The seeming inevitability of Ben Bishop being evicted from Tampa Bay is about as inevitable as Joe Sackic ending up reassigned to a new duties for the Colorado Avalanche sometime soon.

At age thirty, Ben Bishop has at least five to seven years of NHL quality goaltending left in him. The Tampa Bay Lightning have just about zero chance of keeping him. He could be lost to the expansion draft, he’ll likely be lost to free agency. Now is the time to move him. So off he should go.

The list of teams that have cap space and need for a top shelf goaltender isn’t very long. While the Colorado Avalanche have an ignoble goals against average, they have Varlemov for two more years at almost six million, and more importantly its apparent that the biggest issue with the team is the their defense is no more than theoretical, especially with Johnson shelved. Yes, this would be a homecoming for the Denver native, but it would require a good amount of movement. It is hard to imagine the Coyotes getting out from under Mike Smith’s contract, assuming they want too. Both being western conference teams, it would have to ease the mind of Steve Yzerman to hip check the departing goalie out of the path to the eastern conference.

But the best, most logical teams for him to land on are not in the west. They are in the east. One of them is the New York Islanders. This is a team that has had a very up and down relationship with the guys in the crease. The most recent exemplar of this is Jaroslav Halak; in the 2014-15 playoffs he put up a staggering .926 sv% in a seven game series the team lost against the scoring machine known as the Washington Capitals, and he faced more than 30 shots, with a high of 39 (a win), in four of those games. This year he was waived.  Rick Dipietro; need I say more?

But for all the Islanders would dearly love to stop thinking about who their number one goaltender is for the next five to eight years, they don’t have quite as many assets as one of their divisional rivals.

No one is surprised that the Philadelphia Flyers need a goaltender. What might surprise people is that not only do the Flyers have every single one of their own draft picks over the next three drafts, they have three additional picks for the 2017 draft that once belonged to the Boston Bruins, New York Islanders, and New Jersey Devils. What they also have is a wide open crease as of right now. Both Steve Mason, and Michal Neuvirth will be UFA’s as of July 1. The other key factor that would make Bishop king in the City of Brotherly love is that the Flyers have a strong core with only one of those central players unsigned, and given that Shayne Gostisbehere is just wrapping up his entry level contract, big disruptions aren’t in-store unless there is a change in the front office.

Bishop landing in Philadelphia would give them a goalie who has two very strong playoff tours in his back pocket, lots of years ahead of him, and who is well respected and young enough to play at least as long as current captain Claude Giroux, and maybe a bit longer. If I were Hextall I wouldn’t wait any longer than three games after Bishops return, not just to steal a march on the competition, but because the Flyers could use the adrenaline shot of having tier one goalie added to the mix.

With each first round series begun, it is time to take our first serious look at who might be carrying around the extra hardware this summer.

Before we get to the men still playing there are some honorable mentions that had individually stellar first rounds. Out west that list is headed by pending UFA Paul Stastny who contributed not just a lot of points, but timely ones. In the east no one deserves more respect than Steve Mason who came into the second season behind a pretty porous defense and put up a more than respectable .939 Sv%.

West:

  • Ryan Suter, 29:14 a night is more minutes a night than any one else still playing. His 14 hits and 15 blocked shots blocked piled up in 8 games.
  • Anze Kopitar, the Selke finalist leads all players in post season points with 13 through 8 games, 51.6% on the faceoff dot, and is a +5 to go with it.
  • Ryan Getzlaf, seven games, 9 points, 3 power play points, a shorthanded point, and a +3 say he’s doing the job in all three zones and all situations over almost 22 minutes a night is quite the workout for a forward.
  • Jonathan Toews, three game winning goals in seven games, 23:16 a night in TOI, and 62.5% in the faceoff circle are a step or three above good.

East:

  • P.K. Subban, 6 games, 2 goals, 7 assists, 9 points, leads the Canadiens in scoring.
  • Torey Krug over the regular season his ice time has increased 2:30, his on ice save percentage has climbed, he’s a point per game in the most defensive minded system left in the playoffs.
  • Henrik Lundqvist, through eight games he’s allowed 2 or less goals in six games. His sv% is up over the regular season, and of all the goalies left, he’s the only one not playing behind someone in the top 15 in post season scoring.
  • Paul Martin 7 games, 8 points, three powerplay points, 2 shorthanded points, +7, 27:29 of TOI, 20 blocked shots, arguably.

Honorable mentions still playing, Evgani Malkin, Tuukka Rask, Corey Perry, Patrick Kane, Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron, Lars Eller, Corey Crawford, Drew Doughty, Zach Parise, Marian Gaborik, Matt Niskanen, Marc Staal.

 

Goalie may be the most important position in all of sports. In hockey they are not only the last line of defense, playing more minutes a year than any skater, they are often the spark plug for offensive breakouts. Some teams have impressive goaltenders who not have played well in the past, but have done so in their system.

Philadelphia Flyers

The last half dozen years have served as a great example of why this team needs solid goaltenders who can play that way in their system. Ilya Bryzgalov was great in Phoenix. In Philadelphia he was bought out two years into a forever contract. When they squared off with the Chicago Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup finals a few years back they used three different goalies in one post season. It isn’t hard to make the case that a goalie better than Michael Leighton, Brian Boucher or Johan Backlund might have had them hoisting the Cup and not Chicago. This year we will see if their cursed crease can bring down the resurgent Ray Emery, and Columbus Blue Jackets discard Steve Mason. I doubt either goaltender gets taken in first five rounds of any fantasy hockey draft.

Pittsburgh Penguins

The serial meltdowns of Marc-Andre Fleury are too much for all but the willfully blind to ignore. If once is chance, twice is coincidence, and three times is a certainty, four consecutive playoff flame-outs should be enough for anyone. In the last four seasons his save percentages are .891 following the Stanley Cup win, .899, .834, and most recent .883. Those numbers won’t keep you employed in the regular season. Last year Fleury forfeited the crease to the 36 year old Vokoun who’s first playoff appearance came the year Fleury was drafted, turned in a Sv% of .933 behind the exact same defense, Vokoun is now out recovering from a blood clot.

Calgary Flames

When most of your fans can’t name your goaltenders you’ve either found the new sexy netminder or you found someone willing to get peppered for a pay check. Joey MacDonald is career backup who since entering the NHL in the 2006-7 season has only played in 122 games. Forty-nine of them were in 2008-9 for the New York Islanders. He has a career save % of .903. The likely starter broke into the NHL the same season. He then spent three seasons on the shuttle between the AHL and NHL before fleeing to Europe. While in the KHL Karri Romo never topped 45 games. In the KHL playoffs, all but one post season his Sv% dropped from the regular season. To make it worse, Romo and MacDonald are playing behind a defense that just isn’t good. You could as accurately name the player best in their own end with stats as by picking a name from a hat.

Florida Panthers

New owners, old owners the story has been the same in Sunrise for years: not much quality. If the aim is to improve, at minimum a quality, healthy backup for Jacob Markstrom is needed. Last year Markstrom split 56 games between the AHL and NHL, and tacked on three more world cup games for good measure. The other goalie under NHL contract is Scott Clemmensen the less said about his play last season the better. They’ve brought in Tim Thomas on a professional tryout, but however good he has played in the past hasn’t been signed, and hasn’t played in a year.

Some o these teams are doomed from the start, for others their weakness won’t be exposed until the post season, all of these teams have some form of crease crisis.

The City of Brotherly Love played host to three of the four horseman of the Apocalypse last season, or at least the Flyers locker room did. Players that weren’t injured were often ill, and despair cloaked the stands and fanbase days into the season. Four different goaltenders saw action during the season, and only one of those four, Steve Mason, is with the organization today. Ilya Bryzgalov was bought out as the end point of a debacle, the other two just went away.  Thirty-five skaters played for the team last year.  Thirteen of those skaters were defensemen and none of those played in every game. Of the 22 forwards, five were goalless, seven managed not even an assist. If you’re just tuning into hockey, it will not surprise you to learn the Philadelphia Flyers did not make the playoffs.

The off season saw Bryzgalov bought out, and also the wizrd of playoff points Daniel Briere. Thanks to a cap situation that looks like Medusa, the list of players signed in the off season reads like a who’s who of has beens and almost weres. Vincent Lecavalier was bought out by the Tampa Bay Lightning and yet it only took the Flyers days to decide he needed a five year contract with a no movement clause big enough to make him their second highest paid forward. In the 11 years since Kris Newbury was signed he has totaled no more than 11 games in the NHL in any season. Jay Rosehill possesses no qualities that don’t exist elsewhere on the roster, and where they do exist they come with more skill. While Mark Streit isn’t a bad player, he’s a +35 contract for four years at more than five million a year. This is a guy who is going to be 36 before the winter holidays, and owns very little playoff experience.

The first five games for the Flyers season aren’t all that bad as schedules go. They start the season at home hosting the Toronto Maple Leafs before jetting north to face the Montreal Canadiens. The Habs are the first half of a back to back that ends in Raleigh against the Carolina Hurricanes. Then the Broad Street Bullies head home for games against the Florida Panthers and Phoenix Coyotes.

Number of days 1-5: 10

Number of cities: 3

Best opponent: Montreal Canadiens

Weakest opponent: Florida Panthers

Home games: 3

Projected points : 3+

Players like Wayne Simmonds, Scott Hartnell, and the often injured Claude Giroux mean the Flyers have a chance to win any game on the strength of their offense. The depth of the defense, the adaptability of their coach Peter Laviolette, and the quality of play of netminders Ray Emery and Steve Mason will be the key points of the season. Youngsters like Scott Laughton, Nick Cousisns and Mark Alt will take aim at the heavens, but for this team to succeed they need good health and veteran contributions in their own zone.

Way back in September and October as I was evaluating teams I had this to say about the Maple Leafs:

Toronto Maple Leafs, some deceptively good low level moves by Burke in the off season and late last year should see this team notably improved if they can get all the misfit toys to march in the same direction. Phaneuf, Kessel, Komisarek, Lupal all need to pull their weight this season for the team to succeed. Will bite at the heels of whoever is third in the division.

Which made the early third of the season very entertaining as Phil “Mr October” Kessel did his normal explosion out of the starting gate and Dion Phanuef held up his end of the bargain on the backend. The team was healthy, motivated and many players were competing for jobs. Then there were the injuries. Then the holes in their game got exposed as other teams got rolling. As November turned to December, the team as a whole began its slow backslide. December first they were one point behind Boston for the division lead, but their leaky goaltending and under skilled defense began to show. The scoring was fine, and has remained so, but through 25 games they allowed 80 goals. As of December 1st only two teams had allowed more goals.

The Toronto Maple Leafs have three fundamental issues no coach can fix.

  1. Bad, fragile goaltenders. Both physically and mentally the goaltending in Toronto is well below championship caliber. James Reimer is up and down, but is in no meaningful way a better goalie than Steve Mason, he is playing on a better team with slightly more capable defense, but that’s about it. Health issues and the name on the back of the jersey seem to be the only difference between Reimer and Jonas Gustavsson the only consistent thing about his play is that whatever mode he’s in lasts about a month.
  2. Youth. The Toronto Maple Leafs are the second youngest team in the NHL. On the current roster there are only three players over the age of thirty. This is particularly bad for defense as it really does take a good 200 games to figure out how to play defense (well) at the NHL level.  Coming into today Franson, Gunnarsson, Gardiner are all under that number.
  3. Weakness at center. If you look at the last four teams to win the Stanley Cup about the only thing they all had in common was strength at the center position. Aside from Grabovski who just doesn’t seem to mesh with Kessel and Lupul, I can’t think of another center who could legitimately be considered at least a strong #2 center. Connolly you can make a case for but with his health issues, I can see coaches shying away from trying to build their offense around him.

Until at least the goaltending and center position are shored up, hitting the playoffs is fighting well out of the teams weight class. It can get there with a hot streak, and playoff experience is good for young players but expecting to climb as high as sixth and avoid Boston or New York in the first round is a stretch with so few games remaining  Against those two team a moral victory could be declared if they play a fifth game. Ron Wilson was not the problem with this team. On the ice there are a couple players who just don’t get it, and some who don’t have NHL talent. Randy Carlyle may or may not prove to be a better coach for this team, but simply ousting Wilson isn’t a solution.

Every year, on every team in any sport on the planet someone is blamed for each failure. The failure doesn’t have to be real, doesn’t have to be their fault, they just end up being blamed. Before last season, and well into early spring Bob Gainey’s named was linked to more jokes than perhaps any other GM in the NHL. With the Smurfs he’d assembled for his forwards, and the money spent on their salaries even his firmest adherents had to wonder what’s he thinking? I didn’t even expect them to make the playoffs, and then they rattled off back to back series wins against the defenseless although offensively gifted Capitals and Penguins.  With his successors offloading of Halak to clear up the goalie controversy, it’s only a matter of time before we find out if Gauthier is similarly ridiculed or at least temporarily granted the status of hockey genius.

In Chicago, Dale Tallon was questioned to the ends of the earth for his unique and singular salary cap arrangements. The BlackHawks won the Cup and most was forgiven. Just days after the bright spot in flyover country celebrated the end of its Stanley Cup drought, the fire sale began.  Over the next several weeks, roughly eighty goals and six thousand* minutes of time on ice would disappear over the trade horizon. If the BlackHawks who finished just ten points ahead of the Detroit Red Wings don’t have a strong showing, who will be fingered? Will Tallon get the blame? Will someone who’s looking at the championship season through the golden glow of never-was claim Turco is a lesser goalie Niemi? Or perhaps the Bowman family mystique will gather a little tarnish and the current GM will be blamed for not getting a better exchange for the departed Versteeg, Sopel, Byfugelien and others?

In Boston, not without a great deal of reason, Denis Wideman and Michael Ryder were the undisputed owners of the dog house. Wideman who’s season is best summed up in the video of him picking his nose, and not just his collision with slighter partner Matt Hunwick but the subsequent fall to the ice was actively booed at home. Ryder was far less spectacular in his gross failures seeming to have just as much positive impact on a given game from the bench as from the ice. Then too there is the fact he is the only person who saw the vicious and career threatening hit on Marc Savard from beginning to end, and did nothing about it. This season with with Wideman banished to hockey (and sports in general) exile in south Florida, Ryder needs to do everything he can to stave off the ire of the fans, and earn his next contract. If he puts in a concerted effort he might just avoid being the most irksome member of the organization. Claude Julien is probably the man next most likely to find himself on the outs with fans. His loyalty to players is both a gift and a curse, he undeniably wanted Ryder and Wideman to succeed last season and gave them every opportunity to do so. Yet, the refusal to sit either of them for even a period, much less a game or two in the press box provided no incentive for an admittedly thin AHL prospect group to do better, and an early benching of two long time ‘coaches guys’ might have kept the Bruins from having to dump Derek Morris.  Punishments that that are aimed at the principle and pour encourager les autres are a long, long tradition because they work.

It will be will be interesting to see who emerges as their teams scapegoat this year. Will the blame be at ice level as is likely in some cases? Will General Managers like George McFee be called on the carpet for failing to improve their teams defense, if (when) they are ripped apart in the playoffs for this very failing again? Will Rick Nash, RJ Umberger and Steve Mason get all the blame in Columbus for a team with more than seven million in cap space failing to make any noise in the playoffs? How about the situation in Nashville? They have two of the best defensemen in the NHL in Weber and Suter, and not a great deal else. Will the coach be cast from the chariot at the end of the season (or sooner) if they fail to thrive? And too, one must wonder who is to blame for the status of the Islanders new arena.

*Six thousand is roughly a quarter of the 24,600 minutes of play by skaters in each season assuming no penalties.