Friday, March 25, 2011

Disposing of indispensable goalies.

This is an article by Adrian Dater that starts off badly if you're a fan of the English language. Right in the title is the non-word "indisposable." It looks like it ought to be a real word, but it isn't. "Disposable" refers to something meant to be used and then thrown away, such as a plastic razor, a tissue, or a (non-cloth) baby diaper. The antonym of this word is "non-disposable." So even if Dater meant to write that goalies are unlike Huggies -- cheaply-made, single-use items which stink more often than not -- the word he'd want there is non-disposable, not indisposable.

Based on the context of the article, however, I assume Dater meant indispensable rather than non-disposable, as that word describes something that is absolutely necessary, that cannot be done without (such as oxygen, or beer). So not only does he use the wrong word, he's used a wrong word that doesn't even exist. But, headlines are not often written by the authors themselves, so we can't necessarily pin the blame on Dater here... but somebody at the Post (either Dater, his headline writer, or his editor) gets a big fat "F" right off the bat for grammar and spelling. It's one of the fifty largest newspapers in North America... there's got to be a dictionary lying around there somewhere.

This article deals with goaltending, so to be honest, before I even start reading, I'm skeptical. Dater, as do many novice hockey fans, spends a lot of time talking about goaltending without really knowing what he is talking about. It's like overhearing middle school kids talk about sex... they've heard most of the terms, and have a general idea on what's taking place, but as far as the details that matter are concerned they have no clue, so they just keep repeating loudly the few things they do know in an attempt to sound like experts, to the amusement of those who are actually getting some.

However, Dater avoids the nuts and bolts of the subject of goaltending here, which is both appropriate and wise. Instead, he starts off using the voice of Joe Fan, wondering about the Avalanche's goaltending situation:

 What are the Avs going to do about their goaltending? After all, it's the most important position in hockey, right? It's the one position you have to spend the most money on and devote the most attention to if you're a general manager, right?
Dater then points out that the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup with a goalie who wasn't their starter last year, and whom they did not bring back this year. This leads to the central theme of the piece: that goaltenders are not as vital to a team as many fans believe.

To boost this claim, Dater uses both the Blackhawk example and the fact that none of the other "final four" from last season are on the same team now as then. This is not entirely accurate, as Michael Leighton is still with the Flyers, but playing for their AHL affiliate. Dater also neglects to mention that the Blackhawks' decision to not re-sign Niemi, as well as the Sharks' decision to not re-sign Nabokov, were at least as much due to those teams' substantial salary-cap issues as they were to performance.

Still, the point is valid: teams do not seem to be placing a lot of importance (or money) towards their goaltending. The issue I have with this story, however, is that this is hardly a new development. Every Cup winner since the lockout of 2004-05 has featured a goalie who could hardly be called a superstar, while during that same stretch of time, the league's elite goalies (Luongo, Miller, Lundqvist, Brodeur, Nabokov, Vokoun, etc.) have had a dry spell as far as deep runs into the playoffs are concerned. Going back even further, The Red Wings have built a dynasty going back to the early 90s with what many would call average goaltending. As Dater points out in the article, the one time they spent a ton on goalies (Hasek, Joseph, and Legace), they were a disappointment in the playoffs.

So my question is not whether the days of the indispensable goalie is over, but rather if that day ever existed in the first place. The entire theme of the piece is flawed... but I will grant Dater a bit of a pass here, because the way he framed the question, he is simply addressing the perception that a team requires a top-notch goalie to be a contender, and in that respect, this piece effectively argues that this perception among fans may be incorrect.

This article then takes a detour from which it never returns, as AD discusses the Avalanche's options in net next season. He discusses a couple of free agent possibilities, the goalies the Avs have currently (without, I should add, any sort of slam directed towards his usual whipping boy, Peter Budaj), and prospects in the Avs system, ultimately deciding that a free agent signing or a trade seems to be the Avs' most likely answer to the goaltending question... an odd conclusion, after just having done a reasonable job convincing the reader that going out and getting a big-name goalie wasn't necessarily a step towards building a contending team.

All in all, this is a decent examination of the question of whether goalies really are "the most important position" on a hockey team, and whether spending a ton of money on a goalie is really a good investment. Dater includes quotes from a variety of sources, including Chicago GM Stan Bowman and Detroit GM Ken Holland, and refers to facts and previous results in order to solidify his point.

The issues with this article are the assumption that the "indispensable goalie" ever existed in the first place (sort-of negated by the way Dater framed the issue), and the fact that once again, Dater had a good thing going writing-wise, and derailed it midway through to go off on a tangent about the Avs' options in net, without really coming back to bring the article itself to a satisfying conclusion. This disjointed effort would have been better suited as two shorter, more self-contained articles, or as one larger article with an actual conclusion that would have tied together both the overall question of the importance of an elite goalie, and the specific issues facing the Avalanche in net.


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