Saturday, May 2, 2009

Roster moves: goaltending

Enough with the theory. On to the nuts and bolts of the 2009-10 edition of the Montreal Canadiens. Every team's most valuable player should be their goaltender. Hockey is in essence a defensive sport. And the goalie is the last line of defense. So it only holds that any team must be built from the pipes on out.

The Habs started out last season with what seemed like a pretty good goalie tandem. Toward the beginning of the year, Price and Halak may have been the best in the league. That soon faltered -- badly -- after the All Star break.

Price has clearly the more upside of the two, with a combination of size, skill, and inflappable demeanor (uh, usually). Some have argued that Price needs a better coach. That could be true, given some of his struggles last year. He often was too deep in his net, failing to challenge shooters. And he went down far too quickly, leading opponents to believe they could successfullly shoot high on him.

But some of this may be due to a lack of confidence, in addition to inadequate coaching. Price could then use a mentor, someone who has seen success between the pipes in the NHL, and is now ready to assume the elder counsel role -- but also still spry enough to spell the youngster on occasion.

That man may be Olaf Kolzig. Kolzig was Price's early mentor, when Price was with the Tri City Americans in the Western Hockey League -- part owned by Kolzig. So they have a history, and Price openly talked about Kolzig's mentorship in those days. Those very successful days.

Kolzig made $1.5M last year. He would have to take a significant cut to join the Habs. Or sign a front loaded, multi-year deal for a smaller cap hit (a loophole that the Habs should exploit before it is closed).

The only problem is that Kolzig is 39. And he didn't play all that well last year. After all, a #2 will have to do more than just teach.

Better options for actual goaltending might be Brian Boucher or Ty Conklin. Both are in their mid-30's and both posted very good years for very little money. For those same reasons, other teams will be after them too, so they won't be that cheap this year. But again, the multi-year deal can avoid the cap problem. The bigger issue is: can they mentor a young, confidence-challenged goaltender?

And then what of Jaroslav Halak? Two options: the Yann Danis route (eternity in the minors as injury insurance) or be traded. Halak would certainly pick up some trade interest, with his generally solid play and bargain rate price. And it would avoid the Yann Danis scenario of losing a quality netminder without compensation.

But if Halak goes, and both Price and his backup go down, who then? Cedrick Desjardins had a decent season for the Bulldogs, but was usually outplayed by NHL castoff Marc Denis. Not exactly the stuff of stellar resume. But still, he's only 20. He might be ready next year for a game or two.

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