Goalies are among the most difficult players to project into the future and draft history shows it. You're just as likely to pick up an eventual starting goalie in a late round or as an undrafted free agent as you are anywhere in Round 1.
The game of goaltending musical chairs in Edmonton is more than just a sign the Oilers grew tired of waiting for Devan Dubnyk to figure it out. It’s a sign that drafting high – as the Oilers have been doing for years now – doesn’t guarantee success.
Especially when it comes to goalies.
On paper, Dubnyk should have been a solid starting goaltender by now. He’s got the size (6-foot-6, 210 pounds) and the pedigree (drafted 14th overall in 2004). But goalie talent is notoriously tough to judge at 18 years old.
Just look back at Dubnyk’s draft year. In 2004 – back when the draft went for nine rounds, not the current seven – 34 goalies were selected. Of those goalies, the undeniable home run almost a decade later has been eighth-rounder Pekka Rinne, a steal for Nashville at 258th overall. Outside him, the next best has been first-rounder Cory Schneider (26th overall), who became a 1A goalie in Vancouver and is only now starting to push Martin Brodeur out of the way in New Jersey. The Rangers missed on Al Montoya (6th overall) but he still became a decent backup, as did Justin Peters (38th), Thomas Greiss (94th) and Anton Khudobin (206th). Karri Ramo went to Tampa in the sixth round (191st overall) and is basically splitting duty in Calgary today. That’s eight goalies out of 34 chosen who are seeing NHL action in 2013-14.
Compare that to the 2003 draft, when just five of 25 picks became NHL goalies. Marc-Andre Fleury went first overall, while the second round saw future starters Corey Crawford (52nd) and Jimmy Howard (64th) go to the Hawks and Red Wings. Rounds 3 through 8? Nothing. The next pair of quality guys were future St. Louis Blues tandem Jaroslav Halak (271st) and Brian Elliott (291st) drafted by Montreal and Ottawa in the now-defunct ninth round.
The seven-round 2005 draft was the most top-heavy, with Carey Price (5th overall) and Tuukka Rask (21st overall) going in the first round. Atlanta picked Ondrej Pavelec 41st overall in the second, while Jonathan Quick went in the third round (72nd overall) to the Kings and Ben Bishop – who is only now coming into his own – went to St. Louis at the 85th spot. That’s five eventual starters, but after that, fourth-rounder Alex Stalock (112nd) was the only backup in the final four rounds. In total, 2005 produced five starters and one backup from 23 goalies selected.
So what have we learned? Well, for one thing, no first-round goalie is a surefire NHLer and while 10 of the NHL’s 30 starters were drafted in the first round, eight more were picked in the now-defunct eighth and ninth rounds or never picked at all. Four goalies were picked in the second round and four in the third, while the rest went in rounds 5 through 7.
Ultimately, there are many roads to finding a goaltender and the draft isn’t necessarily the best. Evaluating the talent of 18-year-old goaltenders is an inexact science and guys such as Devan Dubnyk really ought to be judged on their body of work in the NHL – not on where they were drafted. Ten years after being selected in the first round, Dubnyk becomes a fill-in backup until Pekka Rinne can return, while undrafted Ben Scrivens – who is only a few months younger than Dubnyk – will get the chance to run with the net in Edmonton.
The Brian Elliott acquisition hasn’t paid off for the Flames, and GM Brad Treliving would be wise to take another long look at acquiring Ben Bishop or Marc-Andre Fleury once the off-season rolls around.
The Flames’ goaltending issues were at their pinnacle in 2015-16 with the four-man rotation of Jonas Hiller, Karri Ramo, Joni Ortio and Niklas Backstrom leaving much to be desired, and that not one of the foursome has a job in the NHL this season is indicative of how poor they performed. It was a no-brainer for the Flames to chase a goaltender this past off-season.
The prevailing notion was Calgary would chase one of Ben Bishop, the 30-year-old Lightning starter who was nearing free agency, or Marc-Andre Fleury, the 32-year-old career Penguin who had lost his starting job to Matt Murray en route to the Stanley Cup. It was rumored the asking price was too high for the Flames’ liking. And as for Bishop, he was actually close to landing in Calgary. He told the Tampa Bay Times’ Joe Smith that he and the Flames were negotiating a new contract, but it was then that the Flames pivoted and decided Brian Elliott would be the answer to their goaltending woes.
The deal made sense for the Flames. Elliott, 31, was coming off of one of the best seasons of his career and at 5-on-5 there were few goaltenders as dominant as he was with the St. Louis Blues. He had posted a .930 save percentage at all strengths — the best mark in the league — and his 2.07 goals-against average was the best mark Elliott had produced in a 40-plus game season in his career.
It’s nearing on impossible to recall that was the case, however, with Elliott looking pedestrian in Calgary through 23 games this season. His .891 save percentage is a mark you’d expect from a backup, his goals-against average has ballooned to 2.92 and after earning a few votes for the Vezina Trophy in 2015-16, he has a better shot at competing for the Masterton Trophy in 2017-18 than he does landing any recognition for his play in goal this campaign.
Now Calgary is more than halfway through their season asking themselves the same questions they were last April. And were it not for Chad Johnson, 30, signed to backup Elliott, the Flames could be in a much worse position than boasting a one-point edge on the final wild-card spot. Even with Johnson’s play being somewhat of a season-saver, though, Flames GM Brad Treliving won’t have much of a choice but to go back and look at his options in goal this off-season.
Looking inside the organization, consideration has to be given to Jon Gillies. The 6-foot-6 netminder has had a tough go in AHL Stockton this season after injuries sidelined him for much of 2015-16, but he’s the de facto goaltender of the future and arguably the top prospect the Flames have whose not yet in the NHL. The 23-year-old was a stud in the NCAA, backstopping Providence to a title in 2014-15. Gillies has the size and talent to be a difference-maker down the line, but Treliving would be remiss to think Gillies can solve the Flames’ current problems in goal.
Really, the only way to really fix what’s broken in Calgary right now is for Treliving to focus on the two goaltenders he passed over for Elliott this past summer. And while it’s an issue that could use addressing now, it’s unlikely Treliving could swing a deal to land Bishop or Fleury before the trade deadline.
All three teams — the Flames, Lightning and Penguins — are right up against the cap, dipping into long-term injured reserve in order to have any breathing room at all. Almost any deal made would have to be dollar-in, dollar-out. That complicates matters, which is to say the Flames might only have a prayer of fixing the situation in goal by the time March rolls around.
Things will get interesting in the off-season, however. Come July 1, the Flames are going to have six restricted free agents in need of deals, but more than $22 million in cap space and close to $17 million coming off the books as veterans hit the open market. Among the expiring contracts are Dennis Wideman’s $5.25-million deal, Deryk Engelland’s $2.917-million contract and the $4.2 million the Flames have locked up in Elliott and Johnson.
The upcoming expansion draft for the Vegas Golden Knights doesn’t make it a lock that Bishop hits the open market, and it doesn’t ensure Fleury will be on the trade block as a Penguin come July 1. That said, there is a way for Treliving to use the expansion draft in his favor, using it to approach Lightning GM Steve Yzerman or Penguins GM Jim Rutherford with a deal.
The benefit for the Flames is clear. Trading for Bishop or Fleury lands Calgary another shot at a starting goaltender, this time with Stanley Cup final experience. But there’s a positive for Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh, too. Instead of losing a bonafide starting netminder for nothing, Calgary’s trade partner can recoup an asset. Even a draft pick for either Bishop or Fleury would be more than Yzerman or Rutherford could possibly hope for if Vegas plucks away either netminder.
The time is right for Treliving to do what he struggled to pull off last off-season, and that’s bring either Bishop or Fleury to Calgary. Goaltending has been an issue for two seasons straight, but both the money and assets will be there for the Flames to fix it this off-season.
The trade deadline is only five weeks away and with the Blues and Lightning both struggling, they could be in the market to make some major trades. Perhaps, even with each other.
With the NHL's March 1 trade deadline nearly five weeks away, several notable pending unrestricted free agents are garnering considerable attention in the rumor mill. At this point, St. Louis Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk and Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Ben Bishop top the list of potential trade candidates.
According to Joe Smith of the Tampa Bay Times, things are quiet on the Bishop trade front. He thinks the 30-year-old netminder could finish the season with the Lightning. Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman suggested, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, a swap of Bishop for Shattenkirk.
Some of the stars mentioned as possible trade fodder still have term left on their contracts. For the last several weeks, Colorado Avalanche forwards Matt Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog were frequent subjects of conjecture among NHL insiders.
Duchene, 26, carries a $6-million annual cap hit through 2018-19. The 24-year-old Landeskog's is $5.5 million through 2020-21.
Pittsburgh Penguins netminder Marc-Andre Fleury has also been the subject of media trade talk. The 32-year-old is signed through 2018-19 at an annual salary-cap hit of $5.75 million. Because the Penguins want to protect Matt Murray in the June expansion draft, it's assumed they'll try to move Fleury at the trade deadline.
Having such noteworthy talent frequently mentioned as possible trade candidates provides some spice to a stagnant season for player movement. It remains to be seen, however, if any of those stars end up with new teams by the trade deadline. There are plenty of variables that must be addressed.
Until a week ago, the possibility of Shattenkirk being traded seemed absurd. The Blues were comfortably entrenched among the Western Conference playoff clubs. Despite his UFA status in July, it appeared they would retain him for the post-season.
However, the combination of Jake Allen's struggles in goal and a lack of skilled depth at center have the Blues in danger of tumbling out of playoff contention. That set tongues wagging that perhaps Shattenkirk could be in play.
Some pundits envision Shattenkirk being dealt as a rental player to a playoff contender so as to free up salary-cap space for a deal with another team for a goalie or center. Others speculate he could be moved in a one-for-one swap.
Bishop and Fleury should be attractive trade options for clubs seeking experienced goaltending help. But among the playoff contenders, only the Blues, Dallas Stars and perhaps the Calgary Flames could be considered possible landing spots.
Given Bishop's UFA status, clubs with interest in him won't be willing to part with very much. With the Lightning now at the bottom of the Atlantic Division and their playoff hopes fading, they could prefer a return that provides immediate help. Offering up a draft pick and a prospect won't do.
Bishop carries a no-movement clause, but he reportedly considered waiving it last summer to join the Flames. That deal feel through, but it does suggests he won't stand in the way of a deal to a club he deems acceptable.
As for Fleury, he could prove a worthwhile insurance policy this season for the Penguins. Murray's recent injury history could be a concern. They could decide to retain Fleury for the remainder of the season and worry about moving him once the playoffs are over.
Fleury's modified no-trade clause could also make it difficult for the Penguins to move him. If they can't find any trade partners before the June 17 due date for submitting their expansion draft protection list, they could buy out the remainder of his contract.
Duchene and Landeskog are younger assets who could prove attractive for clubs in need of scoring depth. The Avs' reportedly high asking price for both players, however, will complicate things.
While the Avalanche require a much-needed rebuild, Terry Frei of the Denver Postbelieves GM Joe Sakic shouldn't settle for lesser offers near the trade deadline simply for the sake of making a trade.
Duchene or Landeskog could be dealt before the deadline. However, the assumption of the punditry is Sakic could wait until this summer in hopes of finding better offers.
Rumor Roundup appears regularly only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News and The Guardian (P.E.I.).
The USHL wants to stay competitive with the CHL, and maintain its reputation as a solid developmental league for American prospects.
The United States Hockey League has grown in leaps and bounds in the past decade and now the Midwestern circuit is changing its rules in order to stay competitive with the CHL, and maintain its reputation as a solid developmental league for American prospects.
After meetings with the Board of Governors and USA Hockey, the USHL has decided to institute a number of changes for the next two seasons.
The first significant change regards Canadian import players. Currently, any non-American player is considered an import and teams are allowed four per season. Starting in 2017-18, franchises can count two Canadians as non-imports, hypothetically bringing the total number of non-Americans on the squad to six. On top of attracting more players such as Shane Bowers (2017 draft) and alumni Cam Morrison (COL) and Brett Murray (BUF), the move also allows the USHL to stay competitive with the CHL and particularly the OHL, where a number of high-profile Americans play.
“We’re bullish on American talent,” said USHL commissioner Bob Fallen. “The world juniors and World Jr. A Challenge said a lot for the state of hockey here, but we want to level the playing field. They have an outstanding league, but we think we can compete at that level.”
The biggest difference between Canadian major junior and the USHL is that the USHL is NCAA compliant, meaning players do not receive any money for playing there. Talent-wise, the average major junior team would beat a USHL team, but in terms of high-end players, the USHL is producing many NHL first-rounders now, from Brock Boeser to Clayton Keller.
Two of the biggest names in the USHL this year are import forwards – Finland's Eeli Tolvanen, a 2017 draft prospect for Sioux City, and Russia's Andrei Svechnikov, a 2018 prospect with Muskegon.
The USHL has also become a big incubator for European goalies lately, thanks to the CHL’s ban on import netminders. And while USA Hockey floated the idea of a similar stance, the USHL instead compromised and will limit teams to one non-American goalie, starting in 2018-19. That import goaltender will also count as two import spots, so teams must be sure. Right now, four of the top five goals-against averages in the USHL belong to Europeans and the Green Bay Gamblers have an all-Euro platoon of Maksim Zhukov and David Hrenak.
Fallen said the USHL didn’t want an outright ban because having competition from top European and Canadian kids would push American goalies to be better. For the league’s GMs, finding those import gems is going to be even more important now.
“Certainly you’ll have to be more mindful of who you bring in,” said Lincoln Stars coach and GM Jon Hull. “You want your imports to be impactful.”
Hull, who has a pretty good young American netminder in Cayden Primeau with the Stars, mused that the rules might even bring younger goalies more opportunity in a league dominated by older teens. He thinks the same of the Canadian import rule, because now a team might be more inclined to bring in a younger Canadian skater who would need more time to make an impact, but may have a high ceiling.
For goalies who need an extra year of development before college, the USHL will allow teams to carry an overage netminder without him counting toward the team limit of four overagers (which, this season, refers to 1996-born players).
Another major shift for 2017-18 will be the schedule. Teams will still play 60 games, but the season will begin two weeks later and last 26 weeks instead of 28.
“There was genuine agreement that our season was too long,” Fallen said. “We were saying, ‘Guys, this is junior hockey and we’re here for almost nine months?’ ”
The shift back will also help teams that live in college football-crazy markets such as Madison and Lincoln.
“We’re living in a city where the Nebraska Cornhuskers are No. 1 on every level,” Hull said. “As soon as the football season is over, it becomes a hockey town. So the less games we play in September and October, the better it is for us financially.”
Along with the schedule moving back, the playoffs will be extended from eight teams to 12, with the top two seeds in each conference getting a first-round bye.
It’s a lot to digest, but it will be interesting to watch. The USHL has opened eyes in recent years and trying to keep up with the titans of major junior clearly doesn’t intimidate them.
The usual suspects -- Bergeron, Kopitar, and Toews -- appear to be out of the discussion for the Selke Trophy. Here are five names that seem to have the best chance at stepping in.
When it comes to handing out hardware at the NHL Awards, the Selke hasn't been all that tough to figure out in recent seasons. For the last five years, the same three players have dominated the voting. Patrice Bergeron, Anze Kopitar and Jonathan Toews have accounted for all five wins, as well as eleven of the fifteen finalist spots.
But this year is shaping up like it could be different, with all three players slumping offensively. Maybe that shouldn't matter, since the Selke is supposed to be a defensive award. But over the years, it's morphed into a trophy that recognizes two-way play, which means you need to be scoring to get much consideration. If you pro-rate the lockout year, nobody has won the Selke with fewer than 55 points in the salary cap era. None of the Big Three are on pace to get there this year.
With half a season left to play, that could still change. And it's always possible that in the absence of a slam dunk candidate emerging somewhere else, voters could opt to play it safe and go back to one of the old familiars. But for the first time in years, the Selke really does seem up for grabs.
So who has a shot? Assuming that Bergeron, Toews or Kopitar don't take the trophy home this time, here are the five names that seem to have the best chance at stepping in.
Ryan Kesler, Ducks
The case for: The veteran is having his best season since 2011, and is on pace for about 65 points while playing tough minutes for a first-place Ducks team. His advanced stats won't blow anyone away, but they're good enough that the analytics guys shouldn't push back too hard, and everyone loves a good comeback narrative.
The case against: While it wouldn't be held against him by voters, Kesler doesn't really fit our "new blood" theme; he was the last player to win the award before the Bergeron/Toews/Kopitar trinity took over, and he finished third in the voting last year.
More importantly, there's at least an argument to be made that linemate Andrew Cogliano deserves the award, too. If that line of thinking catches on, the two could end up splitting votes and knocking each other out of the running.
Mikko Koivu, Wild
The case for: While it's meant as a single-season award, voters tend to like to treat the Selke as more of a career achievement; it's rare for somebody to win the award without having built up a resume over the years. That works in Koivu's favor, as he's been considered a strong defensive forward for a decade now, finishing as high as fourth in the Selke voting back in 2009. He hasn't come especially close since, but he's had votes every year.
New coach Bruce Boudreau has leaned heavily on Koivu in the defensive zone, and his ability to handle the duties has been a big part of Minnesota's unexpected success. With the Wild emerging as one of the one of the year's best surprises, voters will be paying attention.
The case against: Koivu's all-around numbers are good but not great, and he's benefitting from a sky-high on-ice save percentage and PDO that's unlikely to continue. With Devan Dubnyk looking like the Vezina favorite and Boudreau having a shot at the Jack Adams, voters might figure that their ballots are already getting crowded with Wild names.
The case for: Backlund seems to have emerged as a trendy dark horse pick in recent weeks. It's well-deserved: his numbers are excellent, and he's posting them in tough minutes for a young Flames team that asks a lot of him. His offensive numbers aren't jaw-dropping, but he's leading the team in scoring, and that should be enough to satisfy those "two-way" demands if he can keep it up.
The case against: While Backlund's been an underrated defensive player for a while now, he's never received a Selke vote. Again, you can argue that that shouldn't matter, but history has shown that it does. That could make it tough for him to get enough votes to win outright.
Aleksander Barkov, Panthers
The case for: At 21, Barkov would fit the new blood narrative perfectly. And he's already on voters' radars after finishing sixth in last year's balloting. He checks most of the boxes that voters tend to look for, posting solid offensive stats and strong possession numbers. And in a season where the biggest story has been the emergence of the next generation of star players, you could see the voters turning to one of the best young two-way forwards in the game.
The case against: Barkov is hurt right now and has already missed two weeks, so if he's not back soon he probably falls out of the running. He's also been playing a more offensive role this year under new coach Tom Rowe, which may be good for the Panthers, but probably not for his Selke chances. And given how things are turning out in Florida this year, voters may not be interested in having many Panther names on their ballot.
Nicklas Backstrom, Capitals
The case for: If building up enough support to win the award is a long-term process, this could be your guy. Backstrom generated plenty of Selke buzz last year, but finished just outside the top ten for the second straight year. It helps that he's putting up the sort of big offensive number that voters like to see. And after years of largely playing in Alex Ovechkin's shadow, he seems to be settling in as one of those guys that everyone in the hockey world decides has been underrated for too long. What better way to make it up to him than with some awards ballot love?
The case against: In terms of pure numbers, you could make a good case that Backstrom's defensive game was better last year than it is now. That won't necessarily hurt him with voters who feel like he's finally due, but it could keep him from getting the kind of widespread groundswell of support that would help push him past a strong candidate like Kesler.
Honorable mentions (and why they won't win):
- Brad Marchand (Bruins): He's getting some buzz, and has earned votes in the past. But has he really become a better option than Bergeron right now? And if not, how can you win the Selke when you're not the best defensive forward on your own team?
- Nazem Kadri (Maple Leafs): He's a relatively new candidate who'll face the same uphill climb as Backlund, with the added disadvantage that plenty of people don't seem to like him.
- Sidney Crosby (Penguins): He's been underrated in his own end for years, and you could see him getting some consolation ballots if voters decided to break for Connor McDavid for the Hart. But right now, the Crosby focus is still on the MVP race.
- Joe Thornton (Sharks): He gets votes every year and finally had his first top five finish last season, so the timing seems right. But his offensive numbers are down this year.
- Ryan O'Reilly (Sabres): He's been in the mix before. But the Sabres' disappointing season may doom him; there's never been a first-time Selke winner from a team that didn't make the playoffs.
- Jordan Staal (Hurricanes): He'd face the same hurdle as O'Reilly if the Hurricanes miss the playoffs, although these days that seem less and less likely. He may have the best case of anyone in this section.
Sean McIndoe has been writing about the NHL since 2008, most recently for ESPN and Grantland. He spends most of his time making jokes on twitter, where you may know him as @downgoesbrown. He appears weekly on TheHockeyNews.com.