A varitable gaggle of Colorado Avalanche bloggers have gotten mildly organized this offseason in order to present you, the descerning hockey fans, all the unsanctioned Avalanche information you could possibly need leading up the the NHL 2007-2008 season. We've tabbed Joe at Mile High Hockey and DearLordStanley as the central hub for this little shindig, so please take a minute to peruse the question list and then click away to read all of our scribbles as we gear up for hockey season. BTW, this is BY FAR the longest Q/A of the group of questions. Be patient. We like to hear ourselves type...
Question #1. What scenario do you see playing out for the goaltending situation this season? Will Budaj be the man, will Theo rise to the occasion, or will a trade be made?
- Babe Oje - Budaj will be the starter and will be almost as good as he was at the end of last season, with streaks that are better. I see Jose being a solid backup, not making any big mistakes. This leaves open the possibility that a team could trade for him with his expiring contract for the playoff run. The Avs give up Jose and pay a portion of his contract, while getting back a top goalie prospect in return.
- Mike @ BBnR-- I see this playing out similar to last season, but at an acceleratedpace. Coach Q. has said as much in several interviews. Theo will be given the opportunities to show consistency early and often, but rather than wait until after the Christmas break to see how the cookie crumbles, I figure Jose has till mid-November before he's relegated to the pine and Budaj is bonified and shouldering the bulk of the load. Theo would have to show stability, aggressive play, an improvement on his rebound control, and most importantly, garner some support and confidence from his teammates before he's anything but the back-up for the majority of the season. I don't see it happening. I personally figure he'll ride out the season, collecting a paycheck as the backup, and start seriously re-thinking hockey during next summer. I wish he'd return to his MVP form, but he's had every opportunity and hasn't capitalized as yet.
Budaj is young, but I think the club has more confidence in him than they do Theodore. I, like most die-hard Avs fans, expect him to continue his progresses this season. Hopefully, the improvement in the defensive core should help this. I hope he has an understanding with Coach Q. and management that they have to give Theo a chance to justify the money they are paying him, and it doesn't set his development back. This is a delicate situation. Unfortunately, Coach Q. doesn't' have the best reputation with developing or nurturing netminders. After Budaj, the cupboard gets pretty bare, pretty quick. Every other prospect is a couple of years away from the show and much as everyone is high in Weiman, when was the last time a talented goalie was discovered in the Central Hockey League? Should Budaj falter, and Theo not step up, one of the two of them is likely going to be going the other way in a deal that would bring in Bryzgalov or (shudder) Gerber around the trade deadline.
- Dario - In professional sports, following an icon at the most important position on the team is the proverbial kiss of death. John Elway syndrome has seen two Bronco quarterback victims since his retirement. To date, the Avalanche have yet to find the man in net that can play out of Patrick Roy's shadow. We've seen Aebischer, Sauve, Salo, and to this point Theodore, all pale in comparison. It was long thought that the heir apparent to Roy's legacy in Denver would be Phillipe Sauve, not David Aebischer. While Abby shined in the AHL and quickly won a backup job to Roy, Sauve stumbled and never lived up to his draft position hype (number 38 in 1998). Along came the first pick in 2001 (at number 63) in Peter Budaj. Despite his solid performances for the Hershey Bears, he split time with Sauve. At times Budaj was clearly the better of the goaltenders with the AHL Bears but Sauve still split duties. I'm sure to this day there could be arguments that the Avalanche put pressure on their Bear coaches to develop Sauve but of course that's all water under the bridge.
So where am I going with all this? My point is that Budaj has played his entire professional career in the shadow of a player who's supposedly the better goaltender. He split time with Sauve and last year he split time with Theodore. To his credit this has never soured him. He is without a doubt the perfect goalie to be treated like a second class citizen because it seems to not affect the man one bit. This complicated formula makes him the perfect goaltender for coach Q, who would have otherwise ruined another goaltender at this point. Budaj has kept his career stats at very respectable numbers, never having slipped above 3 GAA or under .900 save %. He's displayed remarkable consistency behind a remarkably inconsistent defensive core and some streaks of horrible goal support.
In the end, Budaj isn't anything like Roy. He's not controversial, he doesn't bark orders at his defensemen, he doesn't have a cocky bone in his body and he doesn't give fans any cohesive link to what they believe is a winning formula that they know from Roy. I think he's destined to be run out of town if he doesn't take the Avalanche deep in to the playoffs. As far as Theodore is concerned, he's got everything to prove. His reputation is built on the dead puck era in the Eastern Conference. It's built on the hopes that Roy can be recreated via the magic of trading with Montreal. It's built on the blind trust in a 29 year old man who claimed at the time he had been taking Propecia for EIGHT years! Maybe he's been concerned about his flowing locks since he was 21 and maybe we are supposed to believe that eliminating the testosterone from his system after eight years isn't going to affect him. Maybe we are all supposed to believe knee surgery on a goalie is just a "minor procedure". Or maybe, we can just admit that Jose Theodore is the backup, call Budaj the starter and even go so far as to bring up a different back up goalie if Jose can't perform in a backup role. Just hope to high heaven that Jose shows flashes of brilliance so after January 1st (when new contracts don't count against the existing years salary cap) the Avs can trade Jose to some sucker in the Eastern conference that's ready to make a playoff push.
- Justin - Peter Budaj is the clear-cut #1 goaltender for this team and will be all season long. This will hold true because he excels in areas that Jose Theodore really struggles. These non-physical attributes include mental strength, poise, determination and most importantly, work ethic.
The main reason that Budaj raised his game last year from "unproven goalie" to "young superstar" is simply how hard he worked in practice, both on and off the ice. Sure, genes can take you really far in the game of hockey, but what separates an elite goaltender from an average one is what type of work ethic you display and how you react to situations that are beyond your control. Honestly, Budaj just wanted it more last year, and that's why he got it. Sure, Theodore was distracted by numerous off-ice controversies, but if you watched this team practice at all last year, it was very noticeable that Budaj wanted the starting job more than Theodore. He worked harder, he didn't give up on plays and he stayed on the ice later and worked harder in the weight room. I truly believe that Budaj displayed the character it takes to win a Stanley Cup. He also has the culpability to be a real team leader in the locker room. I do not believe that "playing in the shadows" of Patrick Roy or other goaltenders has had any type of effect on his game or how people view him as an Avalanche goaltender. Budaj is his own man. He plays in a different era - a different game - a different time.
Mental strength is the biggest difference between Budaj's success and Theodore's lack of production and consistency. Already this season it will be Jose's major issue, due to the fact that he's missed all of training camp and has yet to strap on the pads this pre-season. Theodore's on-ice timing proves he will be relegated as Budaj's backup and will stay that way. Yes, there may be times when Theodore could have a string of good games (especially if they are against Vancouver, Edmonton and Phoenix in succession), but knee surgery is difficult to overcome, especially when you are forced to miss training camp. It doesn't matter how good you are - if you miss training camp - your timing becomes a huge issue. As a former ACHA goaltender, I can tell you that consistent practice and work with your goalie coach is the key to prolonged success at any level. Honestly, a few awesome games do not cut it at the professional level. You have to display consistency by preparing the same way, practicing at a high level all the time and mentally staying tough for an entire season. Budaj is solid with all of these mental components, Theodore is not. Budaj attacks his game by going after the problems and working hard in practice to correct them. Theodore expects the answers to come his way, to fall in his lap. It's noticeable when you see how they work at practice and how they play after letting in a bad goal or having a bad game. It's not the goal you just let in that matters, it's the next shot you face. It's not always how you play, but how you approach the game.
Physically, Budaj has a definite advantage that will see him stay as the Avalanche's starter. He's stronger, more flexible and has a bigger, wider butterfly. His angles are better because he plays higher up in his crease and he doesn't let players push him around when the Avs are on the penalty kill. Not only does he play bigger in the net, but he has the flexibility to dominate games, no matter how good the team in front of him is playing. One giant statistic that helps prove this point is the number of times each goalie was scored on while short-handed. Theodore allowed almost two times as many goals against while the Avs were killing penalties compared to Budaj. Why? Because Theodore does not have the type of physical presence that Budaj has. He's easier to screen, he gives up more rebounds, he relies more on reactions than solid positioning. Sure, in the old NHL, that would hold up. Today? Not a chance.
So to simplify my response, the age-old adage of "you play like you practice" really holds true for Avalanche goaltenders. All last season I watched this team practice and the amount of work that Budaj put into his game compared to Theodore was startling. Budaj wants it more. He deserves it.
I also believe that Tyler Weiman's time has come. This guy was simply outstanding in training camp and honestly he outplayed Mike Wall AND Budaj. In response to what Mike said about Central Hockey League goaltenders making it to the NHL? Well, he didn't belong in the CHL. That league was not much of a challenge for him, thus his total dominance in the 2004-2005 season. Sure, he has to prove that he belongs in the NHL, but he certainly has the ability to be Budaj's backup. He is consistent, he is composed and he is solid. He's wise, makes good decisions, and has playoff experience. He knows how to help a team win a Championship.
Depending on Theodore's bum knee, Weiman will certainly see some playing time this season. I honestly believe he will surprise many people around the NHL when he gets that first NHL regular season start. I'll always remember how he played against the Red Wings during last year's pre-season game.
- Joe @ MHH - I wish Jose Theodore would go away. Budaj is the man, whether it takes Coach Q five games or thirty to realize this. Theodore was an elite goalie (kind of) for one season, and his time has passed, no matter how many chances he is given or how many games the Avs have to lose because of it. Let Budaj go to work. He's already proven he can shoulder the burden of starting nearly every game. I know he's getting old, but I hope Coach Q's memory still includes the last 19 games (15-2-2 record) of last season.
- Draft Dodger - Budaj is certainly the man at the start of the season. That was going to happen even before Theodore had surgery, forcing him to miss camp. Theodore will get some chances though, and I think he's going to be a little more prepared to take advantage of those chances. Last season, Theo looked awful. His confidence was nonexistent. More importantly, he seemed unable to stay focused for a full sixty minutes and gave up far too many soft goals (hello, Martin LaPointe). He's had the entire offseason to get his head in the right place, and I think he will be substantially better. Theo is a free agent next summer, and, with a rebound this year, would be one of the few marquee goalies on the market. Whether it's intentional or not, players often seem to play better when they are playing for a contract. We've been fooled by Theodore in the past, but I, for one, think he's going to be much better this year.
He still won't supplant Budaj, though. I'm a big fan of the way Budaj plays. He is incredibly steady. He won't make the acrobatic, highlight-reel save that often, but that's mostly because he always seems to be in the right position to make the easy save. I remember a point last season when we were playing the Flames. Calgary has this play with the man advantage where they overload the left side of the ice and then sneak someone (often Kristian Huselius) behind the defenseman on the right side to get wide open at the back door of the net. The Avalanche were getting burned repeatedly by this play. No one on the ice could see this play unfolding. No one, that is, but Budaj. While everyone else was watching Iginla with the puck, Budaj was getting positioned to move across the crease. He studies the game, and it shows.
Perhaps I'm chasing a fool's dream, but I think Theodore is going to rebound and Budaj will continue to improve, making this tandem an area of strength for the team this year, not a question mark. Really.
- Tapeleg - Well, it would take an act of sheer insanity on the behalf of Coach Q. to not start strong with Peter Budaj. For one thing, barring a total meltdown, he is the future of the franchise in goal, at least for a little while. In fact, he is the best of all scenarios right now. He is inexpensive, has proven himself as having ability, and is trade bait if absolutely necessary. His performance last season has earned him a shot, and it's his to lose. His performance the previous season, backing up David Aebischer, will be the only question mark looming.
As for Theo, a six million dollar salary is hard to ignore in all regards. It makes him difficult to ignore (if you are paying him that much, you might as well use him), hard to trade, and difficult to manage. I believe he will ride out the season with the Avalanche, unless one of the goalies in the system (Weiman or Wall) really step up to the plate and deliver some serious goods. If Theo stumbles as bad as everyone thinks he will, he may be a healthy scratch for a few games. But I don't see him going anywhere. Not unless he goes to Chicago. Those guys will take anyone.
Then again, he may surprise us all.
- Post Pessimist - Status quo -- the job is Budaj's to lose, and noone's gonna trade for Theo, so when 2007-08 comes to an end I think we'll still be seeing Budaj starting with Theodore in the Ron Tugnutt position. The most I'm hoping for out of Jose is that he gets a few hot streaks this year, in order to win a few games and push Budaj, but I'm not seeing a return to form for him even in my most optimistic scenarios.
- Shane - Budaj will be the #1 out of the gate, especially as Theodore is coming off of a knee scope. Quenneville is on record as saying the #1 is up for grabs but who is he kidding. Obviously if a starter struggles and the backup outplays him, you put in the backup but I don't see that happening this year.
If Theodore gets back into form, gets his mind back in the game and truly wants it again then we could see a 1a/1b situation where they split the games close to 50/50. It sounds like Theodore wants it this year. But it sounded like that last year as well so I'm not too optimistic about this scenario playing out.
If Budaj is the man and never lets go all season, it will be all the better and will save my sanity while reading the official site's message board. I hope.
It would be great to see Weiman get some action in a regular season game but unless Theodore has a setback, he'll likely spend the season with the Monsters.
I won't delve into Budaj playing in Roy's shadow as it appears it doesn't bother him and the other bloggers have done a great job on that point already.
- Jibblescribbits - While I have spent time discussing a trade for Bryzgalov, IF Budaj fails; the fact of the matter is I don't see Budaj failing this season. He's a good goalie, and he played well last season, especially towards the end. I expect him to play well and consistent throughout the season. The reason I personally spend so much time worrying about Budaj is because a) the NHL is strung with good young goalies who play phenomenally for a few months and flame out (and our backup is a great example, Cam Ward, and more than you can count). b) Our safety plan is non-existent. If Budaj does fail it's scary.
Budaj will play well, but Theo will get ice time for two reasons. The first being that Budaj is young and shouldn't be expected to handle the workload that a Brodeur or Luongo faces. So it's a necessity to play Theo even if it's less than ideal. The second is that Avs management is going to try and squeeze the most value out of Theo they can get. The Avs are going to play him and hope he looks like a serviceable goalie, hoping to sucker someone into giving them something, anything, for him. They hope a team like Tampa or Atlanta will have a playoff push coming up and think "he's looked decent this season, maybe he can stop the bleeding in back until we get to the playoffs". Desperate teams do desperate measures, which is how we ended up with Theo in the first place.
- Jori - This summer I was visited by extended family in Quebec. One of my uncles used to be a hockey coach and it just so happens that Jose Theodore was briefly under his tutelage as a young player. He believes that Theodore's problems are mental and in terms of pure talent, he's one of the league's best. Despite my uncle's opinion, I have zero faith in Jose Theodore. I never liked his acquisition in the first place and his salary has caused the team to sacrifice in other areas. Theodore has a lot to prove. He knows he'll have to turn things around to ensure another fat contract. Even if Theodore finds a modicum of success, I hope the Avalanche walk away next summer; just wash their hands of Theodore entirely.
I like Peter Budaj and he should start the bulk of games for the Avalanche this season. Yet, I have doubts as to whether he is ready to carry a full load. Budaj is still young and will be prone to inconsistencies. The biggest obstacle may be the coach, who has a quick trigger finger when it comes to pulling goaltenders. We all remember the Aebischer/Budaj/Kolesnik fiasco from two seasons ago. Sure, you can say that Quenneville has never had a legitimate number one goaltender to work with, but the way he handles goaltenders as a whole instills little confidence.
Ultimately, I think Budaj will do fine for the Avs this year. Theodore is the x-factor. Yet, I get the feeling Colorado will be looking at other goaltending options in 08-09 and thankfully the team will have some cap room in which to maneuver.