywhere unless it's a trade.

I think both of our guys have a chance to be number one goalies, but would you want to bet next season's playoff chances on it? I don't.

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