Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Goaltending Outlook for 2012-2013: try not to cry. Ok, here's a tissue. Just put down the gun.


Do you ever recall a team that was so desperate for talent and depth in the Goaltender position? The first team that jumps to my mind when I look at the barren cupboard Howson has laid before us is the 2007-08 Toronto Maple Leafs. Vesa God-damned Toskala. Andrew "are you fucking kidding me?" Raycroft. Scott Clemmensen isn't considered a bad goaltender these days but he posted a .839 save percentage and 3.89 GAA doing spot duty over the course of three games. That, my friends, was bad.

As of this writing, the CBJ have TWO goaltenders signed for next year, at the professional level in North America, including ECHL and AHL. Anton Forsberg will probably be off in Europe and we may all be better for it. Curtis Sanford is off to Siberia (don't all young men go there to find happiness and personal fulfillment? Hope he doesn't end up at the bottom of a mine shaft or the wrong end of a bread line...) so good luck, Sand Man. You will live on as the stolen graphic for this mediocre-to-poor blog. The lesser Curtis, McElhinney, has essentially been put out to pasture. Hunwick was a late pick-up, and perhaps the only purpose behind doing it was some kind of practical joke on Darren Pang.

If you're astute and you had the same optimism that many CBJ fans had last year, you'll realize that one guy is missing. No, it's not Gustav Wesslau. He's irrelevant. It's Mark Dekanich, probably the only injury last year that could have turned things around slightly if it hadn't happened. He was the young netminder who had proven himself at the AHL level but had hit the low-set ceiling in the development ladder over in Nashville. Here's the Dispatch with a rundown of last year for @Dexshow:

Dekanich was injured in the first period of the Blue Jackets’ exhibition opener when he got caught in a pileup outside the net. 
On Nov.13, while beginning a rehabilitation stint with minor-league Springfield, Dekanich suffered a pulled groin in pregame warm-ups and was out for six more weeks. On Jan. 7, he finally made his season debut, and it was hoped that he would join the Blue Jackets for the final two months of the season.  
But on Jan. 21, after giving up four goals on nine shots and getting pulled after one period, Dekanich told Springfield coaches that his right ankle didn’t feel right. In five games with the Falcons, he was 1-2-1 with a 4.00 goals-against average and .867 save percentage, but it was hardly a fair assessment of his play.

Before the injury, Howson seemed to have bought in to Dex's potential. After the injury, apparently not so much. Some dispatch reporters have said Howson is not expected to sign him to an extension, despite the absolute black hole that we have in this position. This really seems too bad for all parties. Dex seemed like a good guy. Someone who had worked for his opportunities and was genuinely likable. But after last season, if he can't fit here then I'll be surprised if there are any other NHL takers for him. I certainly do wish the guy all the best.

So if the roster were to stay the same, then in October we would have Mason as the starter and Allen York as the backup, with the AHL/ECHL franchises free to find their own non-NHL Goalies. Let's look at the stat lines for both guys at the NHL level last season.

Steve Mason:

2011-2012 SEASON STATISTICS: Steve Mason
REGULAR SEASON46162631431,3551,212.8943.39122,534

Who else wants a drink?  Despite the look of these numbers, Mason actually put up OK stats toward the latter half of last season, when he got pads that actually fit (seriously, that might be the most embarrassing article to come out of last season) and started to turn it around a bit, going 11-7-1 with a 2.84 GAA and .911 sv % over the months of February, March and April. Granted, it's after they were out of the playoff race, so give those numbers a discount if you want. It wasn't a total return to form from days of yore. But it was a stretch of half decent play. Too little, too late. The puck rakers gave him an F on the season, which I won't dispute. Howson has said publicly that the plan isn't for Mase to start this season. He's owed $2.9mil in 2012-13 before becoming an RFA. If that little run of competent play last season did anything, it was to increase the likelihood that another team would take him on as a project in a trade. And then Mike Smith came along and probably made that look like an attractive option.


Prediction: Mase will get traded before the beginning of training camp. We've gone too far in tearing this kid down, not to say that it wasn't his fault too. But he does has some natural talent for the position and by showing competent play at the end of last season, he could have increased his trade value enough that we actually get something in return for him. Which would probably top out at a late round pick, but still. He needs a tender environment that hasn't soured on him in order to regain his confidence. It would be better for everyone involved. If I had to pick a trading partner right now, I'd say Winnipeg, maybe for a 2nd rounder in this year's draft or the rights to Pavelec if we were lucky. Those 'peggers are so high on Superjuice and Jet Cream that they might stay optimistic for a few seasons.

Allen York:

2011-2012 SEASON STATISTICS: Allen York
REGULAR SEASON1132016199183.9202.3000417

York is an interesting guy. Drafted in the 6th round back in 2007. He's listed at 6'3" and from Alberta. He put up good numbers at a mediocre Division I hockey university at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, so he's only a year younger than Mason (he also looks like about five years older if you compare team photos). If you really break down his stats, you'll find that he started five games last year, where he went 3-2-0 with a GAA of 2.22 and .930 sv%. Now, it's a tiny sample size so don't put too much stock in it. But it's a reason for hope. Depending on what the internal goaltending scouts and Ian Clark thought of his play, he could see more time in the bigs next year, or at the very least earn a lot of playing time in the A. So dry those tears and open the curtains. Not all is bad.

This is what men look like.

Prediction: He will be a backup in the NHL this season if Mase is traded. If not, Springy is about to get York'ed.

"so should I try what you were doing or should I stand in front of the net when they shoot?"

Well... most is bad, actually. If our Jackets had been drafting one solid goalie per year for the past six years and signing others, we might have more than two to worry about. The depth at the goaltender works optimally with about six or so younger goaltenders; two to play the NHL minutes as starter and backup, another two at the AHL level, one starter at the ECHL level and one in development in Juniors/College/Europe. So that leaves FOUR guys who would need to be signed this offseason to make a full stable.

Who are the potential candidates? As a lazy blogger, I'll refer you to a more thorough blog about this, over at the Union Blue. The guys there did a good job as always and presented more options than I have time for. So I'll just dive right in and pick out my top 4 situations that could end up landing us an improved goaltending tandem for 2012-13. When it comes to trade speculation like this, it seems ridiculous to actually predict anything so I'll just jot out some potential scenarios.

#1: Trade for Roberto Luongo: I've heard people tweet about it and something in my brain keeps screaming that he's in the same situation as Nash, has a no-trade clause and would rather end up in the mosh pit at a Nickelback concert than in Columbus. Stranger things have happened. Management, media and fans in Vancouver could be making it so uncomfortable for him that he would accept a trade to a place where he can fly under the radar for a few years with his old buddy Ian Clark. I think the Canucks find him to be expendable as well as a burden on their pocketbooks and the team's cap. Who knows what they may want back though? I'd say anywhere from LA's first rounder next year to Michael Chaput to Marc Methot (or all three, which might be worth giving up depending on who you ask). Either way, Luongo would instantly be the best goaltender ever to put on the CBJ sweater (settle down, tugnutt fans). His goaltending has been under-rated by those in BC who have put his play under a microscope and coned in on a few select important games he underperformed in. People in Ohio would gladly overlook some late May or early June hiccups just for the chance to see some home playoff wins on Nationwide Blvd.


#2: Trade for Ondrej Pavelec: OK, so Pavs didn't have a great year last year. Some people still consider him to be a top flight goaltender and to be honest, I'm not entirely sold. I think Jaroslav Halak might be a decent comparison to Pavelec, although it feels a little racist because they're both eastern european. They're both considered to be good goaltenders who show flashes of dominance. Pavelec hasn't had the opportunity for a playoff run yet but it always seems like the guy is waiting to pounce and has an extra level he can take his game to. Anyway, it's mostly heresay about him being excellent. He's probably in the middle of the pile of NHL starters and he seems like there's a higher ceiling that can be reached. WPG is in negotiations right now to try and keep him from the KHL (reported yesterday that he's demanding a multi-year deal at $4mil per). I'm not sure he's shown it yet as his stats last year were:

REGULAR SEASON68292891912,0361,845.9062.91403,932

An upgrade is an upgrade though. If the scouts whispering in Howson's ear like his upside and Ian Clark thinks he can get him there, it might be worth a shot. It would certainly be better than another season getting Masoned.

#3: Trade for Ben Bishop: Bishop was acquired as the best goalie in the AHL, presumably because he wasn't going to crack St. Louis' tandem of Elliott/Halak and the Blues wanted a return on their investment. He was worth the Ottawa Senators' 2nd round pick in 2012 and fit in nicely behind Craig Anderson to finish off the season with the Sens. Bishop is big- 6'7" and surprisingly athletic. He's been steadily improving in the AHL since 2007 and did OK statistically in the games he started for Ottawa: 9 starts, 3-3-2 with GAA 2.32 and .915 sv%. Bishop isn't likely to be a world-beater. But he seems like a great depth goalie who could help foster a winning environment in Springfield at the very least and earn a starting job at the NHL level at the most. If the Sens were willing to exchange a 2nd rounder for him, I suspect they'd be willing to take our 2nd in 2013 in return, under the assumption that it will result in a higher pick. Maybe with their difficulties on defense last year, they'd like a better look at Methot or one of our younger guys like Goloubef. Just spitballin' over here.

#4: Free Agency: Some guy named Josh Harding got signed to the Wild yesterday. Heard on the ol' twicker it was some kinda big deal. Well, it kind of is. It's one more potential NHL calibre goaltender off the board. We're looking for six optimally and we only have two at the moment. GMSH has stated the expectation is to have at least five guys signed for the coming season. Some are going to have to get here the easy- but not cheap- way. Out of the existing pool, some of the better goaltenders include Clemmensen (forget what I said in the opening paragraph) and Dan Ellis. This isn't exactly the best free agent goaltender class in recent memory but there is some potential. Hell, Mike Smith was thought to be rotten fruit last summer and now he's kobe beef. So I guess what I'm saying is to keep an open mind and try to remain optimistic. There are guys who are paid to scout goalies and I pray every day that Howson hired one of them and listens to him. But time will tell.

Some of the names I deliberately didn't include- Gustavsson, Biron, Reimer, Enroth, etc. These were on purpose. Either they seem too far-fetched or I really don't think the goalies have enough potential.

Whatever Howson does, let's hope he has a better brain trust than John Ferguson Jr. had in 2006.

For questions, comments or rebuttals, hit me up on twitter at @gris_ducktrance

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