Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Denis Out, Sanford In

Desjardins Bumped To 4th In Queue

It must be quite a laugh for Bob Gainey and former Panthers GM Jacques Martin. While Bob is scooping up his 8th new addition to the organization through free agency – their chief playoff rival from last spring has done nothing other than take one step sideways (signing Scott Clemmenson to replace Craig Anderson) and four steps back (signing Leopold as a replacement for Bouwmeester, whose rights they acquired in that late June trade).

Yesterday, it was Gainey's turn to make a sideways move by signing Curtis Sanford of the Vancouver Canucks/Manitoba Moose to take the place that Marc Denis occupied last winter.

Curtis Sanford

In Curtis Sanford, the Canadiens have acquired a third-string goalie with good credentials for the position. Over his long and convoluted career, Sanford has scaled as high as starter (St. Louis, 2005-06), but generally settles in somewhere between great AHL starter and adequate NHL back-up.

Sportsnet says of his strengths:
Has a tremendous attitude and the perfect demeanor for the backup role at the NHL level. Is capable of making big saves at key moments of a hockey game.

And, weaknesses:
Is somewhat small for the goaltending position, and tends to get beaten upstairs with relative frequency. Isn't durable enough to be an NHL starter.

On looking at his stats, one thing is clear. It seems than when he plays against AHL calibre shooters he can be an excellent goalie, but struggles at the NHL level. Even the difference between Peoria 2003-04 to 2004-05 (when young NHLers roamed the AHL ice) was marked, with a drop of 2% in saves made. The fact that he ranges from slightly just below the standard you'd hope for in the NHL to all-star in the AHL gives proof to the fact that there are more good goalies around than shooters in the two leagues.

No doubt it hasn't escaped many pundits that Gainey has yet again this off-season replaced a French Canadian with an outsider. But if you stick to their mantra "a talent egale, on prendra le Quebecois", Gainey may win a debate on it. While Marc Denis has not put up an NHL record anyone would want to hold up since before the lockout, Sanford had 2005-06 in St. Louis and, to some extent, last year in Vancouver. Even in the AHL, Sanford has outclassed his rival (last year's numbers: 1.73, 0.936 vs. 2.46, 0.920).

It seems that like many of the moves from this off-season, it will have to be regarded as a minor upgrade at the same position.

Trade ripples

The predictable summer rumour merchants jumped right on this signing – just as they do with every Montreal, Toronto, New York or Philadelphia transaction. Hockeybuzz suggests that the move frees up Halak for a trade. Not only that, but a trade that would ring the Canadiens another top centre (Patrick Marleau) and unblock the Heatley logjam all at once.

It's a lot to read into the signing of a Manitoba Moose employee. Plus, it's been said before when Marc Denis was signed.

Personally, I wouldn't say that this signing does free up Jaroslav Halak to be traded – not after Carey's forays into blunderland. I certainly don't think that it gives Gainey the impetus to go out there and actively offer Jaro around.

I do think, however, that it removes the restraint that was previously there. Where there was no depth before (sorry Cedrick), the addition of Curtis Sanford does mean organizations won't fall down if an NHL-level goaltender is traded and someone has to move up. It means that while this isn't the signal that a trade is inevitably around the corner.

If anything, I think it plugs what was the major hole in the hole organization for now and is a sign that Montreal can now listen seriously to offers about nearly all of its roster (barring Markov). That in itself is important because you always want to be in a position to be the team that benefits from the crazed Florida GM coming knocking.

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