Keith Ballard offered a rational thought on a subject no one can stop talking about: How the Vancouver Canucks goaltending carousel might spin over the next two months as the Presidents’ Trophy champions take aim at another trip to the Stanley Cup final.
Will it be Roberto Luongo? (Yes, to start.) Cory Schneider? (Perhaps later, in relief.) A little bit of both? (Likely, if their playoff run lasts the desired two months.)
According to Ballard, for the people that matter the most – the players inside the Canucks dressing room – the discussion is irrelevant and almost laughable.
“The idea that people throw around a goalie controversy, inside the room, it’s funny, we get a good chuckle out of it,” the veteran Vancouver defenceman said in an interview.
“There are 29 teams that would like to have the same goalie controversy, if that’s what you’d want to call it. I know from a team perspective and from their perspective, we view it as a strength of our team.
“I mean, we have two No. 1 centres; and I don’t think we have a centre controversy. Ryan Kesler could go into almost any other NHL team and be their No. 1 centre. We have depth at every position. Lou and Schneids are extremely professional and they’re extremely good team guys. We know that’s what people think, but there are a lot of opinions out there that the players in this room don’t care too much about.”
Ballard’s point is worth considering because one could convincingly argue, on the basis of the NHL’s 2011-12 regular season, that the pendulum is swinging back to a system in vogue in the 1980s, when teams frequently deployed a modified or distinct platoon, permitting both goaltenders to play regularly.
Of the eight goalies that logged the most minutes in the NHL this season, five did so for teams that missed the playoffs (Jonas Hiller of the Anaheim Ducks, Miikka Kiprusoff of the Calgary Flames, Cam Ward of the Carolina Hurricanes, Carey Price of the Montreal Canadiens and Ondrej Pavelec of the Winnipeg Jets).
By contrast, of the seven teams at the top of the goaltending charts, four – St. Louis Blues, Canucks, Boston Bruins and Detroit Red Wings – made sure their starters had some time off during the season so they could be fresh for the playoffs.
The Blues, winners of the William M. Jennings Trophy for lowest goals-against average, were the most obvious practitioners of this, dividing the time 55/45 between Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott.
For the Canucks, Schneider got into 33 games and Luongo 55, which left the latter, a perennial workhorse, a modest 20th overall in ice time.
At the opposite end of the ice, the Canucks in the first round will face Jonathan Quick, one of only four goaltenders to play above 4,000 minutes this season.
How will Quick hold up? There was a sense last year that the Los Angeles Kings overplayed Quick and he ran out of gas toward the end of the season.
As Ballard’s point implies, if you go deep enough in the playoffs, you want depth at forward and defence because, eventually, you’re going to get injuries. So now why would the luxury of depth in goal suddenly become a problem?
“I’m sure the management is sitting there, thinking it isn’t a problem because they’re in a position where they can utilize some different looks in the playoffs,” said Greg Millen, a former NHL goaltender and current TV analyst who was part of a defined platoon system in St. Louis.
“The key to that is that the goalies buy into that scenario, and understand it and are communicated with before the playoffs begin. ‘Look, we’re going to start A, but B be ready because we don’t know how it’s going to go. And if A, you win four straight in every series, you’re the guy.’ The key for the management group is to communicate with the goalies and really ignore the outside pressure.”
The good news is goaltenders are, by and large, a fraternity, wholly supportive of one another, and in the case of Luongo and Schneider, friends to boot. So even if a change comes, as it does as a matter of course during the regular season, you can expect both to handle it professionally.
Ultimately, the goal is to win the Stanley Cup. If it takes contributions from both, so be it.
“Every goalie would love to play every single game,” Schneider said, “but you see more and more of this in this NHL, teams going to two-goalie systems, or at least trying to reduce the workloads of their No. 1s. And it’s such a gruelling schedule and travel and the games are so fast-paced and intense, that you need two good guys.”