The goaltending carousel
A slew of notable netminders are getting second shots
Posted: Tuesday July 24, 2007 2:37PM; Updated: Tuesday July 24, 2007 3:25PM
With so many goalies moving this offseason, facemask artists can bank on a backlog of work based on redesigns. The turnover hasn't precisely been from A to Z, but from Aebischer to Weekes comes pretty close.
While there hasn't been a blockbuster deal like last year's Roberto Luongo from Florida to Vancouver heist, several teams have tried to shore up their number one status. Not coincidentally the Panthers helped themselves the most by pilfering Tomas Vokoun from the payroll-letting Nashville Predators and, in the process moved themselves into the mix as a team capable of becoming the Southeast Division's fourth different champion in four seasons.
Certainly the Toronto Maple Leafs' acquisition of Vesa Toskala was a move to strengthen the position from the top down. Incumbent Andrew Raycroft played too much last season while Toskala never played enough to garner top billing outright in San Jose. Toronto's situation is similar to the one in Philadelphia, where Martin Biron went to the Flyers from Buffalo late last season and signed a new deal. The Flyers have Antero Niittymaki in the fold vying for starter status, but the move and the money means that the top job is Biron's -- same as Toskala in Toronto and for all the same reasons.
David Aebischer actually played, to mixed reviews, in one of those ham-and-egg tandems last season in Montreal. By the end of the season, though, he was out of favor, which made him expendable and on his way to Phoenix. He enters a similar situation with the Coyotes as they search for stability at that position and hope that by pairing him with Michal Telqvist they'll form a duo that is capable of backstopping a pretty-well-put-together blueline corps.
Then there is the case of Manny Fernandez moving from Minnesota to Boston. He's the quintessential candidate trying to move from shared status to top billing. After forming a very effective split-duties tandem with Dwayne Roloson with the Wild two years ago, Fernandez failed to secure the top job outright last season after Roloson had moved to Edmonton. Eventually the unheralded Niclas Backstrom usurped the top spot, making Fernandez expendable. He'll now get another chance with the Bruins, with journeyman Tim Thomas on hand as a capable if unorthodox back-up, a role that Thomas is better suited for than that of starter, which he was last season due to the failings of up-and-comer Hannu Toivonen.
Speaking of Toivonen, what a difference a year makes. The 23-year-old former first-round pick gets a new setting in St. Louis to do what he couldn't in Boston: establish himself as a bona fide NHL puck-stopper. Coming out of training camp a year ago, though, folks around the Bruins felt that Toivonen was ready to assume the number one duties, get the Bruins to the playoffs and possibly do even more. Injuries and inconsistent play derailed that notion and Toivonen became yesterday's news.
On and on it goes this summer when it comes to goalies. Kevin Weekes is now Martin Brodeur's back-up in New Jersey while Curtis Sanford of the Blues -- see a pattern here? -- signs on as the Canucks' lonely Maytag repairman candidate behind workhorse Luongo. Dany Sabourin -- Luongo's little-used back-up of a season ago -- returns to his former organization, the Pittsburgh Penguins. Why? Because veteran Jocelyn Thibault, who backed up starter Marc-Andre Fleury last season, is now with the Buffalo Sabres to back up Ryan Miller... which is what Biron was doing before Philly... which was sort of the jumping-off point for this offseason of goaltender roulette.
A final note: The Flyers have signed Brian Boucher to a minor league contract. Boucher's case demonstrates how up and down the life of a goaltender can be. He had phenomenal high points as a rookie with the Flyers, posting the lowest goals-against by a first-year goalie in more than 50 years (1.91) and making the All-Rookie team in 2000. He also ran off five straight shutouts to begin the calendar year of 2004. Now, at 30, Boucher doesn't even have a seat on the NHL goaltending carousel. He has fallen to the AHL's Philadelphia Phantoms as third-string insurance for the parent club. That leads us to yet another layer of potential moves -- too many to consider when you look at all the activity at the highest level of the sport, but such is the nature of the position for so many netminders: here today and on their way out of town tomorrow, as the carousel keeps spinning.