Goalies are the last line of defense in the NHL. In a long 82-game season, the starter is going to need a break. Whether that’s because of injury or simply because the number one needs to catch his breath from the bench, NHL teams need to have capable backups ready to go.
Minnesota Wild training camp will feature two guys battling for the backseat of the crease. Who will get the chance to start when Devan Dubnyk receives a night off?
Why the Wild Need a Solid Backup
If the Wild can get strong production from a backup goalie this year, they could improve on last year’s 45-win season. Dubnyk accounted for 35 of those wins, with Alex Stalock providing the other 10.
Dubnyk had the sixth-most wins in the league last year, yet only seven teams (Arizona, Columbus, Detroit, Edmonton, New York Rangers, Ottawa and Vancouver) had fewer wins by their backup goalies. Columbus was the only team of that group to qualify for the playoffs.
While it’s a good thing that Dubnyk is getting the job done right now, it would help the Wild to find a serviceable backup to lighten the load for the 32-year-old netminder. To increase the competition and push Stalock, the Wild signed Andrew Hammond, 30, this offseason.
Goaltending is going to be important.
The Wild’s leading scorer from last year, Eric Staal, just had his biggest offensive season since 2010-11. While it would be nice to see that production again, the Wild can’t afford to bank on the 33-year-old to repeat the performance. Last season saw Staal eclipse the 40-goal mark for the first time in nearly 10 years (the 2008-09 season was the last).
Aside from a six-goal performance in Game 3 of the first-round series with the Winnipeg Jets, the Wild scored just three goals in the playoffs this year. Only Anaheim (4) and Los Angeles (3) scored fewer goals in the playoffs. The Wild were 11th in the league in goals scored during the regular season, but that includes Staal’s 42 goals. The Wild should plan to rely on goaltending more this year.
If the Wild can’t figure out the offense, the goalies are going to need to keep the puck out of the net. To give Dubnyk some help, the incumbent Stalock will battle Hammond for the backup spot.
Backup Goalies Win Games
It’s no secret that backup goalies are important. If a team can trust its backup goalies, that means the starter can take a night off every now and again. This results in more quality starts for the starter. If you want to examine the importance of quality backups, just take a look at the two teams that advanced to the Stanley Cup Finals last year.
Washington was no doubt led by starter Braden Holtby, but backup Philipp Grubauer played a huge role in getting the Capitals to the playoffs. Grubauer started in 28 games for the Caps, registering 15 wins to go with a .923 save percentage. His 15 victories accounted for just over 30% of the Capitals’ total wins (49) last year.
On the other bench, a barrage of goalies played for the Vegas Golden Knights. Starter Marc-Andre Fleury played extremely well for the team, but missed a large chunk of time due to injury. Backups Malcolm Subban, Maxime Legace, Oscar Dansk and even WHL goalie Dylan Ferguson got into games with the Golden Knights.
The group of backups secured 22 wins for the team, accounting for a whopping 43% of the Golden Knights’ wins in its inaugural year. The Vegas goalie carousel was one of the big storylines throughout the year.
Last year, backup goalies across the league picked up 440 of the 1,241 total wins between the 31 teams. That’s more than a third of all wins for the entire year (35.5%). Before the Wild add to that number next year, Stalock or Hammond will have to reserve a spot.
Stalock probably has the upper hand to win the job, since he has prior experience with the team and was serviceable in the role last year.
The 31-year-old Minnesota native stacked up a record of 10-10-4 last season in Minnesota. Stalock finished with a 2.85 goals against average, .910 SV% and one shutout. His 28 games played last season was the highest number of his career.
Over two seasons with the team, Stalock has made some solid saves.
He has continued to work on his game this summer in Edina, Minnesota with ‘Da Beauty League’. The league features players from numerous NHL rosters including Erik Haula, Derek Stepan, Nate Schmidt, Casey Mittelstadt and more.
Stalock has amassed a 35-30-11 record over his career with the San Jose Sharks and Wild. He boasts a .910 SV% and a 2.50 GAA for his career. According to the Minnesota Wild PR team, he set two Wild records in December 2017, becoming both the first Wild goalie to register a shot on goal as well as being the first Minnesota native to earn a shutout for the team.
While his numbers last season weren’t earth shattering like St. Louis Blues backup Carter Hutton, (17-7-3, .931 SV%) the Wild could do a lot worse in net than Stalock.
The Wild went out and signed ‘The Hamburgler’ to a one-year, two-way contract worth $650,000 when free agency opened on July 1.
Hammond, 30, is most commonly known from his infamous run with the Ottawa Senators back in 2014-15 when he was called upon by the Senators to be the starter after Craig Anderson was hurt.
Hammond responded in an enormous way, recording an astounding 20-1-2 record while posting a .941 SV% and 1.79 GAA. He recorded a 7-13-4 record in Ottawa over the next two seasons before being shipped to Colorado last season. He has a career record of 27-15-6 with a .923 SV% and 2.31 GAA.
The thing that always struck me about Andrew Hammond is that it didn't matter if he was riding the peak of Hamburglar run or being demoted to the AHL, his demeanour never changed.
Always polite, humble and appreciative of his hockey life. You have to pull for people like that.
— Ian Mendes (@ian_mendes) April 21, 2018
He played in just one game of the 2017-18 NHL regular season against Philadelphia on Mar. 28. The Avalanche lost 2-1, but Hammond stopped 31 of 33 shots in the effort. Hammond made his return during the playoffs on Apr. 20 against the Nashville Predators, stopping 44 of 45 shots as Nashville went on to win 2-1.
Hammond gave up five goals in Game 6, and the Avalanche were eliminated.
What Now for the Minnesota Wild?
The two goalies will battle it out during training camp. The winner will begin the year as the backup to Devan Dubnyk, and the other will head to Iowa to serve as the AHL team’s starter.
The best thing about the competition is that both goalies are signed on two-way contracts, meaning they can’t be claimed on waivers by other teams. If one wins the backup job but struggles, they can always switch spots at any time.
While goaltending seems to change on a dime based on hot streaks and other factors, Minnesota Wild fans should feel confident knowing that regardless of who ends up behind Dubnyk, the backseat appears to be in good hands.
Benjamin Pierce is based in Wisconsin and covers the Minnesota Wild for THW. He has covered numerous junior hockey teams in both the NA3HL and NAHL for multiple publications.