Wednesday, July 04, 2007

The Bruins Future in Net: And How Manny Fernandez will fit in with Boston

Peter Chiarelli signed Manny Fernandez with the intention of making the Etobicoke, Ontario native the Bruins starting goaltender for the 2006-07 season. Fernandez will be making about four million and as such, he should perform as a starting keeper. I am confident he will - but the reaction hasn't been mutual throughout Boston.

Bruins fan have been skeptical because of Fernandez's age - 33 - and Kevin Paul Dupont recently wrote in a Boston Globe article titled Bruins have too many men in the crease that Fernandez "is not considered among the game's elite netminders."

I can't argue with that statement because it would be difficult to make a clear cut case for Fernandez as an elite number. But before I look at some stats to compare the elite goaltenders of the league over the past seven years (Fernandez's first year of significant time was in 1999-00), I will wager that he is among the league's...let's say seven best keepers.

Fernandez has played in 293 with a record of 125-113-24-1 and a 2.47 GAA, a .913 save pct and 13 shutouts.

First let's pit Fernandez against the current Black and Gold. Tim thomas is a career 45-43-0-4 with 3.00 GAA, .909 save pct and four shutouts.

Hannu Toivonen: 12-14-0-1, 3.33, .896, 1 SO. (on paper he's on the way out)

So I guess we can live with Fernandez starting over Thomas and Toivonen. But back to the point here. Let's look at some other goaltenders, all considered to be No. 1 starters and even elite keepers at times, who have played during the same time period, for a similar number of years.

31-year-old Marty Turco is undoubtably considered one the league's top five if not three keepers...during the regular season (although he actually had a good postseason this year). In 320 games, Turco is 175-82-26-5 with a 2.11 GAA, a .914 save % and 30 shutouts. A superior GAA, more wins and shutouts but Fernandez gets the edge, ever so slight, in save percentage.

Moving on to Stanley Cup winning 30-year-old J.S. Giguere. He's played 353 games and compiled a 156-134-25-8 record with a GAA of 2.48, a save percentage of .914 and 25 shutouts. Fernandez with a 2.47 GAA, a .913 save % takes both categories, barely.

Last season, Fernandez was ranked 15th in GAA (2.55), just behind Mikka Kiprusoff (2.46) and Stanley Cup finalist keeper Ray Emery (2.47).

Dupont, in the previously mentioned article, then writes Fernandez "...lost his job to Finnish backup Niklas Backstrom in January when he wrenched a knee. However, Fernandez played in a career-high 58 games two seasons ago, and he said in an afternoon conference call yesterday he felt he could handle that workload again."

Who wouldn't have lost their job to Niklas Backstrom last year? In 41 games, he posted 23 wins and lost only eight times (six more in overtime), while posting a league-best 1.97 GAA and also a league best .929 save percentage. He did stumble in one area however.

It may not be seem very important, if anything conditional, but Backstrom was ranked 36th in shootout percentage (53.1%) while Fernandez ranked 14th (71.9%). Furthermore Tim Thomas, who could easily be heading out of town soon, stopped 38 of 46 (82.6%) attempts. Only Martin Brodeur and Henrik Lundqvist faced more shots and only three other goalies (Denis, Holmqvist, CuJo) posted better save percentages in the shootout. It might not mean much but in the current NHL system, shootouts are vital. I don't even want to know how bad Boston would have been without its 9-4 record in the shootout. Tim Thomas, based on save percentage and workload in the shootout, was the league's best. And what was better than watching the emotions Thomas threw all over the rink throughout those shootouts?

And what about longtime teammate of Fernandez, Dwayne Roloson? His stat line over 356 career games: 124-157-42-6, 2.55 GAA, .910 save %. Fernandez has him beat in wins, GAA and save %. Roloson is the goalie, now at age 37, who almost won a cup for Edmonton.

Just for fun, how about one more comparison. Let's take Evgeni Nabokov, considered a franchise goaltender for the Sharks and a very legitimate No. 1 for any team. In 353 career games, the 31-year-old has gone 162-129-29-4 with a 2.43 GAA and a .911 save %. Almost identical numbers to Fernandez just slightly better. Here and now I will rest my case and I believe I was right in my assumption that since the year 2000, give or take a year, Manny Fernandez has been among the league's top six to eight goaltenders in the league.

There's Martin Brodeur, Roberto Luongo and probably Mikka Kiprusoff. These are the league's three elite goaltenders.

Looking again at the trade for Fernandez, Boston sent Petr Kalus and their fourth-round pick in 2009 for Fernandez. That goes into my book as an unproven, young forward and a late round draft pick for one of the NHL's top ten goaltenders, maybe even a top six keeper (top six is elite).

I say keep Tim Thomas, deal the younger and more desirable Hanny Toivonen. Thomas is one the last remaining personalities, recognizable faces on the Bruins. The fans love him. He plays with his heart and blames no one. He is a guy you want on your team. Maybe not to play 70 games but that problem has been solved. Fernandez is an upper-class keeper and Thomas is a very legitimate guy too.

Manny's career high is 58 games. He's coming off a year of 44 games. 50 games for Manny and 30 for Thomas. Two very capable goalies who will remain fresh throughout the year. Both will be in tune for the playoffs. Deal Toivonen and a draft pick for a defenseman or for more scoring up front.

When you break down the numbers, the Bruins are in good shape if they make the right decisions. And if not, there's always that guy named Tuukka Rask.


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