On carrying three goalies, and which teams might be forced to do it

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Few things cause more hand-wringing in the goalie world than a team that carries three.

In fact, you rarely see the phrase “carrying three goalies” without the word “comfortable” attached, because most teams are forced to publicly claim they’re OK with a logjam in goal — even though they really aren’t.

Why? Well, having three goalies isn’t beneficial outside of crease insurance: Only two can dress for games and only two can practice at a time, so the third goalie really just wastes a roster spot. But there are, at times, certain circumstances that force an NHL club’s hand — in fact, a few teams currently find themselves in such a position.

VANCOUVER

Goalies: Ryan Miller, Eddie Lack, Jacob Markstrom

The Canucks have written the book on how not to handle goalies (granted, lead author Mike Gillis is now gone), so it’ll be interesting to see what transpires in the wake of new head coach Willie Desjardins saying he was “comfortable” carrying three. Miller is the unquestioned No. 1, a role he inherited from Lack, who briefly held the role after Roberto Luongo was dealt to Florida last season. That starting experience has put Lack, 26, in the driver’s seat for the No. 2 gig… which leaves a bunch of question marks around Markstrom, the once-touted prospect who’s been re-working his game under Canucks goalie guru Rollie Melanson.

Here’s more, from The Province:

The Canucks are currently carrying three goalies because they’re not sure what’s the best Markstrom option.

Trying to move the stopper and his expiring $1.4-million-US one-way contract ($1.2-million cap hit) to the minors means avoiding a waiver claim. Trying to trade him means Joacim Eriksson and Joe Cannata suddenly move up the ladder if injury strikes.

And how do you gauge the trade return on a goalie that the Florida Panthers gave up on, despite the work coach Rollie Melanson has done to make Markstrom’s game more NHL-ready? Imagine keeping three goalies here.

Further confusing things? It’s unclear what Markstrom’s really worth an as asset. Despite possessing tremendous size (6-foot-6) and pedigree (the 31st overall pick in 2008), he didn’t just fall out of favor in Florida — he plummeted.

“The Panthers were really not impressed with him. I mean, they really thought that he nosedived as a prospect,” ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun said, per TSN 1040 Radio. “And it’s why they were more than happy to include him in [the Luongo] deal.”

MONTREAL

Goalies: Carey Price, Peter Budaj, Dustin Tokarski

The real question here is who’ll be Price’s backup — Budaj, the 10-year veteran with nearly 300 games under his belt, or Tokarski, who performed admirably in the Eastern Conference Final after getting thrown into a near-impossible situation? (A starting gig he got ahead of Budaj, remember.)

According to GM Marc Bergevin, Montreal might wait a while before making that decision. From TSN:

“That’s why you have training camp and we’ll see what happens,” [Bergevin said]. “We have depth in that position now.”

So much depth in fact that since either [Budaj or Tokarski] would have to clear waivers to be sent down to the minors, dealing one of them or even beginning the year with both backups on the roster are both in the realm of possibility.

“If we feel one guy is really ahead of the other guy, we will make a decision. Maybe a trade might be a possibility, but at the end of the day, also starting with three goalies might be a possibility. I leave it open, but again, I’m looking forward to seeing how it plays out during training camp.”

Money could play a role here. Budaj isn’t expensive, but will make $1.4 million this season — Tokarski, meanwhile, carries a $562,500 cap hit.

MINNESOTA

Goalies: Niklas Backstrom, Darcy Kuemper, Josh Harding, Ilya Bryzgalov

The Wild’s situation has been downgraded from “the entire building is on fire” to “there’s smoke coming out of that garbage can,” but still remains a problem. Harding’s suspended after breaking his foot by (allegedly) kicking a wall; Kuemper returned to the club after (acrimoniously) hammering out a new deal; Backstrom’s healthy (at least at the time of writing) and looks to be the No. 1 while Bryzgalov (amazingly) is back in the mix on a PTO.

The easiest (and simplest) solution here would be to part ways with Bryzgalov after training camp and roll with a Backstrom-Kuemper combo until Harding’s foot is healed. But that, of course, would require a tremendous amount of faith in Backstrom being able to stay healthy — which has been a problem — and an equal amount of faith in Kuemper being able to carry No. 1 duties should Backstrom get hurt. The Wild might be best served to keep Bryzgalov around as an insurance policy, though it’d be a costly one both in terms of salary and the tied-up roster spot.