Friday, January 19, 2007

L.A. Settles For Burke

The Los Angeles Kings goalie system is a mess. They began the year with Mathieu Garon and Dan Cloutier as their two goalies. Both are injured right now. Dan Cloutier's hip injury may keep him out for the rest of the season. Garon's finger injury will sideline him for a while as well. Los Angeles has a third NHL-ready goalie in the minors in Jason LaBarbera, but they cannot use him because he must clear re-entry waivers and there is a very good chance he would be claimed. Los Angeles has longterm plans for LaBarbera (who is a restricted free agent this summer) and does not want to let him go. As a result, the Kings have been forced to use minor leaguers Barry Brust and Yutaka Fukufuji as their goaltending tandem and it hasn't worked.

Brust sports an .878 saves percentage in his 11 games and a 3.70 GAA. He has won just twice so far. Fukufuji is even worse with an .844 saves percentage and 3.70 GAA in three games with no wins. Los Angeles needed to do something, but it is hard to make a move in the salary capped NHL. So they followed the model of Petr Nedved's trip to Edmonton. They could use the re-entry waivers that are keeping them from playing Jason LaBarbera to acquire a goalie that nobody else wanted.

Sean Burke is a goalie that nobody else wanted. He is almost 40 and has been sent to the minors by the Tampa Bay Lightning. He is basically being warehoused there playing out the final days of his career (for his $1.6 million a year paycheque). Burke has had little motivation to stay on top of his game and has not done well. In seven games with Springfield of the AHL he has a .856 saves percentage and a 4.52 GAA. However, he has shown over the years that he is an NHL calibre goalie and now has the proper motivation to get himself back into game shape. Sean Burke is a castoff for Tampa who was being counted against their salary cap. Any player who signs a multi-year contract while older than 35 years old will count against the salary cap even if they are not in the NHL (except for longterm injury exemptions like Alexander Mogilny). Tampa is happy to get rid of Burke. Even though they still have to pay half his salary and have that count against their salary, as he was a re-entry waiver claim, they save about $350,000 from what they would have spent if they kept him.

Burke is an out of shape goalie who played himself out of the NHL already. He is likely an improvement over Brust and Fukufuji, but he is a bad NHL goalie at this stage of his career. Los Angeles has an AHL All Star goalie in Jason LaBarbera who has a .932 saves percentage and a 2.23 GAA in Manchester, but they cannot use him thanks to the crazy re-entry waiver rules. They are stuck pulling a 39 year old back from the AHL and the verge of retirement instead. It is true that Sean Burke might be the best alternative under the current rules, but the rules are crazy. To keep an AHL All Star in the minors so you can play one of the worst AHL goalies this season in the NHL makes no sense. The best players possible should be in the NHL and this re-entry waiver rule is keeping it from happening.

Here is TSN's story on the Kings claim of Sean Burke. Notice that Jason LaBarbera is not mentioned at all in the article. There is no need for the fact that there are better goalies kept out of the NHL due to bad rules being reported. It doesn't leave the NHL in a good light.

Great bit on Burke. He is indeed out of shape. Last night at the Luc retirement game he was yanked in the third because of dehydration. At first it was announced as an injury, so I was relieved to hear that he just wasn't used to this sort of workout.

Do you know of any clear explanation of the rules around the NHL waivers and re-entry waivers? I'm scratching my head over the difference, and how exactly the rules apply to Labarbera and Burke. I'm a bit stuck on whether Labarbera could be called up next year or if he would be in the same situtation if he remains a King.


Re-entry waivers are a new feature of this CBA. Any player who gets paid more than $95,000 in the minors has to clear waivers to get recalled to the NHL. Its a stupid rule that keeps talent out of the NHL.

Waivers have been around for a while. When a player is sent down to the minors in the first place, they must clear them. There are exemptions built in for young players (they do not need to clear waivers) but it is quite complex depending upon the age of the player and his age when he played his first NHL game.

Next year should LaBarbera make the team out of training camp he will not have to clear re-entry waivers. SO LA plans on keeping him in the minors all year and then (presumably) giving him an NHL job next year.
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