Sunday, January 18, 2009

The Curse of the Starter

Pictured left to right: Dan Ellis (39), Pekka Rinne (35)

For most NHL teams, there is a clear definition of goaltender roles in terms of starter and backup. For Nashville however, the men between the pipes must learn to remain on their toes (or skates) at all times because the starting role seems to be continually up for grabs, no matter who was awarded the role at the beginning of the season. History over the past season and a half has lent itself to this formula, much to the chargin of the fans and goalies alike.

At the start of the 2007-2008 season, Chris Mason was deemed our starting goaltender, with training-camp-surprise Dan Ellis in the backup role. As the season wore on, Mason’s nerves began to be pushed to their limits as he was pulled from games time and time again, in favor of Dan Ellis. Predators head coach Barry Trotz used the system of “ride a goalie while they’re hot and then bench them when they lose.” or what I like to call the Dance of the Rotating Goalies. While this makes sense in theory, it doesn’t translate well to the players who are constantly in the dark about whether or not the coach thinks they are good enough to stay in their current roles. Late in the season when it appeared as though Trotz was fed up with both Mason and Ellis’s performances, he threw yet one more obstacle into things. The organization called up Milwaukee Admirals starter, Pekka Rinne to take the place of one of the two netminders on the bench for a while. Due to a snowstorm and misplaced equipment, Pekka never got a chance to start his scheduled game. Coach Trotz put all his faith in Dan Ellis that night and the Predators found themselves on the winning side of things from then on out. This move proved too much for Chris Mason, whose confidence was shaken beyond repair and viewed most every game for the rest of the season from the comfort of the bench.

This led to Chris Mason being traded to St. Louis after the season was over, leaving room for Dan Ellis to rise to the starting goal tender role. However, with Pekka Rinne starting the first year of his one-way contract, Ellis’s fate was not so certain. Dan Ellis and Pekka Rinne both competed for the backup role to Chris Mason just one year prior so there were definitely questions as to who would be handed the starter title at the end of pre-season. Ultimately, it was awarded to Dan Ellis, with Trotz saying that he and Pekka would probably split the games 60/40. At this point in the season though, it seems Trotz is starting to get inside Ellis’s head, much like what he did to Mason just a season ago. And honestly, I’m sick of it. This in-and-out rotation does not work to any goaltender's advantage because they can not gain consistency if they are being pulled from games and benched for week-long stretches.

In my opinion, both Ellis and Rinne are of starting goaltender caliber. However, just like Chris Mason, Dan Ellis and NOT Pekka Rinne was awarded the starting position. Dan Ellis might have had a few off nights this season but then again, so has Pekka Rinne. So basically what I’m saying is: if this trend continues, no young goalie in their right mind will want to come to the Predators organization. Well, maybe they’d be okay with coming here but they should probably only ever strive for the backup position, and not starter. Because eventually, every one of our backups becomes our starters once Coach Trotz decides the starter is no longer good enough.


"Dave Schultz" said...

"if this trend continues, no young goalie in their right mind will want to come to the Predators organization"

Until Chet Pickard shows up and kicks ass. Just sayin. :)

Rachel said...

Chet Pickard is awesome but I'm telling's inevitable that the same thing will happen to him too. Unless we have a new coach before he makes it to the NHL.

Powderhornhockey said...

Pekka Rinne is a goalie who seems do best if ridden hard. Or at least that was the way he seemed in the AHL, he was at this best for the Admirals when used often. He was the hot hand and Claude Noel believed in the hot hand when he was in charge in Milwaukee. Rinne must not be happy with spotty use with the Preds.

Dan Ellis, I did not see much of as he was with Iowa when with the AHL. Except for being very photogenic he did not leave a strong impression on me. Unlike Rinne, who I was always glad to see in goal for the Ads, you could count on him to leave it all on the ice every night.