Saturday, July 02, 2011

A Tale of Four Goalies

If you thought Day One of this year's unrestricted free agent signing period was a shocker, Caps fans, Day Two was right up there on the Shock-o-Meter. The Caps followed up their signing of Jeff Halpern, Joel Ward, and Roman Hamrlik on Day One – along with their trade of goalie Semyon Varlamov to Colorado for first and second round draft picks – with the unexpected signing of former Florida Panther goaltender Tomas Vokoun on Day Two to a one-year deal.

And the signing of Vokoun makes us think, “Olaf Kolzig.”

Kolzig, you ask? Well, some prologue first. With the signing of Vokoun, the depth chart for Caps goaltenders gets shuffled a bit. Before the signing, it was clear that Michal Neuvirth was the number one goalie, and Braden Holtby was the backup. The wisdom of such a thing is dubious, Holtby perhaps needing work at Hershey more than sitting on a bench in DC, but the pecking order was clear.

Now, with Vokoun in the fold, Neuvirth is no longer the number one, or at least is no longer clearly the number one, and Holtby goes to Hershey. And this is where we think of Olaf Kolzig. Caps fans will remember that Kolzig was himself a first round draft pick in 1989. He got the briefest of looks (two games) in his first pro season after being drafted, but his early career was marked more by his bouncing around in the minors – Baltimore in the AHL, Hampton Roads ECHL, Rochester in the AHL, Portland in the AHL.

Despite his draft pedigree, Kolzig didn’t get much of a look at the NHL level until the 1994-1995 season, five years after he was drafted, and that was only for 14 games. And he didn’t get much in the way of longer looks in the next couple of seasons – 18 games in 1995-1996 and 29 games in 1996-1997 (although he did get some significant playoff experience, thanks to the problems Jim Carey had in that setting).

It was not until the 1997-1998 season that Kolzig took the number one reins for good, and that happened when the number one goalie Bill Ranford – obtained, it is worth noting, via trade to take over as the number one goalie – was injured in the season opener against Toronto and suffered subsequent ineffectiveness. Finally, eight years after having been drafted, Kolzig was the number one goaltender. It so happens that he led the Caps to their one and only Stanley Cup finals appearance in that season.

So now, the Caps get Tomas Vokoun for the bargain price of $1.5 million on a one year deal, but it throws the goalie depth chart into a cocked hat. A problem? Well, Kolzig is on the company payroll, and his example of the somewhat roundabout way one might take to assuming the role of a number one goaltender in the NHL might be of as much value to a Michal Neuvirth or a Braden Holtby as his ability to pass along goaltending lessons to netminders in the Caps system. Michal, Braden… not all paths to your destination are straight and well paved. Just ask Olie.