How Important is a Back-Up Goaltender?...

Zachary SchiffCorrespondent IJanuary 14, 2008

It came out today that the Rangers were deep into the Curtis Joseph sweepstakes before he decided to sign with Calgary to back up Miikka Kiprusoff.

(TSN and NHL both reported it, so they must have been real close to getting him. However, the Daily News reports the Rangers never offered him a contract, although I find it hard to believe if the NHL site is even reporting it.)

This brings up the question, how importance is a backup goaltender? And now, what to do with Steve Valiquette?

First, the second question.

Valiquette was a good professional. He knew he was never going to be the Rangers starter, even if Lundqvist went down, because sixth overall pick Alvaro Montoya is waiting in Hartford. He knew he was here because Montoya needs to develop in the AHL while the Rangers decide what to do with him. He played his role perfectly. He was a great team guy, never complained about playing time, and stepped up when he was given the rare start. Valiquette is 2-3-1 this year, with the one bad game being the team-wide disaster against Phoenix in mid-December.

But now he knows the Rangers don't have confidence in him. They went out for a 40-year-old backup who nobody offered a contract to in the summer. CuJo had an .893 SP last year, Valiquette is around .896 this year. Yes, CuJo has more experience, but at his age, would he be as good of a choice?

I personally am undecided, but I don't think they should have gone after him or made it so public. Valiquette should request a trade, because it's clear the Rangers don't have him in their plans. He dedicated himself to the 2007-08 Rangers and they spit in his face.

OK, now how important is a backup goalie in the playoffs?

In 1994 the Rangers had Glen Healy, who had backstopped the Islanders to the conference finals a year earlier. They could have had me, then a chubby 10-year-old from Long Island, on their bench, ready to go in. Healy played 68 minutes in two games, had a 0-0-0 record, and gave up one goal in 17 shots. 

Let's look at recent history.

The Oilers needed a solid backup in 05-06, and they had a willing one, but not a great one. Red-hot Dwayne Roloson went down in Game 1 of the Finals, Jussi Markkanen stepped up, and Carolina stole the Cup in 7 games. A better goaltender could have secured Edmonton's first Cup since 1990. 

In that same year, Carolina planned on having Martin Gerber bring them through the playoffs, but he stumbled, going 0-2 against Montreal in round 1, then 22 year old Cam Ward, he of the .900 save percentage, stood up, took the net, and the rest is history.

Carolina had a tandem of starter Arturs Irbe and backup Kevin Weekes improbably lead them to the Finals in 01-02 before running into Dom Hasek and the Detroit Red Wings.

It is always a matter of who gets hot and when, but I guess Glen Sather was thinking about what would happen if Henrik went down in the playoffs. Would Vally be able to carry the team on his 6'6" shoulders? He would be more Kevin Weekes and Jussi Markkanen then Cam Ward, which is entirely why Sather went after Spengler Cup-winning Joseph.

Then again, it might not matter at all. Scott Clemmensen played four seasons with the Devils, and wound up seeing the twine for six total minutes, giving up no goals on three shots for a perfect 1.000 SP.