The always-active goaltending carousel is fueled by opportunity. If one goalie doesn’t receive the starts he desires with one team, he’ll jump to another to get more playing time. That cycle never ends in the NHL, as new opportunities arise every off-season.
Last summer, ex-Panthers backup Craig Anderson hit the free agent market without many teams seeking a number one goaltender. He couldn’t get past the wall named Tomas Vokoun, so he decided to head to greener pastures.
Colorado was coming off their worst season since the franchise moved west from Quebec. They had the wonderful 1-2 combo of Andrew Raycroft and Peter Budaj between the pipes to lead them to that disastrous 69-point campaign.
Instead of turning to veterans like Nikolai Khabibulin or Martin Biron, Avalanche GM Greg Sherman opted to take a flyer on Anderson for two years at $1.8 million per to be the team’s starter. The 28-year-old goaltender had bounced around in Chicago and Florida, but was never given a chance to prove himself until ultimately landing in Denver.
Pretty good roll of the dice by both parties, wouldn’t you say?
Anderson took that opportunity head-on and surprisingly backstopped Colorado to the playoffs. He compiled 38 wins, a 2.63 GAA, and 7 shutouts in 71 starts (44 more than his previous high of 27). For Anderson, it ended up being the ideal destination and fit; while Colorado found their most reliable ‘tender since arguably the Patrick Roy days (no offense to Jose Theodore, David Aebischer, or Budaj/Raycroft).
Now we fast forward to this summer, where the Tampa Bay Lightning are in a similar position the Avs were in 12 months ago: a new coach and general manager combined with a young team with a lot of potential.
With Antero Niittymaki exiting stage left, GM Steve Yzerman was on the hunt for a goalie. Instead of signing the likes of Evgeni Nabokov, Marty Turco, or Chris Mason, Yzerman and company decided to go with Dan Ellis.
Ellis was a quality netminder in Nashville. He led the team to a playoff berth in 2008, and played well enough this past season to be the proclaimed ‘starter’ for the Preds for strings of games at a time. The reason why Ellis rarely manned the crease late in the year, though, wasn’t because of his own play – Pekka Rinne was simply on fire.
With Rinne signing a two-year extension during the Olympic break – and basically taking the number one job for the next handful of years – Ellis, 30, tested the free agent waters to find an opportunity to see the ice more. This is where he and Tampa Bay fit perfectly.
Mike Smith’s inability to stay healthy or consistent has resulted in him being erratic with the Lightning; because of that, Ellis has a prime opportunity to become the starter. I wouldn’t expect him to get 71 starts like Anderson, but he can certainly have a similar effect.
Ellis will be a very motivated player with the Bolts, backstopping a club that possesses: A) promising young talent – Steven Stamkos, Victor Hedman, Steve Downie, etc… and B) a great veteran leadership core – Martin St. Louis, Vinny Lecavalier, Mattias Ohlund, and so on. He also received $1.5 million a season for the next two years – a virtual pay-cut from his previous deal with the Predators.
Like Colorado, Tampa Bay could surprise the hockey world and crash the postseason party this upcoming season. Guy Boucher is labeled as one of the better up-and-coming coaches in the game, while Yzerman should be a great job in the front office after receiving the proper tutelage in Detroit.
Like Anderson, Ellis may have found his home after falling short of becoming the go-to-guy (for lack of a better term) with two teams. (Remember, Ellis was in the Stars organization for six years before he was a training camp-signee with the Preds prior to the 2007/08 season.)
With a starter’s job up for grabs, Ellis could very well take advantage of this opportunity at hand to become Tampa Bay’s new go-to-netminder.
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