No team experienced worse goaltending than the Tampa Bay Lightning during the 2011-12 season.
It was the single biggest problem facing the organization in what turned out to be an extremely disappointing and frustrating year. After coming within one game (a 1-0 Game 7 loss to the Boston Bruins, the eventual champions) of reaching the Stanley Cup Final the previous year, the Lightning missed the playoffs by eight points and finished in 10th place in the Eastern Conference.
It certainly wasn't for a lack of offense, and with even mediocre goaltending they probably would have been one of the top-eight teams in the conference and had another opportunity to make a run in the postseason. Instead, they received horrible goaltending, some of the worst we've seen over the past 10 years, that put the team in a hole it couldn't get out of nearly every single night.
On Friday afternoon general manager Steve Yzerman made his big move to help address that weakness by acquiring Anders Lindback from the Nashville Predators.
He paid a steep price to do it, giving up two of his team's second-round draft picks this year, a third-round pick next year, and goalie Sebastien Caron (well, he was more of a throw-in going the other way) to get Lindback, forward Kyle Wilson and Nashville's seventh-round pick this year.
"He's relatively inexperienced, but we think he has tremendous potential," Yzerman said when discussing Lindback. "We gave up a significant amount to get him, but there weren't a lot of options, so we paid a hefty price, but we thought the return was worth it. We feel he's ready, and in talking to him, he is excited about the opportunity to take on more."
One option that was kicked around for the Lightning (even if they themselves never had any real interest) always seemed to be Vancouver Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo. Frankly, it shouldn't be much of a surprise that Yzerman elected to go in a different direction and didn't want to give up any of his assets to take on a huge contract like Luongo's.
Yzerman received his start as an executive with the Detroit Red Wings (the team he played for during his Hall of Fame career) working under Ken Holland. If there was always one position the Wings never seemed to spend big money on, it was goalies. When discussing the strategy back in 2008 Holland said this regarding his goaltending strategy:
"My feeling is if you can get one of the five or six best goalies in the league you can spend the money. We can't get into those guys, and the difference between the eighth goalie in the league and the 15th goalie, it's a big difference in money. It's not a big difference in performance."
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Surely Yzerman picked up a thing or two from his old boss, and this seems like as good a place as any to start. Goaltending across the NHL is better right now than it's ever been, and there never seems to be any shortage of quality netminders available, whether it be in free agency or a trade, without being forced to overpay for it. In a salary cap league any sort of savings is a pretty big deal. The question now is what type of production Lindback can give the Lightning for his yet-to-be-determined 2012-13 cap hit (he's currently a restricted free agent), and whether or not it will be good enough to get them back into the playoffs.
One thing is for sure: he can't possibly be any worse than what they had last year. And I don't think that's an exaggeration.
Tampa Bay finished last season with a .889 team save percentage, which was worst in the NHL. Since the start of the 2000-01 season only 16 teams have finished a season with a worse mark.
Had the Lightning given up the exact same number of shots and received just an average, or even slightly below average performance from their goalies (the league average save percentage last season was .914) they would have given up somewhere in the neighborhood of 50-60 fewer goals than the league-worst 278 they surrendered.
Obviously, that would have made a huge impact on the standings.
Even during 5-on-5 play the Lightning still received the worst performance in the league with a .899 mark, becoming one of just four teams over the past five years to finish a season with an even-strength save percentage below the .900 line.
That's not only not good enough, it's nearly impossible to compete with that.
And that brings us to Lindback.
His track record at this point is limited, and over his first 38 NHL games his overall save percentage has been right around the league-average mark (.914 for his career). As was pointed out above that would still represent a massive upgrade for Tampa Bay. And quite honestly, that's not that bad at this point in the NHL, especially if the cap hit is a small one.
For a team like Tampa Bay coming off a goaltending performance like the forgettable one it received last year it would be a welcome addition.