August 22, 2011
Goalies are both the last line of defense and the first ones to get the blame if things go poorly for an NHL team.
So a few teams, for various reason, had dramatic makeovers between the pipes this summer. There was a bit of a domino effect: One departure would lead to another arrival, which would leave another hole on a different team. But at the end of this 5-team shuffle, there are some that clearly have upgraded their goaltending and some that have seen a down grade.
Which team improved its goaltending most dramatically this summer?
For all the money GM Dale Tallon spent on forwards and defensemen, he's doing goaltending on the cheap. Theodore hopped from the Wild for $1.5 million in each of the next two season. Scott Clemmensen(notes), Vokoun's backup from last season, will earn $1.5 million in salary and $1.2 million against the cap. Combined, they'll make as much as Dwayne Roloson(notes) will next season for the Lightning.
Can the Panthers win with this goaltending? Theodore's underrated, but hasn't started more than 50 games in two years. One interesting number from his time with the Wild: .910 save percentage while shorthanded, facing roughly five shots per game.
There's no denying this is a downgrade. The hope here is that they can at least offer some average play and veteran competence as the team in front of them gels.
Dave Tippett is the answer.
Tippett's defensive system is going to give these guys an advantage over the Panthers' keepers, who will be playing behind a more up-tempo team. In his eight years as an NHL coach with the Dallas Stars and the Phoenix Coyotes, Tippett's teams have been below the League-wide average for goals against in seven of them.
He told us last week that Smith and LaBarbera will go into camp competing for the starting goaltender's gig, but one imagines Smith has the edge having been a starter in the past and having played well under Tippett in Dallas.
It's another team with a clear downgrade in talent between the pipes. But it's going to be interesting to see how steep the downgrade in results is; i.e., how much of Bryzgalov was playing in Tippett's system?
Gone are Budaj, the ex-boyfriend you keep around unless something else better comes along, and Elliott, that creepy guy who thinks he has a shot but was just a regrettable rebound.
Varlamov is an exceptionally talented athlete. His health is a concern. The workload is a concern, even if you do worse than having Giggy behind him for spot starts and sage advice. But he's an upgrade over what was there last season after the Craig Anderson(notes) deal, with the acknowledgment that Anderson was never going to be Anderson again in Colorado.
The problem with Varlamov is that he now has Phil Kessel(notes) Syndrome. His personal stats and accomplishments won't matter next season; his team's record, and the draft position of that first-round pick the Capitals are holding, will.
In: Tomas Vokoun (22-28-5, 2.55 GAA, .920 SV%)
Out: Semyon Varlamov (11-9-5, 2.23 GAA, .924 SV%)
Much like Varlamov will be judged by what was given up for him, Vokoun will be judged by how much was given to him: 1 year, $1.5 million in the steal of the summer for GM George McPhee.
With that as the baseline, anything Vokoun does will be gravy. And what he could do is become the best regular-season goaltender for the Capitals since, perhaps, Olaf Kolzig(notes). Due respect to Michal Neuvirth(notes), but Vokoun has 19 shutouts in his last three seasons, and he wasn't exactly playing on a Jacques Lemaire trap team to get them.
This tandem of Vokoun and Neuvirth gives the Capitals, potentially, top-10 goaltending in this League. As with everything with the Capitals, it all comes down to playoff performance, and Vokoun has played 11 postseason games, winning three. But on paper, this is a serious upgrade for Washington.
In: Ilya Bryzgalov (36-20-10, .48 GAA, .920 SV%)
Bryzgalov joined the Flyers on a 9-year, $51-million contract that solidifies him as their starting goaltender in a way the franchise rarely as committed to a keeper before. No more spinning the carousel to see who starts that week. No more snatching a familiar name off the scrap heap to throw into the mix. Bryz is the man, with Sergei Bobrovsky(notes) providing support.
At least, in theory.
The Flyers appear to have gone from an attacking, offensive-minded team to one that will rely more on goaltending and defense. That places the pressure squarely on Bryzgalov, who could be the best goaltender to wear black and orange since Ron Hextall won 37 games as a rookie in 1987.
"We rank Ilya as one of the upper-echelon goalies in the League, and bringing him in, he does give us stability," Holmgren said. "Adding Ilya and maintaining the defense we had last year, we think we're in a good spot."
For simply going from uncertainty to a proven commodity, the Flyers belong at the top of this list. That he could elevate this team into a championship contender after it imploded in the summer makes Bryzgalov the biggest upgrade of the summer.
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