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.
|Martin Brodeur||New Jersey||0.925|
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.