The common logic surrounding how to build a quality hockey team is to start in goal and work your way forward. To this point, many Thrashers fans will point to the area between the pipes as to why the first decade of play has led to the results they have. The lack of a solid, dependable, stable situation in goal has played a major role in nine out of ten seasons ending after the 82 scheduled games.
In keeping with this line of thinking, I do believe that how new GM Rick Dudley handles the goaltending situation here in Atlanta will go a long way in determining how the team he ices this coming season will fare. And, just after whom he picks for a new head coach, it could be the most important decision he makes during this offseason. So let’s discuss some of the options available to Dudley and Co.
Opie and the Moose Redux?
To date, Dudley does not have a goalie signed to play next fall. Veteran netminder Johan Hedberg will become a UFA on July 1 while Ondrej Pavelec will be an RFA. So what are the chances the new GM opts to bring back the pair for another season as the goalie tandem in Thrasherville? Well, it’s a situation he has said he is comfortable with.
After the first couple of months, Moose handled the bulk of the work last season and performed admirably…starting a total of 42 games and playing to a record of 21-16-6 with a .915 SV%, 2.62 GAA and 3 shutouts. Opie started the season well, but then fell off during the winter month before ending the season on a better note. Overall the young Czech went 14-18-7 during 40 starts and had a .906 SV%, 3.29 GAA and a pair of shutouts.
I don’t think it’s a stretch to think the team will look to re-sign Pavelec and have him return next year…the question is whether or not he’ll return as a starter or backup.
My guess would be that Hedberg… who’ll be 37-year old by that time… would start the season off as the main man in net with the plan of working Pavelec into that top spot as the year progresses. This was much the same idea the Thrashers had five years ago heading into the 2005-06 when they looked to Pasi Nurminem to help wean the young Kari Lehtonen into the starter role. What happened, of course, was that Pasi’s career came to a premature end when he injured his knee that summer…and Kari was pressed into the role sooner than desired.
But There Are Other Options Out There
However, there are other options out there. One such would be to make a trade for a quality keeper, but that would mean parting ways with quality talent on this end as well. Such a scenario could see talent such as, say, a Bryan Little or a Toby Enstrom caliber asset departing in exchange for such a goalie…maybe even taking with them a pick and/or prospect depending on the deal.
But to me, the better way to bring in a proven starter would be to see what could be obtained in the free agent pool this summer. There are several to choose from, but here are just two possibilities that could fit the bill…one a proven vet and the other is a young star with much promise.
Nabokov The Proven Veteran
First, the proven commodity…Evgeni Nabokov currently employed by the San Jose Sharks. This native of Kamenogorsk, Kazakhstan will be 35 years of age on July 25 and is slated to be an unrestricted free agent this summer. He is coming off a contract that paid him $5.375 million this past season. If I had my wish, this is the man we would see ‘tween the pipes this coming October here in Thrasherville.
In his ten-year career, he is 293-178 with 29 ties and 37 overtime losses. He has a .912 SV% and 2.39 GAA with 50 shutouts. To put that into some sort of perspective, Nabokov has only 15 fewer victories and 14 more shutouts than the Thrashers have as an organization…both having played 10 seasons.
In the past three years, his regular season numbers are 46-21-8 with a .910 SV%, 2.14 GAA and 6 SO in 2007-8…41-12-8 with a .910 SV%, 2.44 GAA and 7 SO in 2008-09…and 44-16-10 with a .922 SV%, 2.43 GAA and 3 SO this past season.
After he and the Sharks ousted the Colorado Avalanche Saturday night, he is now 36-33 lifetime in the playoffs with a .916 SV%, 2.19 GAA and 7 shutouts. That’s right…his career saves percentage and goals allowed stats are actually better in the playoffs than those in the regular season.
This post-season has been no exception as he has been stellar again so far. In the six games vs. the Avs, Nabokov netted a 1.76 GAA a .926 SV%. Tossed in was the 28-save shutout last Thursday night to help the Sharks take a 3-2 lead in the series.
Granted, Nabokov has backstopped a defense that allows much fewer shots on goal than the Thrashers’ blueline let up…in fact, during the past three seasons San Jose has averaged 27.6 SA/G while Atlanta has allowed 33.2 SA/G…but that serves only to accent the importance of procuring such a high-caliber goalie.
Of course the big question with Nabokov is…could he be persuaded to sign with the Thrashers? Well, I guess that all depends on how well Rick Dudley and [insert name of possible new head coach] can sell the organization. It also could depend on how much Dudley would be willing to pay the Calder Cup-winning/All-Star goalie.
Could Price Be Right For Dudley?
Another option to kick around is a younger goalie…someone like Montreal’s Carey Price. This 23-year old product of British Columbia is slated to become an RFA this summer.
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He lost his starting role to Jaroslav Halak this past season, (who will be an arbitration eligible RFA this summer)…appearing in but 14 games since New Years after playing in 37 prior to that. He finished the season with a record of 13-20-5 with a .912 SV% and 2.77 GAA.
For his career, he is 60-48-18 with a .912 SV%, 2.73 GAA and 4 shutouts.
His rookie season saw him play to a 24-12-3 mark with a .920 SV, 2.56 GAA and 3 shutouts. In two rounds of playoffs that year he played in 11 games, going 5-6 with a .901 SV%, 2.56 GAA and a couple of SO. Last year when he and the Canadiens were swept in the first round by the Bruins, he had a .878 SV% and 4.11 GAA… but the Habs were allowing a Thrasher-esque 32.5 SA/G during that series.
Overall his post-season numbers are 5-11 with a .895 SV%, 3.19 GAA and those 2 shutouts from the spring of 2008.
Price’s current contract pays him 2.2 million and he will be 24-years old in August. He’s played his entire three-year career under the hot lights of the Canadiens’ fan base & press corps…maybe he’s one of those that could benefit from a change of scenery.
And What About The Chicago Connection?
And finally, we have one last option to consider…the goalies currently minding the nets for the Chicago Wolves. 26-year old Peter Mannino compiled a record of 26 wins, 5 losses, 3 shootout wins, and 1 shootout loss with the AHL Wolves this past season and had a .921 SV%, 2.34 GAA and 2 SO while Drew MacIntyre was 20-17-1-2 with a .917 SV%, 2.54 GAA with 3 SO. MacIntyre will be 27-tears old in June.
Mannino has 3 games of NHL experience as a New York Islander while MacIntyre has 2 with the Vancouver Canucks. Given that, I would prefer the Thrashers to stick with either Hedberg or shop for some other proven veteran.