A while ago I posted the first of my 5 questions that I thought faced the Ottawa Senators going into the new season, the blog was all about what we would get back for Heatley which has turned out to be a whole bunch of nothing so far. Of course the worst thing about Heatley not going anywhere is that all of my other key questions (except this one) revolved around the Senators POST Heatley. He has spoiled my blogging schedule the selfish bastige.
So the one question I had that isn't impacted on by the fact that Heatley, at this point in time, remains an Ottawa Senator is this - Have Ottawa finally found a legitimate number one Goalie?
This has, of course, been a key question for the organisation for a number of years. As many of you know I am not from Canadaland and therefore have not grown up with Hockey in the blood and have only been following the Senators since the 03/04 season. The first goaltender I ever watched play for Ottawa was Patrick Lalime - didn't end well. By all accounts, Lalime was a nice guy but had a tendancy to throw the puck into his own net from time to time.
Since then the baton has been handed to Hasek, Gerber and Emery. Hasek left it behind at his doctor's surgery, Gerber kept dropping it and Emery threw it away and then drove over it with his Hummer - twice.
Brian Elliott arrived from Binghamton on a pleading wave of desperation and hope and showed that he might be a goalie for the future, but he also might not be. He played well in patches but also displayed a worrying tendency to let soft goals in. Would anybody really have been comfortable or confident going into the season with an Auld/Elliott combination for this season?
Midway through last season there seemed to be questions everywhere for the organisation; no secondary scoring, no dman who could get the puck to a player wearing the same colour shirt as him and goaltending that couldn't find their arses in the dark with both hands, let alone a puck through a crowded crease. Say what you like about Murray, and I have my own issues with some of the contracts he has handed out since becoming GM, he has a good trading record and with everybody moaning about these three problems he went out and did something about them.
For those that doubt the ability of Brian Murray as a GM I would point to his draft record, but I would first ask you to consider the following three words, The Meszaros Trade.
To get rid of Vermette and a 2nd round pick for a legitimate number one goalie was a great deal. But you know what, he got rid of Vermette for a number 1 goalie AND a 2nd round pick which we used to pick up the best European goalie prospect in the draft. So even if Leclaire doesn't work out we have a second shot at goaltending. The trade and subsequent draft was a work of hockey magic.
Leclaire has credentials no doubt about it. He also has issues with injury, but the guy is only 26. At the end of his contract, a very reasonable contract, with Ottawa he'll be 28. Prime goaltending age. Elliott will still be in the system at about 1 million per year and we'll have an idea whether Robin Lehner is something worth keeping an eye on. There was criticism about the trade from a lot of quarters, but mostly from Leaf fans and we all know what they know. Let's be honest taking criticism from the fans of a team that took Gerber off our hands isn't really criticism, it's like a bald guy telling you that your comb isn't any good.
Immediately Leclaire will give our team real confidence in the goaltending. I don't care what the players say in public, but it must be so disheartening to be playing in front of somebody who is always one shot away from from letting in a softie. This confidence should allow our defensive play to be a little more considered. The urgency to get the puck out of our zone in an anywhere but here manner should be gone and with players like Campoli and the possible appearance of Erik Karlsson as an Ottawa Senator and the eventual emergence of Jared Cowen and Patrick Wiercioch we aren't going to be the easiest team in the NHL to forecheck anymore.
Yes Leclaire spent most of last year injured, but he spent most of the year before that collecting first star awards and shutouts. He has had operation after operation but he is now saying he is fully fit. As long as he hasn't had his skill muscle (copyright StooLi) removed he should be good to go. For the first time in a long time the Senators can go into games truly confident in their goaltending and we won't have to score 5 goals to win games.
Of course we won't know the answer to the key question until at the very earliest mid way through the season, but at least this year we can expect a positive answer when we ask it.