Justin Goldman on the current state of Senators goaltending

The hottest topic in Ottawa these days (as it has been for years) is the Ottawa Senators' goaltender situation, particularly with the playoffs quickly approaching. I was going to write a lengthy feature on the current state of Ottawa Senators netminding, but then I remembered that great maxim: can't someone else do it?

With that in mind, I managed to get the great goalkeeping mind of Justin Goldman to answer some questions for us. Justin is the founder of great netminder resource The Goalie Guild and a scout for McKeen's. It's a very lengthy write-up, but I encourage you to read through it all, because you won't find a more in-depth analysis of Ottawa Senators goaltending anywhere on the web or in print. Justin gives us his thoughts on Pascal Leclaire, Brian Elliott, Mike Brodeur, Robin Lehner, and much, much more. Enjoy!

Why has Pascal Leclaire underachieved in Ottawa so far? Is it attributable to his injury history, or is he simply not as good as his draft spot and 9 shutout season suggested he was?

Aside from the injuries and bouts with the flu, Leclaire hasn’t lived up to expectations this season because of his inability to play with enough consistency in his limited chances. Not once has he won more than two games in a row all season long. Whether it was due to being sick, rehabbing or failing to win three in a row, Leclaire hasn’t created enough momentum or confidence in his game in order to own the crease. And without consistent starts, he has been unable to get into a good goaltending rhythm.

Trying to determine where Leclaire’s current value ranks related to his draft spot is futile because NHL goalies are drafted in every round and many more are undrafted. One of the most interesting yet difficult aspects of scouting goaltenders is that their rate of development is not only unique to the individual goalie, but it’s also constantly changing. Goalies can develop really fast for a few months and then not at all for a few years, or it could be the complete opposite or anywhere in between. It all just depends on their situation and their day-to-day results.

So where a goalie is drafted does not really matter when it comes to success. But for argument’s sake, I would say that Leclaire has failed to live up to his high draft spot. It’s not his fault though – injuries are just a part of being human. It’s a risk all teams and players take. I would also say that he should have never been drafted that soon in the first place, but that’s another story.

His success in Columbus stemmed from being on a young and talented team where head coach Ken Hitchcock employed a strong and structured defensive system. Leclaire was not facing nearly as many scoring opportunities on average in a game, so therefore it was much easier to perform consistently and he was able to log a ton of minutes and play in a strong rhythm. That, combined with his relatively good health, allowed him to post such great statistics and so many impressive shutouts.

Without going into too much detail, there’s also the issue of Leclaire’s past injuries. Although I’m no medical scientist, I have done enough research and talked to enough athletic trainers to know the negative impact a torn meniscus can have on a goalie. With a position that relies so much on the knees in order to be effective in the butterfly, this is a devastating injury for Leclaire to have suffered. To be honest, it’s almost impossible to play exactly the same after a serious meniscus tear.

I can’t speak on the severity of Leclaire’s meniscus tear or ankle injury, but because he’s a smaller goalie that relies on reflexes, sharp reactions and extreme flexibility to stop pucks, the injuries are impacting his future more than a team would want.

If you're Cory Clouston, which goalie do you ride until and during the playoffs: Brian Elliott or Pascal Leclaire. Why? (Basically -- who is the better goaltender right now?)

I would ride Brian Elliott without a doubt. He’s a young goaltender that will play better if he’s given positive reinforcement from the coaching staff, his teammates and even the fans. The more that the organization gets behind him, the more relaxed and confident he will play. The key is for the coaches to stay away from negative reinforcement. If he competes well and makes some timely saves in a tough one-goal loss, that does not mean he should be automatically benched in favor of Leclaire. At the same time, he should not be rewarded if he makes a lot of mental mistakes or fails to give his team a chance to win.

If Leclaire is able to take advantage of some bad games by Elliott and actually put together more than two solid efforts in a row, the coaching staff would be smart to make their decisions on a day-by-day and practice-by-practice basis. Whichever goalie plays with more energy, focus and confidence should ultimately start in the hopes once catches fire heading into the playoffs. If I had to choose one, however, I would easily put my faith in Elliott, as he has continued to develop nicely over the last two years and is capable of going on another long winning streak at any time. Jonas Hiller did the same thing last year, but only because the organization recognized the talent and ability was there and they gave Hiller most of the starts over Giguere.

Both Elliott and Leclaire have contracts that expire at the end of next season. Elliott will be a restricted free agent, Leclaire an unrestricted free agent. If the Senators can only afford to sign one, who should they go with? (Basically, who is the better bet long term?)

Once next season is halfway over, the organization should have a much clearer picture of Leclaire’s health and Elliott’s progression. In my opinion, I think the future will be very clear. Leclaire won’t be worth the money to re-sign long-term, especially because of his band-aid boy status. Elliott also makes the most sense to retain because Robin Lehner is the (very bright) future of the organization, so it will just be a matter of biding time until he’s NHL ready. There’s no point in spending money on a injury-prone goalie when you can save that cap money, spend less on Elliott and have even more for Lehner.

Where does Mike Brodeur fit into the Senators organization? He's played great in his few NHL call-ups, but will he ever be an NHL goalie?

Mike Brodeur has been an inspirational story for goaltenders everywhere, including myself. He’s an extremely hard-working individual with great mental toughness and very solid skills. Unfortunately, due to his age, he’s not considered very valuable for most organizations. He’s an excellent goalie to have in the locker room and could easily be a backup on just about any NHL team. But because the focus for teams is on young goalies with extremely high potential, it’s very unlikely Brodeur ever becomes anything more than an NHL backup.

That being said, anything can happen. If you wanted to relate him to another goalie that has thrived in the twilight of his pro career, just look at Scott Clemmensen. He was a backup his whole life until Martin Brodeur went down with the torn biceps injury. The rest was history and Clemmensen was able to extend his career for a few more years down in Florida. There’s no reason Mike Brodeur can’t do the same thing. At least now the organization has confidence in him and will not hesitate to throw him in the crease if the situation arises. And I’m more than confident he would be very successful as well.

Your website lists Robin Lehner as the 9th best goalie prospect in your Top-100 Prospects list. Could you expand on Lehner's qualities as a goalie? Also, what do you predict for his future? Is he ready for the AHL next year? Do you feel he has it in him to be a starting goaltender someday at the NHL level? How long until he would be ready for the NHL?

Just to clarify, my Top-100 Prospects Rankings is for fantasy keeper leagues and a feature aimed at my School of Block fantasy hockey articles, not straight up talent or potential, so the ranking should be taken from a long-term perspective. That being said, Lehner is still one of the better highly-touted European goalies out there and has the potential to be an elite #1 goalie in the NHL. A mini-scouting report on Lehner would read like this:

Lehner is one of the best goalies in his age group when it comes to matching quickness with size. He has a daunting presence in the net that fills up more holes than most goalies, especially when he’s confident and at the top of his crease. His butterfly is a little bit wider than average, so he will need to work on straightening his back and having better balance and stronger net coverage and lateral movement while on his knees. Similar to other raw European goalies, his stance needs to be refined over the course of a few more seasons and his energy and excitement in the crease needs to be channeled more effectively. But for his size, he’s very quick and has good active hands, which take away the corners and covers holes on the ice effectively. You can tell he has received a lot of elite, structured coaching from his father, Michael Lehner, as it shows in Robin’s technique and overall execution. Michael is Henrik Lundqvist’s former goalie coach, so Robin has been highly influenced by both of them.

Since this is his first season playing in North America, you can expect two more seasons in the OHL before turning pro and heading to the AHL. Other doors could open and things could happen sooner but I think you’re looking at three more years before he’s NHL ready. He has the potential to not only be a #1 goalie in the NHL, but be an elite long-term keeper.

How does the Senators' goaltending depth compare to other NHL teams?

I would say it’s one of the weaker depth charts in the NHL. If you check the Senators’ website, they have zero goalies listed under their prospects page and I’m wondering if that’s a mistake or proof they need some goalies in the system. Lehner is certainly a prized prospect that has only scratched the surface of his potential, but other than Elliott and maybe Chris Holt, there’s not much to get excited about. Brodeur is too old to be considered a prospect and Andy Chiodo has bounced all over the place in the last few seasons. In fact, he was just sent down to Elmira in the ECHL, so it looks more and more like Holt is sticking in Binghamton. It would serve the Senators well to draft or acquire some prospects this summer.

Finally, if you're Bryan Murray, what round do you grab a goaltender in this year's draft, if at all?

I would take 2-3 goalies in different rounds depending on what’s available and be sure to draft at least one European talent from Finland or Sweden. There has been a growing trend of European goalies being drafted and promptly placed into the CHL, where many of them seem to thrive and blossom much more than originally expected.

Two goalies will probably be drafted in the first round this summer – Jack Campbell and Calvin Pickard. There are more quality eligible goalies out there, but I would take one named Jussi Rynnas in 4th or 5th round. He’s put together a surprising season for a very weak team (Assat) and has turned heads in a hurry, very similar to what Jonas Gustavsson did last season with Farjestad.

We'd like to extend a huge thank you to Justin for donating his time to do this. We really, really appreciate it, and encourage you to check out the Goalie Guild site or their Twitter feed for the best goaltending coverage on the web.

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