There are no shades of gray if you’re a sports fan in the 21st century. Gone are the days when you simply could root for a team and its players. Nope, roster positions have become news-breaking controversies.
You, as the news consumer, are told you must take a side. You either like Player X or you like Player Y. Remember though, after your decision is made, there’s no turning back. If you like Player X, you must stick by him ’til death do you part. You also must hate Player Y at all costs, even it means cheering against your team. Every mistake he makes, be sure to scream “I KNEW IT!! HE SUCKS!!! I TOLD YOU SO!!!” from the mountaintops so everyone can hear you were right all along. And, of course, the same rules apply if you’re in Player Y’s camp.
Being a Blackhawks fan is no different. With Antti Niemi getting the start in-goal on Thursday against Calgary, the on-going goalie debate will only grow louder and perhaps more annoying.
Before we go any further, I should point out before I get labeled a Huet Lover or a Niemi Meatball:
I. Don’t. Care.
I really find the debate over which goalie should start to be remedial. Whether Niemi becomes the starting goalie or Huet remains it, it really doesn’t make a whole helluva difference to me. If Niemi rattles off 7 wins in a row, I’ll be waving my Hawk pom-poms just as much as if Huet were to do it. (I guess you could say I’ve discovered a shade of gray. Don’t worry, I’ve got plenty of room for those who want to join me.)
Goalies are given way too much credit in wins and way too much blame in losses. We’re one game removed from the Hawks scoring ONE goal, their power play going 0-for-6 while looking completely inept, their two defensive Olympians playing as though it was their first time on skates, and Cristobal Huet is wearing the dunce hat. Makes no sense to me.
Instead of just picking a side like we’re instructed to, I’ve tried my best to put on my Joel Quenneville thinking cap. Let me break it down:
- Your notoriously streaky goalie is going through a downturn.
- Your streaky veteran goalie, by all accounts, seems to have his head screwed on very straight. Therefore, whatever decision you make will not shatter his confidence.
- You’re on a fairly important road trip against Western Conference opponents that, in all likelihood, can all but lock up a Top-2 seed for you.
- Your back-up goalie who’s seen action in all of 16 games has performed well beyond anyone’s reasonable expectations.
- You’ve tried to protect your back-up as much as you could so you don’t completely destroy his confidence.
- You also don’t want to overexpose your rookie goalie to the rest of the league.
With all that in front of us, I suppose the argument could be made that with the Hawks so far out in front the rest of the Central, why risk overexposing Niemi at the expense of a few extra points? Of course, the easy counter-argument is at this point of the season, you kind of have to figure out what exactly you have in Niemi.
Is he still the guy who couldn’t outduel Corey Crawford in Rockford last year? Or, is he in the midst of one of those magical years that goalies tend to have where everything goes their way?
Therein lies the rub and wherever the truth lies, we’ll probably find out soon enough. When we do, I’ll be the one who’s not telling you “I TOLD YOU SO!!!”. Come say hi.
–Looks like it took Jeremy Roenick all of two days to become the hockey cliche-spewing mouthpiece I feared he would become. Roenick’s opinion is that neither Huet nor Niemi are good enough to help the Hawks win the Stanley Cup. Well, that’s just like, your opinion, man.
The more aggravating part of the story is how the local media will run with this story. Every day, there are literally thousands of people questioning the Blackhawks goaltending, but because a very recognizable ex-Blackhawk said it, it will make headlines. What I really look forward to is a reporter having the stones to ask Jonathan Toews what he thinks about JR’s statement. That will be fun.
Anyways, that wasn’t really my point of bringing that all up. Roenick’s main point was about how neither Huet nor Niemi seem to be the type of goalie who can bring you the Cup. Before Dwayne Roloson’s PR staff hijacked the previous thread, Otter brought up a great question:
A hot goalie can carry a team a few rounds, but eventually, the team with more offensive fire power will beat the hot goalie. I’m trying to think of the last time a team with the ‘hot’ goalie and just an okay team in front of him won the Cup… I know the Ducks lost to the Devils in 2003. The Hawks lost to the Pens in 1992…
Obviously, I was intrigued by the question. So much so that I’ve started to do some research for a future piece. If there’s any goaltending playoff performances that stick out in your memory from the past 20 years (other than Hall-of-Famers, they’re excluded. Oh, and Dwayne Roloson. We all remember him too), please be polite and share with the rest of the class.
*On the Farm*
–Byron Froese scored a goal in Everett’s 3-2 win over the Vancouver Giants.