With the news that Roberto Luongo has reportedly requested a trade — he’s even willing to waive his no-trade clause for it! – it seems that we have already been given an answer as to which of the Canucks’ two very good goaltenders will be traded this offseason. But I have to admit that I do have one big concern about keeping Cory Schneider rather than Luongo. The issue is fairly simple: there have been a lot of young goaltenders in the NHL that have experienced tremendous success in their first full season in the league, then faltered badly afterwards.
There are a couple big names recently that fall into that category: Andrew Raycroft won the Calder trophy as rookie of the year in 2004 for the Boston Bruins after posting a .926 save percentage and a 2.05 goals against average. After that stellar first season, he didn’t post a save percentage about .900 until he was a backup in Vancouver in 2009-10. He is currently playing for the Texas Stars of the AHL, though he did play 10 games in Dallas this season.
Steve Mason also won the Calder in his rookie year and was nominated for the Vezina, as he helped lead the Columbus Blue Jackets to their first ever playoff berth with a .916 SV% and a 2.29 GAA. His next two seasons, his save percentage dropped to .901 and the Blue Jackets finished last in the NHL this season.
Vesa Toskala posted a stellar .930 SV% and a 2.06 GAA as a backup in San Jose in the 2003-04 season. A couple years later, he was the punch line to every joke about the Maple Leafs.
In the 90s, there was Jim Carey. In Carey’s sophomore season, his first as a number one goaltender, he won the Vezina trophy as the NHL’s best goaltender with a .906 SV% and a 2.26 GAA. A little over a year later, he was in the AHL. A couple years after that and he had retired from professional hockey.
There are a lot of one-hit wonders in the goaltending fraternity. At one point, Steve Penney was the next Ken Dryden. Blaine Lacher was a rookie sensation for the Bruins, then plummeted out of sight the next year. I wish I could be certain that Cory Schneider won’t join their ranks. I’m confident and optimistic that he won’t collapse in the same way and there are many positive indicators that he won’t do so, but I can’t be certain.
There are, of course, many goaltenders who had fantastic seasons as rookies or sophomores and went on to have excellent careers. Take Roberto Luongo, for instance. In his first season as a full-time starter, he posted a .920 SV% and 2.44 GAA with the Florida Panthers. In his next 10 NHL seasons, he didn’t falter from that early promise, never posting a save percentage lower than .913 and never once having his goals against average reach 3.00.
This past season, in fact, his numbers are nearly identical to that first year with the panthers: .919 SV% and a 2.41 GAA. While Luongo sometimes struggles with his consistency from game-to-game, from season-to-season he was the model of consistency. Keeping Luongo rather than Schneider is the safe, conservative option.
There is risk in keeping Schneider, who still has only 76 NHL games under his belt, but the potential reward is huge.
Schneider, to put it simply, was better than Luongo this year, posting an incredible .937 SV% and a 1.96 GAA, finishing second and third, respectively, in those two categories among eligible goaltenders. In his three games in the playoffs, he performed even better than expected, allowing just one goal in regulation in each game.
Those are absolutely superb numbers and it’s completely understandable that the Canucks would want to hang on to Schneider and trade Luongo. If Schneider can continue to perform at this level consistently, he won’t just be a great goaltender; he’ll be among the best goaltenders in the league.
But I just can’t shake this nagging concern that he might falter once he gets a number one job, just like other promising young goaltenders.
My theory (though it’s not unique) for why this occurs has to do with the “book” on a goaltender. NHL players and coaches meticulously prepare for each game, studying film and breaking down their opponent. For a team’s number one goaltender, you scout his weaknesses, so you know what to target.
For instance, the book on Luongo might be to try to beat him high over the shoulder early, then, if successful, go for the five-hole, hoping he’ll stay on his feet a fraction of a second longer to compensate for the puck beating him high earlier. If you can do that, you’ll get in his head. That seemed to be the gameplan of the Bruins in last year’s Stanley Cup Final. If you can’t beat him early, however, he’ll settle in and shut you down.
That’s simplified, but it’s an example of how teams and shooters will think in terms of targeting a goalie’s weaknesses. On Pekka Rinne, you don’t shoot glove side, because he’ll swallow everything up. On Tim Thomas, you want to shoot low on the pads so he’ll give up rebounds. On Marc-Andre Fleury, you want to sort of direct your shot vaguely towards the net.
When it comes to rookies and backups, there’s a lot less material to scout and it’s more difficult to develop a book on a particular goaltender. Take a look at the Washington Capitals in the playoffs right now, who just beat the defending champian Boston Bruins with 22-year-old rookie Braden Holtby in net. In the first round, he had a .940 SV% with a 2.00 GAA. The Bruins just couldn’t figure out how to consistently score in that series. They didn’t have a book on Holtby.
They couldn’t even make him flinch.
Second time around, however, coaches and players start to figure a goaltender out. Really, this goes for any player in any position. In a recent “30 Thoughts” column, Elliotte Friedman shared a conversation with Keith Yandle:
Remember talking a year ago with Keith Yandle. He pointed out that you don’t really realize how hard the NHL is until a good coach game-plans against you in a playoff series.
This, more than anything else, is the cause of the dreaded sophomore slump.
Is there a book on Cory Schneider? Do teams have a gameplan for targeting the weak areas of his game? Not yet. But they will. For Roberto Luongo, it doesn’t matter that other teams have a book on him: he continues to put up solid numbers year after year after year.
Will Schneider be able to do the same? I sincerely hope so.Tags: Cory Schneider, Off-Season Blues, Roberto Luongo