Since the last full season lost to disputes between players and owners, there has been one face of a 30 city, league that plays in two nations, adherents of a dozen religions, and millions of people. With the aid of enormous advertising dollars, his own native talent, and the cooperation of the NHL’s owners and media organs, that face has been Sidney Crosby. He won a cup early in his career, and has won a Hart Trophy, the Mark Messier leadership award, the Maurice Richard, and picked up not one but two Ted Linday Awards. We know he prepares the right way, every time he comes back from an injury, he slides right back into place with the same skill and guile as before. His preparation, or skill aren’t the question. They never were.

The question is; can you count on Crosby?

When the chips are down, will he be there. In the past three seasons he has missed more games than he’s played. To put things in perspective, goalies even the elite ones rarely play more games than elite skaters. Sidney Crosby got into 36 games in the lockout shortened season. In a normal 82 game season the busyiest goalies top out at about 50 games. Some will hit the 70s, but those are rarities, those are goalies equivalent to skaters who go two or three season without missing a game at all. Sixteen goalies played as many or more games as Sidney Crosby last year. Of those goalies, Kari Lehtonen of the Dallas Stars and Niklas Backstrom of the Minnesota Wild considered injury prone. Evgani Nabokov was 37 and appeared in 41 of the Islanders regular season games, and all six playoff games. Jonathan Quick had back surgery in the off season, and was not himself for stretches of last season and played 37 games with a solid backup.

Sidney Crosby is now entering his ninth NHL season. In exactly 0.0% of his seasons has he played all of the games. He’s come close twice, in two seasons he’s played 81 games. Of all the injuries, that have been disclosed, you can only point to the games lost to groin injuries as possibly being related to fitness, but those can happen in normal training, game action or just day to day life. There isn’t much that can be done about them and most athletes will get them.

It’s the other injuries that are worrisome. The concussions and post concussion syndrome which have cost hims more than 100 games are concerning all individually, cumulatively they are troubling. On top of those are bone injuries that suggest that however willing the spirit might be, the body isn’t able to keep up with the punishment of being an NHL star. Multiple ankle and foot injuries dating from to the first half of his rookie season, and then the mysterious and apparently contagious “lower body injury”, and most recently a facial injury that cost him a dozen regular season games and a playoff match. By comparison Alex Ovechkin who plays a much more physical style and entered the league at the same time has never missed more than 10 games in a season, has played all 82 twice. Another comparison is Dan Girardi of the New York Rangers who’s combined hits and blocked shots trend from the mid 300’s to well over 400 each season. Since being called up in the 2006-07 season has missed just four games to injury.

When the ultimate crucible of the sports world is ended and the Conn-Smythe trophy is handed out you look at the players, and see who performed their best, who reached a new height, who carried their team. Sometimes it is the guy you expect. Those occurrences aren’t a real surprise, Tim Thomas was invaluable in the Boston Bruins win, take it back a year and it is absurd to even ask if the Chicago Blackhawks would or could have won without Jonathan Toews. Flip your history book forward to the Los Angeles Kings becoming the second California team to hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup and no one in the world doubts that that Jonathan Quick is the sole reason the made the playoffs much less won the Cup. Look back to when the cup was raised skyward for the fourth time after the lockout and you have either an anomaly in the win, or an incongruity in the NHL’s marketing.

Evgeni Malkin won the Conn-Smythe that year. Malkin and Crosby played an equal number of games. Malkin only averaged 9 seconds more per game than Crosby as well. But break down the numbers and Malkin was better; 7 powerplay goals to 5, 22 assists to 16, and 36 points to 31. At crunch time, Malkin put up 8 points. In the same spot light, Sidney Crosby had just three, essentially 1/3rd the production of his team mate. In the same series Malkin also went way out of character and engage in his first NHL fight earning and instigator and a misconduct.

Injuries undoubtedly played a part in the tremulous performance of Crosby in that series, but isn’t that the point? Every regular season and or post season chips away at him. A sometimes funny man once said eighty percent of success is showing up. So I’ll ask the question; When its crunch time, can you count on Sidney Crosby?

The time until camps open is draining remorselessly away. There are still some high quality restricted and unrestricted free agents who don’t have contracts going into the season. Teams are walking into a trap that not only will leave them short of talent, but deprive them of merchandise sales. With the RFA’s teams that don’t want to make a deal should make a trade and bring in replacement assets or sign a deal and live with it. UFA’s at this point need to either swallow their pride or head for Europe because the number of teams with cap space, and the money to pay veterans isn’t that high.

Mikkel Boedker: RFA Forward

The new Coyotes owners have committed to staying in Glendale, they should make the same commitment to the quality of the roster. Boedker has proven to be a clutch player in the playoffs, has improved year over year. As one othe beter young talents on the team,  he can either be a strong trade piece or further developed into a cornerstone for a Stanley Cup contender.

Ron Hainsey UFA Defenseman:

At 32, Hainsey has more than a little tread left on the tire. He averaged just under 23 minutes a night last year, and picked up his points per game over the previous year. Currently the Winnipeg Jets are looking to go into the season without last years ice time leader, who stood tall for three minutes a night of shorthanded time.

Carlo Colaiacovo UFA Defenseman

Last season was pretty unpleasant for the 30 year old Colaiacovo. Between injuries and the lockout he managed a slim six regular season games, and an additional nine in the playoffs. If healthy, theres no reason not to pay this solid points producer in the same neighborhood as the $2.5m he made the last two seasons. Historically he picks up north of 40% of his points on the powerplay.

Tim Thomas UFA Goalie

Hands down the best goaltender on the market. Yes he took a year off, yes he’s one of the older players in the free agent market, but who else comes close to his resume? Two Vezina’s, a Jennings, an Olympic Silver Medal, a Stanley Cup and an impressive set of career statistics. As a backup or bridge to a new starter, teams could make a short term investment with a great return.

Cody Hodgson RFA Forward

The Buffalo Sabres haven’t been deep in high end talent in a very long time, Cody Hodgson’s upward trajectory continues to impress. All the more so for being on a team with questionable commitment and highly deniable talent. In 2012-13, he was the teams second leading goal scorer and second in points overall. If Myers can be brought back to form, he two togetehr could transform the offense of the Buffalo Sabres for a long time to cove.

Derek Stepan RFA Forward

Arguably the best forward as yet unsigned, Stepan has been a mainstay of the New York Rangers for the past three seasons. He broke onto the scene as a rookie and scored 21 goals on a team not gifted with offensed. In the two seasons since there has been no retreat from the promise shown then. Last season he handily beat Rick Nash, Brad Richards, and the rest of his team in scoring. He plays almost six minutes of special teams time a night split between the powerplay and penalty kill. It is hard to come up with a good reason why he isn’t already locked up longterm. If the cap is the issue, there are plenty of players who can be jettisoned to make room.

Alex Pietrangelo RFA Defenseman

Hands down Pietrangelo is the most valuable piece on the board. There are exactly 29 general managers around the league who would snatch him up in a heartbeat if he hits the market. But on September fourth less than a month before opening night Pietrangelo sits unsigned. Last season he spent over 25 minutes a night on the ice, with nearly seven minutes of special teams time each game.

So what gives? Are these teams not committed to winning? Are the owners just cheap, or are the players floating contract demandst just to get out of dodge? Either way, where’s the deal?

The Nashville Predators had an enviable stretch of year where they made the playoffs and even advanced to the second round. That run was ended last year, and ended cruelly with a lottery placing. If you’d asked most hockey observers before the season what their best and worst case regular season finishes would be they’d have topped around fourth in the west, and bottomed out at ninth or maybe tenth. A 14th place finish in the conference was literally inconceivable.

Last year has past and all things have some silver lining. The team managed to bafflingly leave the draft with its biggest prize in Seth Jones as three teams bungled their future. Colin Wilson accumulated another 25 games of NHL experience, and Craig Smith added 44 of his own. They added Victor Stalberg after the season. Ann Arbor’s native son Austin Watson got his first season of professional experience including four crucial playoff games for the Predators AHL affiliate, and 2009 second round pick Zach Budish finished his fourth year at University of Minnesota before diving into the AHL and getting immersed in nine regular season games and a half dozen second season contests.

When you come down to it there are two things that need to  happen for the Predators to  hunting in the second round, and perhaps beyond. The first is an offensive upgrade. There is certainly some young talent with upside on the roster, and one or two more who will push for a spot. But none of them are likely to make the impact of a veteran forward, with skill, grit, and something to prove. The second is finding a way to get  Pekka Rinne enough rest to be fresh when the playoffs come without sacrificing too much playoff position by playing an untested backup.

Austin Watson and Zach Budish, even Taylor Beck can come in and dazzle Music City fans from October to May, but is any of them going to satisfactorily fill the leadership void with both Hal Gill and Ryan Suter gone? And while Magnus Hedberg had a very good season in Milwaukee last year that was his first dose of hockey on this side of the pond. Even less experienced in North America is Marek Mazanec who hasn’t even played one game in the AHL, ECHL or CHL in his career.  What’s a playoff hopeful club to do?

Fortunately there are two ready made solutions available. In goal we know that most goalies playing sixty five or more games a season just run out of steam sometime in late April or early May. So a veteran goaltender who doesn’t have to be jollied along and who can pick up 25+ games or so during the season and let Rinne, who may also be headed to the Olympics in Sochi, relax would be ideal. A two time Vezina trophy winner, Jennings Trophy winner, multiple time All Star, and Conn-Smythe winner would count as veteran in anyone’s book right? It just so happens one Tim Thomas who additionally owns a Stanley Cup and spent time in playing in Finland is between gigs. If there’s any goalie in the world who history tells us performs better with his back to the wall and something to prove than Thomas, I don’t know who they are.

At forward the solution is even less risky. The pride of Belarus, Mikhail Grabovski was bought out with reasons that could only make sense to a member of whoever is currently in the Maple Leafs brain trust. A gritty forward who owns a personal single season goal total higher than every Predators forward not named Hornquist, and who has proved  his proven he belongs in someones top six with a tough nosed , two way game that has earned him respect in both his own and rival fan bases.

Given that both men absolutely have something to prove and Grabovski at least has his buyout money firmly in pocket, it is unlikely the total cost of signing the pair would cost north of four million for a year. Thomas and Grabovski would insulte the development of young players, add leadership and on one or two year contracts be as close to risk free as the NHL gets. The upside of each could be quite high. and if they are only average at the deadline they can be flipped for picks or prospects from a team who thinks they will play better in their system.

Most people would say the goaltender is the most important player on a successful hockey team. This was certainly true for two of the last three Stanley Cup winners. One of those goaltenders is a UFA.

Ray Emery, his number speak for themselves. He went 17-1 for the Blackhawks last year playing so well he even drew a Vazina vote. At the start of the season he’ll be 31 years old which puts him squarely in the prime goaltending years. He’s got playoff experience, he’s rebounded from injury and hard times, clearly he’s not the fragile flower some goalies have shown themselves to be.

Dan Ellis can’t seem to catch a break, last year when Cam Ward went down with an injury seemingly opening the door for him, he gets cut by a skate. Like most backups he’s seen enough NHL systems that he should be able to fit into most locker rooms without creating waves.

Richard Bachman has put up a couple strong AHL campaigns, and even played passably well for the Dallas Stars. At just 25 he’s one of the younger goalies on the list, and may well be a year or two away from being a reliable NHL starter, but general managers shouldn’t overlook him.

Jason LaBarbera has solid goaltending numbers and an amazing knack for finding places he’s behind other impressive goalies, most recently Mike Smith and before his move to the East and meltdown in Philly, Ilya Bryzgalov. A team that wants there backup to play twenty or so games a season can do much worse than the Barnaby BC native.

Anton Khudobin, this 27 year old Russia has been in the Boston system the last two seasons and played quite well in both the AHL and NHL. He could almost certainly hold down a starting job in the NHL, and even created some controversy outplaying Tuukka Rask for stretches this year.

Tim Thomas, while he didn’t play hockey anywhere last season two time Vezina Trophy winners with a cup win, international experience, and a Conn-Smythe on their resume aren’t exactly something you find everyday. Even if you take his three worst NHL season save percentages as his baseline for coming out of his extended vacation (.905, .915,.917) you’re still looking at numbers better than several of last years starters.

This is probably the most asked, least answered question in Boston sports. The answer is complex, and involves more than a few moving pieces.

Health:

The Bruins have certainly had less than average amounts of injuries, and unfortunately the two most prominent injuries have been to their top scorer, and their most important skater. Brad Marchand’s speed, ability to agitate, and his zero delay shot release are game changing. He is at this point one of the two or three best forwards in the division. Patrice Bergeron is the teams most important player. Not only is he the most skilled faceoff man in the NHL, he’s stunningly reliable, the number of non injury bad games he’s had in his career can be counted without exhausting one’s fingers, possibly without reaching a second hand. When both are out, the team is missing speed, scoring, puck control, leadership, and winning attitude. Chris Kelly’s  loss was crucial to the galloping inefficiency and creeping malaise, but that’s is something that has its real impact in the next section.

Depth:

When the Bruins won the Cup, they rolled four solid line, and had a defensive unit they could rely on. They were very much a Top 9 team with a fourth line capable of contributing at a level that many teams struggled to get their third line to impact the game at. This year they are very, very much a Top 6 – Bottom 6 team, and they have a similar issue with their bottom six to the year after Chicago won their Cup. Some pieces that are the same, but not having career years all at once, and some players who are either playing way under their expected level or who were out for an extended period.

When Chris Kelly went down, the already anemic third line flatlined. Chris Bourque, Jay Pandolfo, Jordan Caron, Ryan Spooner, Kaspars Daugavins, and Jamie Tardiff all trooped in and out of the line. Part of the problem is that when Peverley slid over to center he started trying to do too much in a year where he was already struggling. Part of it the problem is that the most promising players weren’t given legitimate opportunities. And part of the problem is just how many moving parts have been involved, especially as the lines were frequently shuffled trying to get players like Sequin, Lucic, Horton, and Krejci going as well.

Defensively, the team rushed Dougie Hamilton to the NHL before he was ready, this is a management failure, but speaks to a dearth of passable defenseman available in the off season. Hamilton certainly hasn’t been a disaster, but he’s experienced the peaks and valley’s of a rookie, and despite his size has been overpowered and beaten one on one for pucks. The question of if this would have been less serious in full season with more games and travel versus the current high compression is unanswerable, but either way another year of physical growth would have ameliorated some of the valleys in his play and freed up other defensemen from keeping an eye on him in addition to playing their own game. With McQuaid’s injury, Aaron Johnson was pulled into the lineup. While he’s possibly more skilled and a better puck handler than Mcquaid, he doesn’t have the raw aggression of McQuaid, and that means opposing players don’t slow up and look for support going to his corner.

Scoring:

When your top paid forward, David Krejci, has the same number of goals as a guy getting six minutes less of even strength time on ice a night and plays most games on the fourth line you have a genuine problem. There’s no doubt you have an issue. Nine goals isn’t a bad total for the season thus far but either of them is in the top four on the team.

Milan Lucic has gotten the most attention for scoring decline, and deserves it. He doesn’t look like himself most nights. But this dip in his scoring isn’t nearly alarming as Johnny Boychuk year over year decline since he spent his first full season in the NHL. In thirty nine games he has one more point than Shawn Thornton who has played less than half as many minutes. Part of the issue is that he’s just not shooting the puck much, Boychuck has just 64 shots to date, Thornton in the same number of games, and significantly less shifts has 46.

And yes, the powerplay is unenviable at just under 15%, but they haven’t been good at that in years.

Coaching:

Claude Julien has earned the right to a very, very long leash in his coaching tenure. But his fetish or veterans over rookies or young players is again strangling the teams creativity, and energy. Jay Pandalfo’s heart and professionalism are unquestionable. The rest of his body is not really fit for NHL action any more; and yet 18 times he has gotten the call to play over a younger, fitter, more skilled player who likely figures into the teams long term future. In those 18 games he is scoreless, based on his career total of 226 points in 899 NHL games, the expectations certainly were not high. Ryan Spooner, Jordan Caron, or Jamie Tardiff could just as easily have filled those games, and likely out performed him, Spooner and Tardiff were having very respectable years in the AHL at the time of their recall. For that matter when Chris Bourque was sent down his 19 game stint produced points, just four of them, but combined with his speed there was at least a going concern each shift for opposing defense to deal with.

And even on the veteran front, just as Corvo and Wideman and Ryder deserved to be scratched in favor of other players in the past, so too have several players this season. For all that he’s slowly starting to rebound in his own end, Ference could have used a breather, Boychuck likewise, and with so many healthy bodies circling the ice and the cap space the entire Krejci, Lucic, Horton line could and probably should have been sent to the pressbox more than once this season as there were more than a few nights all three were on the ice but not in the game.

Management:

One of the biggest issues with this team is complacency. This starts at the top. Players who know training camp is jut a formality and they can go on with the drudgery of the regular season don’t star the season in right state o mind. It isn’t just about having nothing to win with a good effort in training camp, and the off season leading to it, it is that the having nothing to lose in either time period.

This goes way beyond just this season. Part of it is a drafting tendency. The team has too many nice guys, and maybe two intermittent fire eaters. Regardless of what you think about his politics, you only had to watch one period of Tim Thomas playing to know he was one thousand percent in the game. It didn’t matter if it was policing his own crease, smashing his stick on a shot even he had no chance on, or skating out to check an opponent taking liberties with one of his team mates, he was all in from warmup until the game was in the books.

Who can you look at on the team and say that about? Which of the prospects likely to hit the roster in the next year or two does that describe? Does that describe Redden or Jagr? The same answer applies to all those questions; No and no one. This has been true for years, the last palyer to say anything not in the mold of generic athlete mutterings, or whatever the front office was saying was Steve Kampfer, and he was deported about as fast as the Brain Trust could find a dance partner.

Where’s this teams Wayne Simmonds or David Backes? Apparently the front office is either blind to that need of the teams, or doesn’t want it.

Just about four years ago the US and Canada put on two of the best hockey games of the last quarter century. But, like all teams that team USA is not the one we’ll see in a few years. If I’m playing general manager, there are some players I do bring back, and others I just say no to, at least as of now.

The No’s:

  • Ryan Malone would not be on the short list today. His production has trailed off, he’s not been especially healthy the last few seasons, and he’ll be thirty four before this year is over. Great guy, if he hangs up the skates before the Olympics, he might get tapped for an assistant coaches spot.
  • Chris Drury, nice guy, already retired.
  • Tim Thomas, while its nice to think he’d be back to world beating shape after a year off, it is unlikely.
  • Ryan Whitney, hasn’t played even when healthy for a woeful Oilers club this season.
  • Jamie Langenbrunner, has experienced a notable decline in the past few years, will turn 38 this summer, and has had injury issues,
  • Brian Rafalski, retired.

The Maybe’s:

  • Erik Johnson, is admittedly playing on a poor team, but not especially productive offensively which isn’t how offensive defenseman earn their pay.
  • Phil Kessel enormously hot and cold, not a great two way player and has struggled to score goals this season which is what he’s paid to do.
  • Ryan Kesler, good faceoff man, good passer, physical, good skater, can’t stay healthy to save his soul.
  • Ryan Callahan, well above average for two way play, but prone to long slumps offensively, and injuries as well.
  • Joe Pavelski, seems to have declining returns in the playoffs. That could be the team, that could be his doing, but I lean towards team.
  • Paul Stastny, did not impress me during the last Olympic’s, has had declining production since them, but did have solid World Championship numbers in 2011-12.

The Shortlist:

  • Ryan Miller, while his heroics a the last Olympics seem ot be the last time he played at an elite level, you have to take into consideration the quality of the team in front of him. A quality that has gotten the longest tenured coach in the NHL booted this season.
  • Jonathan Quick, anyone who needs to know why should simply look at last seasons record, both his individual stats, Cup win and the number of games he only gave up one goal in.
  • Tim Gleason, anyone who can be a plus player with all the years he’s spent on the defensively woeful Carolina Hurricanes.
  • Jack Johnson has a boatload of international experience, will probably have been named Captain of the Blue Jackets by then, offensively talented.
  • Brooks Orpik solid two way defenseman with a double handful of physicality, some international experience and would be among the teams elder statesmen.
  • Ryan Suter a top ten defenseman in the NHL, no-brainer.
  • David Backes, certainly one of the best American forwards in the league.
  • Dustin Brown, great mix of skill and physicality.
  • Patrick Kane almost certainly the best pure goal score from the USA, and has a maturing game away from the puck. Knows how to win.
  • Zach Parise versatile, talented and lots and lots of international experience.
  • Bobby Ryan perennial thirty goal scores do not grow on trees, willing to play physical, willing to shoot.

That would be my starting point based on the 2010 Olympic roster. The next post will focus on filling the roster out. I’ve counted out as many as twelve players I expect to put together a pool of about twenty players including at least two or three goalies.

The current labor situation is filled with reasons to reexamine what we know. Let’s start with the facts:

  1. The NHL Ownership has staked out a position that appears to be a draconian assault on the players union.
  2. Anyone paying attention for the last two or three years knows that this CBA is first, second and third a dispute between the various classes of owners.
  3. The NHLPA in the last labor dispute was to put it in precise technical terms rolled and raped.
  4. Despite the war drum beating that led to the hiring of Donald Fehr, the PA has done little to convince anyone they won’t backdown.
  5. The NHL will not survive as we know it if a season is missed.
  6. Star players who take part in the process will take a hit in public perception, regardless of outcome if the dispute drags on.

It’s now been a week since word of the owners proposal hit the media. The owners haven’t made any public move to retreat from what many consider a declaration of war. It is hard to argue that this failure to address it does not in fact amount to an endorsement of the so called leak. The players association has not taken any visible position on this. No player I’m aware of has taken a position. Given Donald Fehr’s reputation, the number of active players, and likely PA employees who were part of the last lockout, it is unlikely that even if Fehr proves entirely ineffective, that the players will agree to the proposed terms.

The owner versus owner dynamic is still the axis of this fight that is most important. Teams like Montreal, Toronto and Boston can spend at a nearly unlimited level. Not every team can and even among the deep pocked teams with abundant fans not all will. Among the 29 ownership groups there are likely four camps of various size and cohesiveness. The first will be the owners bleeding money even with revenue sharing. While likely the tightest group, those who see a fix for their woes will be pliable, it could be an arena deal that gets them out of a bad situation and into more revenue, or could simply be reduction in the amount they are forced to spend.

Group two will be the group who are in a market they haven’t managed to saturate yet and are most sensitive to the effect a lockout will have, likely this will be the group of “swing voters” who go in whatever direction they think will prevent even the threat of a work stoppage. Group three is made up of the owners who believe they can spend their way to success and don’t care who they run over. Ten minutes before the next CBA is ratified they’ll have half a dozen ways to circumvent the parts they don’t like as part of their general operations plan.

Group four is the most interesting to me. This group will be the owners who have money and intend to keep it. They aren’t interested in a lockout, but won’t allow a deal that will affect long term revenue negatively. They will be in favor of any plan that keeps revenue sharing at just barely above the point where average management of an NHL team will keep it in existence. A fly on the wall who hears owners or their representatives talking the non ticket and arena sales revenues benefiting everyone will be listening to this group.

Earlier this year, two time Vezina winner, Jennings Award winner, Conn-Smyth Winner, and Stanley Cup Champion Tim Thomas would (likely) be taking the season off.  He has one year remaining on his contract, had some personal issues to deal with and even waived his no trade clause after years of balking at doing so to give the Bruins some room to work with. He’s also a politically aware American who went through the last NHL labor dispute. Given his level of play in 2003-4 in the AHL where he put up a .941 save percentage in 43 games, and then went to Finland during the lockout with a lot of other NHL talent and put up world beating numbers, the last lockout probably cost him a great deal of money. By making it know ahead of time he was dedicating the year to family, the hockey camps he’s protecting his health, his brand image by being semi-retired, and staying out of the infighting that will likely consume another NHL season.

The Jordan Staal trade short circuited a hype fest that could have gone on all summer and right up to the trade deadline. It’s kinda disappointing honestly. Sure it’ll be fun to see how many times announcers and the press confuse them this season, but hey there are other players who we’ll all get to talk ourselves sick about.

Bobby Ryan:

The Ducks don’t want to move him. If they did they would have gotten in on some of the big name players in the last two years. Or they would have traded him for a boat load of picks in this draft. Left wing tends to be the weakest forward position for a lot of teams. And a team as starved for depth as the Anaheim is, shouldn’t be looking a signed all star in the mouth.

Jay Bouwmeester:

Anyone not smart enough to grab him when Florida was dangling him years ago, probably hasn’t wised up. A good solid stroll through the stats will show he’s being used much more defensively in Calgary than Florida. A deeper look will show that for the first two years he was there the scoring was more tightly concentrated than his last two years in Florida showing how much less talent the Flames had than the Panthers in forwards.

Zach Parise:

Despite the hopes and dreams of 29 other fan bases, I don’t see Zach moving on unless the Devils are getting ready to fold.

Patrick Kane:

Cabbies across the continent can rest peaceful in their beds. The 140lb bane of all livery drivers is a darling of ownership, and too promising a talent to be tossed aside for anything that hasn’t gotten to the point of criminal behaviour that threatens fans or team staff. Even if despite the denials of others he is the only twenty something millionaire to ever go out and party.

Tim Thomas:

Peter Chiarelli and Cam Neely have spent forever bad mouthing him and trying to replace him. Those things don’t go hand in hand bros, you might wanna work on that.

Rick Nash:

Unless someone medicates Scott Howson or Nash and company expand their list, Rick Nash is likely to be a Columbus Blue Jacket for a while longer.

Recently some interesting and oh-so-timely news came out of one of the Boston newsies regarding one of the Bruins goalies possibly being traded. While there was certainly a reason behind that article, I’m not sure it was a reasonable writeup.

If you look at the way goalies are developed and handled across the NHL, both now and over the last decade or so there is an absolutely explicit path to stability in the crease. One older veteran goaltender, one young goaltender. The Montreal Canadiens tried going with two youngsters in Carey Price and Jaroslav Halak and abandoned the model pretty quickly. The Washington Capitals spent a couple seasons with Varlemov, Neuvirth and Holtby, and quickly jettisoned a youngster for a veteran.

The Saint Louis Blues had great stability with the veteran Elliot and the young Halak this season. The Minnesota Wild, health aside, have enjoyed stability in the crease with their goaltending duo. Jimmy Howard in Detroit has been nurtured in his development by a series of elder statesman.  It’s pretty simple, two veterans can work, like in New Jersey, an older and younger goalie can work, but no one ever relies on two young goalies.

So when we look at the Boston Bruins goaltending assortment, we see a pretty clear mix in the system We have the elder statesman, who has been there and done that, and is still able to do so; Tim Thomas. We have a young, and goaltender who can play well in the regular season in a limited role but hasn’t ever played more than 60 games or performed well in the playoffs; Tuukka Rask. Then there’s Anton Khudobin, only a handful of NHL games to his name, just one professional playoff appearance to his name, and ten months older than the player immediately ahead of him on the depth chart.

After that things get murkier. Lars Volden and Zane Gothberg will both turn 20 this year, and both are college boys.  It is unlikely either will be playing anywhere professionally in the next year or two and three years is a more likely break in point. Michael Hutchinson made some impressive strides in limited duties for the Providence Bruins. Next up is Adam Couchraine who’s entry level contract expired on July 1 and has not managed to claim much playing time in the AHL or even the one NHL callup.

Adam Morrison and Niklas Svedberg have both been signed this season. Morrison bad his pro debut for the Providence Bruins this spring, and Svedberg has some Euro experience but neither is much closer to the NHL than Gothberg and Volden. A further spanner in the mix is Karel St. Laurent who played in 21 games for the Reading Royals and four for the Providence Bruins in his first year pro last season.

So, the question to ask yourself is:  If you’re an NHL club in win now mode, where do you put your trust? Do you break the trend that has been successful for teams and go with a 20-22 year old and one or two guys in their middle twenties who haven’t established themselves as winning playoff goaltenders? Another option would be bringing in one or more free agents. Of course any new player in the system, free agent or promotion especially in goal, the most important position in the sport, will have a shakedown period and the margin between a division win and deep playoff run, and having team breakup day in the middle of April isn’t as wide as it used to be.