Year 2 of the goalie report is here. I’m sure you area all as excited as I am to do this again. This year one of our newcomers Jacob Winans will be chipping in with his thoughts as well. For those of you that didn’t follow along last year, this series will breakdown all of the goaltenders in the Panthers organization and what I think the plan for them should be this season. I will give the same disclaimer I gave last year. One thing you will notice is that I never discuss win/loss records for goalies. That is a team dependent stat that really doesn’t reveal how well a goalie performed. A goalie can get credit for a win giving up 5 goals on 18 shots and get credit for a loss in a 2-1 game where he has 50+ saves. The same goes for shutouts. Yes, there are games where a goalie is locked in and he stops a ton of high quality scoring chances in route to blanking a team, but there are also games where the opponent is on the 2nd night of a back-to-back at the end of a long road trip and gets off 22 weak shots that the goalie easily stops in route to an easy shut out.
For the third year in a row, the Florida Panthers will go into the season with Roberto Luongo and James Reimer as their goaltenders. In my pre-season report last year, I wrote how the Panthers needed Luongo to be healthy and return to his 2015 form to make a playoff run and needed Reimer to find some consistency. Unfortunately, only one of those three things happened as Luongo battled a groin injury and Reimer couldn’t find consistency for most of the season.
Going into last season, Luongo was coming off one of the worst seasons of his career and the question was asked whether father time was catching up to him. Well, his play last year was spectacular when healthy. Luo had a .929 sv% and a 2.47 GAA. His advanced stats were very good as well as he was the #1 goalie in the NHL on medium danger scoring chances. Another thing that benefited Louie is that the team played much better in front of him last season compared to 2015-2016. If you want to protect a goalie who isn’t as athletic as he was 10 years ago, this is how you do it. It would be nice if there were a fell less shots from the high slot, but that dark blue area right in front of the net is ideal.
When healthy, Luongo was great last year. That was the problem though. Luongo missed two and a half months with a groin injury and only played 35 games last year. I mentioned it last year in my pre-season goalie report, again in my post-season recap, and I will repeat it again now. LUONGO MUST BE ON A MAINTENANCE PLAN. Because so little has changed, I will copy and paste what I wrote last year.
It is time for Luongo to get on the Dwyane Wade maintenance plan. If I was Boughner, the ideal deployment of Luongo would be 45-50 starts, no back to backs, and an average of 2 starts every 5 days. One last thing I would try to do is steal rest for him in games that are out of reach. Down 3-0 heading into the third, put in Reimer. Up 5-1 heading into the third, put in Reimer.
I think you see where I am going. The goal is to keep Roberto fresh. Last year he started to wear down the more he played. By keeping him fresh, Luongo will hopefully avoid those nagging injuries that have been building up and shortened his season last year. Additionally, each of the last two seasons have shown that Luongo wears down as the season progresses. Managing his starts from the start of the season will hopefully allow him to be fresh as February rolls around and hopefully the playoff push is in full swing. As previously mentioned, this will not be easy. Luongo is a proud man and will not be thrilled about the reduced role. Boughner will need to make sure he makes time to massage Luongo’s ego in order to keep him happy and productive. One thing I know the Panthers are already doing is having Luongo take a day off from practice the day after a start. This is a good first step, but I think they need to adopt some of what I am suggesting to really keep him fresh for the end of the season. The expectation for this year is the playoffs and Luongo will need to be ready for them.
Performance wise, I expect Luongo to have another strong season. He wasn’t rehabbing this offseason and says he is healthy. He looked solid during the pre-season so there is no reason he can’t post similar numbers to last year. The one glaring hole in his game is that he was 31st in the league when facing high danger shots last season. If he can improve that to league average and maintain his great numbers on low danger and medium danger shots, you are looking at another All Star Game appearance for Luo. However, if he battles injuries again, the Panthers will have no choice but to hope Reimer can finally give them consistent goaltending. In my opinion, if Luongo can finally have a healthy season, the season will continue past 82 games.
James Reimer is heading into his third season with the Florida Panthers. His first two seasons were plagued by consistency issues and poorly timed injuries. Unfortunately for the Panthers, the entire reason Reimer was brought in for such a high price was to provide a stable force behind Luongo. While his numbers were solid last year as he posted a .913 sv% and a 2.99 GAA, the problem was that those numbers were an average of some very good highs and some very bad lows. The Panthers don’t know what goalie they are going to get every time Reimer gets a start and that is a big problem when one of the goals for the season is to give Luongo as many nights off as possible.
Last year in my pre-season report I stated that I thought the front office made the right decision giving Reimer a 5 year 3.4 million AAV contract because his underlying numbers were good despite the up and down play. However, those underlying numbers took a dip last year. Reimer stopped 97.3% of Low Danger Scoring chances (12th in the NHL), 90.7% of medium danger scoring chances (27th in the NHL), and 79.13% (24th in the NHL) of high danger scoring chances. Those are not great numbers. The Panthers need him to finally find a way to keep his game at the high level he is capable of both for this year and the future. In my opinion, this is the make or break year for Reimer. He has three years left on his contract and an heir for Luongo needs to be found. If Reimer can’t solidify his game, that heir won’t be him. His contract also becomes short enough that buying him out becomes a plausible scenario if the decision is made to look elsewhere for Luongo’s heir.
Despite the fact that many, including the Panthers organization themselves credit Harri Sateri with kick starting the Panthers’ second half run, they decided to let him leave as a UFA and signed Michael Hutchinson to replace him. Hutchinson joins the Panthers on a one year 1.3 million AAV contract after spending the first five years of his career in the Winnipeg Jets organization. Quick note before I get further into things, Hutchinson’s one-way contract only applies to his salary. A one-way contract means that a player will be paid his NHL salary regardless of whether he plays in the AHL or NHL. It has no impact on whether or not he must pass through waivers in order to be sent down to the AHL.
If all goes well, this report is the most many of you will see of Michael Hutchinson this season because that means both Luongo and Reimer stayed healthy and played well enough to require Hutchinson to play out the entire season with the Springfield Thunderbirds.
Back in 2014-2015, Hutchinson was thought to be the goalie of the future for the Winnipeg Jets as he backstopped them to a 99 point season and playoff berth before they were swept out of the Playoffs in 4 games by the Anaheim Ducks. Unfortunately for Hutchinson, his performance fell off a cliff and he was a big reason the Jets struggled the following season. He was demoted from the #1 goalie spot to being the backup and spent pretty much all of last season in the AHL. That demotion seemed to have spoiled the relationship between the Jets and Hutchinson and now he is a Panther.
When both Luongo and Reimer were injured last season, the Panthers attempted to trade for Hutchinson so we know that the organization has liked Hutchinson for a while. Now that he is a Panther, he will be taking Sateri’s role of the #3 goalie and the mentor for Samuel Montembeault. Hutchinson has already been quoted as saying he is looking forward to performing both of those roles for the Panthers. As for what the Panthers are looking for out of Hutchinson, it’s pretty simple. Stay ready. The last two years have seen both Luongo and Reimer miss games at the same time. Considering Luongo’s age and injury history, it is more likely then not that he will miss a couple weeks again at some point during the season. When that inevitable call up happens, the Panthers need Hutchinson to be able to show up and give them good goaltending. We all saw how important each point is when it comes to a playoff race so Hutchinson needs to provide stability if he gets a call up.
Outside of solid goaltending at the NHL level, the Panthers need Hutchinson to provide leadership and mentoring for Sam Montembeault. The Thunderbirds were one of the worst teams in the AHL over he past few years and if that is the case again this year, Hutchinson will be counted on to help his younger teammate navigate through it. Like I previously said, Hutchinson has already been quoted as saying he is looking forward to providing that mentorship to Montembeault.
If you remember my pre-season article from last year, I discussed how the Panthers were very high on the former 2015 third round pick. At the time, the organization likely saw him as one of the potential heir’s to Luongo. I mentioned that we shouldn’t panic if Montembeault has a rough season in his first season at the AHL level. Well it is a year later and Sam struggled quite a bit last year, so I am here to say, don’t panic yet. The organization clearly hasn’t panicked as they didn’t draft a goalie during the NHL Entry Draft in June. From watching him in pre-season, I didn’t see a goalie who looked like he was anywhere near ready for the NHL but very few 21 year old goalies are ready. The optimism I had for him last year has certainly been tempered a bit One thing that did surprise me is his ability to play the puck. He is clearly far superior than both Reimer and Luongo in this area. While this skill won’t help him get to the NHL, it is always nice to have a goalie who is confident playing the puck.
It is unlikely we see him do anything other then be a warm body on the bench in the NHL this year if both Luongo and Reimer miss games at the same time again. The goal for this year with Montembeault is to keep growing. Hopefully an improved roster for the Thunderbirds will allow him to settle in and have a good year. If he struggles again, don’t be surprised if the Panthers spend a lot of time next offseason scouting young goalies to give him competition.
So that’s pretty much it for this article. I hope you guys enjoyed it. I want to do more of the goal break downs this year so if you see a goal you want me to break down, send it to me on Twitter. As always give me a follow on Twitter @CF3234 and join the discussion on our facebook page.