Law of Averages
Rick Charlton
September 8th, 2003

The percentage will tell the tale.

While analyzing the many things that went wrong with the Flames last year GM and coach Darryl Sutter opined that Calgary's goaltending was sub-standard, pointing to a collective .897 save percentage as a critical reason for a seventh straight year out of the NHL's post-season.

Only a .915 save percentage would be acceptable in the future, claimed Sutter, a number which coincidentally lines up with the average of the 24 NHL netminders last season starting 50 or more games.

Roman Turek, of course, was one of the goaltenders noted above, but at .902 on the season, he ranked 23rd on the list, second to last, with only Tommy Salo of Edmonton lower.

Positional Analysis

Charlton: Left Wing
Charlton: Right Wing
Charlton: Center

Charlton: Defence

Turek has to be better. But does he have the ability?

Even for the highly competent Blues in 1999-2000, his first year as a genuine NHL starter, Turek still managed a save percentage of .912 and has only matched .915 on one occasion, as a 26 game backup for Dallas, another competent defensive team, in 1998-99.

That's what save percentage does. It can eliminate some of the obvious excuses, like poor defensive coverage or defencemen playing soft in front of their goal. Those are still factors, of course, but Turek's career save percentage has been telling a pretty consistent story, whether it be the best of times or the worst of times.

So Sutter's seemingly modest request - to be average - might well be a significant challenge and was no doubt one of the central focuses in that three and a half hour private post-mortem with Turek after last season had concluded.

To his credit, Turek seems to understand completely his importance to this team, telling local news sources recently that he has to be flat-out the best player on the team.

Having competent, consistent goaltending is as essential in hockey as quality pitching is in baseball. It can easily be taken for granted if you have it but without it the chances of success gravitate towards nil, impacting almost every other aspect of the game from the goaltender out. A team with poor netminding may be less aggressive, unwilling to risk taking penalties for fear of the consequences. Its a team that might be inclined to risk less in the offensive zone for fear of getting caught and paying the penalty at the other end. It's a team that might be altogether fundamentally different with competent goaltending.

In that vein, Turek needs to be "average" in at least one other respect as well. Like most competent NHL goaltenders, he should stop the pucks he can see and a few others on top of that. His penchant, however, for flubbing the odd easy one is a nightmare for a team that lacks the offensive weapons to score itself out of trouble. He can be a drag on his team's psyche and that has to end.

Consistency. Competency.

Just to make the challenge for Turek tougher, Sutter has also stated his team needs to be top ten defensively in order to qualify for the post-season. Calgary was actually ranked 16th in total goals allowed last year and improved markedly down the stretch under Sutter but a top ten finish, however you want to measure it, would be a remarkable turnaround for a franchise that has consistently languished in the bottom third of the league defensively the last seven horrific seasons.

That Turek will be the starter, getting in 55 to 70 games, is not in doubt given his ability and contract status. He's the man.

The most intriguing battle, therefore, might be over who backs him up. For the second straight season, Calgary's backup won only two games, adding just another element of pressure on the coaching staff as well as Turek himself.

Jamie McLennnan is probably the guy who will carry the load again this year but Sutter's gushing praise of youngster Dany Sabourin might be a clue as to where the future lays. While it's not out of the realm of possibility Sabourin could usurp McLennan in the backup role it would be uncharacteristic of Sutter to expose his team to the risk of an untried rookie goaltender should Turek be injured for any length of time.

In fairness to McLennan, his failure to produce more than two wins last year had much to do with the incompetence of his teammates through much of November when McLennan stood on his head with Turek injured but the Flames turtled with zero offence.

Sabourin is probably destined to share starting duties on Calgary's new co-op farm team, putting in his time before advancing to the back-up role next year.

Former number one draft pick Brent Krahn resurrected his stagnant career with a memorable finish with Seattle, turns pro and is ticketed for the ECHL. He is probably still two or three years away from permanent employment in the NHL but the Flames have to be pleased with the fact a draft pick that appeared to be dead in the water - due to injury more than anything - is back on the radar screen.


  1. Turek
  2. McLennan
  3. Sabourin
  4. Krahn

OVERALL GRADE - C+ The only Sutter wants is "average." Can Turek deliver? The season probably depends upon it.

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