Things are not going well for certain goaltenders in this year's NHL playoffs but they are going well for the coaches who yank their chains.
Philadelphia Flyers head coach Peter Laviolette, for example, has to deal with his organization's historic stubbornness when it comes to the position. No Flyer general manager, going back to the early 1990s, puts a star goaltender at the top of his must-have list.
Laviolette has gone through three goaltenders in the Eastern Conference quarter-final between the Flyers and the Buffalo Sabres. But he managed to survive to a Game 7 Tuesday night, thanks in part to the fact the Flyers are playing a city with a perennial sports curse.
Also hanging in there despite goalie travails is San Jose Sharks head coach Todd McLellan. But he is different in the coaches under discussion here, in that he is sticking with Antti Niemi as his No. 1 despite yanking him in two of the last three games. At least McLellan says Niemi will start for the Sharks in Game 6 against the Los Angeles Kings on Monday night (Sharks lead the series, 3-2).
Which brings us to Alain Vigneault. The Vancouver Canucks head coach swore up and down a few days ago that the beleaguered Roberto Luongo would start Game 6 against the Blackhawks in Chicago only to switch to rookie Cory Schneider.
This turned out as badly as it possibly could and left Vigneault with the same decision for Game 7 on Tuesday night against a revitalized Blackhawks team.
The thinking was, as any crazed Canuck fan will tell you, is the Canucks needed a shakeup in goal because Luongo was awful in two consecutive losses that saw them throw away a 3-0 series lead. With one game to spare, the Canucks could go to Schneider in Game 6 and if he spit the bit, go back to Luongo in Game 7.
However, things are not that simple in the world of big money and athletes' egos.
Any GM will tell you that once a decision is made about who will be your top guy (and Canucks GM Mike Gillis made that decision by giving Luongo a 12-year contract at $5.33-million U.S. per year), you are duty-bound to stick with him until the coach loses all confidence in the player. Fans, and too many media types, think this is nonsense, that you can jerk them around at will.
But in dealing with a salary cap, those decisions cannot be made lightly. Once you signal a player that the coach no longer believes in him, one or the other will eventually have to go.
By starting Schneider, Vigneault told Luongo he had no confidence in him. Schneider did some good things in Game 6 (stopping a lot of pucks) and some bad things (mishandling the puck to give Chicago two goals) and then did a very bad thing in coming down with a severe cramp.
Luongo played all right in relief but he gave up the winning goal in overtime to put Vigneault right back on the horns of a dilemma, since Schneider is available for Game 7.
Now, no matter who starts, Luongo knows his coach lost faith in him at the most important part of the season. And the neurotic Canucks fans all expect the worst, which should make for an interesting atmosphere in Vancouver on Tuesday night.
So, unless Luongo starts Tuesday and then leads the Canucks on a run to the conference final, Gillis will need to brainstorm a few ways to get rid of a 12-year contract.