August 12, 2010
As the 2010-11 NHL season (thank the hockey gods) draws near, the magnitude of the summer's decisions by Stanley Cup contenders will no doubt be reconsidered. Like, for example, the San Jose Sharks going with Antero Niittymaki(notes), Thomas Greiss(notes) and a couple of neophytes in goal.
Better than giving Evgeni Nabokov(notes) what he was seeking? In thinking about the financial realities of a salary-capped League, without question. But it's still removing a constant name on a team that's produced three consecutive first-place finishes and 100-point seasons in five of the last six; and then choosing not to replace that keeper with another proven starter.
But that's today's NHL, according to Sharks GM Doug Wilson in an interview with KNBR yesterday afternoon.
Jon Swenson of Sharkspage as a partial transcript, and Wilson's views on the state of goaltending in the League are revelatory:
"You take a look back over the last five years under this system we play, not only the salary cap system but also with the new rules, the goalies that have gone on and had success, the Niemi's, the Leighton's, the Halak's, Hiller, Osgood, Roloson, the Cam Ward's...(notes) It's not the high profile, high salary goaltenders, it is a certain style of play, how teams have to dedicate their dollars to certain positions. ... The market has changed. Goaltenders, the view of what successful teams are dedicating dollar-wise, but also style of play has certainly changed."
There's been a lot written about how teams are shying away from big-money keepers -- heck, we wrote something earlier today -- but this "certain style of play" stuff hasn't gotten the same spotlight. Former NHL goalie Darren Elliot touched on it for Sports Illustrated on Monday:
The last five years have seen the game ramp up speed on attack, with more movement away from the puck as it nears the crease. Goaltenders have to contend with more quality chances than they did during the "dead puck" era (pre-2005). Remember the days of zero tolerance for crease violations when the league seemed to spend more time reviewing plays that led to goals being removed from the scoreboard? Those days are gone, thankfully. So, too, are the smiles from the goalies' faces because lateral attack strategies are back in the game. Moving side-to-side to make a save is tougher than handling everything straight on and it leaves a goalie more exposed and prone as he slides in butterfly to make a save.
What this does, of course, is put more of a premium on the quality of talent in front of the netminder, attempting to limit those lateral attacks. Which is why you see the Chicago Blackhawks and Philadelphia Flyers willing to ante up for their defense in a way they're unwilling to pay for goaltending.
The Sharks, apparently, are of the same mindset, as Wilson said in the interview that he plans to use his cap space and draft assets to add another defenseman before the trade deadline. And there are one or two ... OK, about 12 big names with expiring contracts next summer.