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Spitballing The Back-up

"Gingers are chewing gum for the eyes." Anne-Marie Sorvin-US PRESSWIRE
"Gingers are chewing gum for the eyes." Anne-Marie Sorvin-US PRESSWIRE

It's been a few seasons since fans have had to worry about the possibility of the starting Vancouver netminder (insert name here) going post to post too quickly, pulling his groin and thrusting the back-up (insert twitter moniker here) directly into the fray.

It's not just injury protection of course. AV's crew successfully managed the games played between Luongo and Schneider for the past two years, allowing them to balance out back-to-backs and travel schedules without either tiring out. That, combined with their talents, helped net the Jennings two seasons ago. Look at St. Louis last year with Elliot and Halek: the duo damn near split the season 50/50 and took the Jennings home this past June.

Partnering Schneider with a mentoring influence is nice, but employing a viable talent remains just as valuable. Since the lockout the Vancouver back-ups have started an average of 18 games and three seasons they exceeded that amount, including the last two Schneider-heavy seasons. Whoever backs up Schneider can't be some disinterested scrub who opts for the league minimum instead of googling for studio apartments in St. Petersburg, but a guy who understands (and values) his role as the back-up on a competitive team and can handle 20+ games*.

Let's take a look at the possible and the comical options available.

* yes yes, assuming there is a season. Jerk.

The Possible...

Jose Theodore

#60 / Goalie / Florida Panthers



Sep 13, 1976

2011 - Jose Theodore 53 3049 22 16 125 2.46 1502 1377 .917 3

Pros: Theodore leads the list off assuming the worst kept secret on the planet (Lui to Florida) comes to fruition and Vancouver takes the netminder in return. Without shouldering too much of the load Theodore had a good season last year in comparison to his past seasons in Minnesota, Washington and Colorado. He also had a quality start of .608% (if you'd like to know more about QS, see here), good enough for 12th best last year for netminders who started in more than 20 games (Luongo was 16th). Theo would be an ideal addition, one that could easily play 30+ games if necessary and still give the Canucks a chance to win. Plus maybe he and Garrison are the best of friends? BFF power goes a long way.

Cons: Theo may want no part of being a back-up. MG can't sell a potential acquisition (who must agree to being moved thanks to his NTC) that he can compete in camp for the job he just handed over to Schneider which necessitated the transaction to begin with. Theo isn't the biggest guy either, so while he may entice fans with impressive glove saves, he'll also cough up goal-line scramble tallies and goals especially from high shots (hence the bungee chord training). He's also entering the last year of his $1.5 million dollar deal, so a key piece to the Luongo trade could walk at the end of the season for nothing.

Dan Ellis

#38 / Goalie / Anaheim Ducks



Jun 19, 1980

2011 - Dan Ellis 10 419 1 5 19 2.72 214 195 .911 0

Pros: Ellis would have been on the list regardless if he took the unusual step of begging for the job. He is leaving a position in Anaheim where he was an insurance policy for Hiller so, he shouldn't get all starry eyed thinking he can be a #1 in Vancouver. Ellis isn't too far removed from logging 30+ games and has playoff experience - notably in 2008 (.938 SV% in six games) - so he could conceivably be counted on if Schneider went down with a lengthy injury at any point in the season. He's a butterfly goalie with decent reactions, agility and quickness. Also since he's a reclamation project he should be cheap, perhaps willing to take the $525,000 league minimum. In a sense Ellis is Andrew Raycroft 2.0: a maligned journeyman who needs a fresh start with soft expectations.

Cons: He was solid in Nashville, but once he stepped out from behind the iron Weber curtain in 2010 his numbers fiercely tanked in Tampa. So consistency is a concern; his QS last year was .2%, a notch above durable goaltending asset Rick DiPietro (that's a real #DanEllisProblem). He's also coming off a year where he endured a groin tear and sports hernia surgery. Lastly Ellis is a reasonable gamble (one of the few left) for any team looking to shore up their depth in goal, so while he's content to sit around for now it's conceivable Ellis turns his attention elsewhere by the time MG pulls the trigger on a Luongo deal.

Brent Johnson

#1 / Goalie / Pittsburgh Penguins



Mar 12, 1977

2011 - Brent Johnson 16 811 6 7 42 3.11 359 317 .883 0

Pros: Another butterfly guy, Johnson strung together two seasons of 23 games where he went .906 and .922 SV% respectively behind a strong Pittsburgh team. Unlike Theodore he's a big net presence and can puck handle with, shall we say, above average results? In addition he also gets media props for being a good communicator with his D men and playing well when he keeps his game simple. Like Ellis he won't be delusional to think he'll start and considering he had a strong bond with Fleury, chances are he could develop a similar positive relationship with Schneider. Plus he ended last season on a $600,000 deal, so he's definitely a cap friendly choice. Lastly he was Vancouver property for about five seconds back in 2005 and his best moment in life may warm some hearts because he punched out DiPietro two seasons ago.

Cons: Johnson isn't reliable for a heavy workload and a poor option to be the starter for longer than, oh, two games. It would be tough to see him playing a reliable 25+ diet of games, so Vancouver would need to alter their goalie time management model, or play Johnson against bottom feeders almost exclusively. Like Ellis his body of work last season is poor and the Penguins certainly didn't wait long to land Vokoun to make sure they didn't have another #BrentJohnsonProblem on their hands for another year. Johnson's QS last season was .357%, or roughly James Reimer territory. (*shudder*)

Antero Niittymaki

#30 / Goalie / San Jose Sharks



Jun 18, 1980

Pros: Any chance that Niittymaki could challenge Niemi for the SJ starting gig went up in flames when he missed all of last season and Greiss stepped up in his absence. Niittymaki hits the open market as an (non-Russian) enigma but it wasn't long ago that he was putting up some solid numbers with 25+ appearances each season. He'll also need to accept a cut back from his previous $2,000,000 salary. If there's any fear of the Southeast teams, then Niittymaki is definitely worth a look since he's 17-0 against the Thrashers Jets. Choke on that Byfuglien.

Cons: As noted above he spent 2011-12 dealing with various hip and upper body injuries, so whether those continue or not are a concern. He's young enough that a fresh start could lead to a rebound, but he may have no interest in being pigeonholed as a back-up considering he lost out to both Neimi and Greiss in consecutive seasons. Lastly he'd command a decent back-up salary (call it $1 million) so if Vancouver is looking for dirt cheap, he's not their guy.

Dwayne Roloson

#30 / Goalie / Tampa Bay Lightning



Oct 12, 1969

2011 - Dwayne Roloson 40 2099 13 16 128 3.66 1126 998 .886 1

Pros: Roloson is (bravely) the oldest active member of the NHL (43 in October) but I won't list that under cons since he's pulled together some decent numbers through the latter part of his 30's, quite the achievement considering he was backstopping the Oilers and Islanders. His butterfly style is polished and overall demeanor can politely be described as aggressive. Plus he shows remarkable durability for a guy his age. Roloson would probably relish one more chance at a Cup run and the mentoring part should be a non-brainer if this is any indication.

Cons: Once again, consistency. Last year he went a stretch of ten games (November into January) without a win and coughed up at least three goals a game. His QS was .258% which is close to the bottom of the barrel. Despite his impressive resume, he was surrendering too many beachballs last season in Tampa and shown the door in favor of youthful options, so it must be asked: could he hold up (mobility and conditioning) over another long season, especially one that includes Vancouver's travel schedule, and give this team the best chance to win each night? Probably not.


Cristobal Huet

Pros: Huet was last seen being banished overseas to help relieve the Hawks of some cap issues, but with a thin goalie market this summer he's alerted the world he's ready for a return to the NHL. From ingoalmag:

Playing in the top Swiss League, where he posted a .932 save percentage for HC Fribourg-Gotteron last season, Huet faced a lot more east-west, pass-first, shoot-never play that requires more patience on the skates for goalies. It’s that same quality, and the need to stay patient and read the play and shots rather than defaulting to a blocking butterfly, that has helped make so many other late-blooming European goalies desirable to NHL teams in recent years, often earning one-way contracts despite no North American experience.

"Here you have to be able to read more of the play and the passing options, because teams tends to play a little fancier," Huet said of a style some NHL goalie coaches think translates better to the NHL than the AHL.

...and also...

Unlike other European goalies coming over for the first time, Huet brings 272 games of NHL experience, which should make the adjustment back to things like more traffic and tips, different angles on smaller ice, and a harder forecheck, easier to adjust to than it is for less experienced pros coming from Europe.

In fact, Huet thinks a transition back to the NHL will be easier as a goalie, for the same reasons so many goalies find it easier in ways than the AHL.

"Playing in the best league is always easier somehow, because you can rely more on everyone," he said. "Everybody is more accountable defensively."

To summarize: he has NHL experience and a Cup on the resume, is comfortable in the back-up role, is willing to work for cheap and has worked with Roland Melanson in the past. Fuck this is starting to make sense.

Cons: Huet became the first Frenchman in history with his name on the Stanley Cup mainly by being so streaky he let Niemi pass him for the starting gig. Durability has been an issue in the past, as has been soft goals, poor lateral movement and a suspect glove hand. Despite his claims, the transition from Europe back to the NHL back may not be as graceful as he portrays it to be. So all in he's another 35+ option with consistency problems.

Alex Auld

#35 / Goalie / Ottawa Senators



Jan 07, 1981

2011 - Alex Auld 14 645 2 4 36 3.35 310 274 .884 0

Pros: A positional butterfly goalie with good reflexes and positioning, Auld has journeyed around the league as a back-up since Vancouver traded him six years ago. Auld is as unsexy as it gets: his toolkit of skills are average and his body of work is OK at best though suiting up nine times for eight teams in six seasons can't help. There's nothing eye-popping about him, but that doesn't negate the fact he has the skills to be back-up, especially behind a good defense. For the narrative hungry in the crowd, what better way to bookend Luongo's time in Vancouver than to bring back one of the pieces in that 2006 trade?

Cons: He hasn't eclipsed 25+ games in five seasons so an expansive workload is a bad idea. Like others consistency is his demon; last year he was all over the map but to be fair Ottawa was atrocious with shots against. His QS was .25% which puts him just above the aforementioned Ellis and tied with Marty Turco which is a perfect segue to the next part of our analysis...

...And The Comical Options

Marty Turco

#1 / Goalie / Boston Bruins



Aug 13, 1975

2011 - Marty Turco 5 261 2 2 16 3.68 110 94 .855 0

Pros: Damned if I know. MG wants to party like it's 2002 when Turco rolled out a .932SV%? MG saw the Bruins/Lightning game in March where Turco, in his second appearance of the year, coughed up a mind numbing four goals on 12 shots and thought to himself "MMM I'd like me a slice of that." Maybe because Don Cherry called him "smart" and that's akin to a thunderous, booming voice from the heavens in Canada? Or maybe because he really, really wants Marty to like the team? OK here's one pro: Turco's clearly a funny guy, so on a personal note he'd make blogging assignments potentially more entertaining.

Cons: He's awful. Chicago tried to shelter him and it didn't work. Boston tried the same in a far more narrow use of the word shelter (fueled chiefly by an injury to Rask) and he failed to impress again. He doesn't appear to be a fan of the team, the management or at the very least some of the players (Kesler I'm looking at you). He certainly isn't an option near the 20+ game level so about the nicest thing we could expect from a Choose-Your-Own-Turco adventure is he'd probably be a good mentor. That aside MG would be better off with basically anyone else mentioned on this page, the several who aren't or, if there's no other option, trying the sumo goalie idea.


Dominik Hasek (Seriously)

Pros: It's only fair to replace Luongo's impressive roster with one of the paltry few guys with a better career save percentage. If you need someone to mentor Schneider for another season you'd be hard-pressed to top Hasek's list of accolades. Not to mention he's been fairly successful since he crossed the pond four seasons ago:

During the 2009-10 season, Hasek suited up for HC Pardubice, a team that plays within the Czech Extraliga. Here he played in 36 games, achieving a record of 24-12-0 with a GAA of 2.24. The level of competition in the Czech Extraliga should be questioned but the fact here is that Hasek demonstrated he is competent in the net despite his age. Further proof of this fact lies in 2010-11 when Hasek skated for HC Spartak Moscow of the KHL. The level of competition in the KHL was a bigger test for the veteran but he still adequately rose to the challenge, finishing with a 23-18-3 record with a 2.45 GAA and seven shutouts. If his time abroad taught us one thing it's that Hasek still has plenty of talent left in him.

Cons: Besides the fact the 47 year old hasn't been in the league since the Wild won the Northwest and is looking for a multi-year deal? I suppose not much other than typical durability questions for a guy staring down the barrel of the half century mark. Those KHL numbers are nice, but the NHL is a different beast. Throw in travel demands and perhaps a stern AV quote or two and he could look worn down or disinterested by December. I also suspect Dom would prefer to at least be teased with a shot of being a starter. Lastly if Gillis plays hardball with 35+ players, I can't imagine he'd be real flexible on a multi-year deal with a 45+ player (clearly I'm age yeah...GET OFF MY LAWN).


Eddie Lack

Pros: He's the Stork! He's got a great troll smirk. He has the best numbers of any AHL'er against NHL shooters. If all goes according to plan, he'll force the trading of Schneider in about five seasons and we get to go through this process all over again.

Cons: Vancouver is in win-now mode and Lack doesn't factor into that equation because, simply put, he's not NHL ready. As a general rule, competent GM's (look away Feaster) shouldn't invest in a back-up guy who's played as many NHL games as most hot dog vendors in the stands. Lack could be an option as soon as next season perhaps but he those limited, sheltered appearances in relief before he can earn that position. He's a far better asset down with the Wolves honing his skills for another season.