The Ottawa Senators have been through a lot of goaltenders since re-joining the league. Never in the history of the modern Senators has goaltending been the Senators' strong suit; it's been capable at times, terrible at times, but aside from the Dominik Hasek experiment--which started well and ended in frustration for Senators' fans--Ottawa has never had a goaltender who could be counted on to single-handedly win a game. When Bryan Murray went out and acquired Pascal Leclaire, he was looking to change that unfortunate reality.
Take a look at the goaltenders that the Senators have chewed through in the last five seasons, and you'll see a disturbing trend of unpredcitability and unreliability in the Senators' crease:
- 2008-09: Brian Elliott, Alex Auld, Martin Gerber
- 2007-08: Gerber, Ray Emery, Elliott
- 2006-07: Emery, Gerber
- 2005-06: Dominik Hasek, Emery, Mike Morrison
- 2003-04: Patrick Lalime, Martin Prusek, Emery
You'll notice one constant through those years was Emery, one of only two Ottawa Senators draft picks in the mix (Elliott being the second) and a great hope for Sens fans to be the long-term solution to Ottawa's goaltending woes. But that... well... didn't quite pan out. And when Emery was bought out in the summer of 2008, the Senators goaltending appeared to be the weakest it had been in recent years. And it didn't turn out to be good enough for the Ottawa Senators. Remarkably, though, in just one year with just one change, the goal might turn out to have the Senators' deepest and most skilled pool of players.
Auld may be the odd-man out, despite playing admirably in his backup role for much of last season. He outplayed Gerber for most of the year, but slowed down mid-season to open the door for Elliott to step in. Ells, who was having an All-Star season in the AHL, was called up by the Senators and appeared to have the makings of Ottawa's goaltender of the future--if not the present--despite a few shaky starts and mid-game pulls. Neither goaltender, however, had proven their place as a reliable NHL starter for 2009-2010, and that was what Ottawa brass was looking for.
Enter Leclaire. Although not a proven commodity in the NHL--he has yet to play a playoff game--Leclaire appears poised to join the NHL's second tier of goaltenders, alongside the likes of Ryan Miller and Marc-Andre Fleury. He had put up reasonable numbers with a weak Columbus Blue Jackets team, with a career record of 45-55-12, an SP of .907, and a GAA of 2.82--decent numbers which on hopes would get better on an Ottawa team that most would agree is--or at least should be--better than any team Columbus has iced. He also backstopped Team Canada to a silver medal in the 2008 World Championships.
At $3.8M for the next two seasons, Leclaire isn't a cheap a cheap experiment for the Senators to make, but with the skill he has shown it may be a shrewd one. If Leclaire can play as well as many NHL pundits--obviously Ottawa Senators managers included--believe he can, the Senators should be in a very good position in nets for 2009-10.