By Bob Trask – Alarm bells have been ringing. Anyone who has been following the NHL is aware that there is a lack of quality goaltending available and teams, particularly contenders, seem almost frantic in their search to fill the position. Let’s take a look at how we got there.
The Injury List
Among the goaltenders whose health is in either question or already deemed not fit to play are Carey Price, Ben Bishop and Braden Holtby. All have been #1 goaltenders on very good teams so that is a big chunk of quality goaltenders not available for play. When you look deeper into the situation, the names of more goaltenders appear on the list and we see names like Mackenzie Blackwood and Robin Lehner
The bigger question is why is this happening.
An article on former Canadiens’ backup on Mike Condon was revealing. When he came onto the scene Condon looked like he could become a solid NHL backup goaltender. But unbeknownst to most of us, injuries derailed his career. Hip hip injuries were debilitating and he was forced into retirement and underwent medical treatment.
Style of Play
Watch any NHL game and you will see NHL goaltenders make one acrobatic move after another. Even if they when they don’t stop the puck, they put their bodies through unbelievable stress. The butterfly style of goaltending, while very effective, forces goaltenders to move their bodies in ways nature never intended.
Yes, crease crashing and unwanted physical contact is also a concern but the long term effects of contorting their bodies into unnatural positions has taken its toll on goaltenders.
A New Approach
The butterfly goaltending remains the effective style and it won’t be abandoned. There will always be goaltenders willing to sacrifice their bodies in the pursuit of success.
Hockey teams should take a page out of baseball’s book. Pitchers are also subject to injury from repetitive movement. Careers are often cut short with shoulder and elbow injuries so in an effort to minimize that possibility teams have adopted a pitching rotation.
Going forward I can see more teams adopting a goaltending rotation or a 1A/1B situation where the number of games played by each is more evenly balanced. Using this approach the 1A goaltender might play 45-50 games and the 1B goaltender might play 35-40 games.
Of course there would always be exceptions to this and changing the mindset of proud, elite athletes who strive to be the best would be a hurdle to overcome but in the long run it is an approach worth considering.
Of course that doesn’t solve the immediate shortage in goaltending that teams face. There is no clear cut solution to this problem.
Contending teams who need an upgrade in net may be forced to pay more than market price to solve their problems. Teams at the bottom of the bottom of the food change may be willing to part with their goaltenders but, in many cases, part of the reason that they are where they are is because their goaltending is already substandard.
Teams in the middle who may have a solid starter and a good backup may be encouraged to part with one of their goaltenders if a solid prospect is part of the deal to fill the void created. It would require a leap of faith by more than one team but we have already seen this happen with Georgiev in New York and Husso in St Louis.
Expect more movement of this type but the price will be going up every day. Candidates may or many not include Cam Talbot in Minnesota and to a lesser extent, Jake Allen in Montreal.
Salary Cap Considerations
If NHL teams transition towards a goaltending rotation, rather than a clear cut #1 supported by an inexpensive backup, the day of the $8 – $10 million goaltender could disappear. Teams could still commit a significant portion of the cap to goaltending but it would be divided up differently with something like $4.5 to $5.5 million to the 1A and $3.0 to $4.0 million to the 1B.
Edmonton and Toronto remain prime candidates for major moves with Toronto faced with the least amount of cap flexibility of teams in the market for a goaltender. It will be interesting to see what long term approach various teams take going forward. In the meantime, look for more movement in the goaltending market.