Wednesday, February 18, 2009

How goalies are like NFL running backs

Common NFL logic is that a typical running back faces a steep decline once he hits the age of 30. The reasoning is twofold: the natural aging process robs them of their speed and the brunt of 250-300 carry seasons wears a RB down.

Lately, though, the latter reason seems to be on the decline because running back platoons are coming in vogue. Perhaps you run one bruiser and one speedster or two similar running backs who never seem tired against beleaguered linebackers and D-linemen.

This reminds me of a recent trend in the NHL. The 2008-09 season might just usher in the two goalie era in hockey. It's certainly been a rough year for the household name, huge GP goalies. Both Martin Brodeur and Roberto Luongo suffered from possible wear-and-tear related injuries and missed serious time. The Dallas Stars nearly prepared for its first lottery ball in ages during Marty Turco's horrifying start to the season and must have missed Mike Smith's quality relief appearances. Even guys such as Ryan Miller and Henrik Lundqvist face up-and-down periods (Lundqvist, as you may recall, was pulled from Sunday's game against the Flyers).
Now, take a look at the successful (or necessary) platoons. Most notably, the Boston Bruins made a stunning jump to the league's elite on the backs of its contract year 1-A and 1-B. Indeed, while Tim Thomas demands Vezina consideration with All-Star numbers and highlight reel saves, Manny Fernandez quietly produces similar results. While goaltending may count as Detroit's Achilles heel, Red Wings fans must shudder to think about their chances if Ty Conklin couldn't clean up Chris Osgood's mess.

The most expensive platoon is Chicago's Bulin Wall/Cristobal Huet combo, but say what you might; the Blackhawks are firmly set in fourth place in the brutal Western Conference. Many considered the Anaheim Ducks to lose their quality rotation when Ilya Bryzgalov was moved, but Jonas Hiller might just be the Ducks' go-to-goalie as J.S. Giguere suffers through a rough stretch professionally and emotionally. The Florida Panthers benefit from the overachieving duo of Tomas Vokoun and Craig Anderson, although Vokoun is more clearly entrenched as the #1 than a lot of the goalies in this discussion.

So, if this trend were to continue, the Columbus Blue Jackets might be in especially good shape. At this point, Pascal Leclaire's $3.8 million cap hit looks pretty bad but his year's been ravaged by injuries. Leclaire could be a nice safety net should Steve Mason suffer a sophomore slump. Most teams would be jealous of the Blue Jackets' young tandem and its $4.6 million cap hit (and if Leclaire is indeed a lemon they could always put him on waivers).

Editor's note: Check the next post for a team-by-team look at goaltender tandems.

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