Tuesday, June 24, 2008

A Potentially Awful Goaltending Situation

The Nashville Predators have done well to ice a competitive team with the ownership problems they have faced. The bad news keeps pouring in as minority owner William "Boots" Del Biaggio is being investigated for fraud and has declared bankruptcy and must now be replaced.

These problems will eventually affect the on ice product because the team cannot afford to pay much above the salary floor in payroll. They have jettisoned a talented group of players (including Paul Kariya, Tomas Vokoun, Kimmo Timonen...) due in a large part to payroll considerations. This practise has the potential to affect Nashville's goaltending in a big way this season.

Last year, Nashville's goaltending finished in the middle of the pack, thanks in a large part to Dan Ellis. Ellis is a 28 year old; who in his first NHL season led the NHL with a .924 saves percentage (he had a 2.34 goals against average). He stole the number one goalie job from Chris Mason who put up a lacklustre .898 saves percentage and a 2.90 GAA. Ellis was to be a free agent this summer and Nashville could not afford Ellis and Mason (who signed a contract that will earn him $3 million a year for the next two seasons). Dan Ellis just signed a $3.5 million two year contract ($1.75 million per year). For most NHL teams, $4.75 million for two goalies is not unreasonable, but Nashville decided they cannot afford it. As a result, they traded (nearly gave away) Chris Mason to the St Louis Blues for a fourth round draft pick which was later flipped to the New York Rangers in a deal for draft picks.

Nashville goes into next season with Dan Ellis and Pekka Rinne as their goaltending tandem. This is one of the weakest tandems in the league. It could be a very bad pairing. If Ellis cannot repeat last year (which was a surprise given that he looked like a career AHL goalie going into the season) and Pekka Rinne cannot prove to be an NHL goalie (he has thus far played 102 minutes in parts of three games at the NHL level), this team could be an NHL team stuck with two AHL level goalies. Should that happen, Nashville will fall substantially in the standings.

This situation only exists due to attempts to keep costs down. Over the last two seasons, Nashville has traded away Tomas Vokoun (to Florida) along with Chris Mason. Vokoun and Mason or Vokoun and Ellis would make a strong goaltending pair, but Ellis and Rinne is quite weak. Should Ellis prove last year was a fluke (which is not unlikely) and Rinne be unable to show he belongs at the NHL level what happens to Nashville?

Cost cutting might be necessary in some weak markets like Nashville. The problem is eventually cost cutting severely weakens the team. It looks quite likely that Nashville's goaltending could be totally destroyed next year due to cost cutting moves. If this happens, Nashville should finish well out of the playoffs.

"Cost cutting might be necessary in some weak markets like Nashville. The problem is eventually cost cutting severely weakens the team."

I couldn't disagree more; if you look at every other move the organization has made this summer, they've increased the payroll significantly. Pekka Rinne has a one-way contract this season and has proved himself at the AHL level, forcing a three-way logjam with Ellis and Chris Mason. Without an assurance that Mason would be dealt, Ellis would have walked away via free agency, leaving the Preds with nothing in return and Mason coming off a very poor season entering a new two-year, $3 million per year extension.

Choosing Ellis and Rinne as the tandem for this fall is probably the best available option they had. The other would have been Mason & Rinne. Mason/Ellis was simply not on the table.

Of course there's a possibility that Nashville's goaltending could flop next year, but you can say that for about 25 of the 30 teams (remember Jose Theodore).
Mason and Ellis would have bveen a better choice - and you pretend it never existed.

Vokoun would have been a way better choice.
There's no pretending; Ellis told David Poile that as long as Mason and Rinne were in Nashville, he didn't want to re-sign.

And even if you went with Mason/Ellis, what to do about Rinne, a prime prospect who must now clear waivers to go back to the AHL?
If Rinne is your #3 goalie you leave him in the minors. Calling a man who is 25 (26 in November) who regressed this season in the AHL to post a .908 saves percentage (26th in the AHL) a prime prospect seems like an exaggeration.

If I was a Nashville fan I would be worried that he is going to be my backup goalie at the NHL level. I am not convinced he can play at that level. I am also not convinced Dan Ellis can come close to repeating last year - he was a career minor leaguer before one possibly fluke season. That could leave Nashville with two goalie who are barely NHL ready (if that good).
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