Thursday, November 19, 2009

Destination: Harding 2, The Re-visit

By KiPA

Back in late June, I discussed each team's goaltending situation in an attempt to analyze where Minnesota backup goalie Josh Harding might end up if he were to be traded. That analysis was done before the NHL draft, let alone the opening of free agency, and some situations have changed, some for the better, some for the worse.

My conclusion, frankly, I don't want to repeat, as it looks more than a bit foolish right now. I said some destinations that made sense were Philadelphia, Toronto, and possibly places like Dallas, Edmonton or Tampa Bay.

Well...

Anyway. Here's another look at the 30 teams and who they have in goal, now that we're roughly seven weeks into the season (I know it's an odd time to do this now, but whatever):

Anaheim: No change here. Jonas Hiller and Jean-Sebastien Giguere are still duking it out, figuratively speaking, for the No. 1 job. Hiller's had a string of good performances, but also some bad ones. However, Giguere's been hurt and hasn't had much time to play any better than Hiller. Still, even with the rumors of a Giguere-to-Toronto trade, the Ducks would saddle up with Hiller.

Atlanta: In June, this was a very possible place for Harding to land. Now, not so much with the emergence of Ondrej Pavelec. His staying power remains to be seen, as he's gotten lit up several times, but he's also shown an ability to win games on his own. Kari Lehtonen's time in Atlanta appears done, as are the chances of Harding being traded here.

Boston: This was a slight dark horse because Boston likes to keep Tim Thomas rested during the season, so having a competent backup is a must. Then Tuukka Rask signed a two-year extension. Beantown is out of the picture.

Buffalo: There weren't any openings in June, and there aren't any now. Ryan Miller is at the top of the discussion of "best goalies in the league right now" and while backup Patrick Lalime has barely played, the Sabres won't bring in Harding.

Carolina: Here's a place Wild fans may want to point to, and say, "Oh, oh, look, they lost their starter, they need a goalie." With the injury to Cam Ward, and now to backup Michael Leighton, an opening seems available. But Ward signed a six-year extension and is their goalie of the future. Carolina won't - or at least shouldn't - trade assets for a young goalie just to help tread water during a nightmare season. Unless Minnesota wants to take Rod "I used to be good" Brind'Amour and his minus-17 off Carolina's hands.

Calgary: Still don't know who the backup is. Miikka Kiprusoff hasn't had many nights off despite management saying he'll play less.

Chicago: I'm sure the Blackhawks are still the fans' preferred trade partner, especially in light of the news of new contracts for Chicago's Big Three - Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith - but I still don't see it happening. Cristobal Huet's contract makes him nigh-impossible to move and besides, he's starting to figure out how to stop a puck. His GAA is 2.25 with a .902 save percentage, a stat that would probably be higher if not for Chicago's outstanding defense preventing many shots on goal.

The Hawks surely want to move Brian Campbell, and Minnesota does have Kim Johnsson and Marek Zidlicky coming off the books after this season though...

Colorado: I said this was, going in alphabetical order, the first true No. 1 opening. Woops. Not any more. Craig Anderson has been sensational, and he's not going anywhere.

Columbus: Is Steve Mason a broken young man? Mathieu Garon has made two straight starts since Mason allowed eight goals to Detroit in a 9-1 loss, and Garon won both. But Mason is still the main reason why Columbus got to the playoffs for the first time in franchise history. They'd be foolish to give up on him. Sort of like how foolish Ken Hitchcock was to let Mason stay in the game long enough to give up eight goals. Really seemed like a Mario Tremblay/Patrick Roy situation if you ask me, but Mason's back between the pipes tonight. We'll see how he responds.

Dallas: Marty Turco is having that bounceback year I thought he'd have. Mostly. His peripherals are much better - 2.24 GAA and .920 save percentage, compared to 2.81 and .898% last season - but he has just six wins in 13 starts. In five of the losses, he gave up three goals, and he gave up four in another and two in the seventh. That's not all that bad; sometimes a goalie's team has to score. That four-goal game was his worst of the season and the only time he's given up four.

But what I said in June is still true: He's 34 and in the last year of his contract. Wouldn't the Wild love to ship Harding and Pierre-Marc Bouchard off to Dallas for someone like James Neal or Loui Eriksson? Dallas gets its potential goalie of the future plus a playmaker to go with Brenden Morrow and Neal/Eriksson, whichever stays, while Minnesota gets a young, gifted scoring winger. Or even Fabian Brunnstrom? Rumor is Dallas is looking to trade him.

On paper, that might make sense, although Dallas may ask for a little more if it's giving up Neal or Eriksson. At this point, they might be considered untouchable. Especially since Bouchard still has that concussion thing going on, and it's unlikely that anyone will take him right now. But Harding for Brunnstrom, who was highly touted but has just one goal in 17 games? Neither team is exactly in a sell-high situation, but they seem to match up. Minnesota needs forwards and Dallas seems to need a goalie soon. I don't know what the Stars have in the pipeline in the AHL.

Detroit: I sort of brushed off this suggestion before, reasoning that Chris Osgood is a proven Stanley Cup winner and is money when it counts, and besides, the Red Wings would give Jimmy Howard a shot to see what he can do. But neither goalie has really been all that impressive and that's been Detroit's weakest link of the season. They're both under contract for one more season, and Howard seems to be playing a little better lately, so it still seems unlikely Harding lands here.

Edmonton: This was the second clear-cut opening. Now? Well... I own Nikolai Khabibulin in a fantasy league. I've considered cutting him. He isn't exactly getting the job done, but his team's offense is insanely schizophrenic. (See what I did there? Insane? Schizophrenic? I double emphasized the point by using two terms for crazy. Anyway.)

Khabibulin is getting pretty old - 37 in January - and he has a 3.03 GAA for the team that can't decide if it scores five goals a night or none. He has lost four games when he's allowed only two goals. Plus he's old, you know? Edmonton gave him a four-year contract, which was one of the head-scratchers of free agency, so maybe the Wild can still nab a solid return for Harding, who could learn under Khabibulin and help Edmonton rebuild when the Wall crumbles. (See what I did there? Bulin Wall? Crumble? Rebuild? Anyway.)

Florida: Want to bet the Panthers wish they'd re-signed Anderson? Not to go all Russo on you, but in my previous post on Harding, I said in the Florida section, "if I'm whoever-Florida-hires-as-GM, I'd try to re-sign Craig Anderson." Tomas Vokoun, however, is still playing well (three shutouts, .921%, but that 2.81 GAA, before last night's game, could be better) but Florida is one of the bigger disappointments of the season. It doesn't help that David Booth has been on the shelf after Mike Richards' cheap shot earlier this season. But Vokoun is the guy and Scott Clemmensen (three years) is there to back him up.

Maybe, however, some swap involving the backup goalies - Harding to Florida to eventually take over for Vokoun and Clemmensen to Minnesota to give Niklas Backstrom a breather a little more often - and some young players (like Nathan Horton; rumor has him on the trading block again) could be arranged. I wouldn't bank on it though.

Los Angeles: This was another team that didn't really have a clear cut No. 1 goalie but appears to have him now in Jonathan Quick, who is playing about as often as Kiprusoff or Evgeni Nabokov, which is to say, a lot. Backup Erik Ersberg has played in three games. Harding won't end up here.

Montreal: Same as before. Carey Price and Jaroslav Halak are trying to figure out who's better. Management is doing the same. They don't need to add another goalie to the competition. Actually maybe they do, but I think Bob Gainey's psychiatrist is already on speed-dial. Why add the psychologist to the list?

Nashville: Also same as before. Pekka Rinne is stealing back his No. 1 job, though both he and Dan Ellis have played well at times and poorly at times. In the long run, Rinne should win the job.

New Jersey: Unlike Khabibulin, I don't think Martin Brodeur is going to get old. Even at 37, and after a bit of a rough start, Marty is the old Marty. How long he keeps it up remains to be seen, but no backup plays much when New Jersey is the employer.

New York Islanders: This is less likely since the Islanders signed Dwayne Roloson and Martin Biron. But it's still a "what's up with Rick DiPietro?" Short-term, they're set. Long-term, they hope they're set with DiPietro if he ever gets healthy. Roloson is playing pretty well in fact, as are the Islanders overall.

I'd actually see New York moving Biron, maybe to Carolina, or Buffalo as the scuttlebutt says, but not acquiring Harding.

New York Rangers: Lundqvist is still good. Steven Valiquette is still a capable backup. Still no dice here.

Ottawa: There have been some bumps in the road for Pascal Leclaire, so I don't think his numbers (2.83 GAA, .896%) accurately reflect how well he's played. Ottawa has its No. 1.

Philadelphia: This was the gold-medal winner before, but Ray Emery is making a believer out of us all. He's 27 and a free agent at season's end, but if he plays like this the rest of the season, the Flyers will want to re-sign him.

Phoenix: Also making a believer out of people is Ilya Bryzgalov, who has rebounded from some tough seasons to put up a remarkable one so far. He is one who has greatly benefited from Dave Tippett's coaching and should be Phoenix's guy for a little longer.

Pittsburgh: The way he played early, Marc-Andre Fleury was making a legitimate case to be Team Canada's No. 1 goalie, though at this point, that's likely to go to Brodeur. But Fleury should give him a run.

San Jose: Nabokov is still good, but still getting old and still a pending free agent. I have no idea what the Sharks will want to do. It might depend how the season fares. I was probably too quick to write off San Jose the first time, but the Sharks are entering - if they're not already there - a "win now" mode given their recent failures in the playoffs. Harding is not the answer for a "win now" team.

St. Louis: Another preferred partner by fans. If the Blues could score a freaking goal, they'd be a lot better. Chris Mason (2.27, .923%) and Ty Conklin (2.24, .928%) are getting absolutely no support. Working in Minnesota's favor is both guys will be 34 at season's end. So maybe this is another place we can work out a Harding/Bouchard-for-Conklin/young sniper type of discussion.

Last season, the Blues had players who could score goals - David Backes, Brad Boyes, to name two - who are not scoring this season. Many people thought the return of Paul Kariya and Andy McDonald would help the team. Well, McDonald is faring well, but Kariya is not. Neither is Keith Tkachuk. St. Louis may want to bid farewell to those two when the season concludes and get younger, and adding Bouchard's playmaker capabilities to Boyes' goal scoring ability could prove to be potent.

Tampa Bay: What once was a very slight possibility seems less so now. Mike Smith is having an up-and-down season but Antero Niittymaki is not, and at this point, Tampa may want to give Niittymaki an extension. Like, right now.

Toronto: Another messed up situation. Vesa Toskala was dreadful, now he's doing sort of OK. Jonas Gustavsson had grabbed the reins as No. 1, only to hand them back after some sub-par performances. That Giguere-to-Toronto rumor doesn't make much sense to me, given how badly Brian Burke wanted Gustavsson. Now that he's got him, I doubt Burke goes after Harding.

Vancouver: Not here, nope. Not with Bob Luongo's lifetime contract.

Washington: Semyon Valarmov wasn't doing that great at the beginning of the season, but his team kept bailing him out. He's playing better lately, and Jose Theodore is having a turbulent season. Sometimes he'd play great, sometimes he'd play Toskala-like, and now he left the team for personal reasons, but that absence is not expected to be long. But it's looking like Varlamov will be "the guy" next season.

So what does that leave us? If you ask me, sensible locations are shaping up to be Dallas or St. Louis, with Florida and Edmonton as possibilities, and not ruling out Detroit, although the Red Wings I think would be far down on the list. Whether a trade happens obviously remains to be seen. I have no inside knowledge, but it seems to me that Dallas and St. Louis match up best with Minnesota.

2 comments:

Ryan said...

Good analysis, Kevin. Dallas and St. Louis do make sense. However, to make a bigger splash, we really need Bouchard to get healthy and show some signs he's still capable of his 07-08 play. He'll have to be part of any big deal.

Regardless of Harding, I really hope Montreal makes a trade for Bouchard to make the all-midget team. That would be awesome.

KiPA - Kevin in PA said...

Thanks. New Jersey might sort of be a wild card (Nicklas Bergfors anyone?) depending on the Lemaire factor and Brodeur's health. Certainly they'll need a goalie after him, and maybe Marty's workload lessens as he approaches 40. Lemaire knew Harding, so if he thinks he can be legit, then it's a maybe. The playing time would still be a factor, but shouldn't they start grooming someone soon?

But you're right; Bouchard's health and level of play I think will play a factor in what ends up with Harding. On his own, I don't think Harding will bring much, but with Bouchard added, the return is likely to be greater.

As for Montreal...someone in one of Puck Daddy's chats had a great comment about how the Habs boast the Seafood Line: Cammalleri together with two shrimps (Gomez and Gionta). I laughed.