I’d like to say I’ve deliberately ignored the free agent goalie signings because I was coming up with brilliant analysis, but the truth is I was water skiing at a friend’s cottage on Go Home Lake. Taking time away from internet connectivity was rewarded today when I received the newest issue of Goalies World magazine and its unique statistical review of all NHL goalies.
Goalies World is a technical goalie’s dream. Each issue dedicates a dozen pages to in-depth analysis of a particular goalie’s style of play… I highly recommend it for any competitive goalie, or coach/parent thereof. it also provides a very unique statistical ranking based on things like number of “hot” games and games “stolen” a victories. It’s these comprehensive rankings that shed some interesting light on the free agency signing of the past two weeks. I’ve listed the signings in order of ranking by Goalies World.
Cristobal Huet, signed by Chicago, Goalie World ranking 13th: Based on GW’s rankings, Huet, and not Jose Theodore, was the top free unrestricted free agent goalie. Was Huet greedy in his negotiations with the Capitals? Was George McPhee stingy? Is Nikolai Khabibulin on his way out in Chicago? We probably won’t learn the truth on the first two questions but it may not be long before the last one is answered. Huet was under-rated in Montreal so I was happy to see him make the most of his opportunity in Washington’s playoff run. I wasn’t thrilled to see the writing on the wall for Ollie Kolzig but I was looking forward to seeing Huet’s performance next year on a team working its way into the top tier of the league. The Black Hawks are also moving in the right direction but they’re a year or two behind the Caps, so Huet should see a lot of rubber. FYI, Khabibulin ranked 27th and has been the subject of rumors that the Hawks want to move his hefty salary.
Jose Theodore, signed by Washington, GW ranking 25th: Theodore has had his ups and downs since winning the Hart Trophy in 2002 but he appears to be on an upswing right now which will be good news for the Caps. GM McPhee first tried to re-sign Huet (how hard he tried we’re not sure) and when that failed he went straight for Theodore. 2006-07 was not a good year for Theodore as he became a $6M backup to Peter Budaj. But Avs’ GM Francois Guigere’s faith in Theodore was rewarded last season when Theodore bounced back with a strong season and even stronger stretch run that led the Avs to a first round win over the Wild. The Caps also had a strong stretch run that has elevated expectations for next year in Washington. My guess is Alexander Ovechkin’s outgoing personality and love of the game will be all it takes to keep Theodore focused and having fun on the ice. If that happens the Capitals should not only repeat in the Southeast but should go further in the playoffs.
Ty Conklin, signed by Detroit, GW ranking 26th: The outdoor game against Buffalo coincided with Conklin grabbing the starting position in Pittsburgh when Marc-Andre Fleury went down with his ankle injury. Not only did Conklin keep the Pens from free-falling during Fleury’s absence but they actually climbed up in the standings as Conklin went on a nine-game winning streak. Detroit should be a perfect fit for Conklin. He can be a frequently-used backup to Chris Osgood, who probably is not the type to handle a Brodeur-like workload.
Marc-Andre Fleury, re-signed by Pittsburgh, GW ranking 29th: Re-signing Evgeni Malkin was clearly priorty #1 for the Pens but securing Fleury for the foreseeable future had to be #1A. Fleury’s ranking in Goalie World is lower than you’d expect given his playoff performance but that’s because he missed a good chunk of the season with his ankle injury. Fleury’s progress over the past four seasons has more than validated his #1 overall selection in 2003 and his signature on a Penguin contract should result in his name engraved on the Cup in the next year or two.
Olaf Kolzig, signed by Tampa, GW ranking 32nd: Until he signed with the Lightning, this 1990 hockey card sums up almost everything you needed to know about ‘Ollie the Goalie’. Kolzig has been the Capitals’ goalie since they were still wearing their original jerseys and NHLers were still wearing Cooper goalie equipment. He was supposed to be a Cap for life but things ended poorly for Ollie after he had a sub-Kolzig season and the Caps handed the starters job to Huet for their playoff run. According to the Goalies World ranking, Kolzig had 11 “bad” games. But his signing is great news for the Bolts as they try to rebound from a last-place finish and their new owners try to win back their fans. Mike Smith will be trying to prove he’s big-time starter after years in Marty Turco’s shadow and Kolzig will be trying to prove he can still carry a team. George McPhee might want to call in sick the first time Tampa’s in town next season, or at least be prepared for an Ollie love-in from Caps fans.
Alex Auld, signed by Ottawa, GW ranking 35th: Auld didn’t get off to a great start in Phoenix and was the odd man out when the Coyotes picked up Ilya Bryzgalov, but Auld certainly made the most of his chance in Boston. He kept the Bruins in playoff contention when Tim Thomas went out with a mid-season injury. The Senators offer Auld the chance for a bit of stability after bouncing from Vancouver to Florida before his stint in Phoenix. Gerber should be able to handle about 60 games so Auld’s job will be to deliver a couple dozen solid starts as the Sens try to rebound from a disastrous season. If Auld doesn’t skip practice or get in fights with Ottawa-area drivers I’m sure the Sens will consider his signing to be a success.
Patrick Lalime, signed by Buffalo, GW ranking 43rd: Lalime has always had what I considered to be the best mask in the league, even going back to his days in Pittsburgh. Actually, I liked it so much I copied it for my own mask. Lalime kind of disappeared after he was chased out of Ottawa, but to be fair, injuries took their tole on him. His play with the Hawks was decent and while that’s not a resounding endorsement it’s a lot better than his reviews in St. Louis. In Buffalo he will be replacing Jocelyn Thibault, (ranked 59th in GW) and giving Ryan Miller a break about a dozen nights per year.
Andrew Raycroft, signed by Colorado, GW ranking 57th: Raycroft may be one of the nicest guys in the league so I hope Denver works out for him. After setting the Leafs record for wins in ’06-07 he was the target of vicious Leafs fans and media right from day one of last season.
Curtis Joseph, signed by Toronto, GW ranking 68th: Cujo only appeared in 9 games with the Flames, almost half of which were in relief, but he played well given his inactivity for the first two thirds of the season. The truth is the Leafs could have used just about anyone to play the dozen or so games that Vesa Toskala will grudingly sit out, but I’m excited to see Cujo back in a Leafs jersey to finish his career because (and I think he’ll be the first to agree) he never should have left in the first place. Cujo practiced in his barn through most of last winter until getting the call from the Flames and played well enough in a handful of games to generate speculation he might start the playoffs. So my analysis of this signing is that of a fan… welcome home Cujo!
Marc Denis, signed by Montreal, GW ranking 75th: Things can only get better for Denis. After years of being an under rated workhorse in Columbus, Denis was supposed to carry the Lightning back to the Cup after Khabibulin left for Chicago. Instead he encountered Dr. Hook, in the form of coach Tortorella and never lived up to expectations. Denis basically is going to a “can’t lose” situation in Montreal… either he plays in the AHL where he was going to be buried with the Bolts organization, or he pushes Halak
By the way, Ray Emery and Wade Dubielewicz, who both signed with Russian teams and were featured in a separate post, had GW rankings 46th and 50th respectively. When you look at the rankings and how they compare to who signed where and for how much you have to give a lot of credit to Goalies World publisher Gilles Moffet for his unique ranking system.