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To Biron or not to Biron (Part I)

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…

Scott Clemmensen

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.

Johan Hedberg

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.

Dan Ellis

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.

Jonas Gustavsson

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.

Chris Mason

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.

Conclusion

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

14 Responses to “To Biron or not to Biron (Part I)”

  1. Ray says:

    Justin, I haven’t seen your whole analysis yet, but your discussion of Hedberg suggests that you are completely discounting Cam Talbot. Obviously, he isn’t a proven alternative, but it isn’t clear to me that he isn’t an option. You know so much more about goaltending than I do. I’m curious – have you seen Talbot play or know something about him that suggests he is not an option — or is it just an impression that the Rangers are not prepared to give Talbot 20 starts. (I like keeping Biron BTW.)

    • Justin says:

      Good question Ray. All my experience with Talbot comes from juniors scouting reports and limited live scouting during Traverse City at the beginning of the season.

      I wasn’t particularly impressed with any of Talbot’s physical tools, but he had solid positioning. Not to say that he can’t have success at the NHL level, but he looks more like a fringy, up and down guy for me.

      The biggest obstacle is consistency. You deal with it from a top prospect because you hope he turns into a steady presence in your net (see Price, Carey). The Rangers have an elite netminder in his prime, and their priority should be resting him when the backup is in and not worrying about it. Imagine if Hank had to relieve Talbot in 5 of the 20 games he plays? Not an advantageous situation for the club, and not worth the risk for a guy who isn’t your goalie of the future.

  2. Tim B says:

    Why Talbot? Although he was very well in the playoffs, his stats in the regular season were GP: 33, 14-15-1 record, GAA: 2.61, Save percentage is .913.
    Chad Johnson’s stats were
    GP: 49, 22-18-6 record, GAA: 2.49 and save percentage was .919. Although Talbot had 4 shutouts and Johnson had only 1, its safe to say that Johnson has better numbers and is more consistent according to his wins-losses in my opinion. Talbot has been playing in more games my the year. Some people might criticize Johnson because of the 20 minutes he played in his only NHL game this season in which he gave up 2 goals on 11 shots. But remember when he played against the Thrashers back in the 09-10 season? The Rangers lost 2-1 on OT but he only gave up 1 goal. In the 09-10 season his NHL stats were GP: 5, 1-2-1 record, GAA: 2.35, and a .919 save percentage, those numbers are very similar to his AHL stats even though it was only 5 games he put up good numbers. Biron had a few bad games this season so why not let Johnson have a shot? Talbot can play 1-2 full seasons of AHL hockey with CT and if he is dominating than Talbot can play backup if Johnson really is struggling. Also they are both younger than Biron. We gave many goalies in the system so why not give them a chance.

    • Section 121 says:

      I still think Johnson will be a starter in the league one day

      • Tim B says:

        imagine it being the rangers or penguins

        • Justin says:

          The problem with Johnson is that he really isn’t very good. If he hits his ceiling he can be a quality back-up, but that’s really it.

          Since the Rangers have the luxury of one of the best goalies on the planet, they have not put a significant amount of resources into acquiring goaltending depth, partially due to the durability of Lundqvist and also the fact that drafting goalies early is something of a crapshoot, and if you are going to acquire a high-ceiling tender, you want one who is close to the show,

          I was hoping the Rangers would draft Jack Campbell back in 2010, since he was young with huge upside and still several years away from pushing Hank. But alas, it didn’t work out that way and Jack was off to Dallas.

          None of the guys in the org are really expected to provide much other than depth in the minors and as place holders until the system is infused with a real goalie prospect or two.

    • Ray says:

      The biggest reason is that Johnson will leave the organization this summer. He is an UFA, the Rangers have not really given him a shot, and he is eager to move on. If the Rangers wanted him as their backup next year, they would have to convince him of this – and they probably couldn’t.
      Talbot is a RFA and will still be around.
      As for their comparative merits, Talbot was better for most of last year, Johnson better for most of this year, Talbot better at the end. But Talbot is younger.

  3. Section 121 says:

    Is it Bob Froese!?

  4. Mikeyyy says:

    Boron has a lot to prove after a second season of shaky starts in the second half of the season.

  5. rob sahm says:

    maybe glen hanlon ? no but serious gustvasson hedberg. i think biron is better then any of those i hope he comes back and the pens today got vocoun for a 7th round pick

  6. Spozo says:

    We have an elite all world goalie in hank right now. At what point does our lack of goalie depth become an issue? Obviously Lundqvist isn’t going anywhere and will be a top 3 goalie for the next 5 years. This is of course assuming he resigns when his current contract is up in a few years. Im only bringing this up because “experts” often cite the lack of goalie depth as a problem with our farm system. I take those analysis with a grain of salt but is the goalie position something the rangers have to mindful of in the upcoming drafts?

    • Justin says:

      Good point Spozo. I think this year the Rangers need to draft at least one tender. I understand if they don’t want to use a first or second round pick when the bust probability is relatively high, but from the third round on, they should at least be conscious of available goalies.

      The guys they have in the system now are filler, so if they don’t plan on making a play for a currently young guy in FA down the line, they will need to get someone with some upside relatively soon.

  7. flswarty says:

    Looking forward to Part II. Marty fits the role, the team, the locker room and the coach very, very well. He does flash signs of inconsistency (who wouldn’t with his role) but also of brilliance at times. He and Hank seem to have a clearly visible mutual respect type of relationship. I would hate to see him go at this point and he is worth a little more to the NYR than he might be somewhere else. I think i hear Al Montoya looming in Part II…

  8. Mike B says:

    I think getting Biron signed is one of the most important tasks the Rangers have this off season. In fact, I’d like to see it done before July 1. 2 more years at $1.35 mm per would be fine by me. A slight raise and the comfort of a two year contract makes sense. Here’s why, numbers are good and all that, but the biggest things are the little things. Hank and Marty have a great relationship to start, but when you hear Hank say things like, “he just knows what I need when I need it” you have to think sticking with Biron is the right move. When Hank talked about how Biron would leave the locker room between periods to give him a bit more room to relax and how Biron knows the right things to say at the right times. Those are the “value added” things in a contract. Biron is comfortable in a backup role at this point in his career and the Rangers need someone like that who won’t be trying to win the top spot, because at Lundqvist’s price, no one is going to take it anyway, this ain’t Vancouver. All the guys you listed as alternatives seem like they might still be wanting those starter minutes, I don’t like the idea of a “goalie controversy” in New York. The Rangers need a guy who helps bolster Hank’s confidence, not someone who’s looking to shake it to get himself starts.