Building a Winner in Florida: Goaltending
General Manager Dale Tallon has proclaimed repeatedly that he doesn't want to build a playoff team in Florida, he wants to build a Stanley Cup Champion. But what kind of roster makes this dream possible? In this series, I'll break down what types of players are needed to win a cup and what the Florida Panthers already have. For a recap of the forwards, click here and for defense here.
If you only learned one thing from the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals, it should have been the importance and unpredictability of goaltending when the season is on the line. Sometimes in the playoffs goaltending brilliance is found from the most unexpected sources, and sometimes the star goalies...choke. The advent of the playoffs bring out the best in some goalies and the worst in others, but who succeeds and who fails doesn't seem to correlate with past performance, every goaltender puts on a new face to win the Cup. For the Florida Panthers, one can only wonder how the team's goaltending would fare in the playoffs. Would fans witness a Cam Ward or Antti Niemi-esqe emergence from obscurity for the team's goaltender or playoff heartbreak? More after the jump.
Since the lockout, Cup winning goalies have been of all breeds, unlikely heros like Cam Ward and Antti Niemi, grizzled veterans like Chris Osgood and Tim Thomas and quality performers like Jean-Sebastien Giguere and Marc-Andre Fleury. There really isn't any definitive quality that separates those who win in the playoffs and those who lose, there are just so many factors and attributes in the playoffs that are absent in the regular season to compare records. But we can try, cant we?
Excepting Tim Thomas and Chris Osgood who had absolutely spectacular seasons, the other goaltenders on this list had average to above-average seasons with good teams. Cam Ward is the obvious outlier here after his first season in the NHL. Now these are the records of the 6 goalies who lost in the Stanley Cup Finals.
Now, in general these numbers are lower in SV% and higher in GAA than the numbers of the Cup winning goalies, but notice the 'turnaround' for Marc Andre Fleury. When he won the Cup in 2009, Fleury's numbers were worse than when he lost the Cup in 2008, was this a matter of experience instead of performance? Then again, Roberto Loungo has been in the playoffs for every year since he left the Panthers and hasn't been able to snag the Cup, while Ward and Niemi won the Cup in thier first time in the playoffs. Different conditions call for different goalies and ultimately determine success. What about the Florida goalies? Assuming Tomas Vokoun resigns, of course.
Don't think Tomas Vokoun is a good goalie? Well, Vokoun's save percentage was topped on both lists by only Tim Thomas and Roberto Loungo, and since save percentage is the best statistic that demonstrates a goalie's proficiency (GAA reflects a team's defense and is skewed when the team has a bad defensive unit), that means a lot. It doesn't, however, prove that Tomas Vokoun has what it takes to win a Stanley Cup, but proving your worth in the regular season certainly helps. Clemmensen's numbers are also good, but are understandably not Cup-winning figures.
Vokoun has the potential to win a Stanley Cup, but he might not have the experience. Tomas has amassed a grand total of 11 playoff appearances going 3-8 and hasn't seen playoff action since 2007. Clemmensen? Scott played seven minutes and made 3 saves in a New Jersey Devils playoff game in 2006. That may be the 'curse' of the Panthers, the longer you've played here the longer ago the last time you played in the playoffs, but maybe that curse is about to end and Vokoun has what it takes to make a deep playoff run or even challenge for the Cup.
So would the Panthers' goaltending squad be able to compete in the playoffs? Well, you cant really answer the question with a yes or no. Look at it this way, the Philadelphia Flyers had probably thought one of the 5 goalies they've used in the last 3 playoff seasons 'had what it took' to win the Cup, and who really thought Cam Ward or Antti Niemi had the magical quality it takes to win a cup after playing less than one full season. I'm sure Vokoun could win a Stanley Cup if he had the right team in front of him, but that isn't something a goalie has control of. Goaltenders win the Stanley Cup when they can put together a quality stretch of 20+ games on top of a playoff-worthy regular season. Stanley Cup winning goalies can find ways to frustrate the highest scoring team in the regular season for 7 games like Tim Thomas did. But who was Tim Thomas the season before? He was just a back-up, Cam Ward was an AHLer, Chris Osgood played 21 games, and maybe Tomas Vokoun was wondering what to do once his contract expired.
It's all about what conditions are present when you enter a series. In the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals we saw arguably the two best NHL goaltenders, in other finals the goalies have been less than spectacular. It would have helped Loungo if the rest of his team had shown up during the games in Boston, but again, a goalie cant control that aspect, Loungo had to play with what he was dealt. If Vokoun was faced with a good team with just an average goalie, he would certainly have a chance, but he has to have the luck to be dealt those circumstances. Cup winning goaltenders play through the season with all sorts of different performances, but perhaps the only thing they share is a bit of luck when it counted.