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For goalies, getting traded can be complicated

Devan Dubnyk of Wild, Steve Mason of Flyers well-acquainted with switching teams

by Kevin Woodley / Correspondent

When it comes to acquiring a goaltender before the NHL Trade Deadline, set for March 1 at 3 p.m. ET, there are a lot of factors to consider, from contract status to expansion draft eligibility, before even beginning to look at an increasingly deep pool of statistical analysis.

Still, finding the right fit isn't always easy. That's partly because there are so many other factors that go into a successful pairing, including matching style to system and mindset to opportunity.

Minnesota Wild goaltender Devan Dubnyk and his Philadelphia Flyers counterpart Steve Mason believe the latter played a big role in their ability to successfully switch teams at midseason.

Mason said mindset was the key to his ability to quickly go from a save percentage of .899 during his previous four seasons with the Columbus Blue Jackets to .944 in his first seven appearances with the Flyers after being traded prior to the deadline in 2013.

"For me personally, Columbus was just a bad situation. I had zero confidence there," Mason said. "It got to the point where during the opening when they announced 'Steve Mason in goal' you would get booed by your home fans. That was always a tough thing for me. ... Once I was traded, it was a lifeline."

Video: NYI@PHI: Mason uses mask to deny Strome's wrister

Dubnyk benefited from being traded twice the season before making a smooth transition from the Arizona Coyotes to the Wild after a trade on Jan. 15, 2015. That may have been well before the trade deadline, but Dubnyk's success was instant; he went from a .916 save percentage with the Coyotes to .936 in 39 starts to help Minnesota reach the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

"It was the first time I had ever been traded, the first time I played for a different team, and I put a crazy amount of pressure on myself, to the point it was impossible to succeed," Dubnyk said of his trade from the Edmonton Oilers to the Nashville Predators one year earlier. "I learned from that to just play and not think I have to come in and be Superman."

Dubnyk said defensive system similarities also eased the transition. There are few absolutes in goaltending, but he and Mason believe some styles fit certain systems better than others.

"Some goalies are great off the rush and maybe not as good in end-zone play or point shots, and vice versa," Dubnyk said. "It's an adjustment. You play it a little differently, you are maybe not as far out or further out, but it's not easy."

Video: CHI@MIN: Dubnyk robs Kane with a diving glove save

Some goalies prefer to play with a little more flow or backward skating in their game and may adjust more readily to increased rush chances. Others are less comfortable with that extra movement and prefer a more passive, inside-out approach to positioning. Generally speaking, goaltenders with more movement tend to rely a little more on rhythm and timing, are better suited to regular starts and can struggle when they aren't busy.

"That's a mental task to stay focused, where you might not be getting the number of shots but, boom, you have a point-blank, 10-bell save you have to make," Mason said. "Some guys excel more when they are constantly facing 35-plus shots and have that rhythm."

Vancouver Canucks veteran Ryan Miller likes to play with flow in his game. He faced plenty of quality rush chances posting a .923 save percentage in Buffalo during the 2013-14 season but struggled to find the same level after a Feb. 28 trade to the St. Louis Blues, a better defensive team. It was a move that checked several of the above-mentioned cautionary boxes: first trade, fewer shots and fewer rush chances. Miller's save percentage dropped to .903 in 19 regular-season games with the Blues, and then to .897 during a first-round playoff loss.

Miller has spoken since about how hard it was to "go to a different mindset, different system, different expectations, just a lot of new things all at once." But for Miller, the complexities of a new defensive structure went well beyond facing fewer rush chances, including not being able to step out and challenge in certain end-zone situations the way he had in Buffalo.

Roberto Luongo's save percentage dropped to .917 in 2013-14 behind the Canucks' collapsing defense that played away from the veteran goalie's strengths. But Luongo adjusted quickly after a deadline trade to the Florida Panthers, and improved to .924 save percentage in 14 games with Florida.

James Reimer adjusted quickly to the San Jose Sharks last season despite altering his depth after being asked to play more aggressively with the Toronto Maple Leafs prior to a Feb. 27 trade. Reimer had a .938 save percentage in eight games with San Jose after a .918 in 32 games for the Maple Leafs. However, he struggled with the transition to Florida through mid-December this season.

"Not every goalie can play for every team," Mason said. "An organization might see something in one guy, but who is to say that is going to work for your team? It's a crapshoot. You can look at all the stats, but until you put the goaltender out there in a situation where he has to read things in real time, you never know how he's going to react or what you are going to get."

That may be true, but understanding a goalie's style and strengths, and factoring in whether they match a team's defensive system, should at least increase the odds of that dice roll.

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