What Will Sens' Goaltending Look Like This Fall?
I have harped a lot on the Seven Player Profile and how important it is to build one if the goal is the win the Stanley Cup. To date, here is what I see as the key pieces already in place:
1) ALL-STAR #1 CENTER: TIM STUTZLE
2) ALL-STAR #2 CENTER: JOSH NORRIS
3) ELITE POWER FORWARD: BRADY TKACHUK
4) TWO-WAY/SPECIALIST/AGITATOR/PK: CLAUDE GIROUX (Short term) SHANE PINTO (Long)
5) ALL-STAR OFFENSIVE DEFENSEMAN: THOMAS CHABOT/JAKE CHYCHRUN
6) ALL-STAR SHUTDOWN DEFENSEMAN: ARTEM ZUB (Short term) JAKE SANDERSON (Long)
7) ALL-STAR #1 GOALIE: ???
It’s nice to look at the profile and know that it’s coming together. However, can you remember a team winning a Stanley Cup without a clearly defined number-one goalie?
In the 21st Century, the only examples that jump to mind are Detroit's Chris Osgood in 2008, and Carolina's Cam Ward coming off the bench as a rookie to replace Martin Gerber in the 2006 playoffs. Osgood had a great team in front of him and, to his credit, he also led the Red Wings to the finals the following season. Ward went on to be a bonafide starter for the 'Canes for 12 years. They had hoped he would be “The Guy” eventually. But Gerber began the season as the starter that year.
Last year, seven goalies dressed for the Senators. The one with the best numbers was Cam Talbot and he won’t be back.
Anton Forsberg had an up and down year ending in a gruesome double MCL injury. He projects to be back for training camp and ready to go. However, even if he can return from the injury, there is no reason to believe he can be “The Guy”.
Sogaard meets the media on draft day in 2019
Mads Sogaard acquitted himself well in his 19 starts where he faced adversity and came back swinging. “Is he The Guy?” Is 19 starts enough to properly make that assessment? Does 8-6-3 with an .889 save percentage scream number one goalie in the NHL? Is it fair to make that assessment of a player who wasn’t expected to be there in the first place?
This coming season is supposed to be playoff contention season. Can the Senators really afford to go into the season with a question mark in goal?
What is the anatomy of a number one NHL goalie? Since Craig Anderson was the last legitimate number one for the Senators organization, let’s use his body of work as a template.
Here are Anderson’s career numbers for nine full regular seasons with the Senators:
Average # of Starts: 46
50 starts or more: 5
Average GAA: 2.79
Average Save %: 0.918
Average Wins: 21
Average Losses: 18
OT Shootout losses: 5
Keep in mind that Anderson played through the highs and lows of the Ottawa Senators. The Senators made the playoffs five times in his nine full seasons in the league which means they were a mediocre team nearly half the time.
When healthy, Anderson could haul the mail. This profile says three things to me.
Durability – Playing 50 or more starts in a season is the kind of peace of mind that teams need to get through a season. Anderson did this more than half the time. He also played 19 games in the 2017 playoff run. His max was in Colorado when he started 71 games in 2009-10.
Consistency – Anderson only had one sub .900 save percentage season in nine years. His career save percentage was .912 and with Ottawa, it was .918. You knew what you were getting with him night in and night out.
Winner – In a short sample size, goalies and skaters alike can look really good. Sogaard won rookie of the month in February. Anderson averaged a winning record with the Senators and throughout his career collected an overall Sens record of 202–16 –46. With Anderson between the pipes, the players knew they had a chance to win every night.
This is clearly the best goalie to have played for the Senators and he didn’t even get to hoist the Stanley Cup. If that is the profile of a number one NHL goalie, what are the options to find the next one?
The Senators are not without goalie prospects. By virtue of Filip Gustavsson being traded to the Wild, Sogaard was clearly projected as the better candidate within the organization long-term. The intent was for him and Kevin Mandolese to play the majority of the games in Belleville this past season.
Due to injuries, Sogaard played a total of 41 games this season between Ottawa and Belleville. The numbers in Belleville were very similar to those in Ottawa.
Mandolese also struggled to stay healthy and ended up playing for all three of the Senators' pro levels. He is currently still playing for the ECHL's Allen Americans in the playoffs.
Leevi Merilainen had an excellent season in the top Finnish professional league. He also played very well in Belleville when he came over to finish the season. He had a brief foray in the NHL which showed as much need for development as potential.
From a Durability, Consistency and Winner perspective, I am open to the possibility that there is someone in their system that could be “The Guy”.
It’s hard to imagine any of them being that guy this season. I need to see one of them play at least half the games in the AHL and show they can handle the load. None have shown that yet.
Merilainen was a number one goalie in Finland this year and fit the criteria. Perhaps he or Sogaard or Mandolese will emerge this year.
I see all three of them playing in either Belleville or Allen and one of them, likely Sogaard, being the primary call-up. If one of them wants to come on in relief of an injured goaltender and pull a Cam Ward, you won’t hear me complain.
I am not betting a playoff contention season on any of them right now.
Here’s a look at the pending UFAs for this off-season (in no particular order) excluding Cam Talbot.
Tristan Jarry – 28 (PIT), Jonathan Quick - 37 (VGK), Alex Nedeljkovic - 27 (DET), James Reimer - 35 (SJ), Martin Jones (SEA), Antti Raanta -34 (CAR), Semyon Varlamov - 35 (NYI), Freddie Anderson – 33 (CAR), Joonas Korpisalo – 29 (LA).
Here’s a list of big-ticket UFA goalies who were recently signed.
2022 - Darcy Kuemper – Washington, 5 years at $5.25 million AAV
2022 – Jack Campbell – Edmonton, 5 years at $5 million AAV
2021 – Freddie Andersen – Carolina, 2 years at $4.45 million AAV
2020 – Jakob Markstrom – Calgary, 6 years at $6 million AAV
2019 – Sergei Bobrovsky – Florida, 7 years at $10 million AAV
2016 – Freddie Andersen – Toronto, 5 years at $5 million AAV
This isn’t an exhaustive list but it’s enough to see that teams that are desperate to win will overpay for top free agent goalies the same way they will for forwards like Zach Parise or defencemen like Ryan Suter who, ironically, is counting $7.3 million against the Wild cap while ending up playing against them in the playoffs.
These deals aren’t all complete disasters. Kuemper may actually regret the signing more than the Capitals if he finds himself in the middle of a rebuild/retool. It’s hard to imagine Jack Campbell making it through all five years of his deal. Markstrom was lights out two years ago and struggled this year. Bobrovsky has been a disappointment thus far though the only way to live up to that contract is to win the Stanley Cup at least once. Andersen was a success in his days in Toronto despite the lack of playoff success. He delivered his first year in Carolina and the second was marred by injury.
Of the pending free agents in net, the only one that meets the criteria of Durability, Consistency and Winner is Quick and he is 37. On a short-term deal, it could make sense to bring in a guy like Andersen. However, having him on the bench in the playoffs instead of playing makes me wonder if he would simply be a risk of having another Talbot experience where he can still play at a high level, but can’t handle the workload.
Tristan Jarry and Joonas Korpisalo seem like the most attractive choices given their age and experience and the latter has won a playoff round. If Korpisalo can go on a run in the playoffs, his value will shoot up by a commensurate rate. These two are also likely to command more than they are worth because the remainder of the UFA class, save Nedeljkovic, are 33 or older. Dorion should inquire but proceed with extreme caution.
Even if this were the way to go, it becomes an issue of Caprobatics with the flat cap coming up this season. Could the Senators make the cap situation work or would there need to be attrition in other areas? Alex DeBrincat is going to need a qualifying offer of $9 million and Shane Pinto needs an extension. The only advantage Pierre Dorion would have, one that he hasn’t previously enjoyed, is that the Senators have become a free agent destination. He might not need to be the highest bidder.
There is merit in this option, and it is worth consideration. Dorion just needs to ensure that mistakes of previous GMs are not made here.
TRADE/SIGN & TRADE
In a flat cap situation, the one way to fix this issue might be to do a dollar-for-dollar trade with someone. This is also the avenue that led us to Craig Anderson in the first place.
There is a rumour that Washington might be willing to part with Darcy Kuemper. There is a guy who meets all three criteria. Perhaps they would be interested in Alex DeBrincat? I don’t like the hole it would leave upfront. However, filling that hole is easier than the one in net.
This will allow Washington to pursue a notable free agent goalie if they so choose. Of course, the Senators would be getting reasonable cost certainty on a bona fide number one goalie with championship pedigree for the next four seasons.
The Winnipeg Jets just got bounced from the playoffs in five games and based on a Rick Bowness’ post game presser, things aren’t too harmonious in Shangri La. Connor Hellebuyck has one year left at a digestible $6.17 million. He is 29 and clearly has lots left in the tank. He hasn’t won anything, but he is a great goalie who is durable and consistent. Perhaps Kevin Cheveldayoff is looking to retool/rebuild things and knows he won’t be able to retain his core as his window is closing.
With David Poile having announced his retirement as Predators VP of Hockey Ops and GM effective June 30th of this year, it’s hard to know what his successor will want to do. Based on moves that were made at this year’s deadline, it’s possible the Preds will be tearing things down and Juuse Saros only has two years left at $5 million per remaining on this current deal at 28 years of age. Perhaps, they would be open to moving a topflight goalie? This would likely be expensive as Saros is one of the best goalies in the league and is grossly underpaid for what he brings to the table. He meets the criteria of durability and consistency. However, he has never won a playoff round.
When Craig Anderson was acquired, it was a trade of two struggling goalies (Brian Elliott) who had previously played at a higher level. It worked out brilliantly for the Senators, though both were still in the league as of this year with Elliott backing up in Tampa.
In an ideal world, I think a trade with money in and money out, makes the most sense. Kuemper would be my first choice based on meeting all three criteria and four years of cost certainty.
Going to the UFA market can be rewarding or problematic and the cap is a legitimate concern. Tim Stutzle’s contract kicks in next year and the Senators won’t be cap rich anymore. They also need to pay Jake Sanderson the year after. There are options in the UFA market but none that meets all three criteria.
Finally, though I like the Senators prospect pool, none are ready to be “The Guy” yet. Sogaard and Mandolese have not stayed healthy consistently enough. Merilainen showed the ability to be durable in the OHL and in Finland. He has upside, but he just got here and has never played an 82-game schedule. He is probably at least a year away from being a year away. “The Guy” may well be in their system right now. The microwave just hasn’t beeped yet.
For now, the Senators need someone to be “Today’s Guy”. Say what you will about Cam Talbot. The last 20 games of the season were a disaster. This was largely because of injury. When he came back, he clearly wasn’t himself. However, healthy Cam Talbot played well and was easily the team’s best goalie. I understand not wanting to sign him to a multi-year extension given the health concerns. That said, replacing him is a lot more challenging than it might sound.
By Pat Maguire | Sens Nation Hockey