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Spotlight on: Goaltending

August 20, 2007

In the final installment of the season ending review process, here is Drew’s look at the Blue Jacket goaltenders.

Goaltenders

Fredrik Norrena

– Age – 33

-Status – Signed through 2008-09

-Pros – Lightly tested early last season, Norrena proved his mettle and earned his stripes as the Blue Jackets number one goalie.  Confident without being flashy, Norrena seems to have the ability to put inexperienced defenseman more at ease and enable them to play within themselves.

– Cons – At the age of 33, it’s too soon to say Norrena is over the hill, but it would be nice to have a legitimate contender for his job under the age of 27.  If the staff decides not to go with a platoon system and give the top netminder 60-65 games, can Steady Freddy handle the load?

– If I were GM/Coach – Norrena is locked in for the next two seasons.  He starts this season as the No. 1 goalie, with the added task of assisting in the development of the much younger Pascal Leclaire.  The hope would be that he can help bring Leclaire into the realm of a very good young goalie.

Pascal Leclaire

– Age – 24

-Status – Signed through 2007-08

-Pros – Speed.  Pascal has the quickest reflexes we’ve seen of any goalie donning the CBJ crest.  Frequently comes up with saves that simply woud not have been possible with Tugnutt or Denis in net.

– Cons – Another young Blue Jacket who wears the scarlet letter of injury, Leclaire has never managed a full professional season without some time on the bench.  His resulting lack of consistent playing time has stunted his development.  Not being between the pipes for more than a few months at a time, it has to be hard for management to know if this is a franchise guy to invest in, or a short lived shooting star.

– If I were GM/Coach – I encourage a year-long training program to facilitate endurance and develop some toughness.  It seems that the new regime in Columbus is more encouraging of the fitness aspect of sports, and is not looking to repeat the Francois Beauchemin mistake.  Leclaire has the ability to be a top goalie in the league, but even Martin Brodeur couldn’t win a Vezina from the press box.

Tomas Popperle

– Age – 22

-Status – Signed through 2007-08

-Pros – Had a good year in Syracuse, his first season in North America.  Popperle has the potential to challenge for a position in the next few years.

– Cons – He has not played enough in Columbus (mop up duty in two games only) for me to form an opinion, but I will list inexperience as a con.  On the bright side of this, Popperle is only 22 years old.

– If I were GM/Coach – I keep Tomas in Syracuse this year, and don’t call him up unless I absolutely have to.  He needs game experience, and as the No. 1 for the Crunch he will get it.  Sitting on the bench in Nationwide Arena he will not learn as much.  I’m very hopeful that the new management team will allow Popperle to develop properly and not rush him to flash-in-the-pan status.

Position overview

Experienced is not a word to describe the Blue Jackets netminders.  The three players listed above have a total of 116 game appearances between them.  Contrast that fact with this one: the top three Detroit netminders have a total of 1,319 game appearances.  Simply put, this is not exactly an area of strength in a developing organization.  The potential is there for many seasons of success, but there is a lot of growing up to do before that level is attained.

Talking heads around the country have mentioned Columbus as a potential landing spot for aged veterans like Ed Belfour and Sean Burke.  If I were in a position to do something about it, I’d let other teams take their chances with these guys.  Not that they couldn’t possibly help the Blue Jackets in the very short term, but it’s not a long term success strategy to throw the big money that would be required to lure one of these guys just to win a few games (right, Doug?!?).  More experienced teams with goaltending needs can afford the trade-off.  The Blue Jackets are not built to win now, and I see a move like that as a great detriment to “moving in the right direction.”

See the rest of the Spotlight Series here, or visit:

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