Legendary coach Scotty Bowman has a few choice words for any backup goalie who’s considering filing a complaint about playing time.
“It’s a lot better than playing in the minors,” Bowman said. “The money is better, the travel is better; the whole nine yards.”
Coaches don’t want to hear any gripes because they deal in results.
Coaches alone decide when, where, and why to start – or not start – a particular goalie.
“If you let one sit too long than there might be some rust on him,” said Dallas coach Dave Tippett, who uses a goalie tandem of Marty Turco and Mike Smith. “If you play one too often, you’re going to get a tired guy. The main thing is to give them the best chance to succeed when they play.”
Tippett said communication with goalies is essential, but he occasionally likes to keep them guessing, which keeps Turco and Smith in the right frame of mind.
“You throw a curveball at them just to make sure everybody is sharp,” Tippett said. “For us, though, it’s a lot about communication. We want to make sure everybody realizes what their responsibilities are.”
While no coach wants to turn his No. 1 into the NHL’s version of Wally Pipp, the New York Yankees’ injured first baseman made famous for losing his job to Lou Gehrig, if the backup shines in place of an injured starter, the coach will not hesitate to start the hot goalie.
Ottawa goalie Martin Gerber benefited from goalie Ray Emery’s off-season wrist surgery and started the bulk of the Senators’ games at the start of the season.
“Last year for some odd reason, early in the year our team didn’t play well and he (Gerber) found ways to let bad goals in,” Senator GM Bryan Murray said. “That put a damper on his opportunity here. Because of Ray’s injury and operation he (Gerber) had to play well for us, and he has. He has stepped up and played the way I’ve seen Martin play over the years.”
Watching Gerber’s ascension only reaffirms the importance of a veteran backup, which is why former No. 1s Kevin Weekes, Chris Osgood, Brent Johnson and Patrick Lalime are coveted by NHL teams.
There are only a handful of players who can survive as a backup.
“There is not a player that plays the game that doesn’t want to be important to his team,” Murray said. “When you’re not the guy, it must be dreadful. There are a number of guys around the League that go through that every year and they must be terrific people. They’re pros, but that’s an easy thing to say. It has got to be tough to stay focused.”
There are several different reasons a backup gets a start and different variables factor into the goalie equation.
“There are different variables that come into play, injuries, or teams who have a player that does well against our team, or back-to-back games with travel scenarios,” Tippett said. “What it does, though, is allow you to think you’ve got a guy who is very capable that gives you a chance to win every night.”