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

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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?

PHT Morning Skate: Are Thornton and Marleau done in San Jose?

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–After reaching the Stanley Cup Final last year, the San Jose Sharks lasted just one round in 2017. With both Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton set to become unrestricted free agents on July 1st, could their time in San Jose be over? We know that Logan Couture wants both players to come back, but would that be the right decision? Allowing them to leave could thrust young players into roles they’re not ready for, but keeping them around and icing a similar team could lead to another first-round exit. (Mercury News)

–The Philadelphia Flyers took a step back this season, as they failed to make the playoffs, but at least the future appears to be bright. They’ve managed to stockpile quality prospects and their farm team finished with the second best record in the AHL. (Philly.com)

–Former NHLer Brandon Prust spent a couple of months hanging around the Leafs earlier this season, but he never ended up getting a contract so he went off to Germany. Prust said the experience was great, but he was a little frustrated that Toronto decided to acquire players like Eric Fehr and Brian Boyle instead of giving him a shot. “I feel I belonged there and I could have helped that team; but what are you going to do? That’s hockey. I felt they really needed a guy like me; and I know I could have helped them. Then they go and make trades for players similar to me. It’s tough.” (Yahoo)

–Justin Bieber made an appearance at the ACC last night. He was wearing a custom Leafs jersey, and he seemed to be pretty into it. Unfortunately for Biebs, his team couldn’t extend the series to seven games. (BarDown)

–The Toronto Maple Leafs pushed the Washington Capitals as much as they could, but they just ran out of steam in Game 6. Check out the highlights from the Caps’ 2-1 OT win by clicking the video at the top of the page.

Braden Holtby, Sergei Bobrovsky and Carey Price were named finalists for the Vezina Trophy. The Hockey News makes a case for each of the three goaltenders, but Bobrovsky’s gotta be considered the favorite.  Jared Clinton writes: “It’s not just Bobrovsky’s base numbers that are impressive, either. His underlying numbers makes his case further. The only goaltending with 1,000-plus minutes at 5-on-5 to post a better SP than Bobrovsky’s .939 mark was Craig Anderson.” (The Hockey News)

–It sounds like Blue Jackets defenseman Zach Werenski is pretty confident that Auston Matthews is going to walk away with the Calder Trophy this year:

2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs second-round schedule

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Time to get your ducks in a row (Anaheim or otherwise), as the second-round schedule has been released.

As you can see, the West series begin on Wednesday while the East ones kick into gear on Thursday. Read up on the matchups here.

For the sixth consecutive year, every Stanley Cup playoff game will be presented nationally across the platforms of NBC Sports Group and select NBCUniversal networks.

(Games listed by date, start time, teams and network.)

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Date TIME (ET) #1 Washington vs. #2 Pittsburgh Networks
Thursday, April 27 7:30 p.m. Pittsburgh at Washington NBCSN, Sportsnet, TVA Sports
Saturday, April 29 8 p.m. Pittsburgh at Washington NBC, CBC, TVA Sports
Monday, May 1 7:30 p.m. Washington at Pittsburgh NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports
Wednesday, May 3 7:30 p.m. Washington at Pittsburgh NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports
*Saturday, May 6 TBD Pittsburgh at Washington TBD
*Monday, May 8 TBD Washington at Pittsburgh TBD
*Wednesday, May 10 TBD Pittsburgh at Washington TBD

Date TIME (ET) #2 Ottawa vs. #4 NY Rangers Networks
Thursday, April 27 7 p.m. NY Rangers at Ottawa CNBC, CBC, TVA Sports
Saturday, April 29 3 p.m. NY Rangers at Ottawa NBC, CBC, TVA Sports
Tuesday, May 2 7 p.m. Ottawa at NY Rangers NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports
Thursday, May 4 7:30 p.m. Ottawa at NY Rangers NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports
*Saturday, May 6 TBD NY Rangers at Ottawa TBD
*Tuesday, May 9 TBD Ottawa at NY Rangers TBD
*Thursday, May 11 TBD NY Rangers at Ottawa TBD

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Date TIME (ET) #1 Anaheim vs. #2 Edmonton Networks
Wednesday, April 26 10:30 p.m. Edmonton at Anaheim NBCSN, Sportsnet, TVA Sports
Friday, April 28 10:30 p.m. Edmonton at Anaheim NBCSN, Sportsnet, TVA Sports
Sunday, April 30 7 p.m. Anaheim at Edmonton NBCSN, Sportsnet, TVA Sports
Wednesday, May 3 10 p.m. Anaheim at Edmonton NBCSN, Sportsnet, TVA Sports
*Friday, May 5 TBD Edmonton at Anaheim TBD
*Sunday, May 7 TBD Anaheim at Edmonton TBD
*Wednesday, May 10 TBD Edmonton at Anaheim TBD

Date TIME (ET) #3 St. Louis vs. #4 Nashville Networks
Wednesday, April 26 8 p.m. Nashville at St. Louis NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports
Friday, April 28 8 p.m. Nashville at St. Louis NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports
Sunday, April 30 3 p.m. St. Louis at Nashville NBC, Sportsnet, TVA Sports
Tuesday, May 2 9:30 p.m. St. Louis at Nashville NBCSN, Sportsnet, TVA Sports
*Friday, May 5 TBD Nashville at St. Louis TBD
*Sunday, May 7 TBD St. Louis at Nashville TBD
*Tuesday, May 9 TBD Nashville at St. Louis TBD

Starting time and national broadcast information for games listed TBD will be announced when available.

2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs: Second-round matchups

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Want to know when and how to watch each game? Check out the second-round schedule here.

Eastern Conference

Washington Capitals vs. Pittsburgh Penguins

Washington really had to sweat it against Toronto, but while the journey took more twists and turns than expected, both juggernauts ended up in a position to justify their statuses as favorites.

During the Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby runs for the franchises, the Penguins won both second-round series (first in 2009 and then last year). In each case, Pittsburgh went on to win the Stanley Cup.

Will the Capitals finally break through in what might be their best chance ever? There isn’t a better way for them to truly prove their mettle than to do so against a Penguins team that looks dangerous, even with key injuries to consider.

Ottawa Senators vs. New York Rangers

Both teams beat higher seeds in the first round, surprising at least some. There are some fun storylines here, from a clash of two star Swedes (Erik Karlsson vs. Henrik Lundqvist) to fun trade talk involving Mika Zibanejad and Derick Brassard.

On paper, these teams aren’t as linked as the other East series, but playoff glory can make franchises become hated rivals in little time.

Western Conference

Anaheim Ducks vs. Edmonton Oilers

So much orange. So many goals?

With the Blackhawks, Kings, Wild and Sharks out, the Ducks get home-ice in the West and probably rank as the most familiar contender in a conference that seems heavy on “new blood.” Then again, they’re still driven by a red-hot Ryan Getzlaf, but this isn’t the same Anaheim squad as the last time they made a longer run.

Speaking of new blood, it’s unavoidable to describe the Oilers any other way. Edmonton hopes to keep its first playoff run in more than a decade going, and this series might actually be a better showcase for Connor McDavid than those tighter games vs. the Sharks.

St. Louis Blues vs. Nashville Predators

Is there a matchup of goalies on hotter streaks right now than Jake Allen vs. Pekka Rinne? These “underdogs” held the top teams in the Central Division to one playoff victory combined.

While there are plenty of carryover characters from previous postseason editions of the Blues (Vladimir Tarasenko, Alex Steen) and the Predators (Roman Josi), there’s also a new Blues coach in Mike Yeo and newly featured Nashville pieces such as P.K. Subban.

Which team will go deeper than many outside of their locker room expected? We’ll find out.

Capitals close out Maple Leafs after one last OT classic

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The Toronto Maple Leafs couldn’t grab the torch from the Washington Capitals in this series, but they put up a tremendous struggle.

Auston Matthews continued to make an impression with a goal in his fourth consecutive game, yet it wasn’t enough to send this scintillating series to a Game 7. Instead, Marcus Johansson collected tying and game-winning goals, leading Washington to a 2-1 OT win to take the series 4-2.

Here is video of the tally that ended Toronto’s season:

While the Capitals taking on the Pittsburgh Penguins is “expected,” the path to get there wasn’t as many drew it up. Toronto gave Washington all it can handle in a series that tied a record with five trips beyond regulation.

The Maple Leafs can take heart in pushing the play for large spans of the series, although there have also been spans where it felt like the Caps found that extra gear.

Toronto fans who’ve been longing for a return to playoff glory must be experiencing mixed feelings. This young bunch achieved more than just about anyone expected, particularly in this series against the Presidents’ Trophy winners. That might be why it burns, though; Buds fans deal with the bitter feeling of so close.

Then again, the Capitals know all about that. They hope to avoid repeating such history in this huge opportunity. Perhaps facing a far tougher-than-expected challenge to start things off might be a blessing in disguise?