The writing was on the wall in September, and has since been reinforced through the season.

The hockey issue that splits Calgarians more than any other topic is the starter position in the nets for the Calgary Flames.

In early January, Calgarypuck.com took a deep look into the situation, in attempt to separate the two goaltenders into clear roles of starter and backup.

The Flames were coming off a hot December that saw Mike Vernon back stop the squad back into the hunt in the West. Just before Christmas Vernon got hurt, thrusting the spotlight on to Fred Brathwaite.


He didn't disappoint.

When Mike Vernon came back for the first time in the season Don Hay had a choice of two capable goaltenders. The city watched in anticipation to see what type of division of labour would arise.

Take A Look Back: Between the Pipes (January 9th, 2000)

Now that the Flames are back in the thick of the Western race, Calgarypuck will take it one step further.

Although unsolicited, Calgarypuck will choose the starter for the Flames in each of their next ten games on the basis of their record against the opposition, or the degree of difficulty the opposition presents.

First the Numbers

Fred Brathwaite still holds the honor of having the better numbers in terms of winning percentage, goals against average and save percentage.

A look back at the early January numbers shows Don Hay has gone to Brathwaite more often than in the first half of the season as Vernon's share of the games has fallen from 61% down to less than 59%.

Mike Vernon has started eight games since the last analysis, sporting a 3-4-1-0 record.

Fred Brathwaite has started seven games in that span, and has a 3-2-1-1 record.

Goalie

Record

% of Games

Average

Save %

Vernon

12-16-3-2

58.9%

3.13

.888

Brathwaite

8-7-6-2

41.1%

2.29

.912

Wild West

If the Flames are to have any chance of catching Edmonton and L.A. for the final playoff spot, they have to continue to improve against teams in their conference.

Goalie

Record

% of Games

Average

Save %

Vernon

8-15-1-1

61.0%

3.39

.879

Brathwaite

5-4-5-2

39.0%

2.12

.918

Since the January 9th analysis Mike Vernon has had a 3-4-1-0 record against Western opponents, while Fred Brathwaite has sported a 3-1-1-1 record.

When pared down to just Western teams Brathwaite's goals against average and save percentage both improve greatly. His 2.12 average against the West is over a goal a game better than Mike Vernon's average.

It should be noted however, that the degree of opposition within Western Conference teams also must be examined. Mike Vernon has played 11 games against elite Western conference teams (St. Louis, Colorado, Detroit, San Jose and Dallas), while Brathwaite has only faced these teams three times.

The Rotation

The table below shows the updated division of starts based on the caliber of the opposition.

Mike Vernon has had is percentage of games drop against every classification but the "doormat" squads, showing Don Hay's increasing trust in Fred Brathwaite.

Mike Vernon's winning record, and statistics against the NHL's elite is quite noticeable given the number of games played in this classification.

Mike Vernon

Goalie

Record

% of Starts

Average

Save %

Elite

5-4-1-1

68.8%

2.70

.909

Contender

1-5-0-1

58.3%

4.47

.841

Average

1-4-0-0

55.5%

3.87

.855

Struggling

3-1-0-0

50.0%

2.14

.915

Doormat

2-2-2-0

54.5%

2.76

.901

Fred Brathwaite

Goalie

Record

% of Starts

Average

Save %

Elite

1-3-1-0

31.2%

3.28

.896

Contender

2-1-2-0

41.7%

1.44

.945

Average

2-0-1-1

44.4%

0.52

.976

Struggling

1-2-0-1

50.0%

3.25

.855

Doormat

2-1-2-0

45.5%

2.89

.886

Fred Brathwaite's "wheel house" appears to be the contender and average categories, where his numbers would make Georges Vezina take notice.

Mapping Out the Starts

Clearly a lot more goes into choosing a starting goaltender than the stopper's previous record against that team, or teams similar in ability. Don Hay will often go with the hot hand, or have other biases at work that only he can define.

However, in order to assist Coach Hay, Calgarypuck will lay out the next ten starts scientifically.

Tue. Feb 13 Washington

The Flames haven't played the Capitals yet this season, so you can throw team specific records out the window. Fred Brathwaite has a record of 2-1-2-0 against teams classified at "Contenders" however, compared to Mike Vernon's record of 1-5-0-1.

Starter: Brathwaite

Thu. Feb 15 at St. Louis

Calgary has only played St. Louis once this season, dropping a 4-1 decision on the road. The starter for that game was Mike Vernon, giving up four goals on only 21 shots. Given that information the gut instinct might be to go with Brathwaite in this contest, but Vernon would still be the likely starter given the two goaltender's records against the NHL's best. Mike Vernon has a 5-4-1-1 record against the "elite", while Brathwaite's record is only 1-3-1-0. Brathwaite's goals against average and save percentage against the top teams are far poorer than his overall average.

Starter: Vernon

Sun. Feb 18 at Phoenix

Given that Calgary hasn't beaten Phoenix in over two years one might argue Martin Brochu might be the best-suited starter for this game. In the three games between the two teams this season, Mike Vernon has received two starts, and Fred Brathwaite one. Vernon has a 0-2-0-0 record against the Desert Dogs with a 3.71 average and a .841 save percentage. Brathwaite tended the pipes for the tie between the two teams. Overall Vernon has a 1-5-0-1 record against teams deemed to be contenders, while Brathwaite has a 2-1-2-0 record.

Starter: Brathwaite

Mon. Feb 19 at Anaheim

Calgary hasn't done particularly well against the Ducks this season, with a loss and two ties. Vernon has the only loss, while Brathwaite has picked up two ties against Anaheim. The Ducks fall into the "door mat" category for opposition, which seems to be a grouping suited to both this season. Vernon has enjoyed a 2-2-2-0 record with a .901 save percentage against the league's also-rans, while Brathwaite has a similar 2-1-2-0 record with a .886 save percentage.

Stater: Toss Up

Thu. Feb 22 Los Angeles

The Flames didn't play the Kings until January 6th this season, but will face them two more times down the stretch. The Flames were pasted 5-0 in L.A. with Mike Vernon the starter, but returned to the City of Angels a few weeks later and pulled out a 3-0 victory on the strength of Fred Brathwaite's shut out. Brathwaite's record against "average" teams (2-0-1-1 vs 1-4-0-0) and his recent shut out of the Kings makes Freddy the logical choice.

Starter: Brathwaite

Sat. Feb 24 Edmonton

Who should start in the most important game of the season? Mike Vernon has dropped all three starts to the Oilers this season, while compiling a 3.20 average and a .855 save percentage. Fred Brathwaite has a tie, and some relief work for Vernon in amassing a 0.40 average and a .976 save percentage. Brathwaite has the better record against "average" teams.

Starter: Brathwaite

Mon. Feb 26 Dallas

In what has to be considered cruel scheduling, the Flames will face the Dallas Stars three times in their final 25 games this season. Their only contest in Dallas this season was a success as Mike Vernon pulled out a stunning victory in the lone star state. Vernon's record against elite teams makes him the clear starter.

Starter: Vernon

Thu. Mar 1 Minnesota

Early in the season the Flames difficulties with Minnesota had them the laughing stock of the league. Nobody is laughing now, as the Wild continue to add victims to their inaugural season list. Mike Vernon shut the Wild out in Minnesota, while Fred Brathwaite has a loss and an overtime loss to show for his starts against Minnesota. Vernon has a 3-1-0-0 record against "struggling" teams, while Brathwaite has had less success, 1-2-0-1.

Starter: Vernon

Sat. Mar 3 St. Louis

This marks the second time in the ten game stretch where Calgary will face St. Louis. Mike Vernon was picked to start the February 15th game in St. Louis and his success in that game will go a long way in determining the starter for the March 3rd rematch at the Saddledome.

Starter: Vernon

Tue. Mar 6 Toronto

The conclusion of the pivotal ten game march to the playoffs has a match-up against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Mike Vernon has faced the Leafs in each of the two games this season, garnering a win and a loss. However, Fred Brathwaite has the better record against tier two teams like the Leafs.

Starter: Brathwaite.

Who's the Man?

Mike Vernon has played close to 60% of the Flames games to this point this season but Calgarypuck.com has Fred Brathwaite starting five of the next ten games, with one game being a toss up.

The five - four split does point to a goalie rotation however, a rotation that will be the single biggest factor in the Flames quest to nail down a playoff spot for the first time in four seasons.

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