Welcome to summer school. This is the time of year when all of the fans who flunked the season take time to look back on the year that was and hand out grades. Terrible, terrible grades. First, as we saw with JS' breakdown of the defensemen we separate the team into it's fundamental parts. Goalies, left wings, right wings, and centers are still on the docket. Next, we dismantle those parts into their individual parts.
Basically, we take the team and disperse it into individuals. We then grade the indvidual, the group, and the team.
In the end, we will have testing. Anyone who fails has to cheer for the Canucks next season.
Continuing with our season-ending player evaluation series Buddha, JS and I will give our opinions on the play of the Wild goaltenders.
To give some background, first let's take a look at what I wrote in the September in the 2009-2010 Wild Season Preview:
Will the defensive additions (and those additions by subtraction) help in quelling the inevitable tide of onrushing forwards as the Wild change their strategy to two forecheckers and less emphasis on defensive coverage? Who knows? But, what we do know is that if we start seeing a lot of 5-2 or 5-3 losses and 24 million dollar man, Niklas Backstrom sees his GAA rise toward 3.00 and above, the Xcel Energy Center fans may not give Richards and Fletcher the time they need to build a new team before letting everyone know how they feel.
So, how close was I?
Even with the massive defensive issues the team saw this season (230 goals allowed versus 191 last season), the overall numbers of the goaltenders weren't horrible (GAA of 2.80 versus 2.33 and a save % of 91.2% versus 92.9%). Frankly, these numbers are surprising considering the number of times we saw Backstrom, Harding, et al left hanging. I was anticipating something much closer to 3.00 and 90%. With that in mind, I'm impressed.
Follow us past the jump
Nathan: Considering the change in style, his injuries, and the overall numbers, I'm going to grade Backstrom out with a B.
This season, much like the previous three, hinged upon the play of one man and his four year, $24 million contract. Sure, we would love to see the 1.97 GAA and 92.9% save percentage of 2006-2007, or the 2.31 GAA and 92.0% save percentage of 2007-2008, but with the new system we knew that wouldn't be the case.
That said, Backstrom had flashes of brilliance and stretches of absolutely frustrating play. Fans were vocal online about the "trouble" Backstrom seemed to have this season, but his numbers would suggest that the fault cannot solely fall to his shoulders. No, a 2.72 GAA is not what we would want from a guy making $6MM, especially one with Backs' track record. But no, this season was not a failure by any stretch of the imagination for Nik.
Buddha: B+ Backstrom had a bad year. Probably the worst year he has had since signing with the Wild. That said, a bad year for Backs is an amazing year for just about anyone else. Sure, his stats were down, but how many odd man rushes can one guy face before his stats drop? The truth is, Backstrom is an extremely good goalie. One of the best in the game. Even the best need the team in front of them to play defense, and the Wild did not do that with any consistency this year.
JS: C+ Certainly far from the form that made him a Vezina finalist, he didn't get much help either. It could be blamed either on the new system or the lack of support from the D, but he really looked shakier than he did at any point last year. I still think he did better this year than his two Vezina opponents from last year, Thomas and Mason (further proving my point that Backs was and is the best of the three and should've won last year) So maybe we can just chalk it up to an off year.
Nathan: With his >3.00 GAA, his injury and his atrocious win/loss record, I'm giving Harding a C- (yes, I know he has a better sv% than Backstrom).
This was supposed to be the year Harding took a bit of the load off Backstrom's shoulders and showcase his play for a late-season move to a contender needing a goalie. All signs pointed to Harding being ready to break out and take his place as a #1 guy somewhere, and we knew it wouldn't be here. However, a horrible, absolutely atrocious, start to the season put Harding behind the 8-ball. Then, to add injury to insult, during a stretch of fantastic play by #37, he tore his labrum, tried to play through the pain, but was a shell of his former self. Combine the injury with his poor play at the beginning of the season, and Harding's trade value fell through the floor. In fact, many feel that this injury will likely preclude Harding from being traded prior to the draft, and he'll likely end up either being moved at a lower value before camp, or even during the season (which will hurt someone we'll cover further down the page).
Buddha: C+ I have said many, many times that Harding is a good goalie. He is the type of goalie that needs minutes, though. He needs to be a number one somewhere, and then everyone will see just how good he really is. That said, he got a couple chances to play consecutive starts and did not fare well. Keep in mind that those starts were mostly played on a hip that needed to be surgically repaired. Harding did his job, got even less support from his team than Backstrom did, and played the good soldier, playing injured so the high dollar starter didn't have to. Harding's stats were not good. Blame them on the hip and his team. He is a good, solid goaltender, and deserves a chance, which he will get next season. The Wild cannot wait any longer. This is his final RFA contract, and he will not re-sign as a UFA, guarantee that. Count him as good as gone by the deadline.
JS: B Hard to say if he was better than Backs or not, considering he often had some tough assignments (He always starts against Detroit) But he played a whole lot of games on a bad hip, and even stole a couple of games for us, and his stats weren't much different from Backs'.
Nathan: D. Dubie was brought in to be a veteran backup in case of injury, unfortunately when called upon, he failed miserably. In fact, in pre-game warmups, it often appeared that the Wild were shooting on an open net. He was so bad, in fact, that even when Todd Richards wanted to give either Backstrom or Harding a rest when they were nursing injuries, he couldn't risk putting Dubie on the ice. Sure, it's a ridiculously small sample, but that 85.3% save percentage is the stuff of ECHL misery. Needless to say, Dubie won't be back
Buddha: F- Dubie was signed to offer a backup option should Harding be traded. As a fanbase, you should be happy Hards is still around. Three game, one start, a 1-1-0 record, 5 GA in 101 minutes, a 2.98 GAA, and only a .853 save %. In case you aren't a stat head, those are terrible numbers. Horrible. The way you know Dubie won't be back next season? The Wild called him up to replace Borat and then started an injured Backstrom in a game that meant nothing. That's faith right there.
JS: Incomplete Had a horrible start, prompting coach Richards to not start him again, but he redeemed himself a little bit by filling in for an injured Backstrom and getting the win against Philly. He's certainly not NHL calibre, and he never was.
Nathan: A. The man affectionately known as Borat was an enigma. Yeah, he only played in three games, but good lord, what games they were. With a 97.9 save percentage and a GAA of 0.87, Khudobin showed exactly why he was backstopped the Russians to silver in the World Junior Championships in 2005 and 2006. He showed flash, poise and enough panache and attitude to prove that his time as a #2 goalie in the NHL had come. Now, will he be able to keep Matthew Hackett in the AHL over the next two seasons or will he be trade bait for the savior-in-waiting, only time will tell.
Buddha: A- I would give Borat a solid A for his on ice performance. His brain cramp with his passport that caused him to miss his final start of the season earns him the minus, though. Anton played in just two games, with one start. Both games he played phenomenal hockey. A 2-0-0 record, only one goal against in 69 minutes, a minuscule 0.86 GAA, and a .979 save %. As first impressions go, this was a good one. Anton will be back next season, just as soon as Harding is traded, and that should be just fine with everyone.
JS: Incomplete He did really well filling in for Harding when he hurt himself and had a really good first start against Philly. We have to wonder though if he's the real deal.
Nathan: B-. This was a team that had elevated goaltending stats because of the system Jacques Lemaire instilled. Now with that gone, you see what the goalies can do on their own. Now, we didn't see a massive jump in the overall numbers, but we also didn't see enough from the guys on the roster to grab victory from the jaws of defeat time and again. Nobody (other than Khudobin's brief run) looked like a world beater, and the top two guys fought injury entirely too often. Could that be a trend, now that they both will have surgically-repaired hips? Who knows, but we do know that this is no longer the team that can win the 1-0 game with regularity.
Buddha: C If you remember back to school, a C meant you did average work. That about sums up the Wild goaltenders. They did everything they could, and were mediocre. The team in front of them was terrible, with team defense being something no one was overly concerned with. Too many shorthanded chances, too many odd man rushes, too many strong forwards left to do what they pleased in front of the net. The Wild's goalies had little to no chance of earning a better grade. Sure, there were soft goals, but they were equaled with some amazing saves. There will always be soft goals, and there will always be miracle saves. It is what they do with the remainder of the 99.999% of the shots they face. This season, they did their job, though not particularly fantastically.
JS: B- I don't think the goalies did as bad as we think, they just didn't get the help they used to get in the old system. That said, they're going to need to get used to it very quickly, or else the Wild might find themselves trying to claw their way into a playoff spot again!
So, there are our grades. How do you grade out the Wild goalies for 2009-2010? What will happen with Harding this off-season? Is Borat the #2 next year?