This might be the ultimate example of burying the lead, but let’s pause for a moment and consider the goalies who were still alive in the playoffs before Tuesday’s games.
In the Detroit-Anaheim series, you had a showdown between Chris Osgood, the man who’s widely considered to be the single greatest impediment between the Wings and a second straight Cup win, and Jonas Hiller, a 27-year-old NHL sophomore late of the Swiss league.
Back east in the Boston-Carolina series, you had Finnish league refugee Tim Thomas of the Bruins going against young Cam Ward of the Hurricanes.
Then there’s tonight’s finale in the epic Washington-Pittsburgh series, which pits 21-year-old Russian rookie Simeon Varlamov against the Penguins’ Marc-Andre Fleury.
The one team that had advanced to the conference final, meanwhile, features Nikolai Khabibulin, who was available on waivers earlier this season.
So, taken in total, what does this tell you? What does this say about the need for a superstar goalie?
The Western Conference final, not knowing the result of Tuesday night’s game as this is being written, will feature Nikolai Khabibulin in goal for the Hawks against either Detroit’s Chris Osgood or Anaheim’s Jonas Hiller. In the East, it’s Carolina’s Cam Ward or Boston’s Tim Thomas against Washington’s Simeon Varlamov or Pittsburgh’s Marc-Andre Fleury.
The winning goaltenders of the Stanley Cup since the last time a “franchise” goaltender — Martin Brodeur in 2003 — backstopped the victorious team have been Khabibulin, Ward, Jean-Sebastien Giguere and Osgood, who has won two Cups already and could make it three this spring. Among the losing finalists’ goalies have been Dwayne Roloson and Ray Emery.
The point is, there are plenty of ways to skin a cat in today’s NHL that do not involve tying up $8 million in the goaltending position. And most of the successful teams out there in playoff land have found the way. That’s not to say they wouldn’t love to have a franchise goaltender, but the question is: At what point does cost exceed benefit?
I’ll forget for a moment that Roberto Luongo has a no-trade clause which prevents the Canucks from trading him unless he asks them to. I’ll bite anyway.
Simply, I don’t believe for one second that the Canucks are a better team without Roberto Luongo. I realize that he takes up a significant amount of cap space and I understand that $7 million probably gets you a quality skater plus perhaps a good role player; however, I also remember 2001-2006 when the Canucks had all those good players in front of Dan Cloutier. In only 3 seasons with the Canucks, Luongo’s postseason numbers have already eclipsed Cloutier’s:
And he’s taken them to the second round twice in three years – one more time than Cloutier and all the other Canucks goalies after Kirk McLean did since 1995. Combined.
Not fair to compare Luongo and Cloutier? Among active starting goalies, his career GAA is only behind Bryzgalov (16 GP, 1.68), Brodeur (176 GP, 1.98) and Giguere (52 GP, 2.08), and his career save percentage is only behind Bryzgalov (0.937). Granted, Luongo’s 22 GP in the postseason is a small sample; at this point however, his postseason numbers don’t scream playoff bust to me.
It’s funny actually. For years, Canucks fans were clamoring for an elite goalie. Now that they finally have one, some fans and media types want to drive him right back to the airport.
The fact is, in a salary cap world, each team is going to have weaknesses and only a finite amount of salary cap space to address them. Some Canucks fans wanted to face Detroit in the playoffs because they had Chris Osgood and Ty Conklin in goal. Some wanted to face Chicago because they lacked experience. Some wanted to face Calgary because they didn’t have much defensive depth after Dion Phaneuf and Robyn Regehr. I admit that the Canucks have weaknesses up front, but the answer isn’t to get rid of their best player and weakening themselves in their strongest position.