Cullen: 10 Backup Goaltenders Who Could Start

Scott Cullen
10/27/2010 12:46:03 PM
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With Colorado goaltender Craig Anderson suffering an apparent knee injury Tuesday night, it looks like Peter Budaj will take over as the Avalanche starter between the pipes.

Goaltending is perhaps the most important, yet least predictable, position in the game. 

Considering how teams spent their free agent dollars this summer, there appears to be a trend towards not investing heavily in goaltending because teams can't get a handle on how much more valuable an established workhorse like Martin Brodeur would be compared to, say, Michael Leighton, in a seven-game series.

"I wish I was the verb 'to trust' and never let you down"
- Wishlist, Pearl Jam (in honour of XM Radio's new Pearl Jam station, XM39 - Awesome!)

After Leighton and Antti Niemi reached the Stanley Cup final last season, it only strengthened the argument that teams may be better off investing more in their skaters to provide better support for whomever they end up with in net, with an expectation that if the starter isn't doing the job, that the backup may be just as likely (or close to it) to providing adequate play between the pipes.

If the recent trend is that teams might be less likely to spend for a bona fide starting goaltender, one can only imagine what the opinion is going to be for backup goaltenders.

However, when a starter gets hurt, there is an expectation that the backup will be able to, at the very least, hold the fort.  Some can, like Leighton and Niemi did in last year's playoffs.  In some cases, the backup plays well enough to eventually take the starting job, as Jimmy Howard, Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott did last season.

In other cases, the backup isn't necessarily ready for the grind of starting game-in and game-out, like Jeff Deslauriers with the Oilers in 2009-2010. 

Any goaltender is going to want the opportunity to play as much as possible, but some are more suited to the role, whether it's due to skill level, experience or the calibre of team in front of them.

There are a number of uncertain goaltending situations around the league, making it difficult to assign true starter status in Boston, San Jose and Tampa Bay, while injuries have already determined playing time in Washington, Atlanta, Ottawa and Philadelphia.

Here are ten backup goaltenders who may be best-equipped to handle a starting role:

Jonathan Bernier, Los Angeles (1-1, 2.51 gAA, .918 SV%, 2 GP): While it seems that Jonathan Quick may just be keeping the seat warm for the 11th overall pick in the 2006 draft, Bernier isn't yet the starter for the Kings.  After dominating the AHL (30-21-6, 2.03 GAA, .936 SV%, 58 GP) last season, he's ready.

Cory Schneider, Vancouver (2-0, 0.86 GAA, .986 SV%, 3 GP): The 24-year-old had to be patient after being drafted in the first round in 2004, grooming in the American Hockey League for three seasons, posting a .919 save percentage, before earning his spot in the NHL this season.  He's played well in a couple of starts behind Roberto Luongo, received good goal support from the Canucks and would be able to handle more should anything happen to Luongo.

Anders Lindback, Nashville (3-0, 2.55 GAA, .925 SV%, 5 GP): Standing 6-foot-6, the Swedish rookie got thrust into a few starts due to an early injury to Pekka Rinne and Lindback didn't look out of place at all.  Nashville has done a fine job of developing goaltenders who move from backup into starting roles and 22-year-old Lindback will eventually have a chance to follow suit.

Jonas Gustavsson, Toronto (1-1, 2.52 GAA, .912 SV%, 2 GP): There may be a saturation of media coverage for The Monster, who has a .903 save percentage in 44 career games, but his play last March (7-1, 2.06 GAA, .923 SV%) indicated that, at some point, he could handle more than a second-string workload.  With Jean-Sebastien Giguere's contract expiring at season's end, a strong year from Gustavsson could put him in position to start as soon as next season.

Corey Crawford, Chicago (1-2, 3.03 GAA, .912 SV%, 3 GP): Edged out for the Blackhawks' backup job last year by Niemi, 25-year-old Crawford has played 255 AHL games over five seasons and owns a .914 save percentage in 11 career NHL games.  A small sample size, to be sure, but with a Blackhawks team that doesn't surrender a lot of shots, Crawford could surely be a capable replacement should something happen to Marty Turco.

Martin Biron, N.Y. Rangers (1-0, 1.00 GAA, .960 SV%, 1 GP): One season removed from a 55-start campaign with the Philadelphia Flyers, Biron has played at least half of his team's games six times in his career and while he's not going to challenge Henrik Lundqvist for the starting job on Broadway, he's more than capable of starting if necessary.

Brent Johnson, Pittsburgh (4-0-1, 1.39 GAA, .951 SV%, 5 GP): It's been a long time since 33-year-old Johnson handled a starting job -- he played 58 games for St. Louis in 2001-2002 -- and it's not reasonable to think that he can keep up the pace of his outstanding start to this season, but with a strong Penguins team in front of him and continued shaky play from Marc-Andre Fleury, who knows how much time Johnson will get in the Penguins' net?

Dwayne Roloson, N.Y. Islanders (2-1, 1.65 GAA, .942 SV%, 3 GP): When the starter is Rick DiPietro, who has played 13 games over the last two seasons, the backup needs to be ready to handle a heavy workload and 41-year-old Roloson -- who got a late start in the league, debuting at 27 -- has played more than half his team's games for eight straight seasons.

Curtis McElhinney, Anaheim (1-1, 3.33 GAA, .922 SV%, 3 GP): An afterthought in Calgary, playing 29 games in three seasons, 27-year-old McElhinney seemed destined for a similar role in Anaheim behind Jonas Hiller.  However, in 13 games with the Ducks, McElhinney has a .918 save percentage, so he might be able to handle more than just one or two starts a month.

Ty Conklin, St. Louis (0-0-1, 1.85 GAA, .920 SV%, 1 GP): Though he's never played more than 40 games in a season, the 34-year-old has become one of the most reliable backup goaltenders in the league in recent seasons, posting a .917 save percentage over the last three seasons.

Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@ctv.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen.  For more, check out TSN Fantasy Sports on Facebook.

Cory Schneider  (Photo: Bruce Kluckhohn/NHLI via Getty Images)


(Photo: Bruce Kluckhohn/NHLI via Getty Images)
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