Saturday, December 17, 2005

A Fool and His Money (Canucks Edition)

With news this week that Dan Cloutier will miss the rest of the regular season, many Canucks fans have weighed in on how Dave Nonis should spend the approximately $1.8 million in cap space that has now been freed up. My advice: Nonis should keep it in the bank for now.

In most of the 21 games he's played this season, Alex Auld has been solid. In wins against league-leading Senators and Northeast Division-leading Rangers, he was great. He currently has a record of 12-6-1 with a 2.65 GAA (12th in NHL) and .909 SV% (12th in NHL). All for a near-league minimum salary of $513,000.

Alex deserves an opportunity to assume the no. 1 role. He has started the last ten games since Cloutier's injury - easily the longest stretch of his NHL career - and in those games he has a very respectable 7-3 record, stopping 276 of 314 shots and only allowing a total of 28 goals.

He also has his team's confidence. According to Canucks goaltending coach Ian Clark:

"We're certainly not in any panic state here," said Clark, taking a break from his Team Canada world junior duties. "Except for a couple of hiccups, there is nothing to suggest that Alex can't carry the ball for us right now. And every time he's had a hiccup -- one against Colorado and one against Edmonton -- he's bounced back with strong performances.

"So there has been no marked trend whatsoever of weak performances on his behalf. If anything, there's been a trend of strong play."
Watching Auld's play, especially this season, you notice his cool demeanor under pressure - most of the time, he is in control and not easily rattled. And it shows with his ability to bounce back after bad goals or bad games. After an awful game against Colorado in Denver, he was great a few nights later against the same Avs; he followed the Oilers game, one in which he had some horrible rebound control problems, with his current four-game win streak; against the Flyers on Thursday, he allowed a soft goal near the end of the second period, but bounced back and stopped 19 of 20 shots in the third.

The key question for the Canucks is whether they feel Alex can continue to play at this level or even elevate his game. The fact is, the team is in "win-now" mode and would want to feel confident that he can take them deep into the playoffs.

Canucks GM Dave Nonis:
"We're not in any hurry,'' he said. "I think Alex has proven that he can play at this level and he can play a number of games at this level.

"If something comes along that will help us and make us a stronger team, then we'll do it. We're not going to make a change just to make it."
Based on Auld's play so far this season, change doesn't seem necessary yet. And if Auld keeps playing as he has, maybe it won't be necessary at all.
posted by J.J. Guerrero, 2:15 PM


At December 19, 2005 5:27 PM, Anonymous Kel said...

You certainly like Auld a lot. I wouldn't say he's very strong and I am not still very confident in him, as least if we're talking about playing Auld in the playoffs. For now, I agree nothing indicates that he cannot carry the load for another 20 games or so, until the trade deadline when Dave Nonis really has to make a decision.

At December 20, 2005 7:13 AM, Blogger hoopsjunky said...

I like Alex for a couple of reasons:

The first reason (the simpler one) is what I posted - he hasn't done anything to prove he can't handle the workload. I'd like to see if he can handle it some more.

The second reason is harder to explain. When Auld is in net, the Canucks play a different game. I don't know if it's his style or his cool demeanor, but the Canucks don't panic as much in front of the net when Auld is there. Maybe it's just me but they look like a more composed team.

Of course I'm not ready to anoint him as the next Martin Brodeur. Not 20 games in. But by evaluating him over the next month or two, the Canucks can get a better sense of what they need.

If Alex proves that he can handle the no. 1 job now (and the Canucks are confident with him going into the playoffs), the Canucks get a more capable back-up than Maxime Ouellet or someone who can step up into the no. 1 role short-term. Someone like a Manny Fernandez or a Mika Noronen.

If Alex proves that he can't handle the no. 1 job now, the Canucks get a Roberto Luongo or a Martin Biron.


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