Monday, September 28, 2009

2009-2010 Previews -- Goaltenders: Jose Theodore

Jose Theodore

Theme: “What may be done at any time will be done at no time.”

The Scots are known more for having invented the game of golf, not for their prowess in hockey, but that above is a Scottish proverb. And it applies here, for this is likely to be Jose Theodore’s one, best, and perhaps last chance to backstop a team to a Stanley Cup. “Any time” has become “this time,” as in “now.”

Last season, Theodore won 32 games – a respectable number for having played in 57 games on a playoff contender. But he was also a “second page” goalie. By that, we mean that if one was to go to and look at the goalie statistics, you’d find him on the second page of the goals-against rankings and the save percentage rankings. Even on an “offense first” club like the Capitals, that is neither a hoped-for nor an expected result. Not for a player with 11 years of NHL experience going into last season and holding a two-year, $9 million contract (if you’re wondering, 12 goalies carry a heavier cap hit than does Theodore).

The problem is, in part, that Theodore won the Hart and Vezina Trophies in 2002 after posting a 30-24-10, 2.11, .931, seven shutout season. He hasn’t really come that close to matching those numbers since (except for wins, which he surpassed with 32 last year). The lowest GAA he’s had since that year was 2.27 in 2003-2004. The best save percentage he’s had since was .919 in 2003-2004. And in that year he also posted his highest shutout total since the trophy year, finishing with six. In four seasons since the lockout, including last year’s with the Caps, Theodore’s average season is 23-18-4, 2.93, .907, and one shutout. We hate to make this comparison, but that’s pretty much Carey Price from last year (23-16-10, 2.83, .905, and one shutout).

There is also the matter of load. Last year’s 57 appearances represents Theodore’s high water mark since the lockout. He has never appeared in more than 67 games in a season in his career, and he has eclipsed the 3,500 minute mark twice in 12 seasons. In fact, he has played in more than 3,000 minutes in only half of his 12 NHL seasons.

Fearless: Well, he’s in the last year of his deal with the Caps. The last time he was in that situation, he improved his goals against from 3.26 to 2.44, his save percentage from .891 to .910, and his shutouts from none to three. If he has similar “improvement” this year, Semyon Varlamov is going to break in that baseball cap nicely.

Cheerless: How many times has Theodore played in the third round of the Stanley Cup playoffs? Take your time, we’ll wait. Did you say, “none?” Well, you win a stuffed duck. Here is the scarier part of that fact. Four times he made it to the second round, plus mop-up duty in Game 7 last year. His second round record?... 2-16, 3.87, .885.

In the end:

Once more… there is no position fraught with more uncertainty than that of goaltender on this club. Semyon Varlamov doesn’t have the body of experience one would like to see in a goalie on a championship-caliber club. Michal Neuvirth, ditto. And Jose Theodore doesn’t have the sort of playoff resume to inspire confidence. If the Caps are a club that has to depend on their goaltender to steal the majority of wins in the spring, then the Caps would not be a betting favorite to win a Stanley Cup.

But let’s use an analogy from another sport here, a sport that places a lot of emphasis on one position in a championship setting. The Capitals do not have the hockey equivalent of Joe Montana or Tom Bradey tending goal, the guy you just know is going to find a way to come up big in the big game. But Super Bowls are won by the likes of a Jeff Hostetler at quarterback, too. Sometimes, like a football quarterback, all that you ask of a goaltender is not to make the big mistake. You don’t ask him to shoulder the load. The Caps have a team that can ease that burden on a goaltender, but having a goaltender that might be looking over his shoulder at his potential successor will make for a continuing subplot to the season.

One would think that the yanking after Game 1 of the first round of the playoffs would be motivation to make things right this year. But Theodore had a difficult summer that makes that benching in the Rangers series pale in comparison. It’s made for a grueling six months for the veteran. Whether a Caps fan or not, one can’t help but root for him to have a much better six months in front of him, and an even better spring to follow.


54 games, 30-16-5, 2.76, .904, two shutouts

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