Well that was certainly a surprise. Sneaking a peek on my Blackberry to catch up on the “free agent frenzy” during a family outing at the park, I screamed, “What the …?”
I was certainly surprised to see that the Montreal Canadiens had not signed goaltender Dan Ellis to a new contract. Instead, Pierre Gauthier opted to go with a goalie who has been passed around more often than a groupie at a ‘70s KISS concert named Alex Auld.
Right up to the noon hour it seemed like Ellis was a shoe in to be the backup/mentor/1B goalie to Carey Price. I was pretty convinced it was a done deal as well. Even at the eleventh hour, Eillis was on the Team990, giving Habs fans some great hope.
What went wrong, and why Alex Auld?
For Ellis, he was clearly a goalie that wanted to play regularly. In the back of his mind he wanted to be the number one guy between the pipes. He had lost the job in Nashville to Pekka Renne so you know that if the offer to be the number one was tabled by another team, he'd probably take it.
Well that offer came, in the form of the Tampa Bay Lightning, and Ellis took it at $1.5 million over two seasons. Clearly it wasn’t a matter of money to Elllis, rather playing time and a two-year deal. Gauthier likely didn’t want to commit to two years, with Price expected to be the “franchise” down the road and still in need of a contract.
So that left the Habs GM with some decent alternate options in the free agent market. But Instead of going out and kicking tires at the likes of Marty Biron, Johan Hedberg, etc., Gauthier went on what seems like an impulse buy and grabbed Auld for a one-year, $1 million deal.
Arpon Basu raised his concerns on Auld in his Friday piece for The Daily Hab-it, noting his questionable statistics.
“Of Auld's 19 starts with a pretty bad Dallas Stars team last season, he gave up three or more goals 13 times. He had what was probably the best season of his career a year prior with Ottawa, when he went 16-18-7 with a 2.47 GAA and .911 save percentage. But just when it looked like Auld was going to be the man in Ottawa, he fell apart.
After starting the season 9-6-3, Auld went 7-12-4 from Dec. 8 to the end of the season. Of course, we all know (or at least we should) that a won-loss record is not a good reflection of a goaltender because it's more of a team stat. So, in compiling that 9-6-3 record, Auld had a stellar 1.98 GAA with a .925 save percentage, but from Dec. 8 on he went to a 2.86 GAA and a .902 save percentage.
The season before that Auld played extremely well for the Bruins, going 9-7-5 with a 2.32 GAA and .919 save percentage.
But aside from the numbers, this is Auld's eighth team since 2006. That's about two teams a year. Does that fill you with confidence?”
Expanding on Auld’s numbers, I looked into his back-to-back games. Last season he only started on back-to-back nights once, losing both (one in a shootout) and giving up nine goals with a .855 SvPct.
The previous season he went 3-2-1 with a 2.33 GAA and .920 SvPct when called on to go two straight nights, and had a more impressive 2007-08 where he was 2-1-1, 1.48 GAA and a .946 SvPct.
If Carey Price does get the call to be the number one as he is expected to and banks the bulk of the ice time, Auld will be needed from time to time to give him a couple nights off.
He already seems to know what his role with the Canadiens will be, based on Friday’s interview with RDS.
"We didn't talk about a specific number of games, but more about the role I would have with the team," he said. "They want me to help Carey Price get better and that is exactly what I want to do."
That said, If he produces numbers similar to what he has done before in back-to-back nights, and Price does indeed begin to fulfill his expectations under his “mentoring”, Gauthier’s decision would be genius.
Yvon Pedenault pondered this in his column for Le Journal de Quebec, “There is one question we must ask: Will Auld be a safety shield if Price would have a problem? Not really.”
Here’s a concern though; When Jaroslav Halak was traded, Pierre Gauthier noted how Price already had playoff experience for a young goaltender.
But what about Auld, if Price tanks or is injured? He has just four games of playoff experience himself, with his lone win coming being a triple overtime game (thanks goalienut), when he was with Vancouver. His post season SvPct is a less than appealing .892.
Maybe Gauthier sees Auld as the next Michael Leighton, I don’t know. Personally, I’d have saved my money and just taken my chances on either Curtis Sandford or Cedrick Desjardins.
“Koivu’s return” dreams put to rest: The thought of many fans last summer was that maybe, just maybe former Canadiens captain Saku Koivu would return after a season in Anaheim. Well that’s not going to happen as the veteran re-signed for two more years. The Canadiens put the nail in any further hopes by announcing that Scott Gomez will wear his childhood No.11, Koivu’s number in Montreal, this season.
Maybe with Dustin Boyd signed, he’ll take No. 27 and kill off any return hopes of “L’Artiste.”