Goaltending… not quite what we were told to expect

February 19, 2007


(Click to enlarge. Stats via TSN.ca)

It’s interesting, being an NHL fan in a city that is in the nascent stages of learning to be a hockey town. Coaches and players come and go, and the team management continues to do at least the part of their job that entails selling the product they have to the public and convincing us to part with money to see the team play (I won’t get into the value of the product on all levels at this moment). The local media has a tough time deciding whether to criticize the management team or to be it’s mouthpiece. The casual fan is flooded with constant promises of improvement and contention from the media and GM; and left on their own by the team to manage the arrival of surprise when things do not happen as “expected”.

This past summer, the Blue Jackets traded Marc Denis to Tampa Bay for Fredrik Norrena and Fredrik Modin. At the time, the transaction was boiled down to Modin for Denis, with Norrena thrown in as an afterthought. Fast forward seven plus months and the landscape looks a hair different (turn up the gain on your sarcasm detectors, folks. I’m flying in stealth mode today).

Denis has played sparingly (only 7 of 24 games since the Christmas break) for the Lightning, and has by all appearances lost the starting job to Swedish rookie Johan Holmqvist. In Columbus, Modin has performed below expectations (56 GP 14-13-27, -3) but is a continual hard worker who is expected to sign a contract extension before the week is out. Given that both major pieces of the trade have had subpar seasons thus far, the casual observer would be tempted to call the transaction a draw. I hate to do it, but I have to channel former IU football coach and ESPN College Gameday analyst Lee Corso.

Lee Corso

“Not so fast my friend!!”

The “throw-away” piece of the trade in some views, Fredrik Norrena, is the player that slants table in Columbus’ direction on this move. Norrena was brought in having had no NHL experience, and was expected to compete with Ty Conklin to be Pascal Leclaire’s backup. With 23 games to go the team has refused to name a true #1, but Norrena has played at least well enough to be part of an equal tandem with Leclaire.

Circumstances pressed Norrena into full-time service when Pascal Leclaire went down to injury in early December, and at the time Freddy responded very well posting shutouts in his first two games being counted as the #1 goaltender. As the team obviously did not feel comfortable starting Ty Conklin (nice $1 million signing there, Doug), Norrena played in 24 of 26 games between December 2nd and January 27th. Consistency was a bit of an issue, with Freddy not picking up wins in consecutive games (after the shutouts) until Detroit and Buffalo came to town on the 19th and 26 of January. Norrena would look at times superhuman, and other times very pedestrian. Had Norrena not been included in the package, the Jackets would likely have had to rely on Ty Conklin to man the pipes. Although his career statistics are not terrible, given his performance for the Jackets this year I think it’s safe to think that Columbus may have been challenging Philadelphia for the worst team in the NHL at this point if Conks were “the man”.

The record disparity between Norrena (15-13-2) and Leclaire (6-15-2) is curious, as their GAA (2.93 vs. 2.97) and Save% (0.901 vs 0.897) are close enough to be a wash. Does the team really play that much differently in front of these guys on the offensive end? For the time being, I’ll chalk it up to chance.

In the end, while Fredrik Norrena may be pulling duty in a few more games than expected for the Jackets, we still don’t have a Vezina candidate in the crease. As the games wear on, the lack of experience (35 total NHL games played between the two prior to the season) is showing. But for those quick to pin the Jackets season woes on the netminders, may I remind you of a line Bob Hunter threw out yesterday in the Dispatch:

There are holes on the Jackets roster — defense has never been one of management’s priorities[…]

Summer of 2005 big name free agent signees Adam Foote and Bryan Berard have a collective -66 rating over 170 GP. There is $7.1 million dollars that may as well have been flushed into the Scioto River. Rusty Klesla, Ron Hainsey, Anders Eriksson, Ole-Kristian Tollefsen, Aaron Johnson, and Duvie Westcott can do better (collectively -11 in 502 GP for CBJ since the start of last season) for little more than half the price ($3.7 million).

Zoinks, Scoob! Would somebody please rip off the Doug MacLean mask and find out who’s behind all this?!? (I have a sinking feeling it’s Doug MacLean wearing that CGMDM mask).

Thanks for stopping by the End of the Bench. Come back soon.

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