Jonathan Quick was selected in the 3rd round by Los Angeles in 2005, Mike Smith was a 5th round pick by Dallas in '01 and the Rangers got a steal by taking Henrik Lundqvist with a 7th rounder, 205th overall!
It is definitely the hardest position to scout as it can be very difficult to project how a goaltenders technique and ability will translate when making the jump to the pros from Junior, College or even from across the pond. In turn, it becomes a risk for an organization to use a high draft pick on a goalie despite a common belief that a team is built from the net out. That is not to say that it’s never a good idea to pick a goalie high, but teams may become less and less inclined to do so.
However, there is evidence to support the contrary. In the seven seasons since the lockout ended at least one goalie drafted in the first round of the NHL draft has appeared in the Stanley Cup Finals.
2006 Carolina – Cam Ward (25th overall by Hurricanes in 2002)
2007 Anaheim - Jean Sebastien Giguere (13th overall by Whalers in 1995)
2008/2009 Pittsburgh – Marc-Andre Fleury (1st overall by Penguins in 2003)
2010 Philadelphia – Brian Boucher (22nd overall by Flyers in 1995)
2011 Vancouver – Roberto Luongo (4th overall by Islanders in 1997)
2012 New Jersey – Martin Brodeur (20th overall by Devils in 1990)
Despite what appears to be a correlation between goalies drafted high and a trip to the Finals it appears to be high risk taking a goalie in the opening round of the Draft and teams are following suit with their draft strategy, especially post lockout.
Three times in the last five years (’07, ’09 and ’11) a goalie has not been selected in the opening round. The last time teams went after goaltenders in the opening round was in 2006 when four were taken. That year, Los Angeles picked Jonathan Bernier at 13, Tampa Bay selected Riku Helenius at 15, Semyon Varlamov went 23rd to Washington and Calgary snagged Leland Irving with the 26th pick. That will was six years ago and two of those goalies are currently in the NHL while only Varlamov has established himself as a number one goalie with the Colorado Avalanche. To be fair Bernier would probably be a first stringer if he wasn’t behind 2012 Vezina candidate Jonathan Quick.
The Draft in general is a crap-shoot, but when you start missing on number one picks it can become costly for that organization. Since 2006 teams have seemed to change their philosophy when it comes to taking goalies with a top pick.
The last time a goalie was selected in the Top-10 was 2005 when the Montreal Canadiens took Carey Price with the 5th overall pick. It marked the 8th time in the past 9 seasons that a goalie had been drafted in the Top-10. The highest a goaltender has been drafted since was 11th overall and it happened twice. The Kings picked Bernier in 2006 and the Dallas Stars picked Jack Campbell there in 2010.
It is safe to say there has been a shift in philosophy in drafting goalies in recent years and it might not be a coincidence that this change occurred coming out of the lockout.
There were two changes to the Collective Bargaining Agreement between the League and the Players Association that might of influenced this. The salary cap coupled with players being eligible for unrestricted free agency with less league experience and at an earlier age. That being said, goalies take years to develop and are usually in their mid to late 20s by the time they have established themselves in the league.
It used to be that a player would be eligible for unrestricted free agency after the age of 31, which obviously allowed for an organization to have more patience developing players and mores specifically goaltenders. Now a player can be a free agent after player 7 years in the NHL or at the age 28. In the case of a goaltender it might only be a couple of years after they reach the NHL that they can test the waters of unrestricted free agency. Does this mean that with goaltenders a more efficient way might not necessarily drafting and developing, but by signing them as free agents or acquiring them through trade? Of the 16 teams to qualify for the playoffs this year 8 of them didn’t draft their starting goalie.
We saw some of the low risk free agent signs work out well for certain teams last summer like Phoenix signing Mike Smith, St. Louis signing Brian Elliott and Florida signing Jose Theodore, but there have also been some deals that haven’t worked out as planned. With the exception of Smith none of those deals turned out to pay dividends come playoff time, but they did provide to be good fixes during the regular season.
Then there were teams like the Flyers that have always had trouble finding a goalie and elected to dip into the free agent pool and sign former Coyotes goalie Ilya Bryzgalov. He had only one game in 11 playoff starts where he allowed less than 3 goals. Now Philadelphia has the 31-year-old netminder inked for the next 8 seasons. Based on Philadelphia General Manger Paul Holgrem’s comments after the Devils beat his team out in 5 games, he hasn’t been pleased with his goaltenders performance. “His job is to stop pucks and help us win games. This isn’t Comedy Central,” said the disgruntled GM.
It is probably always better off to draft and develop then to go out and acquire a player through trade or free agency, where you might have to give up an asset or dish out a big contract. Although in this situation, the bottom line is the goaltending position is a very important one and if a team does not have a good one then it will more than likely cost them.
It’s unfortunate that the CBA is expiring, as it happens when team just might be starting to figure out how to acquire a goal under the current system in the salary cap era.
It will be interesting to see what modification and changes are made, and how it might take what teams have learned over the last seven years and through it out the window.
At the end of the day somebody has to stop the puck, but at what price is the real question.