The Caps’ Next Goalie
Where will he come from? Is he in the system now? When will he be ready to take over the reins? Will the Caps need to trade for a goaltender to serve as a “bridge” between the Olie Kolzig/Brent Johnson duo and the next goalie to come out of the Caps’ system?
I dunno, I dunno, I dunno. I dunno.
With Kolzig approaching his 38th birthday and still unsigned beyond this season, it’s certainly safe to say that we don’t know what the immediate future of the Caps’ goaltending situation will be. I believe these last 32 games of the season will be telling. If the Kolzig/Brent Johnson tandem proves reasonably effective, the Caps could re-sign Kolzig for another year and go with a similar split/rotation next season. Several teams have had varying degrees of success with this type of system this season, most notably Detroit with Dominik Hasek and Chris Osgood.
If the Caps’ braintrust deems the Kolzig/Johnson duo untenable for an up-and-coming Stanley Cup hopeful team in 2008-09, then perhaps a trade might be in the offing this summer. Washington has a burgeoning stable of young prospects at many positions, and it has three second-round choices in addition to a first-rounder in what is generally regarded as a deep 2008 NHL Entry Draft. The Capitals have also drafted four goaltenders in the past three drafts. Daren Machesney (2005), Simeon Varlamov and Michal Neuvirth (2006) and Dan Dunn (2007) are unlikely to have an impact at the NHL level anytime soon. But it may be worth a look at past drafts to see when we might expect one or more of these young netminders to be ready make the jump.
In the interest of time-saving, I went back as far as 1989, the draft that brought Kolzig to town.
Washington chose Kolzig with the 19th overall pick, and he was the first goaltender chosen. The Caps also grabbed the second goalie taken in the draft, tabbing Byron Dafoe with the 35th pick. Both went on to enjoy successful careers in the league, but it would be eight years before Kolzig was able to take the starting job and record double-digit wins in a season. Dafoe didn’t blossom until he got out of Washington in 1995, and he didn’t truly “arrive” as an NHL goaltender until 1997-98, the same season in which Kolzig began his run of success. Of the 17 goaltenders taken after Kolzig and Dafoe in 1989, only Arturs Irbe (196th overall to Minnesota) had any notable NHL prosperity. Irbe played in 568 games and recorded 218 wins over the course of a 13-year NHL career.
Trevor Kidd (to Calgary 11th overall) was the first goaltender chosen but it was Martin Brodeur (New Jersey, 20th) who went on to become one of the greatest of all time. The second round produced Felix Potvin, the third Mike Dunham and the sixth Roman Turek. All three had their moments but none ever sustained the type of long-term success that every team is looking for from its goaltender. Aside from Brodeur, Potvin had the best career in the league. He was 266-260-85 with five different clubs over a 13-year NHL run.
No goaltenders were chosen in the first round, and a guy by the name of Andrew Verner was the first goaltender chosen (Edmonton, 34th overall). He never made it to the NHL, playing three seasons in the AHL before moving on to Europe where he is still active professionally. The third round of that draft produced journeyman backup Jamie McLennan and Osgood (54th overall), who is on the Hall of Fame track. The Islanders took Milan Hnilicka in the fourth round, Buffalo selected Steve Shields in the fifth. None of the other netminders taken later on had any noteworthy NHL success.
Once again, no goaltenders were chosen in the first round. Once again, the Capitals took the first netminder of the draft, taking Jim Carey with the 32nd overall choice. Carey was a Calder Trophy runner-up in 1994-95 and he won the Vezina Trophy in 1995-96. Nearly half (35 of 79) of Carey’s NHL wins came in his Vezina season and his pro career was over before his 25th birthday. During Carey’s Vezina season, he saw more than 30 shots over a full 60-minute game just four times, and never faced as many as 40. Washington opponents averaged 24.9 shots per game that season.
Manny Fernandez went to Quebec in the third round and Winnipeg made a strong choice with Nikolai Khabibulin (204th overall) in the ninth round. Khabibulin would backstop the Tampa Bay Lightning to a 2004 Stanley Cup championship, joining Dominik Hasek as the only European-born and trained goaltenders to backstop an NHL team to a Cup title.
Quebec took Jocelyn Thibault with the 10th choice. Still active in the NHL as a backup in Buffalo, the 33-year-old Thibault has fashioned a 237-238-74 record in 13 seasons with five clubs, a similar career line to those of Irbe and Potvin. Thibault has won as many as 30 games in a season just once. Florida chose Kevin Weekes in the second round (41st overall) and he has spent several seasons toiling for seven different NHL teams. Weekes has never won 30 games in a season and has won as many as 20 just twice. The Islanders got Tommy Salo in the fifth round (118th overall). A serviceable No. 1 backstop on some dismal Islander teams, Salo later had a pair of 30-win seasons in Edmonton. He finished up with a 210-225-75 NHL record.
Pittsburgh chose Patrick Lalime late in the sixth round (156th) and Hartford chose Manny Legace early in the eighth (188th). Both are still in the league, and Legace was an All-Star this season. Lalime made it to the NHL at 22 and won 21 games as a rookie. He then disappeared into the AHL for the next two seasons before resurfacing with Ottawa where he had a strong five-season run. He is now a backup in Chicago. Legace was 25 when he made it to the NHL and 27 when he won as many as 20 games for the first time. His first season with 30 or more wins came at the age of 32.
When the Kings chose Jamie Storr with the seventh overall pick, it marked the earliest selection of a goaltender since Buffalo took Tom Barrasso fifth overall in 1983. Storr’s career was nowhere near as good as Barrasso’s. Storr knocked around the NHL and the AHL for the better part of a decade and never had a 20-win season in the NHL. He finished his career with a record of 85-86-23. Now 32, Storr is still active as a pro in Germany.
Three more netminders were taken in the first round: Eric Fichaud, 16th; Evgeni Ryabchikov, 21st and Dan Cloutier 30th. Cloutier (137-138-36) has had the best career of that trio. The oft-injured Cloutier did stay healthy enough to record three straight 30-win seasons with the Canucks before the lockout.
The Canadiens found Jose Theodore in the second round (44th overall) and Dallas drafted Marty Turco in the fifth round (124th). Theodore won the Hart and Vezina Trophies in 2002, but he has a sub-.500 career record in both the regular season and the postseason and has never advanced beyond the second round of the playoffs. Turco is closing in on 200 wins (194-93-40) and has been excellent during the regular season. But he has gone as far as the second round of the playoffs only once and has a career postseason mark of 11-18.
The first eight rounds of the 1994 draft produced 15 goaltenders, and then a late run had nine goalies going in the ninth round. The noteworthy ninth produced Frederic Cassivi (210) and a run of three straight (217-19) that yielded Tim Thomas, Johan Hedberg and Evgeny Nabokov. The 226th pick produced Tomas Vokoun and the 229th turned up John Grahame. That’s a pretty remarkable ninth round, even without speedy winger Steve Sullivan (233rd).
Thomas is a late bloomer who didn’t reach the NHL to stay until he was 31. Hedberg is a serviceable backup who has one 20-win season to his credit. Nabokov was almost 19 when he was drafted. He turned pro in North America at 22 and needed three full seasons of AHL seasoning before he was ready to assume the No. 1 job in San Jose in 2000-01, at the age of 25. Nabokov is on his way to a fourth 30-win season in 2007-08. He has had a pair of second-round playoff runs and one third-round playoff run.
Vokoun was a capable support goaltender in the NHL at the age of 22 and a bona fide No. 1 guy by the time he was 26. He has had some good seasons, and the four-year deal he signed in Sept. 2006 gives him financial security. He also has a 3-8 career playoff record.
Hartford chose J-S Giguere with the 13th pick and Buffalo grabbed Martin Biron with the 16th. Brian Boucher (22nd) and Marc Denis (25th) went later in the first round. Giguere won the Conn Smythe Trophy has won a Cup and Biron has had some regular season success but has yet to appear in a Stanley Cup playoff game. His most recent postseason experience came in 1999 when he helped Rochester win the Calder Cup. Boucher and Denis are currently toiling in the AHL after having had modest and sporadic success in the NHL.
J-S Aubin went late in the third (76th) and Vesa Toskala (90th) went in the middle of the fourth. The fifth round turned up a pair of current No. netminders in the league, Miikka Kiprusoff (116th) and Chris Mason (122nd) as well as the Caps’ Johnson (129th). Kiprusoff is regarded as one of the best in the business and he led the Flames to within a whisker of a Stanley Cup title in 2004.
One of the weaker drafts in recent vintage yielded just one first-round goaltender, Craig Hillier (23rd), who never played in the NHL. Righty-catching Mathieu Garon went in the second round (44th) and Robert Esche was chosen in the sixth (139th).
Chosen fourth overall, Roberto Luongo joined Ray Martynuik (fifth in 1970), John Davidson (fifth in 1973) and Barrasso as the only goaltenders in the modern draft era (post-1969) to be chosen among the top five. Arguably the best goaltender in the league, Luongo has lived up to his advance billing despite toiling largely for mediocre clubs. None of the other three goalies drafted in the top 30 (Mika Noronen, 18th; J-F-Damphousse, 26th; J-M Pelletier, 30th) has made an impact.
The final pick of the sixth round (161st overall) turned up Swiss netminder David Aebischer. Johan Holmqvist, now on the outs in Tampa Bay, went in the middle of the seventh round (175th).
Patrick DesRochers (14th) and Mathieu Chouinard (15th) went back-to-back in the middle of the first round. They combined to play a dozen games in the NHL. This draft also produced Jason LaBarbera (66th), Dany Sabourin (108th) and Andrew Raycroft (135th) but the best of the bunch is probably Antero Niittymaki (168th).
First-rounders Brian Finley (sixth), Maxime Ouellet (22nd) and Ari Ahonen (27th) combined to play just 16 NHL games. Second-rounder Alex Auld (40th) had a 30-win season and is a reasonably competent backup. The lone capable No. 1 guy to come out of this draft was Ryan Miller in the fifth round (138th).
Rick DiPietro became the first goaltender ever chosen with the first overall pick. He is 109-98-28 lifetime, an impressive record given the quality of the teams he has played for. The 26-year-old DiPietro is 2-7 in playoff competition. Calgary chose Brent Krahn with the ninth overall pick. Now in his fifth season as a pro, the 25-year-old Krahn has yet to play in the NHL.
Ilya Bryzgalov (44th) and Dan Ellis (60th) were both second-round choices. Bryzgalov spent four years honing his skills in the AHL before he was deemed ready for an NHL apprenticeship. Now 27, he is in his first year as No. 1 guy. After four seasons in the AHL, the 27-year-old Ellis is an NHL rookie backing up Chris Mason in Nashville.
Michal Tellqvist (70th) is Bryzgalov’s backup in Phoenix and Roman Cechmanek (171st) was a sixth-rounder with plenty of European pro experience who had a short run of NHL success. Seventh-round sleeper Henrik Lundqvist (205th) is on his way to becoming one of the NHL’s elite goalies. He came to the NHL as a 23-year-old with a good deal of European seasoning and has been solid right from the start of his NHL career. Lundqvist is 6-7 in the postseason.
The first round yielded Pascal Leclaire (eighth), just coming into his own this season; Dan Blackburn (10th), whose career was prematurely ended by a nerve injury in his shoulder; Jason Bacashihua (26th) and Adam Munro (29th). Bacashihua is a sixth-year pro who is now with his third NHL organization. He has a 7-17-4 lifetime mark in the NHL, and is now in the Avs system. Munro is a fifth-year pro who is 4-10-3 in the league.
Colorado plucked Peter Budaj with the final pick (63rd) in the second round. He debuted in 2005-06 and won 31 games for the Avs last season, but has been inconsistent in 2007-08. Ottawa grabbed Ray Emery early in the fourth (99th). Emery helped the Sens to the Cup finals last spring, earning a big contract in the process. He has been troubled by off-ice issues this season.
San Jose chose Dmitri Patzold in the fourth round (107th). Now a fifth-year pro, Patzold turns 25 next week. He made his NHL debut this season, getting into three games. He has yet to make a start, however.
Capable NHL backup Mike Smith was chosen late in the fifth round (161st) and Euro vet Pasi Nurminen went in the sixth (189th). Two more Euro vets who went in later rounds are still enjoying NHL success. The Kings chose Cristobal Huet in the seventh round (214th) and Anaheim picked Martin Gerber (232nd) in the eighth round. Neither the Kings nor the Ducks kept their late-round finds long enough to see the rewards, though. And the Kings could sure use Huet about now.
The Thrashers took Kari Lehtonen second overall and the Hurricanes selected Cam Ward 25th. Both netminders have had some ups and downs, but are considered the current and future No. 1 goalies of their respective franchises. Ward helped lead the Hurricanes to the 2006 Stanley Cup championship, winning the Conn Smythe Trophy in the process.
Boston chose Hannu Toivonen late in the first round (29th) and made him its backup after two years in the AHL. Now with St. Louis, Toivonen has spent parts of each of the last two seasons back in the AHL, but he is still only 23. Second-rounder Josh Harding (38th) is proving to be a capable backup in Minnesota, and is thought of as a potential No. 1.
Euro vet Fredrik Norrena came out of the seventh round (217th) and has played well for Columbus over the last two seasons.
The only goalie chosen in the first round was Marc-Andre Fleury, who went first overall to Pittsburgh. He has had his ups and downs after being rushed to the NHL as a teenager, but he won 40 games for the Pens last season. The jury is still out on Fleury as a playoff performer. He has a 3-10 mark as a pro in the postseason, including 1-4 in the NHL.
Montreal found Jaroslav Halak in the ninth round (271st) and he has had some early success in the NHL.
Six goaltenders were chosen in the top 38 picks of this draft, but but only the Blues’ Marek Schwarz (four games) has had a taste of the NHL to date. The Lightning grabbed Karri Ramo late in the sixth round (191st) and he has played on parts of two NHL seasons goaltending starved Tampa Bay.
Carey Price (fifth overall) turned pro late last season and helped the Hamilton Bulldogs to the Calder Cup championship, winning the Jack Butterfield Trophy in the process. The 20-year-old Price spent the first half of this season with the Canadiens, going 9-7-3. Tuukka Rask went 21st overall. Although he has already been traded once, he has also had a taste of the NHL this season, earning his first two NHL wins.
Atlanta chose Ondrej Pavelec in the second round (41st overall) and he picked up his first three NHL wins earlier this season. Third-rounder Johnathan Quick (72nd) also had a cup of NHL coffee and recorded his first win in the league early in the campaign. Quick is playing in the ECHL right now. Fifth-rounder Tomas Popperle (131st) made a pair of relief appearances with the Blue Jackets last season.
The Kings chose Jonathan Bernier 11th overall as the first netminder taken in the draft. Bernier began the 2007-08 season with Los Angeles before heading back to the QMJHL to continue his junior career.
Given the track record at the position, virtually any of the goaltenders drafted in this century still have a chance to make an impact and have a career for themselves in the NHL.
Rarely does a single draft produce more than one elite NHL goaltender.
Several of the early- and middle-round goaltenders put together a few strong seasons, but few delivered Stanley Cup playoff success.
Late rounds definitely turn up the occasional gem, and first-round pedigree is no guarantee of NHL success.
Several goalies from the last four or five drafts have been given a look in the league, but precious few have had any impact to speak of.
The List (goaltenders chosen in the draft by Washington since Kolzig and Dafoe in 1989)
Jim Carey, second round (32nd) in 1992
Mark Seliger, 10th round (251st) in 1993
Sebastien Charpentier, forth round (93rd) in 1995
David Weninger, third round (74th) in 1996
Curtis Cruickshank, fourth round (89th) in 1997
Pierre-Luc Therrien, eighth round (200th) in 1997
Jomar Cruz, second round (49th) in 1998
Rastislav Stana, seventh round (193rd) in 1998
Robert Muller, ninth round (275th) in 2001
Maxime Daigneault, second round (59th) in 2002
Robert Gherson, fifth round (145th) in 2002
Justin Mrazek, eighth round (230th) in 2004
Daren Machesney, fifth round (143rd) in 2005
Simeon Varlamov, first round (23rd) in 2006
Michal Neuvirth, second round (34th) in 2006
Dan Dunn, sixth round (154th) in 2007
I’ll have more on goalies in a couple of days, but that’s more than enough to chew on for now.