Evening Reading: On goaltending and its worth

I'm a believer -- and have been for a while -- that the market for NHL goaltending has become flooded, which is why Martin Biron didn't get the money he wanted last summer, and Biron and others did not move at this trade deadline in anything but random backup swaps. In the cap world, there are good Ken Holland-esque arguments that unless you have [insert your "He's the bomb!" elite goalie of choice] in the top five or so, then it may not be worth your money to pay up for high dollar and long term. Get your Semyon Varlamov (or Cam Ward 2006, or Patrick Roy 1986) on and ride that pony to the land where rookies and adequate vets (Oz-zie, Oz-zie) become Cup winners.

Voila, your bargain youngster has earned his Playoff Tested badge.

But, well, there is always a psychological aspect to the value of goaltending: Toss aside numbers and "outperforming his contract" for the moment and think about the toll figuring out which bargain goalie you can trust takes on the locker room, the management, and the fans and media. That toll, as we've seen in Chicago all season long, creates some misery that, frankly, is not fun and leads to suspicion of a ripple effect on even an elite roster.

There is also the question of "playoff goalie" mythology which, hokie as it may be, is nonetheless on the lips of countless fans, media, players, coaches and hockey people. If the right people including the players on the ice believe in it, then it can be a real factor in their actions at crunch time -- a factor that is divorced from the urge to compartmentalize players and actions into numeric widgets. (

Pop quiz:

Which goalie's teammate is more motivated to put his body on the line with that extra push in pivotal moments when it's worn down from three weeks of playoffs -- Roberto Luongo, or Cristobal Huet?

We've seen this year how even player perception of how the goalie situation is handled can have an effect. (Caveat: All misery is instantly erased by the magic elixir known as "winning.") Then you have Tim Thomas, peaking with an unbelievable year last year, earning a big-money deal ... and promptly losing the starter role to the up-and-comer this season.

The lottery-bound Islanders right now are in the position where they can maybe afford two more losses before their playoff chances are rendered mathematically as well as realistically impossible. So this goalie topic is not urgent at the moment. And of course, whatever happens with Rick DiPietro, we're still a ways off from ... "resolution," we'll call it.

But with the above links as context, I'm curious: If you took the Great Unknown DiPietro Factor out of the equation tomorrow, then beginning this summer which direction would you take with the Islanders' goalie portfolio? Ride Roloson's deal out with a young backup and evaluate the system after that? Sign a bigger free agent this summer or in 2011 to be the partner and/or successor to Roloson? Count on a Nordic goalie prospect developing, or one of the healthy goalies currently in AHL Bridgeport?

Factors or stances that might affect your view include:

  • Maybe you say, "Don't give me this cost-per-win talk -- I want a 'money' goalie no matter what his price." Spare me the Huet drama.
  • Maybe: "I'd take a Turco or Nabokov -- if he, well, if he made a lot less money."
  • There is not a high-money signature starter out there (signed or unsigned) who doesn't have a few "crunch time" warts on his resume. Not one.
  • Any number of prospects are in the Islanders' system, from Koskinen to Poulin and all ages in between. The pain (and the reason GMs overpay for "proven" goaltending) is in the process of finding out which one can excel at this level.
  • On the one hand you can point to us living the "untested goalie" experience with Yann Danis and Joey MacDonald last season. On the other hand, they each had underlying AHL numbers that indicated they would not be Varlamovs at the NHL level.

And a few choice bits from Elliotte Friedman's bits column today to get your juices going:

10) Strongly believe there was one, possibly two teams who were willing to take Cristobal Huet from Chicago. (Should clarify: I’m more certain about one than the other.) But the Blackhawks decided to stand pat, much to the surprise of other GMs. Unloading Huet’s contract (two years remaining, $5.625 million cap hit) would have cost at least a first-rounder and an established player. (I know you’re going to ask, but I’d be guessing on whom. The source wouldn’t tell me.)

11) Why did Chicago decline? Scotty Bowman believes strongly in the Detroit model: If you don’t have a top-three goalie, you protect him with great team defence and puck possession. The Blackhawks – disciplined and talented – have a shot. But, to duplicate the Red Wings’ success, they will have to show two things: their forwards are as committed to back pressure as Detroit’s and their defensive corps is as good. As great as the Blackhawks look, we’re talking Lidstrom/Rafalski/Kronwall/Stuart here. What a tough, tough call to make.

... 29) [referring to the Islanders' recent anonymous comment drama] Of course, this is why Gary Bettman tried everything shy of felony kidnapping to prevent Charles Wang from signing DiPietro to that 15-year deal.

You might feel very strongly (for or against) some of these assumptions, or you might feel like there are a lot of viable options, particularly for a club that needs some contracts just to get over the cap floor (ah, but in a few years the top picks' next contracts mean that won't be an issue). That's why I'd like you to belly up to the bar and toss these possibilities around.

Note: I understand there are varying opinions and bets on DiPietro's future, but since he's a vast unknown at this point, for the purposes of this exercise pretend he's out of the equation. I'm more interested in hearing people's general stance on the value of goaltending and how to approach it, rather than rehashing everyone's opinion on DiPietro.

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