UPDATED: July 5, 2005.

 PATROLLING THE CREASE

By Dallas Ross Hicks.

LIGHT IN THE TUNNEL

At LONG last! Hope everyone has had an interesting extended off-season! I know I have: I'm a proud new father of a LARGE boy, Dalen, who's now six months old! Needless to say, it's been very hectic around here, which I hope explains why I haven't been able to put much in the way of an article together. I know I mentioned that I was working on an article about goalies in the minors and juniors, but I found news on them a little hard to come by sometimes, so I decided to broaden my scope once there was some real news about a CBA settlement. That day has come, and here is my article! This is a review of just about every goalie that might see NHL action, as well as a few who are primary prospects in a teams' system. She's a bit on the longish side, but hey, I shoot for comprehensive. I should also mention that my email basically blew up (mailbox got a bit full and they shut 'er down due to some problems), but good news, it's back up and running so I'll need to get some mail again so I can get back in touch with my regular folks (this means you, Mel! Let me know what's happening!). As for the rest of you, glad to be back and let's see what's new and exciting in the world of goalies. I have a feeling that there might not be a lot of movement concerning goaltenders in this big free agent feeding frenzy expected to develop (man, I can't WAIT! This is going to be an off-season like never before!). We'll see, won't we?
One last side note before we get started: I'd like to say hello and congratulations to my hometown Brandon Wheat Kings for winning the WHL Eastern Conference this year. I made it down for the three games of the Finals that were played there, and while I wasn't impressed with the outcome (a very tough break in Game 4 in overtime took the heart out of them), it was still great to see them perform at such a high level, especially without NHL hockey to watch. Great job, guys!
And now, back to our regularly scheduled programming.

ANAHEIM
J.S. GIGUERE - Of all the goaltenders in the league, none may be as adversely affected by the new regulations on equipment size as Giguere. It probably won't help that the hockey world knows this and will be watching him very closely. Even so, it should be mentioned that he had his oversize equipment during the 2003-04 season and it didn't help him all that much anyway. It just may be that Giguere, like some of his contemporaries, is a little on the streaky side. Maybe he's due for a good year? Even with new GM Brian Burke on board, he probably won't be going anywhere, but that is a rather large contract to carry.
ILYA BRYZGALOV- The big question with this fellow is whether or not he's good enough to shoulder the load should Giguere falter. I believe that he is, but is he good enough to be considered a premiere starter at this level? Too early to tell. Regardless of whether or not Giguere is bought out, he'll probably start the season as the Ducks' backup. Split duties this year with Frederic Cassivi on the farm.

ATLANTA
KARI LEHTONEN- Barring a stunning first campaign by Sidney Crosby, Lehtonen will do nothing short of winning the Calder trophy. Yes, he IS that good. Judging by the large number of Finnish goalies entering the league and making good, Finland may push Canada for the right to call themselves the best goalie producers, and Lehtonen will lead that push. He and Pittsburgh's Fleury will be the dominant goaltenders of this new generation. As for this season, if the Thrashers keep Heatley and Kovalchuk, then build around them with decent free agents, a thirty-plus win season is not out of the question! I've watched him when the Chicago Wolves came to town and while he did lose that game to the Road Runners, there was only one goal that beat him badly. The other three came from near-impossible angles. He did well when he needed to, though, leading Chicago to the Calder Cup finals where fellow Finn Antero Niittymaki outplayed him, but almost all were one-goal losses in low scoring games, and in overtime to boot. He's ready for the big league.
PASI NURMINEN- His job is to help Lehtonen adapt to life in the NHL, and he comes with an affordable price tag. He's a capable backup, and can play for a longer string if necessary. He may start for the Thrashers, but I have a feeling GM Don Waddell won't be able to keep Lehtonen from the crease for long.

BOSTON
ANDREW RAYCROFT- Last years Calder recipient played extremely well, and the Bruins hope that at long last they have their starter for years to come. However, he hasn't genuinely proven himself, and there were some games against the Canadiens in the playoffs in which he looked like a raw rookie. I didn't hear much about where he played in the lockout season, but he may be a prime candidate for a sophomore slump, especially with the expectations of the Bruins faithful piled upon his young shoulders. It's happened before… just ask Blaine Lacher. The Bruins will be upset that they didn't dabble in the massive free agent market if he does falter. He does seem to have a decent chance of sticking around, however.
HANNU TOIVONEN- Oh, look, another Finnish rookie! He's played a couple of great seasons in the AHL and has earned his promotion. Jury's still out on his NHL potential, but he's known for being a reliable tender. He'll play maybe twenty games this year in the bigs.

BUFFALO
MARTIN BIRON- This guy's been almost traded how many times, and yet he's still in Buffalo. Why do I have a feeling he's not going to be the starter here come October? A fast, capable goalie that could be a starter pretty much anywhere, Biron may just need a change of scenery. He just hopes he has a chance to be a number one somewhere! Maybe Chicago, with an injury prone Thibault and no good young help on the horizon?
MIKKA NORONEN- Hey, another young Finnish goalie! Noronen was supposed to have taken over by now, but may be cast as a backup from here on in. I have a feeling he may have a chance once Biron is gone, but Darcy Reiger's plans appear to be focused on someone else, namely…
RYAN MILLER- Played a spectacular season in Rochester and has re-established himself as the premiere prospect in the Sabres' system. Expect him to start the season with the big club, and be given every opportunity to take the starters' job. He hasn't really impressed in his brief time in the NHL, but this season of seasoning has done nothing but help his confidence. Lots and lots of potential here!

CALGARY
MIIKKA KIPRUSOFF- One win away from the Cup, and carrying a once faltering franchise on his back. Not bad for a guy who came over from San Jose for a couple of pucks and a roll of tape. Has been an absolute treat to watch (even for an Oilers fan like me) as he tries to make the saves with his glove instead of parking his pads in front of the puck and smothering rebounds. Could he also fall victim to a slump? He didn't take the year off and played in Europe so he should still be relatively sharp. If anything, he might have missed out on the big payouts that he would have been in line for (see: Giguere and Theodore), but hey, I'm sure he won't be hard up for cash. The Flames WILL re-sign him.
ROMAN TUREK- He just signed a contract for next season to play back home in the Czech Republic. He was actually very amicable through the ascension of Kiprusoff in Calgary and we probably won't see him again in the NHL, so let's wish him well.
DANY SABOURIN- Youngster has been learning the ropes at the NHL level but doesn't appear to be getting a shot at a starter's role any time soon, at least not with the Flames. I wouldn't be surprised if he ends up a free agent. Played with Marc-Andre Fleury and Andy Chiodo in Wilkes-Barre Scranton this season and didn't see a whole lot of playing time.
BRENT KRAHN- The Flames organization still seems pretty high on this large goalie, but I'm not entirely sure why. They drafted him very high, but that was a few years ago. He or Sabourin will be the backup next season, but I'd bet on Krahn (barring a signing). He played with a stacked Hitmen team as a Junior and quite frankly, I think they made him look better than he was. We'll see. Played well in the AHL last season for the Carolina farm team. More below…

CAROLINA
MARTIN GERBER- Two Swiss born goalies in starting jobs at the NHL level; who'da thunk it? The question is whether or not Gerber will get the start or if the 'Canes can't resist dipping into the Free Agent pool for a proven goalie. Gerber's experience consists of backing up Giguere in Anaheim, but when he did play, he played very well and Carolina thinks they scored a coup landing him before the Leafs did. Someone has to give him a chance, why not them? Lots of upside: he's young and fast!
CAM WARD- I said the same thing about him that I did about Krahn: he played for a Sutter team (the WHL's Red Deer Rebels) and that made him look better than he was (go figure: he and Krahn split the duties in Lowell and both posted excellent records!). His play for the Lowell Lock Monsters in the AHL this season may have proven me wrong! Ward had a stellar campaign and posted the league's best save percentage (.937!). The Hurricanes are going to have a big decision on their hands as whether or not to promote him to backup or let him keep playing as much as possible in the minors.

CHICAGO-
JOCEYLN THIBAULT- "T-Bo" missed a lot of last season due to injury and may have worn out his welcome in the Windy City. There've been times he's stood on his head to keep the Hawks in a game, but their woes have not been his fault by any stretch of the imagination. Now Chicago has a new GM and the possibility of actually being a player in the free agent frenzy, so if there's someone else to be had, cheap, Thibault could be on the way out. If they buy him out early, he could be picked up as a backup with starter potential, and he wouldn't ask too much, either. A pleasant, capable goalie.
CRAIG ANDERSON- Don't know too much about this fellow except that he played a lot when Thibault was injured and didn't turn into the second coming of Ed Belfour. Will likely end up in the minors again where, although he posted a 1.83 GAA in 15 games, he was overshadowed by…
MARK LEIGHTON- Another so-so player in his NHL time, but he played steady on the farm. Will likely play some kind of backup role, but an unlikely NHL starter.

COLUMBUS
MARC DENIS- It's time to step up for Denis, but that might be a bit easier if they add to their team in the off-season. Denis has been excellent on many nights for the young Jackets, and while he has faced some criticism for letting in a crucial goal once in a while, his upside still remains high. He's used to a heavy workload and he's got a spectacular personality, so he should remain Columbus' starter for as long as Doug MacLean will have him, which should be quite a while.
ARTURS IRBE- It remains to be seen if Irbe will actually play again, but if he does, he should be an effective backup, but only in the short term. Nearing the end of his interesting career, he is 38 years old.
PASCAL LECLAIRE- Hopes have been high for this lanky goalie since he was drafted, but so far he hasn't lived up to expectations. He only played in fourteen games in the AHL last season, posting a 5-6-1 record while Karl Goehring posted a winning record with 23-22-0. His time may be up.

COLORADO
DAVID AEBISCHER- There were those who believed Colorado would crash and burn without Patrick Roy to save them. David Aebischer has quieted most of his naysayers by now. Admittedly, he's had some of the league's best defensemen in front of him in Blake and Foote, but he plays a simple, steady game and can make the saves required of him. A lot of question marks in Colorado this season, but he may be one of the cornerstones of this franchises' future. Currently the best player to ever come out of Switzerland and actually STAY in the NHL.
PHILLIPE SAUVE- Sauve didn't exactly live up to his expectations when he was called upon to step in for Aebischer, which prompted a trade for Tommy Salo (which was no real improvement) at the deadline. Ended up signing with Mississippi in the ECHL at mid-season, and posted a great record there. May have to duke it out with Peter Budaj for the backup spot, but I wouldn't be surprised if Colorado picks up an experienced veteran like Potvin or Snow to fill in this season.

DALLAS
MARTY TURCO- Has been very impressive since taking over the starter's job in the Big D. He consistently posts very low GAA and high save percentages, yet can be vulnerable in high-pressure situations. Turco has inhuman hand-eye co-ordination. He'll be staying put while the Stars figure out how to rebuild.
DAN ELLIS- Had a putrid outing (10-19-0) playing for the Habs' farm team in Hamilton, while starter Yann Denis put up a 28-17-6 record. Coach's favouritism may have something to do with it, or it could be Ellis just didn't play all that well (in his defense, a 2.77 GAA and .908 S% isn't all that awful). Stars may consider a seasoned backup, but they still like Ellis.

DETROIT
CURTIS JOSEPH- With a monstrous contract, the Wings may consider cutting ties with CuJo. He is starting to show signs of slowing down and this year off may not have been good for him. Another team will sign him if the Wings do let him go, but it will be for quite a bit less money. Still a capable stopper, but does he have enough left in the tank for a Stanley Cup run? Depends where he plays.
MANNY LEGACE- Has been waiting for his chance to shine and if the Wings do let Joseph test the waters, should be their choice for a starter. However, I wouldn't be shocked if the Wings went for another goalie should one of high caliber come available. With Legace, his time might be now or never! Solid and reliable.
STEFAN LIV- This Swedish tender is a character in every sense of the word and is very popular in his home country. Has had great success in the Swedish Elite League and at 24 years old, should be ready for the big time by now. Played on the ice a lot like Dominik Hasek, but has recently played a more stand-up style, which has helped his consistency.
JIM HOWARD- After developing in the US Junior system, Howard has played extremely well since joining the University of Maine Black Bears, and now holds some records in the NCAA. Very capable and may in fact be one of the best prospects in the Wings system. Might be a couple of years away, but if his talent demands it, we could see him a lot sooner, or as trade bait.

EDMONTON
TY CONKLIN- One of the best American born goalies in the league plays for a Canadian team. Conklin has shown he's a steady customer, if not too flashy. If a free agent goaltender comes available that Kevin Lowe considers being of a higher talent level than Conklin, don't be surprised if Conklin is relegated to backup or traded.
JEFF DROUINS-DESLAURIERS- The youngster had good and bad games playing for the already defunct AHL Road Runners. Some nights he was capable of outplaying the best teams, and others… well, he ended up 6-13-2 with a .888 S%. Needs more seasoning and will play with the aforementioned Habs' farm team, the Hamilton Bulldogs, next season.
DEVYN DUBNYK- this towering goalie will likely continue to play for Kamloops of the WHL next season. He'll face a lot of scrutiny and comparison to the Vancouver Giants' Marek Schwarz, whom he was drafted ahead of. Dubnyk kept the Blazers close in a lot of games this year, and it can be said even won a few for them. Takes up a lot of net, and is just starting to fill out.

FLORIDA
ROBERTO LUONGO- Poor Luongo. There's no guarantee that the Panthers are going to get a lot better with the free agent frenzy, especially with Mike Keenan as GM. His numbers may improve if they stock the team with defensive forwards, and they do have the league's best young blueliner in Jay Bouwmeester. New coach Jacques Martin will have lots of time to work with him; he is, after all, the heir-apparent to Martin Brodeur as Canada's best goaltender. It'll take a sweetheart deal for any team to pry Luongo away from Florida; the Panthers would likely fold first.
JANI HURME- A season lost to injury followed by a season lost to lockout may seriously hurt this Finnish goalie. Once considered a player with starter written all over him, Hurme may be all but forgotten behind Luongo. He may have to settle for a backup role while he gets his career back together, or else face being replaced. The farm system has very little of interest in terms of goalies, so this might be an ideal opportunity for him.

LOS ANGELES
ROMAN CECHMANEK- Let's make this simple: the Kings would have been way better off keeping Felix Potvin than signing this guy. Extremely streaky, temperamental and, quite frankly, strange goalie that can steal the carpet out from your feet one night, and then do his best sieve impression the next. May not be long for the NHL.
MATHIEU GARON- If the Kings don't ditch Cechmanek and get themselves a reliable goalie, Garon might be ready for the task. He earned a berth at the AHL All-Star game with a stellar record of 32-14-4 for the Manchester Monarchs, and looks like he could be a NHL starter. Nowhere for Garon to go but up!

MINNESOTA
DWAYNE ROLOSON- The winner of the ongoing duel between himself and Manny Fernandez for full-time starting goalie honours, Roloson plays a simple, effective game and that suits the Wild just fine. I'd be surprised if they pursued another goalie in the free agent frenzy and will likely just keep Roloson, who's earning his fans in Minnesota.
JOSH HARDING-After putting together a strong season for the Houston Aeros, this guy's ready for the big league, if only as a backup to start. Had a fantastic WHL career with Regina and Brandon, and is as cool a customer as they come. Will be an NHL starter within the next five years.

MONTREAL
JOSE THEODORE- after being dogged by all sorts of family scandals, Theodore needs to keep his focus on the ice. He is skilled, but I still think the media is overrating him. Can have his share of bad games, but usually rebounds well after a loss. The Habs have no interest in parting with Theodore… yet. He might benefit from escaping the pressure-cooker that is Montreal and distancing himself from his family, but so far, he's handled it all with aplomb and grace. Didn't have a lot of help against Tampa in the last playoffs.
CRISTOBAL HUET- this French (and I mean FRENCH French) goalie played well when Cechmanek got hurt and showed he was a decent backup. Unlikely to find starters' work, but will play well when called upon. Will probably enjoy his time in Montreal.

NASHVILLE
TOMAS VOKOUN- The Czech Republic's best puckstopper, and one of the NHL's best as well. I wonder how many people thought Vokoun would eventually be regarded this highly when he started out with Montreal? Nashville will be quite content to hang on him for this season. Plays a smart game and covers angles well. Has a pleasant personality.
BRIAN FINLEY- after an up and down career fraught with serious injuries, Finley will finally get his shot as an NHL backup after posting a superb 36-22-4 record with a 2.29 GAA and a .921 S%. He's finally starting to show the promise the Predators hoped to see when they drafted him.

NEW JERSEY
MARTIN BRODEUR- The best goalie in the world right now, bar none. His chances for breaking Patrick Roy's records may be in jeopardy now with the loss of an entire year (yes, yes, I know, Roy had to lose a half season, but remember, so did Brodeur!). With three Stanley Cup rings and a couple of Vezinas under his belt, not to mention Olympic gold, Brodeur has nothing left to prove except to challenge those records. New Jersey will never let him go. Ever. As the team rebuilds, however, he may face a few more shots than he's used to, and with the talk of Stevens retiring and Niedermayer heading elsewhere, he'll have to get acquainted with a new group of defensemen and his numbers may suffer slightly.
SCOTT CLEMMENSEN- it was a rough year all around in Albany, and the two goalies in the Devils system took a beating. Clemmensen posted a 13-25-5 record but maintained a respectable 2.81 GAA considering the barrage he faced. It appears he's going to be a career NHL backup/AHL starter.
ARI AHONEN- another super Finnish prospect, but Ahonen appears to be having a bit of trouble adapting to the North American game. Of course, the team he played for wasn't top notch, either as his 16-20-1 record would reflect. Unlike Clemmensen, his personal numbers weren't all that hot (3.12 GAA, .910 S%) and Ahonen may need to stay in the "A" for another year before making the jump. I'd bet on Clemmensen moving up and Ahonen getting full time play in the minors.

NEW YORK ISLANDERS
CHRIS OSGOOD- When he's good, he's great. When he's bad, he reeks. Osgood has never gotten a lot of respect, but he can play well when needed. It's just always smart to have a good backup on the bench for those nights when his game goes south. Osgood may find himself on the outside looking in with DiPietro breathing down his neck. Teams may start considering him backup material soon.
RICK DIPIETRO- brash young upstart ready to make a name for himself at the pro level. If I'm the Isles coach, it's time to let him take the reins. There WAS a decent defense in front of him at the end of 2004, but major changes are on the way. Was he worthy of being the first overall pick in 2002? Too early to tell, but it'll be fun to watch!

NEW YORK RANGERS
KEVIN WEEKES- acquired from Carolina in last year's off-season, it remains to be seen how well Weekes will fit into the Rangers already crowded crease. He can play absolutely spectacular at times, as his relatively high number of shutouts will attest, but he hasn't always been the best at his craft either. Very athletic, he'll likely be given a chance in a Ranger uniform, but when there's this many free agents available, who knows what Sather will do? If he's smart, he'll keep Weekes, who's fairly affordable, and groom a youngster.
MIKE DUNHAM- Not long for the NHL. Bad attitude and poor play as of late have caused Dunham's stock to take a nosedive. When he's on, he plays a sound game, but Barry Trotz shed no tears when he left Nashville. Unlikely to see NHL action except as a backup.
DAN BLACKBURN- a horrible injury may cost this young prospect a chance of making it. Damage to his catching arm has been severe, but he's been trying to play in the minors wearing two blockers. You have to give him immense credit for making it back to even ECHL level of play, but the odds of him ever recovering enough to see NHL duty are very long. For his sake, I hope I'm wrong.
HENRIK LUNDQVIST- The Rangers are very excited about this kid. He's played quite well back home in Sweden, posting a 1.79 GAA last season and wants to show his stuff at the AHL level as well. He'll need a season to adjust to the North American style, but he projects as a starter.
ALVARO MONTOYA- Montoya came with high expectations after playing a spectacular World Junior Championships in 2004. The Rangers drafted him sixth overall that summer, but there were those who suggested Montoya might be the proverbial flash in the pan. The naysayers may have been on to something: his play was far less impressive this season, both in the NCAA and at the WJC 2005. He might just be streaky, but he's going to have to get it together to show the Rangers' brass that he's better than Lundqvist.

OTTAWA SENATORS
DOMINIK HASEK- the "Dominator" of old may be long gone, Ottawa fans. Apparently he's been keeping in shape back in the Czech Republic (hopefully not by using other guys as punching bags), so he might still have some of his old skills. John Muckler is banking on it. He relies so heavily on his flexibility and having a stingy defense in front of him; will Ottawa fit the bill under Bryan Murray? There's no question that his competitive fire is still strong, but the big question is whether or not he's still an elite goaltender.
MARTIN PRUSEK- Having both Hasek and Prusek on the bench is an ideal situation for the Sens. When one falters, the other picks up and plays pretty much the same game. This is not to say that Prusek is definitely the same caliber as Hasek was in his prime, but he may be a very good goalie. Watch him carefully; as he gains experience, his confidence may help him reach the upper echelon.
RAY EMERY- Emery is full of spirit and is athletically gifted. He's a fair size and plays a ferocious game. The question is whether or not he'll be able to harness that long enough to play at the NHL level. His great record in Binghamton last season (28-18-5, 2.65 GAA, .910S%) shows that he may have found his focus.
KELLY GUARD- Much like my thoughts on Cam Ward and Brent Krahn, many have suggested that Guard is a product of his super-defensive team in Kelowna. Two new goalies stepped in there and picked up where he left off. There may be something to this: Guard played for the ECHL's Charlotte Checkers this season, and posted a record that was just above .500. He may move up to be the backup in the AHL this time around. He was undrafted and may end up being a hidden gem like Curtis Joseph.

PHILADELPHIA FLYERS
ROBERT ESCHE- The best American goalie right now, Esche has finally earned the respect of his peers. He languished in the Coyotes' farm, but since his arrival in Philadelphia, he's played fairly well. The Flyers brought in Sean Burke when Esche damaged his groin muscle, but wished that Esche were 100%. Esche may bring the most stability to the Flyers' crease since Ron Hextall, but even he's going to have to watch his back with the arrival of…
ANTERO NIITTYMAKI- Niitymaki is yet another stellar Finnish born tender who did nothing short of lead his AHL team to the Calder Cup. He has seen limited NHL action as a backup in the playoffs, but when he has played, he's played very well. Despite the fact that the Flyers have parted with so many goaltending prospects over the last few years, they're thrilled that Niitymaki emerged when he did. He had a fantastic regular season in the A (33-21-4, 2.07 GAA .924S%), but really turned it on the playoffs. He's shown immense grace under fire, and outduelled super-prospect and countryman Kari Lehtonen to win it all. How long until he gets his chance?

PHOENIX COYOTES
BRENT JOHNSON- How can a guy be so good and yet play so bad on occasion? The Coyotes seem to have the market on streaky goalies sewn up. Johnson put together three consecutive playoff shutouts a couple of years ago for St. Louis, and yet, here he is in Phoenix. A bit of an odd character, Johnson may find himself elsewhere yet again if the Coyotes chose to go in another direction.
BRIAN BOUCHER- if you were looking up the word "Streaky" in the dictionary, you'd see a picture of this guy. Now holds the record for the longest modern day shutout streak (bonus points to you if you can name the goalie who still holds the ALL-TIME shutout streak record… without looking it up first!), and yet, can reek like a thirty-year-old hockey bag. You never know which Brian Boucher is going to show up, and that's why the Flyers kicked him to the curb. If the Coyotes can find someone more reliable, he's off to the bench.

PITTSBURGH PENGUINS
MARC-ANDRE FLEURY- pegged as the future of Canadian goalies, the Pens have very high hopes for this pleasant young man. He's already been through the wringer, though, and one can only hope it makes him stronger. First, he got to start with the big club last season, and was shelled, as the Penguins were brutal. He played for Team Canada at the World Juniors in 2004 and a freak goal caused by his attempt to clear the puck cost Canada the gold medal. After that, he was relegated to the AHL, and last season, when the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins were crafting their upset against the Binghamton Senators, it was Fleury who was watching from the bench with an .853 S% after three games as Andy Chiodo made it happen. Does all of this weaken Fleury's value? Hell, no; any team would take him on in a heartbeat, but Pittsburgh must be very careful so as not to shake the poor kid's confidence too quickly. He did, after all, post a regular season of 26-19-4, 2.52 GAA, .901S% in the A. He might just be the starter for the Pens again next year, but they'll likely bring in a journeyman to play thirty games to mentor him.
ANDY CHIODO- the (heaven help me) "Chiodo Dragon" has had his ups and downs. He got plenty of opportunity to play for the Pens during their awful season in 2003-04, and while he looked competent, there were times he stunk and it wasn't just the team in front of him. Chiodo didn't play much in the AHL (5-7-1, 3.27 GAA, .897S%), but boy, did he come on in the playoffs when Fleury faltered. Most likely a utility goalie who can patch a hole from time to time, but that's about all.

SAN JOSE
EVGENY NABOKOV- Nabokov's career in San Jose has been nothing short of sparkling. It's just that no one seems to notice because he plays for San Jose. The Sharks have remained competitive, even when no one expected them to be, largely because of his efforts. His speed and skill are in the top five in the league, and with a couple of extra pieces, the Sharks might again challenge for the conference title. He was yet another victim of the Cinderella Flames; his play was about as good as it could be. He'll be a Shark for a long time.
VESA TOSKALA- The Sharks thought so highly of Toskala that they wrapped up Miikka Kiprusoff in a big red bow and gave him to Calgary. Oops. This isn't to say that Toskala isn't a fine goalie, but man, he's got quite a bit to live up to! He'll play behind Nabokov again this season and may eventually get his chance a year or two down the road.

 

ST. LOUIS BLUES
PATRICK LALIME- cast aside in the wake of a complete and utter implosion at the hands of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Patrick Lalime is ready to start over in St. Louis. Showed gobs of promise as a rookie with Pittsburgh, Lalime continued to play well for Ottawa, even posting a three game shutout streak in the playoffs, only to fall apart against the Leafs. While most will remember that collapse, he wasn't the only one on the team who played poorly. The Blues, who haven't had anything resembling reliable goaltending since Curtis Joseph was in town, will be ecstatic to have him.
JASON BACASHIHUA- Originally drafted by the Stars a few years ago, "Cash" didn't impress too many folks in their organization, and so he found himself a member of the Blues'. Last season he shared a rather crowded crease with Curtis Sanford in Worchester, and put up a 18-13-1 season with a 2.51 GAA and a .902 S% (better than Sanford's 19-25-2). Could conceivably start on the bench as Lalime's backup this season, and has starter potential.
MAREK SCHWARZ- The Blues couldn't believe their luck when Schwarz was still available so late in the first round. After coming over from the Czech Republic to play for the WHL's Vancouver Giants, Schwarz displayed the skills that made him so highly rated. The irony was that he found himself playing against the only goalie drafted ahead of him, Devyn Dubnyk, on a frequent basis, and they both played quite well. I have a feeling these two are going to see a lot of each other at the NHL level in about five years or so.

TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING
NIKOLAI KHABIBULIN- could life have gone any better for Khabby? First, he sits out in a contract dispute with Phoenix, and then ends up playing for developing powerhouse Tampa Bay. Before you can say "Curse of the Jets", Khabibulin is picking up the Stanley Cup! Not to shabby, Khabby! What does the future hold? Well, that's a very good question: his contract is a little on the large side, and the question is will Tampa be able to carry it with many of its other major stars looking for a well-earned raise? Should they choose to cut him, there waits…
JOHN GRAHAME- since his arrival from Boston, Grahame has done very well in his time in Tampa's crease. There were a lot of raised eyebrows when it was Grahame who got the start in Tampa's final game of the 2003 playoffs in lieu of Khabibulin. Grahame has always been a more-than-capable backup, and could conceivably be a starter somewhere, but he's never been given the opportunity. Might Tampa do just that if they need some cap room?

TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS
ED BELFOUR- what is it about the Leafs franchise that can seem to extend the life of goalies that should be well past their prime and keep them playing at a high level? Turk Broda, Johnny Bower, and now Eddie Belfour is 39 years young and playing like someone ten years younger. How long can he go on like this? A very good question. Some have suggested that Belfour's contract is more of a detriment than his age and that he might be cast out because of it in favour of old fan favourite (but underachieving) Curtis Joseph, but that's just likely hot air. The Leafs will buy out other players long before Belfour, so long as Belfour keeps his "Crazy Eddie" persona in a box somewhere. And keeps a spare back somewhere, too.
MIKAIL TELLQUIST- The Leafs have been so shallow in the young goalie position that Tellquist gets to be the backup almost by default. When he has played, he's been average at best, but somewhat better than poor Trevor Kidd. Quite honestly, I think Tellquist is headed back to the AHL or will be cut adrift. With Belfour's back being rather cranky, the need for an established backup becomes more and more urgent. Expect a Potvin or Burke to step in here.

VANCOUVER CANUCKS
DAN CLOUTIER- the Canucks' Wild Child goalie is still smarting from yet another dismal performance in the playoffs. One has to wonder how long it will take the new GM to bring in another goalie. The goalie carousel has continued to revolve since Kirk McLean left, and it doesn't show any sign of stopping with Cloutier, even though he's been here for a while. He's tough and can make a big stop, but he really needs to develop his mental fortitude under pressure. May be a casualty in the free agent frenzy!
ALEX AULD- this young goalie did very well when Cloutier didn't in the playoffs, but alas, it wasn't enough. Auld carried the bulk of the workload in Winnipeg for the Moose this season (25-18-4, 2.56GAA .909S%), and handled it with aplomb. The thing was that Wade Flaherty found a lot of starts for the Moose in the playoffs, which makes one wonder if Auld is ready. He'll most likely be the backup in Vancouver to start the season.

WASHINGTON CAPITALS
OLAF KOLZIG- "Ollie the Goalie" is finally starting to reach the downslope of an excellent career with the Capitals. Even when they sold everything but the kitchen sink, and gave him an opportunity to be part of the fire sale, he stayed put and offered to help through the rebuilding. Truly a class act, this massive goalie continues to bring his steady game night after night. The Caps would be lucky to find a goalie like him again once he's gone. However, might they buy him out this time? Would he relish the opportunity to sign with a contender? Watch him closely.
MAXIME OUELLET- once pegged as the cornerstone of Philadelphia's future, he was traded (along with a first, second and third round pick?!?) for Adam Oates. Boy, was that dumb. Ouellet saw limited action in the NHL once the fire sale was over, and he didn't exactly shine. He was the starter in Portland this season, and they were brutal, too, as his 15-20-3 record would suggest, but his personal numbers were still very nice (2.89 GAA, .911S%). He'll likely be the full time backup in Washington this season, but the question is, backup to who?

FREE AGENTS
FELIX POTVIN- Potvin thought he was ready to re-establish himself as a starter in the NHL with the Bruins last season, but the coach had other plans, starting Andrew Raycroft at every opportunity. Raycroft was played even when Potvin put together shutouts. Many believe Potvin to be relegated to backup status, and that's likely what most teams will have in mind when they sign him, but much like Sean Burke, he could experience a resurgence with the right team. Still extremely mentally strong and quite capable of making the big save, he still has some confidence issues (thanks to the Canucks' Marc Crawford) and can fall apart if left out to dry. His best fit might just be his old team: the Leafs, who will need a backup capable of playing a whole season if necessary.
GARTH SNOW- served as a mentor to young Rick DiPietro on the Island for a while, and now may find himself without a team as the season starts up. Still capable when he needs to be, and may resume backup duties somewhere, but could be near the end of the line.
MANNY FERNANDEZ- should be a desirable player for a team in need of a seasoned backup with starter potential. Fernandez has been around for a while now, and was squeezed out of Minnesota by Dwayne Roloson. He'll catch on somewhere. Maybe Phoenix?
J.S. AUBIN- was signed by the St. John's Maple Leafs in mid season and played rather well, posting a 12-9-0, with a 2.87GAA and .921 S%. Maybe the Leafs were thinking he could back up Eddie Belfour this year, but maybe he's going to stay in the A from here on in.
JAN LASAK- the Slovak goalie can play a very good game, and rumour has is that his lack of NHL time in Nashville frustrated him so much that he went back home to play last season. He might come back if he got the right offer, but for now, he's a complete wild card. Very fast and fluid.
SEAN BURKE- after filling in for Robert Esche in Philadelphia, Burke will once again find himself without a home at first. He had a renaissance in Phoenix for a couple of seasons, and was the prime catch in 2004's trade deadline where goalies were concerned. Alas, despite a victory over the Leafs, Burke is 38 years old and may finally be at the end of the road. Some of his comments as of late may not exactly endear him to others, but he might just be a quick fix for some team.

Thanks for stickin' with me through all of this (or even if you just read about your favourite tenders). I'll be writing on and off over the next little while (working lots, plus a vacation), but I'll be back now that the NHL is back, too. Till next time, keep your eyes up and your stick down!

You can e-mail Dallas at patrollingthecrease@shaw.ca. For more articles from Dallas, check out his archives here.

 The opinions expressed on this page are of the author, and in no way reflect the views of the NHL, it teams or players. All material in Patrolling the Crease copyrighted (C) 2004 Spector's Hockey. Reproduction of this material in whole, or in part, without consent by the author or Spector's Hockey is prohibited.