August 25, 2013

Great Debate: Who will be B's backup goalie opening night?

Every Friday (well, Sunday this time around), a rotating group of NEHJ staff members will share their take on one hot topic in the hockey world. Here’s this week's Great Debate.

The setup: With Anton Khudobin leaving Boston via unrestricted free agency for Carolina, the Bruins will have to determine who will serve as Tuukka Rask's backup in 2013-14.

The question: Who will be the B's backup goalie opening night?


Chad Johnson. He carries an ideal cap hit and comes in at about $500k less than Niklas Svedberg does, only unlike the 2013 AHL goalie of the year, Johnson has some NHL games under his belt.

Much like Anton Khudobin in spring 2011, Johnson comes with a tiny sample size at the NHL level, but his numbers at that level are superb. Does it mean he'll enjoy the same kind of success as Tuukka Rask's backup that Khudobin did during this last lockout-shortened season? No, but his cap number gives the team flexibility and allows Svedberg to stay in Providence to be the No. 1 and help bring Malcolm Subban along slowly. At this stage of his development, the Swedish netminder is probably better off playing more often than he would in Boston barring any kind of injury to Rask.

The team could bring in a veteran invite to camp late in the game as further insurance, but whoever that is probably is not going to represent a significant upgrade over Johnson. He looks like the best bet to be No. 2 behind Rask for at least the outset.



The Bruins' goaltending position is interesting in the sense that it's kind of a mystery. Sure, we know what Tuukka Rask is capable of but, after that, welcome to the great unknown. Chad Johnson has only played in ten total NHL games while Niklas Svedberg has never seen any professional action aside from his scorcher of an AHL rookie season. Even though Anton Khudobin handled the role well last season, it's important to remember that he played limited games in a truncated NHL season. While NHL experience is a good thing to have and both of these goalies have had their moments of solid netminding, the backup spot in Boston doesn't start or end with either Johnson's or Svedberg's play -- it actually begins with Rask's.

If Rask's performance were to dip and the grind of being the bonafide starter for an entire 82-game NHL season were to come into effect (remember, Rask has never started more than 45 games in a season), would you trust either Johnson or Svedberg to be the anchor in net? Maybe eventually, but to start off the season with a championship contending team like Boston's, the answer is no. The Bruins would be wise to try and sign a veteran netminder to be the backup this season. Injuries are too much of a risk (remember, Rask has had his history of trips to the IR) to put that type of pressure on an NHL rookie goaltender on an experienced team. With a veteran backup (and there are plenty still out there to be had), the goaltending position gains a little stability and even gives an added boost in competition in camp for Johnson, Svedberg and young prospect Malcolm Subban, the eventual heir to the Bruins' backup role.



As Kirk will outline below, Chad Johnson has a very Khudobin-like résumé, with lights-out success during his limited time at the game's highest level. With that, it's easy to be inclined to be drawn to that experience, but for me, it's simply impossible to overlook the absurdly great year Svedberg had in his first season of North American hockey.  

After achieving individual and team success in his native Sweden, the 23-year-old backstop thrived despite being in a new country, in a new league with different ice dimensions and on a team that had missed the playoffs three years running. Svedberg's numbers (37 wins, 2.17 GAA) earned him the Baz Bastien Award, the AHL's equivalent of the Vezina Trophy. Svedberg did greatly underperform come playoff time, as Providence squandered a 3-0 series lead in the conference finals, and the 27-year-old Johnson's "been around the block" more, but it all comes down to who gives the B's the best chance to win when coach Claude Julien gives his ace, Tuukka Rask, an evening off. Based on their careers to date, I'd go with Svedberg to begin the 2013-14 campaign.



After posting a sub-2.50 goals against average in back-to-back seasons while skating for Brynas in the Swedish Elite League, Niklas Svedberg was signed by the Bruins in the summer of 2012. In his first year with Boston's AHL affiliate in Providence, the 23-year-old exploded onto the scene, wrestling the starting job away from the incumbent Michael Hutchinson. In just 48 appearances, Svedberg recorded an incredible 2.17 GAA and picked up 37 wins, as he led the P-Bruins to the the No. 1 overall seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs.

This year, I believe Svedberg will be ready to take the next step and move into a backup role at the NHL level. To me, it seems like the Chad Johnson signing was simply a way to create competition at the position during training camp, while also adding valuable veteran depth between the pipes. 

Now we turn the question over to you: