On Friday the NHL cancelled all games through Nov. 1, but the league maintains that a full 82-game season could be squeezed in if a new CBA were agreed upon and players hit the ice for games on Nov. 2.
A condensed schedule would make for more back-to-back contests, giving backup goaltenders an opportunity to get more starts.
Not to be undervalued, backup goaltenders give starters an opportunity to rest, be it is on back-to-back nights, to bail out the starter on a tough night, or to give the No. 1 a break after playing several straight games.
With a potentially condensed schedule on deck, let’s take a look at the top five backups in the NHL. These guys could be called upon even more frequently in 2012-13.
1. Brian Elliott, St. Louis Blues
For several seasons after the lockout, the St. Louis Blues were a team that usually had a solid No. 1 goaltender but never had a good No. 2 guy to step in and play when the starter needed a rest.
Those days are gone thanks to goaltender Brian Elliott. Elliott joined the Blues on a one-year contract worth $600,000 on July 1, 2011, to support starter Jaroslav Halak.
The deal turned out to be an unbelievable bargain for the team. Elliott surprised many by going 23-10-4 with a 1.56 GAA, a .940 save percentage and nine shutouts en route to sharing the William Jennings Trophy (fewest goals allowed in the regular season) with Halak and helping the team to get to the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
For his strong and consistent play, Elliott – who played in the 2012 All-Star Game — was given a two-year contract extension with an average annual value of $1.8 million.
2. Martin Biron, New York Rangers
When the No. 1 goaltender on your team is Henrik Lundqvist, chances are your backup won’t see much action.
That said, when the No. 2 does get playing time, he must make sure the team does not skip a beat and that he does what he can to help his club win hockey games. This is what New York Ranger Martin Biron does.
Since joining the Blueshirts in 2010-11, Biron has been an above-average backup. This past season, Biron played in 21 games and went 12-6-2 with a 2.46 GAA, a .904 save percentage and two shutouts.
In Biron, the Rangers have a former starter who can be consistent between the pipes for stretches of games and someone the team can count on when their Vezina Trophy winner is not between the pipes.
3. Jason LaBarbera, Phoenix Coyotes
Journeymen goaltenders can make the best backups since they’ve been through it all, whether it’s playing in the minors or in the NHL.
This is the case when it comes to Phoenix Coyotes backup Jason LaBarbera. LaBarbera, 32, has been in the NHL for parts of 11 seasons and has spent time with the New York Rangers, Los Angeles Kings, Vancouver Canucks, and now the Phoenix Coyotes.
As a stand-in for both Ilya Bryzgalov and Mike Smith over the last three seasons, LaBarbera has proven more than capable. Over that span, LaBarbera is 18-20, has posted solid GAAs in two of the last three seasons and has recorded shutouts.
While Smith loves a heavy workload, there’s no doubt that if there is a condensed schedule, the Coyotes will rely on LaBarbera more often.
4. Jean-Sebastien Giguere, Colorado Avalanche
After being a top-notch starter and Stanley Cup-winning goaltender for the Anaheim Ducks, it appears that 35-year-old goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere has adjusted to life as a backup tendy with the Colorado Avalanche.
In Anaheim, Giguere was known for playing a lot of games and was expected to be everything and more come playoff time. In Colorado, however, the team is going through a rebuilding process and the pressure is not as high.
That lifestyle has suited Giguere well, as he was terrific last season in Colorado. Backing up starter Semyon Varlamov, Giguere went 15-11-0-3 with a 2.27 GAA, a .919 save percentage and a pair of shutouts.
While the end of the line might be near for Giguere, the kind of goaltending he provided last season can always helps a young team looking to find its way after years as an elite NHL team.
5. Josh Harding, Minnesota Wild
When it comes to the Minnesota Wild, goaltending has never been the real problem.
While the play of starter Niklas Backstrom is part of the reason for that, the other has been the play of backup Josh Harding. Harding, 28, has been in the organization for seven seasons, and each year he’s shown that he should be looked at as a potential No. 1. Hence the trade-deadline rumours last spring.
In 34 games last season, Harding went 13-12-0-4 with a 2.62 GAA, a .917 save percentage and two shutouts. Harding has posted similar and even better numbers before last season.
With a tight schedule potentially on tap as well as Backstrom’s troubling injury history, there’s a good chance Harding will plenty of action whenever the puck does drop.