Friday, September 4, 2009

Wings Blogger Roundtable Day 5: Let's Talk Goalies...

Thanks for joining us here for Day 5 of the epic Wings Blogger Roundtable. We’ve already discussed the Olympics, the Williams and Bertuzzi signings, potential fatigue, and influential players. Today, the greatest collection of hockey minds ever assembled will take on a topic of perennial controversy: Goalies.

First, how do you feel about a Chris Osgood/Jimmy Howard tandem carrying the Wings down the stretch? What do you expect of Ozzie this season? On top of that, do you think Howard will finally live up to his potential or is this the end of the road for him in the Wings organization? Looking beyond this season, who do you see taking the reins from Ozzie when he's gone? Despite the fact that he still looks like he needs parental supervision to get into an R-rated movie, he is getting up there in years. In addition to Howard, the Wings have Daniel Larsson, Jordan Pearce, and Thomas McCollum developing in the minors. Which, if any, of them do you think will be the Wings' "goalie of the future?" Or does the answer lie outside of the organization?

Tyler at The Triple Deke:

I'm far from being knowledgeable about Jimmy Howard's potential, so I can only go on what little of him I've seen, and of course, my usually-wrong gut feelings. And my gut tells me that this is the end of the road for him.

I'm mildly concerned about the goalie tandem because of the question mark that is Howard and the fact that I fear Ozzie's wheels are going to come off in the near future. He followed up a spectacular 2008 Cup run with a maddening regular season, and then turned it on again once the playoffs started. Is the inconsistency a sign of age, or something else?

If I had to guess which goalie will be the future of the Wings, I'd go with McCollum.

I discuss how I think Ozzie will play this season in Bingo Bango’s segment. I won’t repeat the whole thing, only say that Ozzie has cleared up his issues and is going to have a big season. Last year, during the regular season, in my weaker times, I called for Ozzie’s blood. I think I even said that he faltered because we put the saddle on him. I now believe that part of the problem was the uncertainty of who the main guy would be with Conklin in town. I think Howard is going to be the Manny Legace of this generation of Red Wings. I think he’ll do just fine as a backup, but I just have this feeling that we’re not going to be able to put the saddle on him once Ozzie calls it quits. Of course, I’ll be wishing and hoping that he does well…he has done a good job of holding down the Grand Rapids starting job while we go out and get fresh meat like McCollum and Larsson. I watched Larsson play in Grand Rapids last year and he really impresses me. Plus he has that whole Swedish thing going for him (complete with the two ‘S’ last name). I’m more than willing to give McCollum a shot if he rebounds from a bad WJC last year, he’s still really young, and Jordan Pearce could be one of those Tim Thomas-like sleeper pick-ups who turns into world class. I saw him play against MSU and he looked solid. I, for one, am sick of constantly looking outside the organ-i-zation for the next Red Wings goalie, it’s time for us to finally grow our own starter in-house, and with the crop we have right now, I think we may do just that.

I don’t have the same confidence level with the Osgood/Howard tandem as I did with Osgood/Conklin and Osgood/Hasek, but that’s because we had a pair of veteran goalies. Howard has yet to prove himself in Detroit, which would make any fan wary. That being said, GM Ken Holland has never let me down so I’m going to trust him in this one-year experiment. To be honest, I don’t foresee Howard staying with the Wings for more than 2-3 years because I believe Daniel Larsson and Tomas McCollum are more talented goaltenders that just need a little more time to develop. I think Howard can be a solid Band-Aid fix, but I don’t see him taking the reins when Ozzie is gone. That mantle will go to either Larsson or McCollum. I haven’t watched enough of either of those goaltenders to best predict which one will be our netminder of the future, but I’d probably go with McCollum as the long-term solution If I had to guess.

I have absolutely no concerns about Osgood this season. I think he made some mistakes last season and didn't have his focus completely, but he loves this team and he desperately wants to be THE guy here. He's not going to lose focus again. That said, you really don't want to ride him any harder than 55-60 games because he is just getting up there in years and history has shown that it's usually not a great idea to lean that much on an older goalie. I've been a Howard supporter for years, groaning and whining about the likes of Hasek and why it wasn't a good idea to sign Conklin (though it turned out to be), but honestly, now that he's on the team, I'm nervous. I think his NHL play has shown that he can play in this league, and I think playing for Detroit will really help him out. But I'm thinking less and less that he's the long-term solution in this organization.

I think Larsson and McCollum both have something special and I flip flop back and forth between who I think is the answer long-term. Larsson looks unbeatable and sometimes unchallenged in the AHL, I don't think anyone could have predicted how smooth his transition to North America was. McCollum has the most raw talent of anyone in the organization and all the tools of an elite NHL goaltender. But I've seen him have bad days, he needs seasoning and confidence. As of this moment, I think McCollum is probably going to end up being this team's answer. I think Larsson has the ability to be a reliable 1B goaltender, while Howard might be more of a backup. For certain though, this is a very nice dilemma to have and not one that Detroit's faced since I've followed them.

Jessica at Bingo Bango:

Damn. I just overcame the horrible night terrors caused by the sound of a Kronwall shot hitting the cross bar, the posts, even the remote possibility of a shot hitting the small remaining portions of Crosby’s dignity. And now just reading the name Howard brings a similar nauseating fear. I understand and support the Holland concept of allowing players to become “over ripe,” but I don't think that was the reason for Howard spending so much time in the AHL. Had Howard not been out of minor league options I think we may have had another season of Conkblock. At this point I am not yet convinced that Howard is an NHL level goalie. He has flashes of brilliance (alright maybe brilliance is a bit of an overstatement) but mid season he seems to run out of steam and struggle. He is simply inconsistent. Either way Ozzie is not going to be able to have a “finals hangover” this year. It doesn't seem like Howard will be able to pull the team through points of the season like the Conk did. With that being said, a goalie for the Wings (minus last year’s playoffs) does not need to steal games. He needs to stop the damn puck every once in awhile and mentally stay focused while the forwards are delightfully torturing the other team with Red Wing style puck possession. If our defense comes back this season in 2007-2008 form, well Howard may make it through.

I’ll be up front right from the jump: there can’t be too many fans that have been as hard on Chris Osgood as I have. His 08-09 regular season was HORRID, and I would have had no problem with his being waived during the winter months and going with Conklin.

That said, he really was the only reason the Wings made it as far as they did in the post-season. I’m a big enough man to admit that I didn’t see that coming – and was pleasantly surprised. I do think we’ll see a resurgence in goal from Ozzie (but really, how could it be worse?) during the season, but Jimmy Howard is a huge question mark for me.

He’s clearly not banging down the NHL’s door – which, after four years in Grand Rapids, he should be – so I don’t have a great feeling about his automatic inclusion on the roster. By what I’ve seen watching him with the Griffins (and in limited time with the Wings), I simply don’t believe he’s the heir apparent to the Red Wings net. It almost feels like the Wings are giving Howard this chance because A) they have to, thanks to the waiver options expiring, and B) they don't want to admit that he's not the guy they thought he was when they drafted him. Those aren't exactly confidence-building reasons for a fandom that borders on insanity when it comes to goaltenders anyway. I forsee him being - fair or not - public enemy #1 should the season not unfold the way we expect it to (read: 82-0).

I think the goalie of the future is Thomas McCollum. Yeah, he imploded in the World Juniors, but he’s a strong-headed kid and I don’t think that will affect him in the long run. At least I hope not. All signs point to Larsson being the real deal, too, and that’s certainly encouraging. I have to imagine that in a handful of years, one of those guys become the first bona fide Red Wings-drafted and developed star netminder in quite some time.

My money’s on McCollum.

Hello Kris and good morning. I look back to December or January of last year and I knew for a fact that Chris Osgood was done. There was no doubt in my mind. I would have bet both my pets that he had nothing left to offer the team, the state of Michigan, or me. As certain as I was then that he had nothing left but a bucket full of suck? That's how confident I am now that he's going to have the year of his career this upcoming season. I'm betting that Osgood is considering all he did to prepare for last year...and he's doing the exact opposite now. I'm betting he's embarrassed and is doing everything possible to reverse that.

In fact, say this: Jennings trophy and Vezina finalist. Leader in GAA and wins.

Jimmy Howard? Not so much. Never much, actually. Nothing he's done in the brief Detroit stints or the much longer tenure in Grand Rapids has given me any indication that he's going to ever be Detroit's number 1 guy. As for McCollum, Pearce or Larsson? No idea until we see more of them at this level. My gut tells me we're going to see another established goalie in here after Osgood. The Detroit Red Wings have no problem putting a good (rather than great) goalie in net. They do, however, resist the idea of an unproven, good (rather than great) goalie.

George at Snapshots:

My only concerns about Chris Osgood's mental or physical state involve his ever-more-troublesome groin. He's started to stuffer from groin injuries on a semi-regular basis since adopting a more butterfly-based style, and as he seems to vacillate between playing a strict butterfly style (which tends to back him into the "blue paint" and his much more comfortable and aggressive hybrid stance, and it's as if shifting from comfort zone to discomfort zone makes him feel that it's more necessary to drop into the butterfly on every shot instead of performing the occasional kick save while playing that refined "balanced on the balls of his feet/toes" style which, with a few subtle tweaks in terms of conserving motion and momentum, has always served him well.

In terms of concentrating on playing better hockey on a regular-season-by-regular-season basis, I'm taking Osgood at his word when he said that his worst regular-season funk served as a late career-turning learning experience, and that he'll be able to just let himself play instead of channeling his inner Manny Legace. In that sense, playing alongside, "I only worry about stopping the next shot" Hasek helped Osgood tremendously, and I think that he missed Dom's calming influence last season. Serving as Jimmy Howard's mentor is going to help his mental outlook tremendously as he's got to "set an example" again instead of engaging in more egalitarian crease-sharing, which he did with both Legace and Conklin.

Regarding Osgood's age, when I've talked to Jim Nill and read Ken Holland's comments about Osgood, their party line is simple: they believe that goaltenders truly become better players as they age, and while they might require a little lighter workload as the miles pile up on the odometer, Holland especially sees playing goal at the NHL level as a career-spanning learning curve, with goaltenders hitting their prime around 30 and really continuing to improve for the balances of their careers. Osgood can easily play into his early 40's if he wants to, and the Wings will probably let him do just that if it's what he desires.

I will admit, however, that those who suggest that I drink the Red Wings' "Kool-Aid" (it's actually half lemonade and half iced tea, go figure) are mistaken for once when asking for my opinion of Jimmy Howard. The Wings have spent five years and enough hours of Jim Bedard's time that the Wings' goaltending coach could have learned how to fly an airplane (think 2,000-3,000 hours, minimum) trying to transform Howard from a slightly chunky flopper to a lean, mean, refined puck-stopping machine, and I'm just not convinced by his relatively inconsistent form in the AHL and his not-so-great performances in his few appearances in Detroit.

When Howard's on, he may be 6 feet flat and 205 pounds in terms of physical dimensions, but an aggressive, out-of-the-crease Howard employs a wide, sit-on-your-pads Roberto Luongo butterfly and wields his glove, blocker, and stick with both cat-like quickness and elegant simplicity. When Howard backs into the blue paint, he starts looking like Felix Potvin--a goaltender whose too-wide stance opens up a barn door of a five-hole, who's weak on wraparounds, and holds his hands so tightly in front of him that he might as well be waiting for an "applause" sign, with that aggressive stick wobbling heel-off and at a 45-degree angle, simply steering pucks into the blocker side corner instead of into a polyurethane foam-injected core's worth of stopping power.

I have yet to figure out which goaltender he really is, or whether he's somewhere in between, and I think that it's entirely possible that, should Howard not be up to the task of playing in 30 games and winning around 20 of them, the Wings would look for a veteran back-up at the trade deadline and give Larsson/McCollum/Pearce a game or three to strut their stuff.

Long-term, if Howard is the post-Osgood "answer," he'll end up mentoring one of the Wings' "big three" goaltending prospects, and as I've seen them all play and spoken to them, I do believe that, should Howard not pass his acid tests, one of Daniel Larsson, Thomas McCollum, or Jordan Pearce, in descending order, will prove very capable of stopping pucks at the NHL level.

Larsson's Howard's opposite--he's an unbelievably slight goaltender, a hair under six feet tall and 170 lbs. with his gear on, and prone to dehydration at that, but he knows how to make himself "look big" like nobody's business. He doesn't waste an ounce of motion and has the kinds of fundamental understanding of his position that makes what he does look easy. Moreover, he's just an unassuming fellow whose competitive drive is masked by a ridiculously easygoing, slightly quiet demeanor.

As for the red flags regarding his consistency and durability last season, coming over from a league where 50-some games are spread over seven months to playing 80 games over the same period of time, with many back-to-backs and back-to-back-to-back games where you're busing from Peoria to Milwaukee and back to Grand Rapids to play a weekend's worth of games in under 36 hours tends to breed inconsistency like mosquitoes in a swimming pool. He suffered from physical and mental fatigue while making what he deemed an admittedly difficult transition from a 100-foot-wide rink to an 85-foot wide rink with neither dead zones nor any spot where players refuse to shoot, especially to start the forecheck, and he still managed to play very capable hockey and made the AHL's PlanetUSA All-Star Team. He'll find more consistency this year as he continues to adjust to the AHL grind.

McCollum's much more raw than Larsson, whose experience in the Swedish Eliteserien cannot be underestimated (the guy won the Honken Trophy as the best goaltender in the league, for goodness' sake), but McCollum is everything that Howard and Larsson could wish to be in that he is simply BIG, and his big body knows how to get in front of pucks. I've never met a more massive-looking 6'2" human being, with near perfect proportions in a big trunk and long arms and legs, and while his style still has some low-post and can't-squeeze-all-the-parts-shut holes, he combines a strictly disciplined hybrid style with the willingness to throw the rulebook out when he's on his back or side, throwing out various body parts with surprising quickness as he does a suitable big man's Dominik Hasek impersonation. He's level-headed as all get out, too, the sort of goaltender whose empty-headed, easygoing zen betrays the fact that he's extremely intelligent and utterly personable. He's the kind of player who, when you ask him whether he needs a minute or whether you can come back when he's done undressing, says, "No, this is fine" and gabs at you for five minutes while he's soaking in leg pads. Excellent goalie in the making and a very, very nice young man. If he doesn't end up playing NHL hockey, he'll do a bang-up job as a probation officer (he spent his post-high school time in Guelph and Brampton taking college classes in criminology).

Jordan Pearce is somebody who theoretically has mixed priorities. He could have headed into medical school on full-ride scholarships because he pulled a 3.8 GPA while playing hockey at Notre Dame, but he's following his NHL dream instead--for now, anyway. His physical dimensions and playing style most closely resemble Howard's, which means that he was absolutely dominant at the NCAA level, but might have some issues adapting to the faster and more aggressive pace of AHL or ECHL play (and, at present, it seems that Pearce is the one destined to don a Toledo Walleye jersey). He's really an "X factor" who could find pro hockey less rewarding than medicine after a year or three of play in the minor leagues, or he could place himself on the fast track to an NHL paycheck. It's a bit hard to get a read on NCAA players, even if they're extremely dominant at that level--some players find the transition to playing twice as many games against bigger, stronger and more aggressive opponents easy, and others struggle with the grind. He's going to be interesting to watch to say the least, and but he does have "all the tools," both in terms of his on-ice abilities and his gigantic brain.

Long story short, I think that Osgood's going to be fine, I'm not sure about Howard, however, and I do believe that the Wings may end up acquiring a veteran back-up at the trade deadline, but Osgood's probably going to play until he's 40, and, in the interim, out of Howard, Larsson, McCollum, and Pearce, there's got to be at least one very capable NHL goaltender in the bunch.

Chris at Motown Wings:

The goaltending situation is without a doubt the biggest unknown heading into this season. Everybody knows that Ozzie can perform in the playoffs. He’s been lights out two years in a row come playoff time, but last season he struggled mightily during the regular season. If Ozzie is forced to take another “10 day rest”, I’m not sure how confident I am that Howard can pick up the mantle and keep the Wings on the winning path. The Wings need Osgood to step it up this year, both in his ability to stop pucks and in his ability to mentor the younger kids and be a veteran, leader-like presence in the locker room.

As far as the future goes, I’m in the Thomas McCollum camp. The kid was a first round pick, the front office is high on him and his stat line is pretty darn good. I think he is still a couple of years away from being ready, which lines up pretty well to the timeframe I put Chris Osgood on. I get the impression we will see Larsson up there with him at some point, but I don’t necessarily think the same holds true for Howard and Pearce in the long run. In Howard’s case, his tenure here depends on how well he plays this season. With all the time that has been spent on developing him, he needs to put in a good showing with the big club this year, or he may very well find himself on his way out. As for Pearce: I like the guy, but I don’t see him as a GREAT prospect, a la Larsson and McCollum. Look, the kid was a solid player at Notre Dame and it’s good to see him getting a shot at the big time, but I just don’t think his talent is strong enough to hold off a charge from Larsson, McCollum or any other prospect we may see down the road.

Matt at On the Wings:

I'm feeling pretty good about it. I know Osgood will be better this year, as he'll be over whatever mental crap messed him up last season and he'll still have something to prove. We saw from the playoffs what the guy looks like when he has something to prove. I expect him to be on top of his game for most, if not all, of the season. I think last year was much more of an anomaly than the start of a trend. My wife, a big Osgood fan, predicts he'll be a heck of a lot better than last year, but not as good as 2008 (which was a career year).

It's Howard I'm a bit more concerned about, though that concern is lessened when I remind myself of how he finished this past season. After years of underwhelming and agonizingly slow devopement (to us impatient Wings fans, anyway), Jimmy really stepped it up down the stretch. The competiton Larsson provided was huge in that, but so was the extra attention the Wings gave him in the form of Jim Bedard this season. I think the combination of having a real competitor for the starting spot in GR and the obvious ramping up of the Wings' efforts with him went a long way in pointing out to him that he needed to improve or he'd be out. All that said, he remains unproven and the though of a possible Osgood injury will probably result in many sleepless nights this season (likely following a Howard loss). My wife says if he's going to make the NHL, it's going to be this year, because he looked the best he's ever looked at the end of the season and in the playoffs last year. Not starter material yet, though. She says he traditionally doesn't do well in high-pressure situations, though this past playoffs, he was better in that regard. The question, though, is if he can take that new-found stability and apply it in an NHL situation.

On the Larsson, Pearce and McCollum question, my guess is McCollum would be the guy. Larsson was strong in most ways last year, but it remains to be seen how much staying power he has. He may have just been a flash in the pan. Pearce is swinging for the fences on an NHL career and may be more likely to fall flat and return to medical school than he is to make it. My wife saw a little of him last year and said he looked good, but he'll really have to be incredible to overcome the McCollum hype. I think McCollum has better long-term potential to be The Guy in Detroit, but that's some years down the road. In the meantime, Howard may just become strong enough to keep McCollum from the job. If I had to pick now, though, I agree with my wife: Howard seems more likely to end up on a lesser team, with McCollum being the guy backstopping the Wings.

And finally, yours truly:

Like everyone else, I’m a little bit nervous about the Osgood/Howard tandem. I’ve always been an Ozzie supporter, and I fully expect him to rebound from his less than stellar regular season last year, so I don’t really have many worries on that front. However, the thought of him going down with an injury and leaving goaltending duties to Jimmy Howard doesn’t exactly leave me with visions of rainbows and sunshine. I know the Wings like to leave prospects in the minors longer to allow them to mature, but it seems like Howard has been in Grand Rapids forever. And there has to be some reason for that. I feel like he’s been forecasted as the Wings’ goalie of the future for as long as I can remember. I haven’t seen him play many games, but he hasn’t looked particularly good (or confident for that matter) in the few appearances he’s made in the NHL. The sense that his promotion from the Griffins was due to the fact that there were no other options isn’t exactly encouraging either. I get the feeling that Howard-as- backup will be a one- or two-year adventure until one of the guys developing in the minors is ready to step up and fill the role.

I’m actually excited at the prospect (pun!) of not having to look outside of the organization for the “goalie of the future.” As far as I can remember, Ozzie’s the last goalie drafted by the Wings to have any measure of success, and it would be nice to be able to have a guy who’s been developed by the organization take over a couple of years down the road when he’s done instead of trying to sign an expensive, veteran goalie with those precious capped dollars. I’m going to defer to George in terms of analyzing which prospect looks strongest, but I have to imagine that out of those three, at least one is going to develop into an NHL-caliber goalie. And that’s going to be a very good thing for the Wings down the road.

Be sure to tune in for tomorrow's edition at Nightmare on Helm Street.


  1. Yet another near 1,500 word essay from George...good lord can that man write.

  2. No kidding. The whole thing ended up being 9 pages long in Word. Single spaced. George took up 3 of them.

  3. George is the porn star of Wing bloggers.