A lot has happened around the NHL this summer and it's interesting to look at how certain things have changed. In particular, I've been intrigued by what has gone on with goaltenders. It certainly appears as if we are entering a new phase in how teams view the position from the perspective of slotting goalie salaries in the cap era.
The NHL's hard salary cap is the obvious first dynamic at work here. How much money can a team afford to sink into one position? The Montreal Canadiens opted to trade playoff hero
Yet, those are the realities of the marketplace for puck-stoppers. In an uncapped world, maybe the Habs hold onto Halak and Price, or at least have more leverage for a trade because there wouldn't be the sense that they had to move one or the other. In Niemi's case, he is just one of several cap-casualties in Chicago -- a summer that GM
Mind you, there are still big goalie contracts on the books, led by
When Brodeur and the Devils lose in the first round of the playoffs for the third successive season and the Blackhawks prevail with a rookie like Niemi, the guys holding the purse strings are going to reevaluate their cash position in the crease. Since the lockout, the championship goaltenders have been Ward and Niemi as rookies, veteran
The last five years have seen the game ramp up speed on attack, with more movement away from the puck as it nears the crease. Goaltenders have to contend with more quality chances than they did during the "dead puck" era (pre-2005). Remember the days of zero tolerance for crease violations when the league seemed to spend more time reviewing plays that led to goals being removed from the scoreboard? Those days are gone, thankfully. So, too, are the smiles from the goalies' faces because lateral attack strategies are back in the game. Moving side-to-side to make a save is tougher than handling everything straight on and it leaves a goalie more exposed and prone as he slides in butterfly to make a save.
Locking so much money into one player -- who is at a higher risk of injury than at any time over the past 15 years -- requires extra thought. And I'm not talking about injury due to contact. More the back, hip, knee and ankle ailments that seem chronic when you combine today's butterfly style of play with the mode of offense emerging these days. Luongo, Ward, Fleury and Backstrom all missed time due to injury this past season. No one, though, symbolizes the economic risk of salary loading in goal than
Since then, long-tern deals have become all the rage as a means of manipulating the salary cap. But peril remains in investing so much in one player at one position where recent history seems to show that building a robust team with a mobile blueline is the best way to go. It need only be backed by solid rather than star-studded goaltending. And make no mistake: DiPietro was a star. Now he remains a question mark despite the guarantees of term and his $4.5 million salary this season. He is working on his leg strength conditioning as he prepares for camp. He says he is ready to go, but truly no one knows. The Islanders will wait and see and can only take DiPietro's say-so as to how he feels.
It's too bad for DiPietro, and the Islanders because they are a young team on the rise. He was supposed to be at the center of it. He still might be. But maybe not. And that's why the emphasis on the man in the crease is shifting.