Are there big savings in inexpensive goalies?
A quick check at the Wachovia Center today could find Flyers fans still in their seats, stunned by the overtime ending that saw their season come to a close Wednesday.
But as shocking as the end was in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup finals — with just about everybody in the house, save for Chicago’s Patrick Kane, wondering just what the heck had happened — there is little surprise about the issue that became the Cup-clinching factor.
The theory set forth by Detroit general manager Ken Holland is that organizations are better served spending their dollars on skaters rather than goalies. As proof, he had Chris Osgood backstop the Red Wings to the Stanley Cup finals two straight years (2008, 2009), winning in 2008.
But last Wednesday, there was Kane, his skates nearly touching the end line, flicking an overtime wrister on goal. Flyers goalie Michael Leighton, camped far too deep in his net instead of cutting down Kane’s angle, let the winger’s shot tumble through his wickets. It was the second of two Game 6 softies Leighton let in, the first being a bad-angle attempt by Patrick Sharp that found the back of the net in the second period.
“It’s a problem with Philly,’’ an NHL agent said prior to Game 6. “It’s consistency. When you have that one guy, a goalie can really make a difference. If Philly had that guy, they’d win. But they’ve never put an emphasis on goaltending in that organization recently.
“People will say that you can go with a guy you’ve claimed off waivers. Or a younger guy without experience. But I don’t think it’s as easy as that.’’
Truth is, Chicago goalie Antti Niemi (16-6, 2.63 goals-against average, .910 save percentage in the playoffs) didn’t stand on his head, either.
Yes, without Niemi’s third-period stop on Jeff Carter in Game 6, the Flyers probably win and force Game 7. But to these eyes, Niemi didn’t inspire confidence as much as trepidation.
Niemi isn’t the classic Finnish butterfly goalie like Tuukka Rask. He’s more like Tim Thomas, battling and using his athleticism to stop shots. Consequently, his rebound control hardly qualified as championship material. Had the Chicago defensemen not been so good at clearing pucks, and had the Philly forwards not run out of gas — Carter, Mike Richards, and Simon Gagne had little left by the end — those booming rebounds would have pinballed off Flyer sticks into the back of the net.
Perhaps a more accurate gauge of Niemi’s game will come next season. Chicago has its core pieces in place: Kane, Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith. But what made the Blackhawks so dangerous was their depth. Consider their second power-play unit: Brent Seabrook, Brian Campbell, Marian Hossa, Kris Versteeg, and Troy Brouwer.
This summer, Chicago’s cap crunch will force general manager Stan Bowman to overhaul as much as a third of his roster, leaving a team that will be hard-pressed to match its puck-possession time of 2009-10. In turn, that will place more heat on Niemi and his partner, which almost assuredly will not be Cristobal Huet, given that Bowman has to address the ex-Canadien’s $5.625 million annual cap hit.
“You always need goaltending,’’ said the agent. “I don’t want to take anything away from the Chicago goalie. But there are 15 other guys who could play on that team and win the Cup.’’
Which brings us to the Bruins and their netminding situation. Any chance of them clearing Thomas and the $15 million remaining on his contract was rendered moot when he underwent surgery to repair a torn labrum in his hip last month. Thomas’s rehab must be spot-on if he hopes to avoid flareups in other areas, much like Manny Fernandez developed back issues when compensating for his bum knee.
But assuming Thomas is healthy to start 2010-11, the Bruins will pay a combined $6.25 million to the 36-year-old and Rask. That’s less than Buffalo, Carolina, Minnesota, the Rangers, Toronto, and Vancouver are projected to commit to their goaltenders. If Rask proves that his rookie year was no aberration, and if Thomas can prevent further slippage in his game, the Bruins will be able to look at netminding as a position of strength once more.
“I know Detroit’s had success with that model,’’ said Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli, when asked if there’s a trend toward inexpensive goalies at the NHL combine last month. “But Pittsburgh’s won. New Jersey’s won. I think it depends on the team that’s going to win that year. I don’t think there’s a trend.’’
Seguin’s father is taken backIf Tyler Seguin, the No. 1-ranked prospect in this month’s draft, falls to the Bruins at No. 2, he’ll become the second member of his family to become an adopted New Englander.
From 1984-88, Paul Seguin appeared in 121 games for the University of Vermont, where Mike Gilligan (who coached Tim Thomas a decade later) ran the Catamounts bench. Where the younger Seguin projects to be a skilled NHL center who can skate and shoot, his father viewed himself as a dependable defenseman who earned a college degree while banging bodies around the UVM blue line.
“I was a very good skater, but I didn’t have the hands or the ability to score like Tyler,’’ said Paul, who was recruited by other ECAC schools such as St. Lawrence and Cornell. “I was a defenseman, a hard-nosed defenseman, who could skate. It was very applicable to the college game.’’
Last month, when Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli and assistant GMs Jim Benning and Don Sweeney visited the Seguin home in Brampton, Ontario, one of the first topics they had to tackle was a photograph in Tyler’s room. On the wall, there is a picture of Paul during his UVM days, carrying the puck down the ice with two Harvard players in close pursuit.
“First thing at the kitchen table, I asked, ‘Are either of those two guys you?’ Funny enough, it wasn’t,’’ said Paul Seguin. “One of them was Scott Fusco, who’d win the Hobey Baker.
“It’s funny how small the hockey world is. Here we are, 25 years later, with guys from Harvard that I played against in my kitchen.’’
Seguin was never drafted. Tom Draper, a goalie at UVM at the time, was property of the Winnipeg Jets. Draper referred Seguin to the Jets, who expressed interest. But instead of playing for Winnipeg’s farm team, Seguin entered the workforce — he now owns a technology company in the Toronto area — and officially retired from hockey at 23 years old.
“I had aspirations. Every kid does,’’ said Seguin. “Tyler would say, ‘Why didn’t you make it, Dad? What happened?’ I didn’t make enough sacrifices along the way. I definitely didn’t work out enough. I probably had a couple too many beers in college while I was playing. I didn’t have the focus and determination. But you learn from all that stuff.’’
Of the three former college hockey players in the house that day in Brampton, only Sweeney made it to the NHL. Perhaps that’s why Sweeney, not Chiarelli, was the one who made the greater impression on Paul Seguin.
“He remembered Sweeney but not me,’’ Chiarelli wrote in an e-mail. “Crushing.’’
Market value slips this yearThe Bruins have approximately $51 million committed to existing contracts, which leaves them with little cash to be major players in free agency come July 1. But given how thin the market projects to be, they aren’t missing out on much. After Ilya Kovalchuk and Patrick Marleau, pickings become awful slim in the impact department. Kovalchuk is being pursued by Russian teams, while Marleau, a career Shark, could return to San Jose. “Maybe [Tomas] Plekanec, too,’’ said one NHL agent. “But among free agents, the third-highest goal scorer was Teemu Selanne. Hey, all the credit to Teemu. But it doesn’t say much about the rest of the crowd.’’ Selanne will turn 40 on July 3, two days after the opening of free agency.
Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; material from personal interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.