Listening to former Tampa Bay Lightning general manager Jay Feaster talk about the Washington Capitals goalies on NHL Home Ice yesterday, I was struck by a number of things.

The first thing that caught me is how poor Feaster’s credentials are when it comes to evaluating goaltenders.  After winning the Stanley Cup in 2004 with Nikolai Khabibulin, Feaster helped drive the Lightning into the ground by employing a frightful succession of incompetent starters.  In 2005-06, John Grahame was the starting goaltender, with Sean Burke (by then in the twilight of his career) filling the backup role.  Neither returned for 2006-07, replaced by disappointing Columbus goaltender Marc Denis, who was supplanted midseason by unheralded journeyman Johan Holmqvist.  Holmqvist was retained for 2007-08, splitting the crease with Denis, rookie Karri Ramo, and deadline acquisition Mike Smith.  The common denominator?  In those three seasons, not one of the players selected by Feaster to backstop his team was able to crack a .900 save percentage – a number which would have been subpar for even a backup.  The cherry on top of that chocolate sundae of failure was Feaster’s column earlier this season explaining that not adding Tomas Vokoun was one of the best moves he ever made as a manager, a column gleefully and competently eviscerated by Kent Wilson.

Suffice to say, I’m not inclined to take Feaster’s declaration that what separates the Washington Capitals from other contending teams is their incompetent goaltending on the basis of his illustrious reputation.  Still, his argument deserves some examination.  Let’s compare Washington to the other seven teams currently holding on to a spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs and see how their goaltending matches up.  We’ll use even-strength save percentage as the measuring stick, as it removes the bias caused by different penalty killing units. 

Player Team EV SV%
Semyon Varlamov Washington 0.935
Tuukka Rask Boston 0.935
Jaroslav Halak Montreal 0.933
Ryan Miller Buffalo 0.932
Ray Emery Philadelphia 0.930
Martin Brodeur New Jersey 0.925
Carey Price Montreal 0.919
Tim Thomas Boston 0.915
Marc-Andre Fleury Pittsburgh 0.913
Brian Elliott Ottawa 0.910


Interesting numbers, those.  Martin Brodeur is having a disappointing season by his standards, but his .925 SV% is still above average for an NHL starter – last year, the 30 most used goalies in the league averaged .921 at even-strength.  Aside from Brodeur, Ryan Miller is having a very strong season and Ray Emery would be much more highly regarded if he stopped a few more pucks on the penalty kill.

The three goalies at the top of the list are all young and all having breakout seasons.  Jaroslav Halak has been rightly praised for his tremendous work, and may even have usurped Carey Price as Montreal’s goalie of the future.  He has certainly claimed the ‘goalie of the present’ role.  Tuukka Rask has also played very well, supplanting last year’s Vezina Trophy winner, Tim Thomas.

At the top of the pack is Semyon Varlamov, who remains underrated, probably because of how few games he’s played.  It’s a little surprising, especially after he performed so well in last year’s playoffs – among Eastern Conference goaltenders, only Tim Thomas had a better even-strength save percentage than Varlamov’s .926.  The only thing against Varlamov is that he’s young, but despite his youth his results have been very impressive.  Add in the fact that Jose Theodore’s a serviceable backup whose numbers over the last two seasons have been decent, and the fact that the goalie market isn’t exactly flooded with attractive options, and I can’t for the life of me imagine why the Capitals would sink money and assets in a new goalie at the trade deadline.

Any of the players available (most frequently mentioned are Marty Turco and Martin Biron) would represent a gamble on the Capitals part; if they’re going to gamble they might as well gamble on the guy they have.

Comments (14)

  1. Feaster’s inability to properly evaluate goaltenders is the biggest reason he was fired, too. It reflects poorly on him that he’s still making the same mistakes, as evidenced by his comments on the Caps and on Vokoun. I found that Vokoun article totally inexplicable when he wrote it. To take potshots at a guy because he’s never carried the Panthers to the playoffs…I mean, we know your Florida franchise won a Cup and theirs didn’t, Jay, but come on. In 2007-08 the Lightning finished last overall, and the Panthers, with Vokoun in net, gave up a full 40 goals fewer than Tampa Bay did. That extra half goal a game might’ve made a difference there, Feaster.

    What’s particularly maddening about the suggestion that the Caps need a goalie is that there’s not a single guy out there they could get in a trade that’s a better bet to take them far than Jose Theodore is, let alone a better bet than Varlamov. Especially when you’re talking about Turco or Biron. Not like they’re looking at adding Terry Sawchuk or Patrick Roy or Martin Brodeur. Theodore’s as likely to have a good playoff run as Turco or Biron are. Or Tim Thomas for that matter, or pretty much anyone else you could name that might be on the trade market.

    The Caps would be way better off adding a veteran defenseman who can play physical, score 30-40 points and maybe play point on their second power play. Derek Morris comes to mind, if the Bruins fall out of the race. Fedor Tyutin would be a nice fit. James Wisniewski maybe, if the Ducks really are trying to move him. Pavel Kubina. Dennis Seidenberg. Dan Hamhuis. Souray, if he weren’t hurt. Oh, and didn’t have that contract. And were three or four years younger. They shouldn’t be depending on Tyler Sloan or John Erskine (or Karl Alzner, for that matter, he’s not ready yet) to play important minutes when the playoffs come around.

  2. Brian P: Completely agree.

  3. dwanye roloson would be a good fit if they did make a move for one, hes got lots of experience could really help varlamov and nuevirth come along but i agreee they should get a solid d – man

  4. [...] See original here: George McPhee Doesn't Need A New Goalie | Blog Archive | Hockey or … [...]

  5. Okay aside from Jay Feaster being another moronic GM that’s been given a position in being a writer. (At least he’s not an analyst like Doug Mac Lean or Mike Milbury.) The Caps success come playoff time is not going to come down to there goalies. In fact I’d have no worries with Varlamov with the performance he put in last year. But more in the fact that the team needs to actually want to win and play. During the semi’s last year. It was like the entire Caps roster aside from Ovechkin and Varlamov decided to stop playing. I’m not fully sure but I seen most games and if Ovechkin wasn’t scoring or making the play then the Caps weren’t winning. That was the major difference as for the most part Ovechkin and Varlamov were out playing there counter parts. But the Caps supporting cast was being out played by the Pens and that’s what ultimately decided the series.

    They aren’t going to go all the way to the finals doing what Ottawa did. That was ride an extremely talented and extremely hot top line. They’ll need Laich, Green, Fleicshman, Knubble, Semin and the rest to produce when it matters. Not disappear like they did last year.

  6. Ovechkin could stand to be better throughout the playoffs this year than he was last year too. I actually thought Backstrom was the Caps best player at times in the playoffs last year. If Ovechkin could be a little more consistent without disappearing for a couple games like he did against the Rangers it would help.

    Anyway, you’re right, Devon, they’re going to need something from the rest of the team. Green was terrible in the playoffs last year. I think that’s a big part of why he’s not on the Olympic team now. All the more reason they should add another defenseman before the playoffs. I’ll go a step further and make a prediction, too: I think if Semin doesn’t produce in the playoffs this year he’ll be traded in the summer. He’s a UFA after next season and could bring some good depth, and is more than a bit of a prima donna. If he doesn’t produce and the Caps don’t go far I think they’ll go for a different dynamic around Ovechkin, Backstrom, Green, and Varlamov.

  7. I had never seen that Feaster article. Why in the world was he going frontal assault on a current NHL player? What in the heck does that accomplish? Jerk.

  8. I agree that Varlamov has been good in what we’ve seen so far but the fact remains that he’s only played 65 games in the NHL and AHL (including playoffs). By comparison, Halak has 155 games of good results. At this point relying on Halak seems like the more reasonable play. Varlamov still has to take some time to show that he belongs in the category of reliable top end goalie. So, if the Caps can improve their insurance (Theodore) at a small cost it could well be worth doing it. I’m not sure what the cost would be for taking Turco but if Dallas will part with him for Theodore and a low pick (say a 3rd or 4th rounder), that would make some sense to me from a Caps perspective.

  9. Scott Reynolds: That’s fair, but what are the odds Dallas would move him for that kind of return?

  10. I think this is the is the piece you were referring to JW (although it’s linked in the one you reference above).

    I’ve been thinking about the goalie economy in the NHL these days and perhaps a good analogy is breaks on a car: they serve a vital, albeit narrow function and you’d never want to be driving without them (or with really bad ones). The incremental gain beyond “adequate”, however, probably isn’t worth the extra outlay of cash though.

    So, yeah, I don’t think the Caps really need another goalie either – especially with their firepower. Adding a player or two that can help reduce shots against would be a more worthwhile endeavor I think.

  11. The question then for McPhee is who does he go out and get to help that blue line and who does he send back the other way. The first name that comes to mind would be Ovechkin’s Russian teammate Grebeskov. He’d a be nice fit there, and is still young and could easily replace Tom Poti who I thinks contract is up. He’s not a top guy and I’m sure the Oilers will get some good offers for him the closer they get to trade deadline but I do think he’d be a great fit in the Caps dressing room. And would help solidify a very solid and young top 4 of Green, Morrison, him and Alzner for many years to come.

  12. The odds? I don’t know. If the Stars decide that they want to move Turco and go with Lehtonen down the stretch I doubt they get better offers than a 3rd round pick. The Caps third rounder is the worst one so maybe someone outbids them but the goalie market isn’t raging hot and Turco is an UFA after this season so there’s no long-term value to be had from getting him. If they decide to let him go, my guess is it will be as salary filler for the new player coming in rather than Turco being the main piece of the deal.

  13. mcphee should just wait, theres some solid goalies on the free agent market this summer, maybe he’ll try and sign nabokov and as far as D go i’d try and get hamius out of nasville, maybe give them a young golaie inreturn ( incase rennie leaves as UFA) or a like tomas flesiman maybe a low pick, he can move the puck and take presure of green as well

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