On July 1, 2010, Glen Sather went out and secured the solid, veteran backup goalie that Henrik Lundqvist had never known. For the past two seasons, Marty Biron has been the consummate professional, teammate and role player behind one of the game’s premier workhorses. It’s no coincidence that Henrik Lundqvist had his strongest playoff performance in a year where he had his lowest regular season workload*. This July, Biron is once again a UFA, and the question becomes, should he be retained, or should the Rangers look elsewhere for a quality backup?
The reason this post is being split into two parts is that as I was researching all the other possibilities, it kind of took on a life of its own. Before I knew it I had nine possibilities for the Rangers to examine, plus several more who, while I don’t feel are realistic targets, could end up becoming options due to market conditions and/or salary and playing time demands. So, in this post, I will make the case for Marty’s retention and then examine what I feel are the most realistic targets based on salary and role. The second part of the post will have a couple more creative/non-conventional choices and we will see where we end up when the dust settles. Got that? Ok, let’s go.
Since Marty has been a Ranger for two seasons, I wanted to normalize the statistical comparisons, so all of the stats that will be referenced are weighted two-year averages of the major evaluating statistics (GP, GAA, SV%) and my own personal scouting reports.
The Case for Biron
Stat line: 38 GP, 2.31 GAA, .912 SV%, 2011-2012 Salary: $875,000
For the most part, we all know the book on Marty. He is a rock solid backup who fits into the team culture and is completely comfortable in his role within the organization. He received a relatively modest salary for his services (875k) the past two years, and since he is approaching his 35th birthday, he likely isn’t in line for a significant raise or starting job.
What surprised me in researching UFA goaltenders, is that with one or two exceptions, Marty has significantly better numbers than almost all available alternatives**. The biggest argument in favor of Marty, assuming his dollar/term requirements are in line with his previous deal, is the old “the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t” argument. We know what Marty brings to the table, and the organization and the fans seem to have a comfort level with him. For a detailed scouting report on Biron, make sure to check out my previous analysis of his style here.
Now, onto some other possibilities…
Stat line: 64 GP, GAA 2.62, SV% .913, 2011-2012 Salary: $1.2m
Of all the realistic alternatives, Clemmensen has some of the best numbers. While this year the Panthers were relatively successful, the past two seasons has not seen stellar defensive blue lines is south Florida. This is why, in his case, a solid SV% is paired with a rather pedestrian GAA.
Clemmensen is cut from a fairly similar cloth to Biron. Solid in most aspects of the game without really excelling at anything. He possesses solid lateral movement and overall mobility, relatively strong positioning, and the ability to step in and start for extended periods without losing too much from your starter in the case of injury (Hank’s otherworldly baseline notwithstanding). His biggest asset is his size and frame, which he uses well to make up for less than elite physical tools.
He is the same age as Biron, and really the only skill that Clemmensen yields inarguably is his puck-handling ability. While only a secondary skill, Biron’s ability to move and handle the puck competently is a big factor in his favor. I think Clemmensen is the market’s best alternative to Biron, but I think I’ll stick with Marty.
Stat line: 62 GP, GAA 2.29, SV% .915, 2011-2012 Salary: $1.25m
For the past two seasons, Hedberg has occupied what used to be the least desirable job in the NHL: Martin Brodeur’s backup. As you can see from the games played stat, Hedberg has actually received a fair amount of playing time the past two years. Between several injuries to Brodeur, and the need to give his body a rest as he entered his late 30’s, the opportunity has been there for The Moose. Clearly, he possesses comparable, if not superior numbers to Biron, but the biggest factor to consider here is age.
Hedberg turned 39 last month, and while he hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down, I look to another late 30’s goalie with an old-school style and solid performance: Dwayne Roloson. Rollie the goalie has shown us how quickly and without warning older tenders can fall of a cliff. Since the name of the game for a Rangers’ backup is a consistent reliable presence behind Lundqvist, Hedberg might seem a bit of a gamble considering the alternatives. That’s not to say Hedberg definitely will slow down, but the last thing we want is to end up with another 70+ game season for Hank because there is no reliable backup and no one on the farm capable of stepping up. While I wouldn’t at all be opposed to a Hedberg signing, it’s a little too risky for my taste.
Stat line: 54 GP, GAA 2.76, SV% .899, 2011-2012 Salary: $1.5m
Ellis is something of an oddity to analyze for this type of situation. He had a monster playoff for Nashville back in 09-10, and parlayed that into a two year/3m deal to start down in Tampa Bay. Needless to say, that didn’t work out so well, and was shipped to Anaheim at the deadline last season. His situation is an oddity, because he spent parts of the last two seasons as both a starter and a back-up. Either way, the numbers weren’t particularly good or encouraging.
While only 32 years old, he hasn’t really shown much of anything outside that one playoff series against Detroit. In a Rangers’ system that prioritizes defense efficiency, he could probably be counted on to put up, at worst, a 2.50 GAA and a .900 SV%. But is there anyone here who would sign up for that? While his performance with the Ducks was better than in Tampa (2.39 GAA and .917 SV% in 2010-2011, 2.72 GAA and .911 SV% in 2011-2012), when consistency is a priority, Ellis’ relative youth isn’t enough to make him more appealing than Biron.
Stat line: 65 GP, GAA 3.04, SV% .898, 2011-2012 Salary: $1.35m
Yes, those numbers are ugly. And for the most part, they are well deserved. Granted, Toronto isn’t the stingiest team in the Eastern Conference by any stretch, but considering “The Monster’s” pedigree from Sweden, they are a damning result. Gustavsson is another tender who had some time as a starter as well as time as a back-up. He wasn’t really able to consistently perform in either role. So, why am I writing him up as a possible alternative to Biron, you ask? For one, he is still relatively young (28, in Oct.) and has all the physical tools necessary to be a top flight goaltender.
From a scouting perspective, Gustavsson didn’t benefit from shoddy scouting on his way to the NHL. He has above-average, but not quite elite lateral movement, good stationary positioning, and a blocking style that can be a precursor to NHL success (see Lundqvist, Henrik). He is also a tremendous overall athlete who put up dominant numbers in the SEL. The problem for Gustavsson is that he is aggressive to a fault, and has the unfortunate propensity to completely lose his net. Watching him is very similar to other highly athletic, mixed-bag goalies like Sergei Bobrovsky and Antti Neimi. Until he can inject some discipline into his game and mentally be able to put it all together, he will continue to have middling results on this side of the pond. Goalies tend to develop late, especially the bigger ones (He’s 6’3”), so there may be hope yet for him.
If Gustavsson would be willing to take a 2-way contract and hone his game in Hartford, I would be first in line to sign him up. Although I can’t imagine he wouldn’t get a better opportunity for playing time/money with another organization or back in Europe.
Stat line: 53 GP, GAA 3.09, SV% .894, 2011-2012 Salary: $1.85m
When I saw Chris Mason’s name on the UFA list for this off-season, I honestly expected much better numbers. I’ve never been a fan of Mason, but also haven’t followed him that closely. The Thrashers/Jets are pretty putrid defensively, but these numbers are terrible, even for a backup. For a 36 year old with no standout skills to speak of, Pass. Especially if he thinks he is making anywhere near the 1.8m he made last season.
As mentioned before, Part II will examine some less-than-conventional choices for Hank’s understudy. There is one possibility which Ranger fans are familiar with and I am personally very curious to see how you folks feel about that option. But, looking over this list of the more realistic possibilities, no one stands out as a clear upgrade over Marty at this point, especially given how inexpensive Biron is. If he is willing to come back on either a 1 or 2 year deal at similar money, I think he’s our best bet.
*Aside from his rookie season, in which he shared time with Kevin Weekes.
** I intentionally omitted goalies that I felt would be looking strictly for starting jobs at this point. If the market conditions adjust, and makes any of these players realistic options for the Rangers, I’ll be sure to either update this post or complete a separate analysis of their situation.
All contract info via Capgeek.com, and all statistics via Hockeydb.com