With NHL Training Camp only hours away, here are three goaltending situations that will capture the imagination of fans, media and analysts all over the hockey world. Get ready to hear a lot about the goaltending controversies surrounding the Toronto Maple Leafs, New Jersey Devils and Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2013-14 NHL Season.
James, You’re Nice, But I Think We’re Going To See Other Goalies
The Toronto Maple Leafs did not waste any time acquiring highly touted Los Angeles Kings‘ backup goaltender Jonathan Bernier shortly after the rumours of his trade demands circulated. Bernier was drafted 11th overall in 2006 and has spent most of his pro career stuck in the shadow of Conn Smythe winner Jonathan Quick. It’s clear from various reports, such as, this one by the National Post, that Bernier was ready to adopt a starters role with another team. It is, however, unclear if the Leafs will grant him that wish until he proves himself worthy. I mean, the Leafs already have a #1 goalie, don’t they?
James Reimer performed beyond expectations for the Maple Leafs in 2012-13. The smiley net minder finished top ten in the league in almost every goaltending stat category. His 0.924 SV%, 2.46 GAA, and record of 19-8-5 were strong enough to earn the Buds their first playoff appearance in nine years. So why bring in the high profile kid from LA with the Stanley Cup ring and desire to be the best? Well, why not? Bernier has dominated at every level he’s played, except the NHL. To be fair, he hasn’t enjoyed a real chance to showcase his excellence in the big league, but it looks like that is about to change.
In spite of performing strongly in his two NHL seasons that weren’t riddled with injuries, when Reimer’s name is discussed, it’s often to point out the negatives in his game. It’s widely spread amongst fans and the media that the Leafs back stopper has a poor glove hand, sloppy rebound control, and below average puck playing ability. Weaknesses in those areas will prevent Reimer from truly earning the confidence of his coaching staff and team. So, regardless of the numbers and minor successes, it’s clear that Reimer needs to improve on elements of his game, and while he does that the Leafs can’t wait around and miss opportunities to bolster the strength of their team. In acquiring Bernier, the Leafs are stronger in net.
In the end, Randy Carlyle will decide which of these two starters will stand in the slot at the ACC while ‘O’ Canada ushers in the new season. Randy Carlyle knows that Reimer came through for him last year. Coaches don’t forget that. For this reason, I speculate Reimer starts in goal on opening night. After that, he’s on a very short leash.
Is Cory Schneider A Backup Goalie Again?
The New Jersey Devils shocked the hockey world on Draft Day 2013, when they traded the 9th overall pick to the Vancouver Canucks for goaltender Cory Schneider. We’d spent the previous year hearing that Schneider was the main man in Vancouver and Roberto Luongo was on his way out. At some point, or maybe right from the beginning, the Canucks were forced to explore Schneider’s trade value and accept that Luongo was unmovable because of his lengthy contract.
Martin Brodeur is the most decorated goaltender in NHL history. He leads all goalies in wins, shutouts, and he’s won 3 Stanley Cups. He nearly won his 4th Cup only two years ago, in what seemed like a last hurrah. However, Brodeur isn’t ready to retire. The Devils’ legend will play another year, this time with Cory Schneider valiantly fighting for some of his net.
Schneider really wants to play a lot of hockey games. For that reason, the Canucks had to move him, or Lou. It’s unclear how Marty and Cory will split starts this season, but they both want to play, equally sharing the mindset of starters, as opposed to, one of them being complacent or content with a regular spot watching from the sidelines. Ultimately, coach Peter DeBoer will have final say, and I don’t envy him on this one.
If you’ll recall, in the summer of 2010, the New Jersey Devils signed Ilya Kovalchuk to an absurd contract, immediately deemed illegal under salary cap regulations. The penalty passed down by the NHL was strict. The Devils had to forfeit a 1st round pick in one of the next four NHL Entry Drafts. This is the last of the four years and still no forfeit, meaning this summer, the New Jersey Devils will not use their own pick in the 1st round. Translation, they better win a lot of games because it’s going to be very damaging to the moral of fans and franchise if the Devils finish in the bottom 5 and lose their lottery pick, which many think is possible. If that’s not pressure to make the right goaltending decision every single night, I don’t know what is.
How Many Times Can Marc-Andre Fleury Lose His Job?
Marc-Andre Fleury is a former 1st overall draft selection and Stanley Cup winner, but you wouldn’t know that if you started watching hockey four years ago. The twenty-nine year old seems to lose his job twice a year, these days. He struggles out of the gate, allowing Brent Johnson, Tomas Vokoun, or this year’s flash in the pan to beat him out for early season starts. Then, around twenty games into every season, Fleury always finds his way back in goal to carry the bulk of the load for the remainder of the 82 game schedule, and he does well – he wins a lot of games. Then, in the playoffs Fleury struggles again. Some years the Pens go down with the Fleury ship, others, like last year, they boot him out of the cage.
Nothing could be better for Marc-Andre Fleury’s career than to start this season on a positive note. He’ll definitely get his chance at the beginning of the year. Fleury always gets back in there, one way or another. His track record and the money invested in him are too much for a coach to leave on the bench unless drastic measures are required, like trying to avoid going down 3-2 in a playoff series against the 8 seed New York Islanders.
Of all the goalies mentioned in this post, Fleury has the most control of his own destiny. This is his chance to start the year fresh and revitalized, forget the last four years and channel the Marc-Andre Fleury of olden days. He can once again become the guy who was drafted early in fantasy pools, made highlight reel saves nightly, and won Stanley Cups. A return of the old Fleury will make this an uncomfortable goaltending situation for no one other than Tomas Vokoun. However, if Fleury starts the 2013-14 campaign slow, it could spell disaster for his entire season. At some point, Bylsma will have to stop going back to a goalie that repeatedly fails to earn his team’s confidence and bail them out when they need a big save.
There are other existing uncomfortable goaltending situations in the league, and as always, some new ones will develop over the course of the season. Some that come to mind are, Viktor Fasth and Jonas Hiller in Anaheim, Steve Mason and Ray Emery in Philadelphia, and Ken Hitchcock might have his hands full figuring out how to handle Brian Elliott, Jaroslav Halak, and Jake Allen in St. Louis.