Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Decisions, Decisions: A Tale of Three Goalies

The only position I left for myself to mull over for the Predators this post-season is goalie. With just one decision to make, it doesn’t seem like such a big deal: either sign Dan Ellis before he hits UFA status in July or let him go. Simple enough, right? Well, not exactly…

After last off-season’s shocking trade of Tomas Vokoun to Florida, the team, coaches and fans alike looked to backup goalie Chris Mason to show himself worthy of the starter position he was (essentially) automatically rewarded. The Predators took their first step of faith by signing him to a two year, $6 million contract extension. And in the month leading up to the start of the season, Chris Mason looked as strong as he had been in the ’06 playoff run and the 2006-2007 regular season. His performance during training camp and the pre-season exhibition games gave everyone reason to hope that we could still hold our own, even without our beloved Czech in net.

Meanwhile, the backup netminder position, vacated when Mason was re-signed to the starter role was all but guaranteed to be filled by Pekka Rinne. The 6’5”, 207 lbs 25 year old Finnish goalie, a two time AHL All-Star for the Milwaukee Admirals, had been touted as the “future of our goaltending” by the entire organization since he was drafted into the system in 2004. With two AHL seasons as starting goaltender under his belt going into training camp, Pekka had every reason to feel confident that he would be seeing a lot of more of the NHL come October.

Enter the wrench. Signed as a free agent on July 5th, 2007, 6’0”, 185 lbs 27 year old Dan Ellis was more than likely signed to be Pekka Rinne’s replacement in Milwaukee. What no one expected, I suspect, was that Ellis would end up giving Rinne a run for his money. Before being signed by the Predators, Dan had played just one NHL game with the Dallas Stars organization; most of his time was spent with their AHL-affiliate in Iowa. Ellis had even been quoted as saying that he was ready to pack it up and head to Europe because it looked like his hopes to play in the NHL were slowly slipping away. In any case, whether it be through sheer luck or pure determination, Dan Ellis managed to snatch the backup goalie position right out from under Pekka Rinne’s skates during training camp and sent him back to Milwaukee for (at least) one more year. Elly then plucked Chris Mason from his lead role in net down the stretch in our push towards the playoffs and solidified himself as our new number one heading into the WCQF’s.

What we have here is quite the situation: (a) Chris Mason; locked up for two more seasons at $3 million a year, as he is/was the Predators starting goaltender (b) Pekka Rinne; who starts the one-way portion of his contract with the Predators at the start of the 2008-2009 season before becoming an RFA in the summer of 2009 and (c) UFA Dan Ellis; the no-name guy who first knocked out heir-apparent Rinne for the backup position and then stood on his head when we needed it the most and stole the starting job away from Mason.

And it’s this situation that has everyone scratching their heads trying to figure out how it will all go down. Truth be told, I have a soft spot in my heart for Mr. Dan Ellis so maybe my opinion doesn’t hold much weight. However, this girl’s got a dream; and in this dream she sees Ellis as the starting goaltender, with Pekka Rinne watching from the bench. Now I don’t want to say that we should just up and toss Mason away because he had a bad season. He has proved his worth in times past when called upon to take the lead between the pipes. But...how does one team handle the possibility of having three goalies on their roster who would all have to clear waivers to be sent down to the AHL? There are other teams out there fishing for a new goalie (Ottawa, especially) who might be more than willing to buy out Mason’s contract and give him a fresh start at being number one.

So the questions still remain: does this off-season bring about the changing of the (pipe) guards yet again for the Preds, with Mason out and Ellis in? Or do we let Ellis go to be a superstar somewhere else and take our chances that the right decision was made?

UGH...see, this is why my name is not David Poile.

My prediction: Absolutely no freaking idea. I wish I had a clue but I’m at a complete loss for any thought as to how this will play out.


Anonymous said...

I would agree with you and say Ellis #1 and Rinne #2. I saw Mason play and he wasn't the best. I've seen Rinne play and I know he has some serious skill. Ellis has definitely proved himself. If I was the GM, I would trade Mason, resign Ellis and bring Pekka up.

Cat said...

Agreed - Ellis #1, Rinne #2. I adore Dan Ellis.