Call For Backup

When the NHL schedule is announced and you skim over the highlights of your team’s path, you already know that back-to-back games will be no surprise. At least with this shortened season, teams are not being asked to wear out their passports and those sleeping neck pillows with the amount of traveling over the 48 game schedule. Reports say all teams will play in-conference only. However, these multiple b2b contests will feature no shortage of sluggish starts and lazy finishes. It will also highlight the less than flashy position of the BACKUP GOALIE!

I want to pose the question: if you were a head coach would you ride your #1 until the point of exhaustion or use the strategy of platooning (a word I’ve made up for the sake of this article) you’re starter and backup.

Some teams have the luxury of a great tandem, a 1A and 1B more commonly described in today’s NHL… and other teams do not.

Blackhawks’ fans seem to be annoying their magic eight ball with questions of how this season will play out with Corey Crawford as their go-to guy; will he remain in his “sophmore slump” or return to the form that we saw in his rookie year? Hold on, how about also asking yourself another question; how is this season going to play out when Corey Crawford is not playing.

Ray Emery was a warrior last year and demanded a high level of respect of his teammates as they followed him into battle without question. Their enhanced play with him in the net is a good sign. However, Ray is in a unique position after being diagnosed with avascular necrosis in 2010 which requires him to work very hard on a daily basis to maintain his level of athleticism. So was this extended rest a benefit to him or did it hinder his routine? I heard from a good source that earlier in the summer Ray was seen wearing a cast with an alleged basketball injury that would have been a setback in his training. Time will tell how rusty Razor Ray is going into this season. One thing is for certain, the effort will always be there with him and it’s that determination that could see him overthrow Crawford for the starting position.

Typing and knocking on wood isn’t easy, but that’s what I’m doing as I type this next sentence; if by chance the Hawks suffer an injury to either goalie, Carter Hutton would be next in line. The 28-year-old journeyman would be an adequate replacement on a short-term stint but I’m not sure what he would look like after the stress of full time gig in the NHL. Hutton has been facing NHL talent though in the AHL during this lockout and performing quite well. The Hawks could very well trade and upgrade their goaltending position for the short and/or long-term but that remains to be seen.

How does the rest of the league fair between the pipes? Here’s the good, the bad and the ugly potential storylines in the tending of goals position:

Teams that could benefit to the their 1-2 punch:

St Louis: Halak/Elliot & Hitchcock… need I say more?
Los Angeles: The reigning Vezina winner coupled with a former 11th overall draft pick isn’t a terrible recipe.
Pittsburgh: Tomas Vokoun has never been a backup and isn’t one yet. PIT is stating that Fleury and Vokoun will be vying for the number #1 job, which can’t hurt them in the standings.

Teams that could suffer from their 1-2 punch:

New Jersey: Brodeur & Hedberg have an average age of 39.5. The end.
Boston: Rask’s first season as a starter with an unproven backup could leave Tim Thomas snickering from his secret layer in Colorado.
Toronto: I still say they get Luongo, but if they don’t, Reimer and Scrivens leave a lot of question marks.

Teams with limited or too many punches:

Vancouver: They could benefit greatly by keeping Luongo but after naming Schneider as the starter he needs to move on before it gets weird… oh wait.
Ottawa: Anderson is proven, Lehner is ripping it up in the minors and Ben Bishop is… er tall (6 foot 7 if you’re scoring at home) which gives them a lot of options.

Personally, I would go with the (…wait for it) platooning approach to limit the wear and tear on my #1. Lindy Ruff disagrees as there are reports out of Buffalo say that Ryan Miller will be penciled in for 36-38 games of the 48 regular season game. I could also see Joan Hiller (if healthy), Miikka Kiprusoff and Carey Price also eclipsing the amount of games of their co-workers.

Riding your starter makes sense in a way considering that every game is so much more important, but I feel like it could be a mistake wearing them down potentially causing injuries and fatigue.

For a quick snapshot from last year’s starter vs. backup percentages I would like to lean on a great website www.dailyfaceoff.com.

If you’re a fantasy nut like myself, you will be able to spend a lot of hours on this site. Obviously these numbers will trend differently as some of the personnel has, not to mention the shortened season factor. For in-season reports on injuries, starting goalies, etc. for your fantasy league, visit this site or follow on twitter @DailyFaceoff.

Time will tell which coaches will employ which strategies and there’s no time for second-guessing. A slow start could put a good team out of the playoffs and vice versa for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Sorry it’s too easy to pick on Leafs Nation. Hopefully I don’t need to call for backup myself!

Love to hear your feedback… comment away… don’t be shy.

Ty Cam out!
@tycam

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About the Author: I am a rare Chicago Blackhawks fan from Canada, one might describe me as a hockey connoisseur and a solid checking line centre to your local rec hockey team. I once lived in a town of 500 people and now work in the hockey mecca that is Toronto. I work in the wonderful world of Advertising and these opinions are one of my own and not of my company - don't get it twisted.

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  1. E.K. says:

    If Crawford can’t turn it around from last season, the Hawks will be so far up the creek that it won’t be funny. I like Emery, but I don’t have a lot of faith in him carrying this team past a first round appearance in the playoffs. If the Hawks end up relying on Hutton to play in Chicago…I don’t even want to fathom that notion. Hutton in Chicago would be the “without a paddle” part of being up the creek.

    My hope is that Crawford can turn it around and Bowman can find an upgrade to either replace or tandem with him by the trade deadline.

  2. Lee Sanders says:

    Ah my favourite topic when discussing my beloved BHawks! Goaltending my expertise in this field is limited to 7 years as a child in house league hockey, I would also include the fact that I’m on the ice 3 -4 days a week currently which means I know everything and absolutely nothing when it comes to playing in the NHL! As a member of the goalkeeping fraternity I am always quick to defend goaltenders when they begin to shoulder more of the blame then is fair to direct their way. However last years performance in the six game series against the horrible Coyotes by Mr. Corey Crawford was poor and completely disappointing to say the least. Lets be honest it’s hard to look good when in the opposite end there’s Mike Smith turning in one of the best playoff performances in recent memory. Crawford played an incredible game in his last appearance in the playoffs vs. the Canucks in a 7 game heart breaker. Last season was a disaster for Crawford and Ray Emery was called upon to help in the second half of the season when injuries and a terrible losing streaked dropped the Hawks from the top of their conference. Crawford was very shaky on the three overtime goals The Coyotes scored on route to a six game series victory. Now I was excited and both terrified at the prospect of Ryan Miller being acquired last season! The thought of giving up Patrick Kane was not a pleasant one. I am a huge booster of the get Jonathan Bernier to Chicago club, However that does not appear as though it will materialize anywhere except my goaltending dreams! So it’s up to Corey Crawford to steal a few here in the upcoming season, I think Razor can be a great back up again and he is a hell of a competitor which should hopefully push Crawford. 48 games packed into a short time span may be a positive lots of rubber less time to think! The boys are going to see plenty of Fire power, the Wings, Blues and of course the oilers who lit the Hawks up in an embarrassing fashion on more than one occasion. Crawford has to step up and claim his position as number on this season, Razor is more than capable of being a number one in the NHL, the only thing in his way is his health. I would think 25 to 30 games wouldn’t be to much for Crawford to handle with Ray pick up the difference!

    I say go tandem but give Corey the reins on this one, he’s physically capable of great success his only flaw is mentally. Can he handle the pressure, can he stand on his head when the team needs him. Steal a few this season and gain confidence going into the playoffs , this team is young and talented could match up well with any team in the league except for its goaltending!

    48 games lets go, it’s finally here a goaltending tandem yes, but a career defining season for our Boy Corey is even more important for Our beloved BHawks!

  3. Eli – I’m hoping Crawford has it in him to turn it around as well however I’m not sure how much faith the upper brass has in him after last year’s playoff performance.

    You see Hutton more than I do so I’ll definitely take your word on him. Hopefully it doesn’t come down to him!

  4. Lee – thanks for your input from a fellow goalie perspective.

    I don’t see the Kings dealing Bernier to Stan and I’m not sure how much you would want to send them for a relatively unknown goalie. I think he’s got talent but can he handle the day in and day out of a starting gig? Guess that’s the risk you’d be taking.

    I know there’s been some trade chatter in the past (and it looks like it may be heating up again) between the Hawks and the Sens. JJ over at hockeybuzz has the latest on these rumblings!

    I think they could be one of the only teams where you can upgrade in the goaltending position – the question is for short-term (Anderson) or more long-term (Bishop, Lehner)?

    I think Anderson is an upgrade and the other 2 look like great young talents but very unproven.

    Regardless, like I mentioned to Eli above, I have a feeling that management is seriously looking to move for a goalie and move on from Crow IMO.

  5. R. Dog says:

    Very insightful, and not just for hawks fans. Everyone should be sure to check on both goalies before penciling in their cup favorites.

  6. Thanks R. Dog – looks like goalies could be a hot topic on this rainy Sunday as teams report to camp. Brian Boucher has already been traded to PHI. Boucher/Leighton together again. Boucher was working out in Philly during the lockout I believe too but with Leighton on a 1-way as well I’m not sure what the plan is there.