There are only 60 spots available in the world. And the top 30 mean so much more—fame, dollars, playing time—than the bottom 30 do.
Next to the NFL quarterback, one could argue that the NHL starting goaltender is the most important position in sports. And there are a few fantastic battles for one of those top 30 roles set to unfold at NHL training camps and during the first half of the 2014-15 season.
We recently caught up with Kevin Weekes—a former goaltender who has been both a starter and a backup—to get his analysis on the compelling duos and/or duels shaping up in Toronto, Edmonton, Carolina, Vancouver, Montreal, and in Martin Broduer’s head.
Edmonton’s Ben Scrivens vs. Viktor Fasth
“Scrivvy will win the starting job, but I like Viktor Fasth—he’s come a long way. He’s an older goalie .
“Once of the things that impressed me about Scrivens last year was how he’s worked his way through his progressions. A lot of people don’t know about the work [Kings goaltending coaches] Bill Ranford and Ken Dillabaugh put in with him in L.A. Once they traded [Toronto’s Jonathan Bernier] for him, they told him, ‘Hey, we think you can play and be an NHL guy, but you need to work on a few things.’ And they showed him those things.
“His footwork was better, his glove-hand positioning was better. He was more responsive in the net. His crease movement was better. As a result, he had an amazing season. When [Jonathan] Quick, the best goalie in the world, went down, Ben Scrivens stepped in and almost played at a Jonathan Quick level.
“That one 59-save shutout he had against San Jose. [Expletive.] That was a Jordan-like performance. Any athlete in any sport in any part of the world who watches the highlights would be like, ‘Holy [expletive]. That’s unbelievable.’ Clearly, he can do it.
“What impressed me was that he went to Edmonton, and there was no dropoff in his game. It’s one thing to do that with L.A.; it’s another to do that with the Oil—a team that doesn’t play D, that plays loose and fast, that doesn’t have a stud No. 1 or 2.
“I’ve been on those teams. Not everyone can play on them. A lot of goalies get buried out of the league after playing on those teams. Not him. He embraced it.”
Toronto’s James Reimer vs. Jonathan Bernier
“I’m a big James Reimer fan. This is a guy that started out in the East Coast League. He worked his way up riding the bus in the East Coast League to the American League and now playing in the NHL, so I give him a lot of credit. He’s worked on his game; he’s worked on his fitness. Obviously, his game can still evolve. The relationship between him and [coach Randy] Carlyle got strained. But you gotta keep in mind: He set a Leafs franchise record for save percentage a year ago. [Reimer is the club’s all-time leader, minimum 500 shots against, at .915. —ed.]
“If both Bernier and Reimer are playing, they’re an unbelievable tandem. When on their game, they’re arguably the second- or third-best tandem in the East. I’ve been there. You’re in there with another young goalie, wanting the chance to play. I always thought he’d end up in Winnipeg. Not because he’s from [Manitoba], but it’s just a nice fit. In the event that doesn’t happen, or doesn’t happen for a while, he’s got to look at the big picture. He’s still a young goalie . He has to think about what’s best for his career going forward, and if right now that means being here, he needs to be here with the right attitude.
“Him and Bernier get along well; they’re both classy guys respected in that locker room. It’s not ideal when you don’t have a good relationship with your coach. He just has to focus on stopping the puck.”
Montreal backups Dustin Tokarski vs. Peter Budaj
“I like Tokarski. The tough thing for Buds is, he needs to play in a spot where he can play one game every 10 games. Right now that’s Montreal. Does Montreal move him?
“If so, where’s the market for him to get moved? Does he go to Winnipeg? We can idealize stuff all we want, but you have to look at the landscape and be realistic. Where are the opportunities? I don’t know where the fit is, bro.”
Carolina’s Anton Khudobin vs. Cam Ward
[Signing] Anton Khudobin was a stroke of genius by [then Carolina GM] Jimmy Rutherford last year: $800,000 on a one-year term. He came in and was lights-out in Carolina. Amazing. He stole the job; he earned the job. His teammates love him. You talk to the guys in Boston about what he meant to the Bruins—even the great Tuukka Rask, Vezina winner—they all respected him. It was smart to give Anton the [two-year, $4.5-million] extension.
“I remember Cam coming to our training camps as a rookie when I was still in Carolina, and I have a lot of respect for the goalie that Cam Ward can be and for the goalie he’s been at different points in his career. The key is now for Cam to dial down and invest in himself, believe in himself. He’s got to get a routine, get on the ice early, work with their video coach, Chris Huffine, and their new incoming goalie coach, Dave Marcoux. When Cam Ward’s on his game, he’s a top-10, top-12 goalie, but he needs to push himself. This is a critical year for Cam.
“Guys on that level push themselves every day. Henrik Lundqvist is on that level every day. Arturs Irbe, Nikolai Khabibulin — they were on that level every day. There’s a regularity and commitment for goalies specifically, and Cam has wavered from that at different points. Cam Ward needs to invest in Cam. If he does, I don’t see why he can’t bounce back. I’ve always been a big Cam Ward guy. Now Cam has to be a big Cam Ward guy.”
Vancouver’s Ryan Miller vs. Eddie Lack
“Eddie Lack had an excellent rookie season. This allows Eddie to grow into his role and grow into the league. Ryan is a top-flight goalie. He’s won a Vezina [in 2010]. He won the silver medal in Van, obviously losing to Canada. Jim Benning knows him quite well—drafted him, a steal from Michigan State in the fifth round.
“It’s a different vibe in Vancouver now, with president Trevor Linden and coach Willie Desjardins, who’s won at every level. Also, you look at Ryan’s wife. She’s a new actress on the front end of her career, and she’s based in L.A. So being in Van, it’s only a two-hour flight. That’s a good situation for him both on and off the ice. It gives him a chance to reset himself after a tough playoff for him.”
Free agent Martin Brodeur vs. Unemployment
“Does he want to play with Ondrej Pavelec in Winnipeg? I don’t know. Other than that, where’s he going? [Toronto] only works if they move Reimer.
“Listen. If I’m Marty, I’ve played a long time. My first and last name is all over the record books. I’ve made a ton of money. I’ve had an impact on the game.
“He’s been the guy the whole time; he’s always been the guy. He wants to be the guy every night. He doesn’t want to back anybody up. So where’s he going to play?
“It’s all about weighing the fit versus the opportunity. I don’t see it. That’s not to say it can’t present itself. Heaven forbid, there’s an injury or someone has a slow start. Maybe. Aside from that, right now, I don’t really see it. And that’s not a slight against him. It’s just the marketplace.”