Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Ben Talks Hockey...we are as shocked as you are...

Minnesota Hockey is heating the point Ben is even talking about it...which goalie would he choose?

The NBA is still in it's lockout (still not talking about it on we said we wouldn't), MLB is done (thankfully...longest season ever), college basketball is just around the corner and college football is heating up (just not so much for Minnesota).  Lost in STOB's world is that within the state of Minnesota, from which we hail, there is a hockey season that is still in it's youth, but is looking like it could be one of the best in this state in a long time.  The Gophers are on fire at 9-1, and coming off a weekend sweep of rival North Dakota are now ranked #1 in the national polls.  The Minnesota Wild are also off to a great start, with 19 points, trailing Edmonton by only 1 point in the Northwest Division.

Ok Ben, why are you talking hockey?  I thought you brought in the "DW" (Designated Writer) Paul to write about hockey on STOB.

True, we do (here and here).  I guess I am battling a bandwagon instinct to jump on to the hockey bandwagon that has been getting a bit empty of late with both the Gophers and Wild struggling for the past handful of years.  I'll fully admit I am not a "true" hockey fan, I really only paid attention to the NHL when I jumped onto Brodeur and Steven's Devils when they were on their run and the Wild when they made it to the Western Conference Finals.  So I am bandwagon, no doubt and really I may not write another article about either team again this year or again ever on this blog.  Yet, there has been a topic of conversation going around the Twin Cities with the Wild that has bugged me.  So much so, that with a little prodding of Paul wanting me to write about hockey, I've decided to voice my admittedly uneducated opinion about the "Josh Harding or Nicklas Backstrom" discussion.

Ben, this is like a Gopher basketball fan trying to talk about what it's like to win a national title, you have no clue what you are talking about!

I know...but I have a blog in which I can throw my opinion, educated or not, at the masses of STOB'ers and they are forced to read it cause they love us that much.

Uhh.."masses of STOB'ers"?  That is a bit extreme.

Alright, the small group of STOB'ers.  Can I get to the opinion now?


Nicklas Backstrom signed a 4 year deal in 2009 for 24 million dollars.  He was at that point pretty much named the franchise net minder for the Wild for the rest of that contract.  Josh Harding signed a 1 year 750K deal this July to stay with the team as the backup.  Now both of these decisions were made on past experience with both goalies, long term investment in Backstrom who has been solid his whole career, and a short term investment in Harding who has produced as a back up in his career.  Now this year, Harding is on fire.  With that the Twin Cities discussion is if Harding should be named the starter, thereby moving Backstrom to the back up role even with his big contract or possibly shopping him as as trade asset. 

I disagree with this all of the sudden popular idea.

Backstrom came to the Wild in 2006-2007, since that time he has only allowed a goals against average (GAA) above 2.5 twice, albeit in the last two years.  Josh Harding on the other hand has been with the Wild since 2005-2006, since then he has only had 20 or more starts twice.  In those two seasons, 2007-2008 and 2009-2010, he has allowed 2.94 and 3.05 GAA respectively.  This season Harding has been better in net, again though he has appeared in less games.  Backstrom in 9 games is 4-3-2, with a GAA of 2.05 while Harding in 5 games is 4-0-1 with a GAA of 1.18.  Now while it is true that Harding is playing good hockey right now, he has never done it over an extended period of time.  Backstrom has.

From what I've seen over the years, flash in the pan or hot goalies come and go, but truly good franchise goalies do it year in and year out.  John-Sebastian Giguere comes to mind as a flash in the pan and I am sure there are more examples a "hockey guy" could bring up.  Is he serviceable?  Yeah, he is fine, but for one playoff he was amazing.  Goalies get hot at times, it happens almost every year in the playoffs it seems.  A normally average to above average goalie is all of the sudden the offspring of Patrick Roy and Martin Brodeur and is a brick wall his team rides to the Cup, or at least close.  Then that goalie is a backup somewhere two years later, where he is supposed to be.  Is Backstrom the greatest goalie out there?  No, but he is one of the more consistent goalies and after 5 games in which Harding has been hot, if the Wild are going to take the reigns away from Nicklas even though he is currently on a pace to have his second best season as a member of the Wild, they are crazy. 

It is a knee jerk move, that probably is much more discussed in the media and by fans than by the team, coaches and upper management.  I see the goalie position in hockey to be much like a pitcher in baseball, you can get in zones in which you are unstoppable, but then swing right into a zone in which you are terrible.  The best pitchers in baseball, like a Roy Halladay, don't swing wildly in their production, they go out and give you great numbers every year.  While talented, yet inconsistent pitchers, like one in STOB's backyard of Francisco Liriano, can be a stud one month then unable to find the plate with the Hubble telescope the next.   Same can be said of goalies, give Harding more starts while he is hot, but expect Backstrom to be your everyday guy as Harding is likely to fall back into his normal production, as is Backstrom. Then, when they are both in that normal production, Backstrom performs as a starter, while Harding is a backup.  Just as they should be.

Hockey dorks, let me know what you think of my take in the comments section.


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