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03-30-2013, 07:37 PM
Mayor Bee
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Part 3: Goalies

When Howson came to Columbus, the goalies in the system were:
- Pascal Leclaire. 24 years old, two years as an NHL backup and spot starter, with a frightening injury history.
- Fredrik Norrena. 33 years old, one year as an NHL starter.
- Tomas Popperle. 22 years old, and was attempting to recover from a career-threatening injury.
- Dan LaCosta. 21 years old, one year as a pro (with only 29 games played, split between the ECHL and AHL).
- Steve Mason. 19 years old, one year as a starter in the OHL. Not signed to a pro contract.

I'll take a second to point out that Columbus did not draft a goalie in the 2002, 2003, or 2004 drafts. This resulted in a very thin goalie farm, and results in a rather embarrassing situation in 2006-07 that was called "grab any goalie who hits waivers". Most people forget that Brian Boucher and Ty Conklin played for Columbus. This wasn't Howson; this was Doug MacLean.

In the 2007 draft, Howson picked Allen York from the AJHL. York played three years in college, then turned pro. He's played in the NHL, and is still a prospect.

2010 saw the drafting of Mathieu Corbeil-Theriault and Martin Ouellette. Corbeil-Theriault ended up on the Saint John Sea Dogs and apparently stagnated; he was never signed and went back into the draft (where he was not picked as a re-entry). Ouellette was a high school player on his way to Maine; he became the starter this year after beginning as the third-string goalie.

2011 saw the drafting of Anton Forsberg, who's still in Sweden but has apparently come along nicely. 2012 saw Oscar Dansk picked in the second round and Joonas Korpisalo in the third.

However, unlike MacLean, several moves were made during the interim seasons.

In 2007-08, Leclaire was able to start most of the season, knocking Norrena down to backup status. Adam Munro was signed to a two-way contract. In 2008-09, Steve Mason broke through after Pascal Leclaire was injured. Norrena skipped out on his contract mid-season, and Wade Dubielewicz was claimed off waivers as a result. Leclaire was traded for Antoine Vermette, and Kevin Lalande was acquired from the Flames.

Before the 2009-10 season, Dubielewicz left and Mathieu Garon was signed. The next year, Gustaf Wesslau was signed from Sweden after a couple of excellent seasons as a starter. He was a disaster and ended up in the AHL. Lalande and LaCosta both fell apart and weren't qualified. Wesslau went back overseas. Curtis Sanford and Mark Dekanich were brought in; Dekanich was injured in the preseason and missed the entire year, and Sanford played well before ending up with back spasms that ended his season. Curtis McElhinney was acquired in a trade.

And before this year, Sergei Bobrovsky was acquired in a trade.

So let's back up here. A young goalie (Steve Mason) comes in and excels immediately at age 20, winning the Calder Trophy and backstopping a long-mediocre franchise to its first playoff appearance. Would you say, "Damn, we really need to do something about this guy?" When the team fell apart in 2009-10, it wasn't that Mason fell apart; a lot of guys played horribly. A core of defensive defensemen suddenly couldn't do anything except allow high-quality shots from prime areas. Mason was outplayed slightly by Mathieu Garon; the next year, Garon fell apart and Mason actually rebounded quite nicely.

Last year (2011-12) was the first year that Mason truly looked like an AHL goalie on a regular basis. He had his moments the prior two years, but to act like he was past his prime at age 23 is complete revisionist history. And to act like that 23-year-old needed to be dumped as soon as humanly possible is absurd. A lot of guys have looked good early, struggled, and then rebounded. It's impossible, in that moment of struggle, to conclusively say, "This guy will never amount to anything". Ask Montreal fans what they think of Carey Price, who followed...oh, maybe the same career arc to that point.

If Howson "never did anything", why was Garon (a longtime pro and mostly backup with a couple years as a starter) signed? Why was Dekanich (who was basically the same guy as Ben Bishop) signed? Why was Dubielewicz (former NHL starter) claimed? Why was Wesslau (starter in the Swedish Elite League) signed? Why was Sanford (who had started previously) brought in? Why were young prospects coming into the system? Why?

The simple fact is that Howson didn't put all of his eggs into the Mason basket. He would never have signed a guy like Mathieu Garon if he was 100% sold on Mason; Garon would have been redundant from the beginning. And let's not forget the common idea that "goalies take longer to develop". There were no goalies when Howson took over. Even if had drafted two or three or four goalies in his first draft in 2007, how quickly would they be in the NHL under the best of circumstances? Hell, Allen York was drafted in 2007, played his first games last year, and still people say he was "rushed".

Top-level goalies aren't bought or traded for, they're drafted. MacLean screwed the pooch from the very beginning by refusing to address the position at any point. THAT is why Columbus has had spotty goaltending since 2005, because the previous three drafts had zero goalies drafted and no actual plan, because top-flight goalies don't hit free agency, and because top-flight goalies don't get traded unless there's one hell of a set of extenuating circumstances.

Next up. Part 4: defensemen.

May a horde of ghostly Vikings slowly dismember you with butterknives if you quote this entire post for the purpose of replying to it.

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