This week the Eastern Edge discusses the Eastern Conference goaltending situation.
All but five Eastern Conference teams appear set in goal for the coming season. There are still some questions to be answered with New Jersey, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay and Toronto. A lot can happen between now and the start of the season, especially with Ilya Bryzgalov and Tim Thomas still Unrestricted Free Agents, but until we know their fates, let’s delve a little deeper at each team's goaltending situation.
Columbus - Sergei Bobrovsky will play all 82 games and win the Vezina going away. Oh wait, I’m buying way too much into the hype. Of course that won't happen. Expect a bit of regression as the BJ's and Ser Bob will now be facing something they/he did zero times last year; playing against some of the league's top individual talents such as Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Alexander Ovechkin, Steve Stamkos, Martin St-Louis, John Tavares, Claude Giroux and yes, even Phil Kessel (you're welcome Leafs fans!). Bobrovsky will still do well under the Blue Jacket's new system/management and is unchallenged in his number one billing. Curtis McElhinney will be the back-up.
Detroit - Jimmy Howard will face some of the same transition issues as Bobrovsky, having to learn new shooters habits, etc., but the Red Wings will still be a playoff calibre team, so don't expect his numbers to take too much of a dive. Jonas Gustavsson will back-up.
Florida - There has been some discussion amongst poolies as to whether the Panthers will bring in a more experienced goaltender to help mentor Jacob Markstrom, but they already have veteran Scott Clemmensen to do that. They allowed Markstrom to run the table at the end of last season and he put in some nice efforts. I believe they will start the season with Markstrom as "the man" and if he proves that he can't handle it yet,they will cross that bridge if it comes. My opinion is that Markstrom will prove to be the second coming of Roberto Luongo in Florida. He’s going to be a star. This season, the Panthers will be lucky to challenge for a playoff spot; they have too many young guns in key positions.
New Jersey - This situation was the impetus for the column. Many people think that Cory Schneider will be handed the reins pretty much right away. They shouldn't underestimate the pride of Martin Brodeur and the loyalty of the Devils management. A 50/50 split is likely, but it wouldn't shock me if Brodeur actually played more games than Schneider this season. The Devils draft day acquisition will have to adjust to playing behind a new (and not improved from the Canucks) defense and deadly Eastern Conference shooters on a daily basis. That said, New Jersey as a team, plays a pretty conscientious defensive game, which should aid in Schneider's transition. The problem for fantasy owners of either goaltender is that New Jersey isn't shaping up to be a very dominant squad and there won't be all that many wins to go around. Look for less than 20 wins each.
NY Islanders - With Evgeni Nabokov re-signed for another season, the Isles are set for the coming year. They have big Anders Nilsson and Mikko Koskinen in the pipeline. The 23-year-old Kevin Poulin may have the inside track at back-up after playing in parts of two games in last year's playoffs, recording a 1.15 goals-against average and 0.933 save percentage in 52 minutes of action. It wouldn't surprise me to see the team trade or sign for a long-term number one goaltender at some point this year.
NY Rangers - Henrik. Lundqvist. The King. Period. Solid back-up Martin Biron is signed for another year.
Ottawa - Craig Anderson will continue to be the top dog for the Sens this season while heir apparent Robin Lehner bides his time. Last year, Lehner acquitted himself very well, sporting a seemingly pedestrian 5-3-4 record, but with a very good 2.20 goals-against average and a stellar 0.936 save percentage. Make no mistake, this kid (still only 22-years-old) is going to be a great goaltender in this league very soon, but he is in the last year of his contract, while Anderson has two years remaining. The Senators are not going to create a goaltending controversy unless forced by injuries or the poor play of Anderson.
Philadelphia - This situation should be interesting to watch. One thing is certain; the Flyers will continue to frustrate fans and fantasy owners of their goaltenders. I actually like what Philadelphia has done, at least as a stop-gap measure. Ideally, I'm sure they would have liked to acquire a true number one goaltender (cough*Bryzgalov*cough), but in the interim, having two competent guys battle for crease time could work out. Steve Mason came over in a deal late last season and put up very good numbers in seven games, recording four wins, two losses, a 1.90 goals-against average and 0.944 save percentage. The former Calder trophy winner is only 25-years-old and has five NHL seasons under his belt. The Flyers have an idea of what they are getting in Ray Emery. He had previously signed with Philadelphia for the 2009-10 season after a brief stint in Russia. We have to take his numbers from last season with a grain of salt as they were while he was playing for the eventual Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks. He finished with a 17-1 record, 1.94 goals-against average and 0.922 save percentage.
Pittsburgh - Don't read into Marc-Andre Fleury's poor playoff performance (again) and deduce that he'll split the upcoming season with 37-year-old Tomas Vokoun. Fleury's last three regular seasons of goals-against average (2.39, 2.36, 2.32) and save percentage (0.916, 0.913, 0.918) have been very consistent and not including last year’s shortened season, he has averaged 65 games over each of the previous four regular seasons. His problem isn't with the regular season, but something about the playoffs cause Fleury to meltdown. Over his last four playoff campaigns, he hasn't recorded a save percentage above 0.900. It has been reported that Fleury will be seeing a sports psychologist. Look for Fleury to play his customary 65 games this season. I'd hedge my bets though if your pool incorporates the playoffs.
Tampa Bay - Ben Bishop or Anders Lindback? Both are huge goaltenders and put up somewhat similar numbers in Tampa last year. Bishop logged a 3-4-1 record in nine games, recording a 2.99 goals-against average and 0.917 save percentage. Lindback played 24 games, going 10-10-1 with a 2.90 goals-against average and 0.902 save percentage. Give the edge in motivation to Lindback as he is in the last year of his contract. This one likely won't be decided until the end of training camp.
Toronto - With the acquisition of Jonathan Bernier, James Reimer has to have felt as though he was just slapped in the face. Reimer is a cool customer and may take this as motivation to play even better. Don't count on Randy Carlyle to simply give starts to Bernier if he doesn't earn them. Reimer is entering the last season of his deal. Edge to Reimer for this season.
Washington - Braden Holtby is clearly the number one, playing in 36 of 48 games last season. His 23-12-1 record, 2.58 goals-against average and 0.920 save percentage during the regular season were very good. In the playoffs he did well even though he was on the losing end of a seven game series loss to the Rangers, the Caps only scored 12 goals in the entire series. Holtby sported a 2.22 goals-against average and 0.922 save percentage. The back-up is Michal Neuvirth. The 25-year-old has played in 121 NHL games and in 2010-11, he won 27 games with Washington.