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Title - Shaun Maddex
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Vancouver Canucks: Exploring the Crease
By Shaun Maddex
Hometownhockey.ca

Vancouver Canucks: Exploring the Crease
Should the Canucks bring in an experienced hand to help carry the load in net with Eddie Lack?

Edmonton - June 20, 2014 - The Vancouver Canucks are heading into next season with Eddie Lack and Jacob Markstrom as the de-facto 1-2 in net. A year ago, the names were Cory Schneider and Roberto Luongo. Of course Schneider would be traded at the draft, and Luongo would be traded at the trade deadline. Now how comfortable should this team be if the duo on opening night is Lack-Markstrom? Is Eddie Lack, a decent goaltending prospect who has shown well in short spans, ready for everything that goes with being a number one NHL goaltender? Because Markstrom is not that guy, he wasn’t the guy in Florida, and he won’t be that guy in Vancouver.

Eddie Lack

Eddie Lack is 26 years old, and a goaltender who has worked his way admirably through the system, biding his time, well that time finally came this past season. In 41 games Lack posted a 91.2% SV%, 4 shutouts and a 2.41 GAA . These numbers aren’t bad and aren’t great and aren’t backed up by any significant amount of playing time. They could easily rise as he continues to get more and more starts, gains experience, and comes into his own. But what if they dip? What if these aren’t the averages, but rather the averages are much lower? It is not possible at this stage of his career to know, but one thing Benning can do is prepare for the worst, bring in a tandem guy capable of carrying half the load, and simultaneously allow Lack not only to develop, but to earn his right as the number one goaltender.

If the Canucks are seeking an upgrade, they will have options through free agency and the trade market. They will need to determine just how deep they are willing to go though, signing goaltenders long term is never a good idea, the fluctuations of goaltenders is one of the more predictable outcomes of any position. Truly elite level goaltenders who span more than 5 years are rare.

Free Agent Options

With roughly $15 million in cap space the Canucks will have the ability to spend on a goaltender. The options are not great in free-agency as it is not common for teams to let legitimate number one goaltenders reach the market. But there are a couple names that stand out which on short term deals, with a goaltender who will split duties with Lack would be a great addition as Lack continues to grow and develop.

Jonas Hiller: Hiller would have to be target number one for any team looking to add a goaltender through free-agency. Hiller is a capable goaltender who has struggled to assert himself as one of the top goaltenders in the league. His SV% last season was 91.1% in 50 games. Not spectacular, but he has been known to put together very strong stretches of hockey. For Vancouver it could be a fit due to the fact that Lack is certainly a hope for the future. If Hiller and Lack were to split duties, the reduced workload for each may be enough to create a very solid tandem in net. The cost of Hiller could be a limiting factor, especially if he is splitting duties with Lack. But if Benning can work out a decent number, and have Hiller come in with the right attitude about working with Lack as a solid tandem, it would be a great addition to the team. On top of this, the Canucks have already reportedly been in contact with Hillers agent according to News 1130 Sports out of Vancouver.

Ryan Miller: Miller is on the wrong end of his career. Not long ago he was widely regarded as the best goaltender in the NHL, but since the 2010 Olympics his stats have continually tapered off. This is no doubt due to being a member of the Sabres (who have been having their own struggles) as well as age. In my opinion he doesn’t fit the bill as a starter either, but like Hiller could be a great tandem with Lack to create a real solid 1-2 punch in net. Miller posted a SV% of 91.8% in 59 games this past season split between Buffalo and St. Louis. He was however less than stellar in the Playoffs for the Blues, which may scare the Canucks off.

Thomas Greiss: The third and final UFA I will look at is Greiss. Coming off a season where he played just 25 games, mostly down the stretch for Phoenix when Mike Smith went down to injury, Greiss does not have the same pedigree as a former number one goaltender. He has always been second fiddle, but he has done so with some pretty good numbers. In his 25 games this past season he posted a SV% of 92.0%, and more importantly he was not the downfall of Phoenix down the stretch. He played admirably as Mike Smith’s replacement and nearly carried the Coyotes to the Playoffs. Greiss would come far cheaper than the other two free agent options explored.

Trade Market

It is not easy to trade for a number one goaltender (even though we watched the Canucks trade away two such players in the past 12 months…) but there are some options that may fit the bill as teams try to shed salary, or look to move RFA’s who are no longer a fit on their team.

James Reimer:Just two seasons ago Reimer was the future of the Toronto Maple Leafs in net (at least according to all the hype surrounding their near defeat of the Bruins) but in that Game 7 collapse against Boston in the Playoffs, Reimer took lots of the blame. As such Toronto brought Jonathan Bernier in to battle Reimer for the number one spot. Well it looks as though Bernier has won that battle, and Reimer is ready to move on. He is a RFA, and is coming off a season where played 36 games with a SV% of 91.1%. He is a young guy looking to establish himself as a starting goaltender. The idea of coming to Vancouver to play tandem yet again is likely not appealing, but Lack is far less established than Bernier. There is more opportunity here to win the top spot. The Leafs may be interested in a deal with a Western Conference team, and there could be something here. Vancouver won’t have to trade the moon, as Reimer is not a true number one goaltender, but rather a younger goaltender still looking to prove his capabilities.

Cam Ward: Ward is maybe not the best option at this point. He carries a cap hit of $6.3 million through the next two seasons, and is coming off an injury plagued season where he was only in net for 30 games and posted a terrible SV% of 89.8%. All bad signs, especially for a guy getting up there in age. The only way a trade for Ward makes sense is if the Canucks get a significant asset alongside Ward. This is not likely a fit.

Craig Anderson: This would be a similar move to the Ward one. An aging goaltender with a recent string of injuries. However Anderson only has one year remaining on his contract which has a cap hit of just $3.18 million and is coming off a season where he played 53 games and posted a SV% of 91.1%. Those numbers are far less daunting than the Ward numbers, and with only one year remaining on his current deal, the Canucks don’t have to worry about any long term ill-effects. Anderson could be a great partner to tackle the net with Lack, and could likely be had from Ottawa as they seem to be moving towards Robin Lehner in net.

Wrap Up

The goaltending spot is a definite question mark for Vancouver headed into next season. If they have any plans of making the Playoffs, conventional wisdom is for Benning and Co. to go out and either through trade or free agency bring in a solid tandem guy to help mentor/battle Lack for the number on spot. The Pacific Division is no joke, and if there is any chance of success you must have a goalie that you can rely on. Lack may be that guy someday, but is he that guy right now? Should they risk it? Or should they bring in a little short-term insurance? Should Lack falter, it might be beneficial to have an experienced hand nearby to help carry the load and ensure the pressure doesn’t destroy a young goaltenders confidence.

Follow Me on TwitterShaun Maddex has a passion for playing, watching, and analyzing hockey. Growing up in small towns throughout Alberta meant always playing or watching hockey. He has experience as an editor/columnist for Vavel International and enjoys analyzing all aspects of hockey. He brings a straightforward but insightful experience to the Hometown Hockey readers. If you have any questions, feel free to contact him at smaddex@hometownhockey.ca







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