Monday, January 28, 2008

If Only They Had A Goalie

With the All Star Game over, the next major event on the NHL calendar is the trading deadline. Although, more trades will likely occur between then and now then have happened so far this season, rarely do any of these trades significantly alter the balance of power in the league. The biggest potential for this to occur happens when an otherwise solid team with poor goaltending acquires a good goalie.

In fact, I have written posts similar to this one in both of the past two seasons. In 2005/06, I picked the Edmonton Oilers as the team that would most benefit by adding a goalie. At that point, it looked unclear whether or not the Oilers would make playoffs and they were struggling in goal with Ty Conklin, Jussi Markkanen and Mike Morrison sharing the load in goal. As it turned out, the Oilers acquired Dwayne Roloson at the trade deadline and proceeded to go to the Stanley Cup finals before losing to Carolina in seven games. That prediction worked out well.

Last season, I picked the Tampa Bay Lightning as the team that could most benefit from adding a goalie. They were struggling in net with Johan Holmqvist and Marc Denis as their goalies. As it turned out, Tampa did not acquire a goalie and lost in the first round of the playoffs, again a result consistent with my prediction.

This year, the team that looks like it could most benefit from adding a goalie is the Pittsburgh Penguins. Pittsburgh started the season with Marc-Andre Fleury and Dany Sabourin as their goalies. Neither was particularly good. Fleury has suffered a high ankle sprain and been out since early December. At that time, Pittsburgh called up Ty Conklin from the minors (the same goalie who was struggling in Edmonton two years earlier). Conklin has played very well so far, sporting a .941 saves percentage and a 1.97 goals against average. Conklin went on a nine game winning streak for the Penguins. That shows how well the team can do with good goaltending. The problem is Conklin is likely a fluke. There is nothing in his track record to suggest he can maintain his top level goaltending for much longer (let alone into the playoffs). He may already be showing signs of fading. He has only won one of his last five games.

Pittsburgh has a talented team that is built around Sidney Crosby (who is currently hurt), Evgeni Malkin, Sergei Gonchar and Ryan Whitney. They can be very good with strong goaltending. This was shown in the short stretch where Ty Conklin played over his head. Conklin is unlikely to do that the rest of the season, so Pittsburgh will need to find another goaltender to help to carry them. If they do, Pittsburgh could be very dangerous come playoff time.

1) There are several teams that would benefit from a better goalie:
To name but a few!
I think Pittsburgh is the only one on your list that becomes an instant contender with one.
Ottawa is already a contender but would be a much better one with more consistent goaltending.

Toskala has been pretty good for Toronto so Toronto would mostly benefit if they just stopped playing Raycroft, arguably the worst goalie in the league.

With a healthy Sakic and a top goaltender I think Colorado could do some serious damage in the playoffs. I agree that Pittsburgh would still benefit more, but Colorado would benefit a huge amount too.

Tampa, Carolina and Atlanta need much more than a goalie to be serious contenders.
Ottawa needs more than just a goalie. They need *health.* If they get back to full health and get a consistent goalie (or a hot goalie who can stay hot for the whole playoff run) they could walk out of the East.
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