Analyzing the trend of 'skimping' on goaltending

niemileightonhandshake.jpgI firmly believe that there isn’t a “magic bullet” or specific formula when it comes to building a winning hockey team. Simply put, the NHL changes too much year-to-year in the post-lockout era to claim that there’s one way to skin that Stanley Cup cat. Before I expand on this point, though, let me point you to an NHL.com article that features Craig Button’s “4-2-1-2 Theory” of putting together a hockey team.

Former NHL general manager Craig Button has a theory that if you allocate 65-70 percent of your salary cap money to nine specific players, you’ll be giving your team a chance to contend for the Stanley Cup. He calls it his “4-2-1-2 theory,” and with the way things have gone this offseason, it’s not at all surprising to learn that according to Button, the goaltender is the seventh-most important asset when it comes to distributing money from your salary cap.

“You need four good defensemen, two really good centermen and then your goaltender comes in before you get two more good forwards,” Button, now an analyst for the NHL Network, explained to NHL.com. “If you put most of your money into a goaltender and you don’t have defense, those teams are not winning.”

The article points out that the four teams who will pay the most for goalies next season are the Rangers, Maple Leafs, Wild and Islanders. Conversely, the teams who spent the least are the Cup-winning Chicago Blackhawks and the Presidents Trophy-winning Washington Capitals. When you look at a playoff run that featured the downfall of franchise goalies such as Ryan Miller and Marc-Andre Fleury versus the rise of previous backups such as Jaroslav Halak and Antti Niemi, skimping on goaltending definitely seems “chic.”

But the truth is that one year does not make a trend and it’s just not that simple. Sure, the Blackhawks skimped on goalies, but their team building model will be in question immediately after entry level deals for elite players turned to hefty second contracts. Look at the other Cup winning teams over the years, too. The Pittsburgh Penguins spent $5 million per year on their goalie Fleury. The Red Wings spent very little on Chris Osgood. The Anaheim Ducks poured a bunch of money into J.S. Giguere but also featured two Hall of Fame defensemen in Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermayer. The Carolina Hurricanes were spending very little on Cam Ward the year they won the Cup but put nearly all their resources into promoting amazing forward depth.

What does that summary tell you? In my eyes, it says to accomplish the easier-said-than-done goal of putting the best team possible on the ice. You need forwards who will win tough matchups against checkers, defensemen who can log big minutes and a goalie with the mental makeup to shake off the occasional bad goal.

If I had to choose, I’d spend less money on a goalie if I were a general manager but walking that netminding tight rope can be very dangerous. Sometimes you get lucky and land a Niemi or Tuukka Rask, but sometimes, you get what you pay for.

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    Mike Smith is out with illness that is not the mumps, Coyotes say

    GLENDALE, AZ - OCTOBER 07:  Goaltender Mike Smith #41 of the Arizona Coyotes during the preseason NHL game against San Jose Sharks at Gila River Arena on October 7, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona. The Coyotes defeated the Sharks 3-1  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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    The Arizona Republic’s Sarah McLellan reports that she was told Mike Smith is missing tonight’s game because of an illness that is not the mumps.

    You may recognize “not the mumps” as the NHL’s version of letting out a barrage of coughs and then insisting the issue is not contagious.

    Anyway, Smith is out tonight as the Arizona Coyotes visit the Stars in Dallas. With that, Louis Domingue gets the start while the team made an emergency recall of Adin Hill to be his backup.

    A quick 411 on Hill: the 20-year-old goalie was the 76th pick in 2015 by the Coyotes. He’s put together some solid work after being promoted from the ECHL to the AHL this season, managing a respectable .916 save percentage in 26 games with the Tucson Roadrunners.

    It’s been a tough season for Domingue (5-13-1, .895 save percentage, 3.29 GAA), so you almost wonder if the Coyotes are tempted to see how Hill would handle a little relief work.

    Rare wave of injuries for Capitals as Oshie, Orpik are also out

    WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 02: Matt Niskanen #2 of the Washington Capitals celebrates with teammate T.J. Oshie #77 after scoring a third period goal against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Verizon Center on March 2, 2016 in Washington, DC.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
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    The Washington Capitals have been outright dominant this season, but there’s one opponent they haven’t faced very often: injuries.

    They’ve been healthier than everyone else to an almost spooky extent in 2016-17, yet it seems like they’re dealing with a rash of ailments for the first time in a while.

    The injury list for tonight’s game against the Edmonton Oilers appears to be: Matt Niskanen, Andre Burakovsky, Brooks Orpik and T.J. Oshie.

    We already knew that Burakovsky will miss some time and that Niskanen was injured after colliding knee-to-knee with Radko Gudas. Oshie and Orpik are bigger surprises as far as their lineup goes. It seemed like Oshie took some significant hits against the Flyers in that same game that injured Niskanen, so maybe that’s the issue there?

    Here’s what the Capitals lineup will look like, via the team itself:

    The team labels Oshie’s injury as upper-body related while Orpik and Niskanen have lower-body issues. On the bright side, those three are all considered day-to-day.

    Riley Barber makes his debut with all of these injury absences.

    Predators are a wild card in more ways than one

    NASHVILLE, TN - FEBRUARY 21:  Filip Forsberg #9 of the Nashville Predators is congratulated by teammates after scoring a hat trick against the Calgary Flames during the second period at Bridgestone Arena on February 21, 2017 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)
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    The Nashville Predators have really earned the “wild card” moniker lately, even beyond holding the West’s first wild card spot.

    Such a label could describe their up-and-down 2016-17 in general, and it might only intensify over the next few weeks.

    Trade deadline players?

    Nashville boasts Filip Forsberg, a guy with rare back-to-back hat tricks, not to mention other quality scorers such as James Neal, Ryan Johansen and diamond in the rough Viktor Arvidsson. (Their defensemen can produce points in buckets, too.)

    But perhaps they can go from sporadically good to regular contender with that extra boost?

    Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman believes that the Predators could be in on talks to acquire Matt Duchene or “somebody big” at forward. Duchene, himself, might be tough to get:

    That schedule, though

    Honestly, the way their schedule looks, the Predators might need a shot in the arm.

    Check out what they’re dealing with during the next few weeks:

    Saturday: vs. Capitals
    Sunday: vs. Oilers
    Tuesday, Feb. 28: at Sabres
    Thursday, March 2: at Canadiens
    Saturday, March 4: vs. Blackhawks
    Tuesday, March 7: at Ducks
    Thursday, March 9: at Kings
    Saturday, March 11: at Sharks
    Monday, March 13: vs. Jets
    Thursday, March 16: at Capitals
    Saturday, March 18: at Hurricanes

    That’s a rough mixture of tough opponents and road games, with even games against non-playoff teams being less than layups (the Hurricanes can beat you when they’re on point, for instance).

    The Predators are in the first wild card spot. They’re also not far behind for the third seed in the Central, as the Blues hold a tiebreaker advantage over Nashville right now with both teams at 67 standings points.

    That schedule could be an issue, however, for a team that’s been vulnerable to hitting highs and lows.

    On the other hand, we’ve also seen hints of the dominant squad many penciled in as a possible contender in 2016-17. In a weakened West, the Predators remain a fascinating team to watch. That could be especially true in the near future.

    ‘Hawks nab Jurco in trade with Red Wings

    Tomas Jurco
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    The Chicago Blackhawks picked up some forward depth today, adding winger Tomas Jurco in a trade with the Detroit Red Wings.

    In return, the ‘Hawks sent the Wings a third-round draft pick in 2017.

    Jurco has only appeared in 16 games this season. He has no goals and no assists.

    The 24-year-old was forced to undergo back surgery this past offseason.

    “I could still play with it but the worst for me was sitting on the bench all the time,” Jurco said in November, per NHL.com. “Sometimes I’d have to get up and walk. Sometimes I’d stretch it. It was bad and I’ve been sitting a lot for the last couple of years on the bench. It was really tough but I’m glad it’s gone and I’m excited for a fresh start.”

    A pending restricted free agent, Jurco’s cap hit is just $900,000.

    In a corresponding move, the ‘Hawks assigned rookie forward Vinnie Hinostroza to the AHL.