Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Senators Going Forward Part One: Goaltending

What a disaster.

This small but vital part of the team dominated the headlines all season in Ottawa and never for a good reason.

Ray Emery, coming off a trip to the Cup final and surgery on his wrist, was surprised to find that coach John Paddock had every intention of keeping Martin Gerber in net even when Emery returned to health.

The fallout from this decision ended up costing Paddock his job.

Emery was understandably upset but instead of working hard to regain the trust of his coach, he sulked and was late for practices which started a media firestorm and turned the fan-base against him.

On the other side, Martin Gerber was portrayed as the good soldier, the “common man” who fans could easily relate to and he quickly became a crowd favourite despite demanding a trade in the off-season, wearing an all black helmet in anticipation of that trade and openly castigating his teammates on the ice when pucks went past him.

And the pucks did go past him at an accelerated pace through the rest of the regular season and into the playoffs where he still has zero wins for his career.

Still, Gerber remains a favourite to return to the crease because Bryan Murray has already stated that Emery will be shipped out of town (way to help your bargaining position Bryan). This is an unfortunate turn of events for a team that was primed to win a Stanley Cup with a young hotshot goalie, a solid defense core and an elite group of forwards. Now the team is in disrepair with little depth in Binghamton to refuel the drive.

Brian Elliot remains an intriguing prospect and could very well be the backup to Gerber next season. He had an okay season in Binghamton with average stats but he has impressed a lot of people in the organization. His status as a future number one goalie remains cloudy despite unbridled optimism from the fans.

Short of sticking with the potential of Emery (and that potential is vast once he grows up a little), there are very few options on the free agent market.

It basically comes down to Jose Theodore, Dan Ellis, Cristobal Huet and Olaf Kolzig.

Theodore’s comeback season ended on a sour note when he got lit up by Detroit in the second round and Kolzig showed poor character when he didn’t even bother to show up for Washington’s final meeting because he was so incensed at losing his job to Huet. He is also past his prime as an effective goalie and may be staring at retirement.

As for Huet, it is hard to imagine Washington not doing everything it can to get him under contract to continue the positive vibe that ended against the Flyers in the first round. If Huet rejects playing in D.C., then he would certainly be an upgrade on Gerber if only for the fact that Huet actually has a playoff win on his resume.

It is also expected that Nashville will make every attempt to resign Ellis before he hits the market which makes it unlikely he will end up in Ottawa. If that is the case, Chris Mason will be available but he's a risky proposition after having a tough season.

In short, there are no miracle cures for the Senators goaltending problems.

They can stick with Gerber and try to build an impenetrable defense around him that will mask his inconsistency.

They can do the unlikely and continue their investment in Emery in hopes that he matures and plays like he did in 2007. That doesn’t seem possible because the atmosphere is so poisoned at the moment even though this makes the most sense in strictly hockey terms.

Or they can pray that Elliot turns into last year’s Carey Price.

It’s a long summer and many things can happen.

Don’t rule out the unthinkable.

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