Monday, June 11, 2007

Montreal's Goalies

The Montreal Canadiens find themselves with too many NHL calibre goalies. Last season, they began with Cristobal Huet who played at Vezina calibre for the first half of the year before he fell to injuries and David Aebischer, who had a lacklustre season. Aebischer will leave Montreal as an unrestricted free agent. During the stretch drive, Jaroslav Halak came and provided solid NHL goaltending. Also, Carey Price delivered the Calder Cup to Hamilton with his MVP goaltending and is likely the Calder Trophy favorite for next season. Also, waiting in the AHL is Yann Danis who is still considered a capable NHL prospect.

Next season, Montreal will have to select two of these players to be their NHL goalie tandem. The best bets in my opinion are Huet and Price. Halak might be an NHL goalie, but he lacks the pedigree of Price or the track record of Huet. He could be traded to somebody who needs a goalie. Otherwise, he is likely lost on waivers next year.

There is some thought that Montreal should trade Huet. He is the most expensive and would likely net the biggest return, but it would leave Montreal with no proven NHL goalies and is likely a bad move.

Its an enviable position to have too much NHL talent, but the process of picking which of the players to go with in the future is a bit nerve-racking. A bad decision could be made - for example in a similar situation, San Jose traded Miikka Kiprusoff to Calgary for a second round pick. Sure they didn't really lose selecting Evgeni Nabokov and Vesa Toskala, but only a second round pick for a future Vezina winner is not enough of a return. Montreal may find themselves in a similar situation. There is no bad goalie in the bunch, but they may be forced to trade one for less then they would like.

Not to nitpick but is Price, a 19 year old who has never played in the NHL, really an NHL calibre goalie? He is certainly a top prospect but he has done squat at the NHL level. Pretty much the same can be said for Halak, though he is lesser of a prospect. And while he was excellent in some of his games at the NHL level he was mediocre in others and ended up with a good, but not spectacular .906 save % and 2.89 goals against average. It is difficult to convince me that either Price or Halak are NHL calibre goalies right now though certianly they could be.

If I am Montreal I start the season with Huet as my starter, Halak as my backup and Price in the AHL. If Price plays stellar hockey in the AHL then consider making a move with one of the other two goalies in January or closer to the trade deadline or even next summer. Goalies generally take longer to develop and I wouldn't mess with a good prospect like Price like Pittsburgh did with Fleury. There is simply no need to do that.

The other benefit of leaving Price in the AHL is you give Halak more of an opportunity to show his worth at the NHL level so if they do decide to trade him they can get more in return.
Price is NHL ready. He walks into the AHL and is playoff MVP. He is the best goalie outside the NHL right now.

He can start off as Huet's backup. He gains nothing by spending more time in the AHL.
Seems to me, not too long ago there was another highly regarded goaltender with "Carey" in his name that flamed out when he was brought too quickly into the NHL.

NHL teams nowadays should err on the side of moving a goaltender too slowly rather than too quickly. I agree with DJ above.
Not to mention some guy named Marc-Andre Fleury who was an even better prospect than Price. He was brought up way too soon and has been anything but a star goalie he was projected to be.

Antero Nittymaki had two very good seasons in the AHL and he still hasn't had a good one in the NHL.

Kari Lehtonen had two stellar seasons in the AHL and while he has been good in the time he has been in the NHL he isn't yet at Huet's level. You just can't mess with a goalies confidence so let Huet be the guy next season with Halak backing him up and then consider going with Halak/Price the following year after getting Halak more experience and something good for Huet in a trade.
I would argue that Fleury showed himself ready for NHL play and due to his contract situation was sent to the minors repeatedly and it slowed his development. I don't think he has caught up to where he otherwise would have been - and nevertheless he is a very good number one goalie in the NHL.

Lehtonen is also a good number one goalie.

Nittymaki is another number one goalie, though his numbers didn't look so good this year because everything fell apart in Philadelphia. Nevertheless, he looked much better than Robert Esche.

Your argument is weak because there is no reason to imagine that Price's career will follow that of Antero Niittymaki any more than it will follow that of Patrick Roy (who had a less successful playoff run in the AHL with only on AHL regular season game played then that of Price who has 2 regular season games played). Why are the goalies you chose any more relevant to Carey Price then Roy? Nevertheless, the goalies you chose are number one goalies in the NHL. If you think it would somehow disapoint for Price to become a number one goalie, you certainly have unrealistic expectations for him.
It's not really about what will or will not happen to a goalie. The argument is about probabilities, and risk versus reward.

David and I are of the opinion that bringing along a promising goalie too quickly can potentially be damaging to the goalie's long-term prospects. Therefore, the suggestion (remember we are just armchair GMs, as is the author of this fine blog :) ) would be to take Price's development slowly.

Citing examples of where goalies' careers have gone horribly awry (although I don't think all of David's examples are completely valid) does nothing to "weaken" an argument. We're not trying to predict the future. Merely trying to show the "risk" portion of the tradeoff.

Certainly Patrick Roy is among the top three goaltenders of all times. He is an example of the "reward" part of the equation, which does nothing to disprove the risk.
I think the evidence is the opposite to that idea Mojo Tooth. Players mature by playing against the best level of competition they can handle. Its true in all sports in all levels. On average, the younger the player is when he first becomes a regular, the better he will likely become.

There is no evidence to suggest goaltending in hockey should be any different from any other position in any other sport.

It may be true that goalies tend to mature more slowly then forwards, but that is no reason to slow down the progression of a goalie who is ready for an NHL career. If a player is ready let him jump to the next level. Carey Price is ready.
There is no evidence to suggest goaltending in hockey should be any different from any other position in any other sport.

David and I are offering precisely such evidence. There are just too many charred husks of goaltenders on the side of the road these days.

I guess we'll see whether or not Montreal management believes in the evidence after training camp rolls around. Cheers.
Which evidence is this?

All you have offered is the names Fleury, Lehtonen, Nittymaki and Carey. Four guys who were starters in the NHL. One who won a Vezina (though it was a poor choice by the voters).

Fact is most prospects who hit the NHL fail. But to call any of these people failures is a real stretch. They all had or are having better careers then most NHL goalies do.

If you have some evidence that goalies who come to the NHL at a young age actually do worse then those who don't I would love to see it. I am pretty confident that the opposite is true.
There are examples of goalies being rushed and succeeding, and of goalies being rushed and collapsing. The real question is, are the Canadiens in a position where they HAVE to bring Price up now? I would argue no, as they have Huet and Halak. It's not like the old North Stars with Don Beaupre, who you can see didn't prosper from the quick callup.

Montreal has the luxury of letting him try out the NHL and then sending him back if he proves unready - which means that they ought to hold everyone else for now. It's preferable to give Price regular work rather than only two games a month at the top level.
What am I supposed to see about Don Beaupre? he was yet another guy who had a good career often as a number one goalie.

The argument as far as I can tell is don't rush Price (which I am not arguing for - I am arguing Price is ready and don't hold him back) because if you do Price might turn out like the players on this growing list of number one goalies.
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