Monday, February 4, 2008

A Tale of Three Backup Goalies

Let's examine the careers, 2007 - 2008 season in process records, and "tales" of three back-up goalies: the Ottawa Senators' controversial Ray Emery, the Pittsburgh Penguins' Ty Conklin, and our own Washington Capitals' Brent "Johnnie" Johnson. First their career stats in summary:

Ty Conklin, age: 31; NHL full or partial seasons: 7, NHL games: 94, NHL Playing Minutes: 4,890; W-L: 42-27-9 (4 shutouts), GAA: 2.53, SV%: 0.909. NHL Playoff Record & Stats: 1-0-1; 6 Minutes Played; GAA: 10.0; SV% 0.667.

Ray Emery, age: 25; NHL full or partial seasons: 5, NHL games: 124, NHL Playing Minutes: 6,847; W-L: 67-35-13 (8 shutouts), GAA: 2.66, SV%: 0.909. NHL Playoff Record & Stats: 30-18-12 (3 shutouts), 1853 Minutes Played over last 2 seasons; GAA: 2.46, SV%: 0.904

Brent Johnson, age: 30; NHL full or partial seasons: 8, NHL games: 222, NHL Playing Minutes: 12,386; W-L: 98-86-22 (13 shutouts), GAA: 2.62, SV%: 0.902. NHL Playoff Record & Stats: 12-5-6 (3 shutouts), 652 minutes played over 2 seasons (last playoff game 2002 with Saint Louis Blues); GAA: 1.84, SV%: 0.931.

Next let's look at their 2007 - 2008 to date by the numbers.

Conklin: 18GP, 12-3-2 (2 shutouts); Min: 1015, GAA: 2.07, SV%: 0.936. Salary: 500K

Emery: 21GP, 8-8-3 (0 shutouts); Min: 1117, GAA: 3.01, SV%: 0.889. Salary: 2.75M

Johnnie: 15GP, 6-6-1 (0 shutouts); Min: 787, GAA: 2.74, SV%: 0.907. Salary: 800K.

Last, let's examine the intangibles and related aspects of their roles and value to their team's as of this date (2/4/2008).

Conklin: Ty Conklin is one of the hottest players in the NHL right now and is one of the key reasons the Pens continue to win despite being without their star center Sidney Crosby, AND their starting goalie Marc Andre Fluery. The other reason is a broad and deep young talent pool anchored by Evgeni (Geno) Malkin. Both Malkin and Conklin are relishing their time in the sun but Conklin is an Unrestricted Free Agent (UFA) at the end of this season so each additional victory and minute played without allowing opposing team's to score should mean a sizable raise to the 31 year old from Anchorage. Conklin is also reported to be a solid citizen and presence in the locker room and has had a great reputation in that regard (work ethic, etc.) at every team he has played for and has risen to a leadership role with his current team. Overall Conklin's intangibles have to be judged as overall positive, despite his relative lack of NHL level experience.

Emery: Ray Emery is one of the most controversial figures in the NHL right now despite leading the Ottawa Senators to the Stanley Cup Finals last season. Emery says his most recent "ruckus" was just a misunderstanding - he went to the wrong rink on Long Island to practice. Emery is a young, talented, albeit - apparently - immature player who is basically unsuited to be a backup goalie and who has the clear potential to be a solid number 1 goalie for many teams. For $2.75M per year any employer would clearly expect you to know where and when to show up to do your job. Ray Emery often shines between the pipes for the Senators during key games, however, his work ethic is reported to be very suspect and he admits that getting motivated is much easier for him when the game is important. On the other hand, Emery is only 25 years old and already he has an NHL playoff record that many NHL starters envy. For numerous reasons, several self-inflicted, he is regularly criticized by the hockey mad media in Ottawa and for all their great start this season, the Senators are now skidding and sliding toward a playoff berth. The two goalie "winner plays" system now fostered by Sen's coach John Paddock and the numerous reported criticisms of Emery by teammates such as team captain Daniel Alfredsonn do nothing but exacerbate the situation of a team in some turmoil. Despite his current statements that "he likes it in Ottawa" and "likes the guys he's playing with" there doesn't appear to be the harmony required to make it deep in the playoffs in the current atmosphere around ScotiaBank Palace. The Senators would probably already have dealt Emery if: a) there were any current serious takers AND b) their starting goalie Martin Gerber was playing well and sound. Truth is the in my opinion, John Paddock created the current horrible situation with the Ottawa goalies in an ill considered attempt to "motivate" both Emery and Gerber this season and bring the Stanley Cup back to Ottawa after an 80-year hiatus (the "old" Ottawa Senators last won the Cup at the end of the 1926-1927 season.) Instead, so far this season, the Senators have generally won in spite of rather than because of their goaltending, they've yielded 155 goals against (a team GAA of 2.925 - 22nd out of 30 teams in the league.) If it weren't for their prodigious scoring (they have 182 goals for (3.43/game) so far this season - tied for first with the Detroit Red Wings), and their fast start this season, the Senators would likely be fighting for a playoff spot like virtually the entire Eastern Conference. Instead the Senators are skidding and sliding towards their 10th straight playoff appearance with lots of fear and loathing all around being reported and stirred by the hockey obsessed local media in the Canadian capital. Perhaps John Paddock ought to reconsider his strategy and settle things down and if Ray Emery starts to play to his potential like he did last year all this might be soon forgotten. Then again maybe not, but to be sure right now Emery's "intangibles" have to be judged as overall negative despite his early career success.

Johnson: Brent Johnson is currently both a steady performer and an uncontroversial, positive presence on the surging Capital's team. Despite some general questions in the media and the blogsphere and receiving more playing time of late from the Caps new coach Bruce Boudreau, there is no distracting "goalie controversy" in DC between 16 year veteran #1 Olie Kolzing and the likable, solid, well-playing Johnson. He is often cited as a locker room leader and calming, positive influence on the generally younger Caps team. He, like Kolzig and other recognizable Caps players (Ovechkin, Green, etc.) is a positive image in the Washington community and actively supportive of various Caps charities and team marketing efforts. His "hockey pedigree" is well documented as the grandson of “Hockey Hall of Famer” Syl Apps; and he has always been a level headed player and bench presence over his 7 year career. Overall, Johnson's intangibles have to be viewed as a "Positive", despite his overall record of just 0.533 and lack of recent playoff experience.

Comparatively, when you consider all those factors, if you were a General Manager of an NHL team right now that was making the push for the playoffs with a 16 year veteran, 37 year old #1 goalie which of these three guys would you want as your back-up goalie? Looking at these three guys, all things coinsidered, you'd probably have to rank them in reverse order of what the statistics would seem to indicate: #1 - proven, reliable 30 year old Brent Johnson; #2 - level headed, current hot handed, but inexperienced NHL'er Ty Conklin; and #3 - highest potential, mercurical, young 25 year old Ray Emery. Considering the present situation and looking ahead at next season, it certainly appears that George McPhee, the oft criticized General Manager (aka GMGM), of the Washington Capitals and the coaching duo of Glen Hanlon and Bruce Boudreau have handled the whole selection of a backup for the 37 year old Olaf Kolzig smartly. Should Kolzig retire at the end of this season, or opt to end his career elsewhere as an Unrestricted Free Agent (UFA), the Caps have the steady handed services of Johnson locked in for another year at $825K as a fallback position even if they choose to wait a year to look for an undisputed "blue chip goalie". Whether Brent Johnson can be a solid starting goalie in the league is a matter of debate, but at $825K he's a bargain as an experienced, steady handed back up and his perfromance so far this season has many starting to feel he might have the requisite skills.

If Olie Kolzig doesn't return, the Caps would have some fair Salary Cap room if he isn't on their payroll (his 2007-2008 Cap hit is $5.45M) and the following goaltending talent is likely to be available, either Emery or Gerber (depending on the remainder of the season in Ottawa) and the following UFA Goalies: Ty Conklin (if Conklin continues to shine for the Pens and for some reason takes them through a round or two of the playoffs you'd have to consider him as a solid guy for a couple more seasons); 43 year old Domink Hasek, if he doesn't retire, though he'd likely be only a solid back-up to Johnson; Christobel Huet; John Grahme; 32 year old former Vezina Winner and All Star Jose Theodore; Patrick Lalime; Curtis Joseph; and Johan Hedberg. With the exception of Huet, Theodore, and possibly Hedberg (who isn't having his best season this year), should Kolzig opt to retire or the Caps not wish to agree to a salary that is not acceptable to the 16 year veteran, there isn't a clearly available UFA starting goalie who will be on the market. As for trades, it's likely the Senators will look to deal the temperamental Emery but other than him, the market for goalies with the clear talent to start in the NHL isn't too glutted; and besides the Caps, the Nashville Predators, Los Angeles Kings and possibly the Anaheim Ducks will all likely all be on the market looking for undisputed #1 Goalies. Should Olie Kolzig not wish to retire, next the goalie UFA crop gets somewhat better after next season, the only question will be who and how the starting goalie assignments will be split. Will the Caps have a "Goalie Controversy" next year - probably not - both Kolzig and Johnson have seemed to develop a clear friendship and mutual respect, and both are very mature, "classy" gentlemen.

Overall, given the Caps up and coming talent pool in the position, their current salary cap position over the next two years, and the overall state of the NHL's "goalie" market the next two years - this (Goalie Planning and Management) might be an area where you have to give GMGM at least a B+; especially if Olie Kolzig can elevate his play just slightly between now and the playoffs. LET’S GO CAPS!!!!!


DMG said...

I don't think you can give McPhee anything higher than a C+ after he passed on Brygalov and Kolzig's play went down significantly. I also think Kolzig's going to have to raise his play more than a little is the Capitals want to have postseason success - he's last in the NHL in save percentage.

Of those three though, I'd definetly not want Conklin. I'd be pretty happy if the Caps took a chance on Emery because I think Boudreau could straighten him out but that's not really a midseason kind of thing. So, I agree that of those three the Capitals are best off with Johnson.

usually frustrated caps fan said...

dmg: Emery might be worth a run/trade but I'd prefer the Caps go after Huet if they are looking to replace the #1. This comparison was about who would you like as the backup to #1; also Johnson might actually be worth a shot at number 1 if you had someone to fall back on as well. I don't Cassivi - Johnson is the answer next year if Olie retires though... LET'S GO CAPS!!!

DMG said...


I'd forgotten about Huet and I think you are 100% right that he would be a better option for the Capitals if they become convinced they need someone other than Kolzig to bridge the gap to Neuvirth/Varlamov.

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