|Lundqvist vs. Quick vs. Rinne|
Jonathan Quick should take a similar shot against him for having not played elsewhere to this point of the lockout but I cut Quick a bit more slack. For one thing, the Kings won the Stanley Cup last season. The history of goaltenders coming off of Cup wins with some rust is spotty at best. You certainly couldn’t point to any direct correlation but nevertheless I’m assuming this extended layoff is a positive. After a summer of celebration it can be difficult to find the passion to get back to the grind necessary to build a Cup winner but with this extended layoff everyone, even the Kings must be chomping at the bit to get back. This means an energized Cup winner. They haven’t gotten their opportunity to really do a victory lap of the league. They haven’t had their banner raising ceremony or received their championship rings.
In a sense, the Kings are our forgotten champions and that may be just enough to have this team firing on all cylinders when hockey does return. Sure, Quick might be a bit rusty, but better rusty but focused than tired or disinterested.
And if the Kings are engaged this season they will once again be a very strong defensive squad. Over the course of last season they were always strong defensively, ranking second in the league for fewest goals allowed but things really took off once their roster evolved. This meant not only firing Terry Murray and hiring Darryl Sutter but also the trade of Jack Johnson for Jeff Carter. For more on how much those moves improved the Kings as a whole I encourage you to check out this article.
The Kings made no major off-season moves this summer so with that sort of continuity and a real reason to play hard right out of the gates I would have to say that this lockout should have a positive outcome for Kings’ goaltenders but here’s where things get dicey.
Quick isn’t playing during the lockout but Kings’ backup, Jonathan Bernier is (playing for Heilbronner Falken of the German Second Tier). While his competition is nowhere near NHL level, Bernier is still seeing competition at a professional level during a time in his development where he needs to see as many pucks as possible. Bernier will be ready and sharp whenever the NHL does return and if ever there was a time for him to make that push for Quick’s job that we’ve all been anticipating that time is no doubt now. While Quick is gathering rust, Bernier is gathering reps.
There’s also the fact that Quick just got paid. He won’t actually start collecting any of the big bucks until after the 2012-13 season when his extension kicks in but as of now that extension is guaranteed so there is no carrot to be dangled in front of Quick. He is locked in with the Kings until 2023. That’s over a decade of knowing what you are getting paid. I don’t care how self-motivated you are, a little bit of the fire (somewhere inside of you) has to die when you receive that kind of financial security.
So I see some chinks in the armor. In a shortened season (say 42 games for instance) the Kings have every reason to go with the hot hand and if that happens to be Bernier then that will take a big bite out of Quick’s stats. In a shortened season you can’t afford to let your starter spend too much time working out the kinks. Granted, Lundqvist faces a similar issue in New York but his backup is Martin Biron, who is also not playing during the lockout. The point is that Bernier is capable and hungry competitor who stands a really good chance of threatening Quick for starts, even if it is just for this season. After all, Quick is the franchise guy but for one year and a chance at repeating as champs, the Kings might have to throw loyalty to the wayside.
How about Pekka Rinne? Rinne is unique in this situation because he is the only one of the three actually playing games during this lockout and is playing at basically the highest level outside of the NHL, with Dynamo Minsk of the KHL (it is, of course, debatable if this is the highest level outside the NHL but suffice it to say that he’s still playing against a very high level of competition) and has played fairly well (in 13 games he has a 2.58 GAA and a 0.912 Save%), nothing transcendent of course but it’s still a good sign. Rinne has also competed in a couple of international games for Finland so the man is clearly doing all he can to stay fresh. Even more important than getting in games I feel is that he is practicing with professionals. Barring injury, Rinne is going to come back to the NHL ready to play at a high level right away, which should help him avoid a slow start to whatever season we do receive.
The problem for Rinne is that when he does return to the NHL he is returning to a team that isn’t actually all that good defensively. For all the hype that the Predators and their head coach, Barry Trotz, receive for being defensively oriented they were very middling in this regard last season (tied for eighth, allowing 2.50 goals against per game). In fact, the Predators have ranked T-8th, 3rd, 14th and 13th in each of the last four seasons in goals against per game. This is a pretty good showing but it doesn’t blow you away the way you might expect.
And then one must account for the loss of stalwart defenseman, Ryan Suter. Rick Roos already tackled this subject last week in a piece definitely worth reading. I won’t do much to overlap his thoughts on the matter but here’s my opinion in a nutshell:
Hockey is a team game and you need depth to succeed. The Predators have the depth necessary to move forward without Suter but there is still a domino effect that will play out for the Predators. Any time you have a player of Suter’s calibre playing as many high-leverage minutes as he was, losing him will take a major toll because no matter how capable the guys filling those minutes may be they simply will not match the consistency with which Suter played shift after shift and game after game. It may just be a botched pass here or there or a missed defensive assignment or a battle lost in the corner every other night but eventually all the little things that a star like Suter did and that you are suddenly losing start to pile up and eventually you start letting in a few extra goals, you start losing a few extra games and suddenly you come to realize you just aren’t the same team. There aren’t too many NHL players that can have this sort of global impact on the game his team plays but I do believe Suter is one of them.
The Predators will eventually move on as Suter’s replacement(s) grow into their role(s) but there will be serious growing pains along the way.
Of course, there’s also the subject of Rinne having gotten paid. Granted, Rinne’s stats last season were virtually the same during the 11 games he played before inking his extension as they were after he signed it but I did notice a general decline in Rinne’s performance last season as compared to the one before it. No doubt there were several factors involved in this; the Predators became a more offensive team in general; Rinne started more games than ever before; the Predators experienced some injury woes; but the bottom line is I hate when dudes get paid. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, correlation does not equal causation so I cannot for sure point to that new contract as a reason for Rinne’s decline last season but I’m not taking it off the table either.
Rinne does have a tremendous amount of job security though. The Predators dealt away his biggest competition this summer when they dealt Anders Lindback to the Tampa Bay Lightning. So long as Mitch Korn is the goalie coach in Nashville the team will always possess the ability to renew their goaltending carousel but the Predators brought back Chris Mason this summer to be their backup. Mason is a solid veteran but like Biron in New York, he isn’t much of a threat to the incumbent starter, not to mention the fact he isn’t even playing anywhere during this lockout. If anyone should be concerned about their job on the team it’s Mason who could easily lose it either of Nashville’s goalie prospects currently playing for Milwaukee in the AHL (Jeremy Smith and Magnus Hellberg).
So after all of this conjecture and hypothesizing, where are we at? Can we successfully take a stab at determining who the best goaltender in fantasy hockey will be this season? I feel confident that a conclusion can be made based purely on this speculation and these hypotheses. I don’t particularly care for a statistical conversation with regard to these three goaltenders. We know that all three are very good. I’m sure most (if not all) can agree that these are the three best bets to put up the best fantasy season for a goaltender this year so numbers really aren’t going to tell us much and frankly that’s refreshing. Number crunching is great but only to a point. Eventually, you’ve just got to go with your gut.
1 – Henrik Lundqvist
2 – Jonathan Quick
3 – Pekka Rinne
But I’ve since changed my tune. As much as the extended time off probably helps the Kings as a whole I think that it will also have real adverse effects on Jonathan Quick. Lundqvist too will have some rust to deal with but he’s at least not at risk of losing his job. Rinne will suffer from having lost Suter but if anything I could see that forcing Nashville to play an even stingier defensive game and taking fewer chances offensively. Rinne may lose some wins for his trouble but he’s still an elite starter on a team capable of being a top defensive squad and he’ll have no trouble maintaining his status as starter. He’ll also be coming into the season with little to no rust to worry about which should be helpful.
Overall, I think Quick has the most upside. If you go off numbers alone he was the best goaltender of the three last season and if he can avoid losing starts to Bernier he could repeat that effort but the downside is too large. If the season is only ~40 games long and Bernier steals 15 starts it will be really hard to find value in Quick.
Lundqvist may not be playing but he has job security and a great team in front of him. He’ll be fine.
Rinne’s team got worse but he should avoid having any rust and also has job security. Maybe the upside isn’t high but I don’t see much downside.
Here’s my current ranking:
1 – Henrik Lundqvist
2 – Pekka Rinne
3 – Jonathan Quick
I look forward to hearing about your own personal theories, hypotheses and gut feelings in the comments below.