We all know that goaltending is the most important position in hockey. A goalie can keep a team in the game by making out-of-this-world saves, or a goalie can be absolutely horrible and lose a game/series for a team that probably deserves to win (Dan Cloutier and Tommy Salo can agree to this). The Wings have a Vezina Trophy candidate in Jimmy Howard, who is currently a top 5 goalie in the NHL (Lunqvist, Thomas, Rinne, and Quick are up there as well (Ryan Miller, not so much this year)). It’s obvious the Wings season and playoff run will depend heavily on Howie. The question I have is whether Ty “Conkblonk” Conklin can be trusted to be the backup goalie for the rest of this season.
I don’t think it would be out of line to say that Howie has been playing too many games this season. I know he leads in wins and is among the leaders in GAA and Save %. That’s awesome, but he’s also among the leaders in minutes played. If you scroll to the second page, you will see Conklin is at number 52. As of this writing (All-Star Break), Howard currently has 2,477:51 minutes played, while Conks has 544:05. I’m going to shift to MS-Excel here and do some calculations on these numbers:
As the numbers show, Howie has played a very high percentage of the time this year. At this pace, he would play 67 games, while Conklin would start 15. In each of the last two years, Howie has played in 63 games. In 2009-2010, he was still learning and didn’t play great in the playoffs. Last season, however, he did play really well. I think it helped in having a break between the first and second round. But, he still looked somewhat tired. He’s now on pace to play even more games. While I think he can handle it, and it might not be a problem in the playoffs, I would rather he sit a few more games just to be sure. Let’s face it, all players have minor, nagging injuries around this time, and it’d be nice to give a few games to rest his body up. Plus, with the addition of the new baby and the All-Star appearance, a little time off would do him nicely.
That leaves us with Ty Conklin. His numbers this season are not exactly stellar, especially compared to how he played (read: saved the season) for the the Wings in 2008-2009. If you look at that page, his stats this year very closely mirror his stats from last season. If you haven’t seen his stats, that is not a good thing. In fact, Joey MacDonald‘s stats last year were better than Conklin’s current numbers. Nothing against Mac, but really, Conks? Really?
Not all of this is Conklin’s fault. Some of the games he played, the Wings gave him absolutely no chance of winning. His first loss (7-1 against Washington), Conklin couldn’t stop a beach ball, which led to the Wings not trying in the third period. This was when Washington was good, so it got very ugly. Another game that comes to mind was against the Islanders. I know, I’m having a difficult time remembering this one as well. I remember Conks wasn’t exactly great, but this loss was more on the team than him. At least the Islanders didn’t shut out the Wings this time (damn you Joey Mac!!!).
Another thing to make note of is that Conklin hasn’t played at home this season. And as every single Red Wings/NHL writer has mentioned, the Wings are really good at home and are really good at being just under .500 (13-14) on the road this season. I would say that’s more of a team thing than a Conklin thing, but had Howie been in net for every road game, the record would be different. I’m not saying they’d be 20-7, but maybe something like 15-12. If Conklin played home games, the Wings might not be dominating at the Joe. Why is this?
I personally think the Wings play better in front of Howie. They trust that he can do his job and take care of business, so they don’t worry as much. With Conklin in net, it seems like they scramble more to try and help him out instead of just playing their regular game. Does anyone else feel this way, or is it just me? I know when I play, which goalie is playing does make a difference in how I play. When my regular goalie is in, I trust he’ll make the save on a 2 on 1, so I can play the pass and let him handle the shot. When we have a sub, I tend to try and block more shots and pressure more, leaving my spot open on defense, usually leading to a better scoring chance. It also should be known that I play defense on a D-league team (that just won the championship!), so obviously, I know what I’m talking about.
The million dollar question for the rest of the season: Do the Wings need to upgrade their backup goalie? I’m saying “yes” since they have the cap space, and if they don’t have to give up anything major, go for it. I would imagine they could try for Evgeni Nabokov out of the Islanders if Holland would be willing to work with them, or possibly Jose Theodore from Florida if they fall out of the playoff race. Other possibilities include Brian Boucher (Carolina) or Chris Mason (Winnipeg). I know there are other “better” backups (Rask, Schneider) but they would cost too much. I think it would be possible to get Nabokov for a late-round pick or a b-level prospect (basically, any skater not named Tatar, Smith, or Nyquist(!!!!)). Rask (Boston) or Schneider (Vancouver) are probably number one goalies on most teams, so they aren’t going anywhere for a 6th round pick.
I would just hope that Babcock gives Conklin a few more games in the coming weeks. This would give Howie more time off and give Conks some time to find his groove. The Wings play pretty much every other day from now until the end of February (14 games). I would like to see Conks get 5 of these games. If he’s still struggling after getting semi-regular playing time, then go get someone else. If he’s playing well, then the Wings should be fine. I don’t think you can win a cup with Conklin, but there are only about 10 goalies in the NHL who are capable of winning the cup. Yet again, Michael Leighton got to game 6 of a cup final two seasons ago, and he’s now playing in the AHL. That tells me anything is possible. But as much as I like Conks as a person and all, he’s not a Stanley Cup goalie. The Wings would have a better chance with Nabokov in the playoffs over Conklin.
What do YOU think? I’d like to get other opinions on this, as it seems some people love Conks and others want him shipped out of here faster than Darren Helm can skate. If I get enough responses, I will post the results as well as some commentary from you, the Red Wings fan base. You know the drill – leave a comment or yell at me on Twitter. GO WINGS!!