There has been a lot of talk in Vancouver recently about goaltenders and whether Roberto Luongo is the right guy to carry this team. But early in the season, this is a narrative that carries across many hockey markets, and, valid or not, the play of a goaltender is one that dominates headlines as the goalie is the most important player on the team. Here are three goalie controversies that bear slightly more weight than the Luongo/Cory Schneider discussions, and may have stronger
repurcussions repercussions as well.
The situation for Ilya Bryzgalov is worse than it could possibly be for Roberto Luongo. The perception (and possible reality, who knows) is that the Flyers moved both Mike Richards and Jeff Carter to accommodate Bryzgalov and his massive 9-year deal with a cap hit of a little under $5.7M per season.
Bryzgalov has gotten off to a rocky start in Philly, describing himself as being “lost in the woods” after a particularly rough outing against Winnipeg in which he stopped six of ten shots he faced. In his first ten games with the Flyers, Bryzgalov has recorded four quality starts and has a save percentage of just .887. Conversely, Sergei Bobrovsky who actually had a save percentage of .915 last year, has three quality starts out of four tries this year (he also played poorly against Winnipeg and his save percentage is .883 so far). Bobrovsky also, by the quality start measure, was the better goalie than Bryzgalov last season. Phoenix appears to be treading water just fine without Bryzgalov, leaving open the question as to whether the 9-year signing was the appropriate move for Paul Holmgren and the Flyers…
Does somebody want to explain why Brian Elliott is playing like Jaroslav Halak and Jaroslav Halak is playing like Brian Elliot? After two consecutive seasons at a sub-.900 save percentage, Elliot has started this campaign with a .941 percentage and a 1.72 goals against average, earning him the starting spot in St. Louis despite making $2.9M less than Halak this season. He also has five quality starts in his six starts.
Halak is having by far his worst campaign. After a well-publicized career in Montreal and an at least passable .910 save percentage last season, Halak lost the starting job after opening with an .843 and 3.58 goals against average in six games, going 1-5 without a single quality start. In his current four-game losing streak, he has allowed 3, 4, 4 and 4 goals, and has yet to play in November.
Finally, the third major goaltending controversy deals with a situation in Minnesota. Josh Harding, the goalie formerly wearing the coolest vintage pads on the planet, is coming off a couple of injury-plagued years and will start his fourth consecutive based on the quality of his play so far. He has a perfect quality start record and is a .964 save percentage early on with a 3-0-1 record. It’s a limited amount of games, but he has outplayed Niklas Backstrom, a goalie whose paychque is more than $5M more than Harding’s.
Backstrom isn’t playing inherently bad as Bryzgalov or Halak, but one thing to consider is that he’s on the wrong side of 30, and goaltenders tend not to age like fine wine or cheese. Harding has a career save percentage of .918 (albeit in just 87 career games) but being six years the younger of Backstrom he definitely has some advantage. Wild coach Mike Yeo may want to limit his starts this season—Harding will be an unrestricted free agent this summer in a very limited free agent class for goalies.