Mason Raymond Pekka Rinne

Are NHL teams better off trying to acquire a top goalie through free agency or the draft?


Finding a great goalie is an inexact science. People love (or loved?) to beat up on the Philadelphia Flyers for their inability to find a genuine No. 1 starter, as if a general manager can just wave a magic wand and make the next Patrick Roy appear in net.

There are so many factors that go into what makes or breaks a goalie’s success. There’s outside forces like the quality of defense in front of him, competition from other goalies in that organization and even the amount of goals his team scores to allow a little margin of error. Even on the individual level, there’s a lot of things that can break one way or another, from a given franchise’s goalie coaches, their patience with the maturation process and developing the mindset to shake off tough goals and tougher losses.

It’s probably a slight oversimplification to assume that every NHL team leans heavily one way or the other, but ESPN’s Alvin Chang conducted an interesting study to explore a tough question: is it wiser to try to draft a franchise goalie or roll the dice with free agency? (subscription required)

The general takeaway of the study focused on how tough it is to find an elite goalie via drafting, with the focus revolving around the Nashville Predators and Pekka Rinne – whom they drafted but could find himself being the most significant free agent netminder in quite some time if the team cannot retain him.

Looking at the Predators’ success, it certainly seems like it. They did their homework on Rinne and selected him in 2004. But it wasn’t just about good scouting. It was also a game of probability.

Five years before Rinne’s selection, the Predators drafted goalie Brian Finley with the No. 6 overall pick in 1999. The following round, they drafted goalie Jan Lasak. And for good measure, they drafted goalie Kyle Kettles at No. 205. But when all was said and done, those three guys played 10 NHL games — combined.

In the following five years, the Predators continued their search for a goalie; they drafted seven more stoppers until they found Rinne with the 258th pick in 2004.

Of course, they had no idea he would be the one to pan out. In fact, from 2006 to 2008, they drafted five more goaltenders and, since 2000, they’ve drafted a total of 13 — second-most in the NHL. But goaltenders are incredibly hard to project, so the Preds sifted for elite goalies the only way they knew how: by drafting a lot of goalie prospects.

For some teams, that approach might not work, but the low-budget Predators probably take that route at least partially out of necessity. The thing is, if you ask me, paying big money for a should-be franchise goalie isn’t exactly a great way to get the job done either. Worse yet, teams spend precious cap space and don’t always get above average work from those top guys.

As you can see from this excerpt from an older PHT post, spending a lot of money on a goalie doesn’t necessarily guarantee that you’ll make the playoffs – even if that guy plays well.

Teams who missed the playoffs despite spending $3.5 million or more on a single goalie:

Calgary (Miikka Kiprusoff – $5.88 million); Carolina (Cam Ward – $6.3M); Dallas (Kari Lehtonen – $3.5M); Edmonton (Nikolai Khabibulin – $3.75M); Florida (Tomas Vokoun – $5.7M); Minnesota (Niklas Backstrom – $6M); New Jersey (Martin Brodeur – $5.2M); NY Islanders (Rick DiPietro – $4.5M); Ottawa (Pascal Leclaire – $3.8M); St. Louis (Jaroslav Halak – $3.75M); Toronto (Jean-Sebastien Giguere – $6M).

To contrast that study, about half of the league’s playoff teams (depending upon how you count the Anaheim Ducks, since Jonas Hiller didn’t play in the postseason) were thrifty with their netminders.

If I were an NHL general manager, I would take a two-pronged approach: draft a lot of goalies somewhere in the middle to late rounds while picking up and/or trading goalies at reasonable prices. Sometimes that would mean some serious uncertainty in net, but considering how much (for example) the Flames are paying Kipper and the Wild are paying Backstrom to not be serious contenders, it seems wiser to spend big money on more proven commodities like forwards and defensemen. That approach might be best illustrated by how well the Flyers did with a healthy Chris Pronger in the 2010 playoffs (although Chris Osgood’s most virulent critics would say that his career, in general, is a strong example of the perks of a strategy that focuses on surrounding affordable but shaky goalies with top talent).

Again, it’s an inexact science, though. Which route do you think is the wisest when it comes to finding that elusive franchise goalie?

Dropping like flies: Johnson, Killorn hurt in Bolts’ exhibition

Montreal Canadiens v Tampa Bay Lightning - Game One
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You probably know the drill: injury updates are murky in the NHL basically from the moment a puck drops.

We’ll learn more once the 2015-16 season begins, but at the moment, Saturday might have served as a costly night for the Tampa Bay Lightning. Both Tyler Johnson and Alex Killorn went down with injuries stemming from a 3-2 pre-season win against the Florida Panthers.

“Guys were dropping like flies,” Steven Stamkos told the Tamba Bay Times.

These could be minor situations – just about any ailment will sideline a key asset this time of year – yet one cannot help but wonder if the Lightning might limp into this campaign.

Nikita Kucherov is dealing with his own issues, so that means at least minor issues for one half of the Bolts’ top six forwards.

It’s believed that more will be known about these banged-up Bolts sometime on Sunday.

Raffi Torres gets match penalty for being Raffi Torres

Raffi Torres

With knee issues still limiting him, Raffi Torres isn’t as mobile as he once was. Apparently he still moves well enough to leave the usual path of destruction.

It’s the pre-season, so it’s unclear if we’ll get a good look at the check, but Torres received a match penalty for his hit on Anaheim Ducks forward Jakob Silfverberg.

Most accounts were pretty critical of the San Jose Sharks’ chief troublemaker:

It’s too early to tell if Silfverberg is injured. If he is, that’s a significant loss for the Ducks, as he really showed signs of fulfilling his promise (especially during the 2015 playoffs).

As far as Torres goes, he’s hoping to play in the Sharks’ season-opener. Wherever he ends up, he’ll certainly make plenty of enemies on the ice.

Whether it was because of that hit or just the general distaste shared by those sides, it sounds like tonight’s Sharks – Ducks exhibition is getting ugly, in general:

This post will be updated if video of the hit becomes available, and also if we get a better idea of Silfverberg’s condition.

Update: Bullet dodged?