Let’s get one thing out of the way in the very beginning of this post. One move does not in any way shape or form define a season. Especially after only 13 games.
Speculation about the future of goaltender Jacob Markstrom was put to rest officially on Monday when the tall and very talented, yet still unproven goaltender was returned to the San Antonio Rampage, the AHL affiliate of the Florida Panthers. Disappointment in some, and fear of the future in others, took over from the patient resolve of people like me. After appearing in 5 games this season, fans in South Florida were prepared to anoint Markstrom as the saviour of the franchise, virtually insisting that he stay, and either Jose Theodor or Scott Clemmensen (who has returned healthy from knee surgery) be sent packing. Somewhere. Anywhere. Boys and girls, if you recall the words of Dale Tallon when he was hired as the teams general manager he said one thing, and he continues to stand by that one thing, which is, we will not rush our youth.
I agree with Tallon’s assessment and certainly feel that it’s the best thing for Marky to go to San Antonio and play. And play a lot, since it’s been determined long before Monday that Jose Theodore was the number one goaltender here in Florida. That may not sit will with some of you, but that is a fact. Why? Take a look at the names of some goaltenders who had superb starts to their career, only to find themselves struggle afterwards. Some of them are still floundering. Steve Mason in Columbus had a tremendous first season winning the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year in 2008-2009, and now unfortunately can’t stop a beach ball. Carey Pricewas going to be the second coming of Patrick Roy in Montreal, had a solid rookie campaign only to lose confidence and appear to suffer from the pressure to win in the hockey hotbed. Finally last season, his 4th in the league began to show consistency, and give the appearance that he can carry the load. Mike Smith thought to be the heir apparent in Dallas to Marty Turco struggled after a successful start with the Stars, might now be finding his stride (maybe) four plus years later. Marc -Andre Fleury was literally rushed into full time duty with the Pittsburgh Penguins, and it almost ruined him. Kari Lehtonen was nicknamed Kari “let them in” for his sometime horrific play in Atlanta. Now that he appears to be injury free, he’s benefiting from being on a much better Dallas Stars team. On and on we can go. Oh, heck lets toss in Andrew Raycroft as well, who ironically is now Lehtonen’s backup in Dallas. Raycroft also won the Calder as a rookie in Boston, and has struggled since to gain respectability, let alone a starting job. Raycroft is 31 and will probably never be a number one goalie again. Is it worth it all this potential risk to put Markstrom in the fire now?
Trust me folks, no one wants to make the playoffs worse than I do, but with goaltending having to be one of the most difficult positions in the game to master, there is no need to rush Markstrom into a situation that he may not be completely prepared for. This isn’t your same old Panthers regardless of what the last three games have told us. Losing in three straight shootouts isn’t on the goaltender. No, it’s on everyone. The goaltender is the last line of defence yes, but he isn’t the only line of defence. There are five other players doing something in front of him that either help, or hurt some situations. The Florida Panthers must collectively find the proper mixture of teamwork, and consistency.
This post isn’t being written by me to come across as a yes man to the team’s decision to send the young netminder back. It’s all part of the plan that the Panthers have in place to build a strong contending hockey team for years. Not just one season. Look at Columbus as an example. Since Mason’s first year when the Blue Jackets made the playoffs to where they are now. Is that what you want? There is a process here for a change, and while this isn’t a popular decision, there will be many more before it’s all over, and it’s also the one that makes the most sense. We have only had a sampling of Markstrom, and sure he’s looked NHL ready for the most part, but these situations that he’s been in aren’t a true barometer of how the grind of an NHL season can wear down the mind of a goaltender. And remember this too that in 37 games last season while playing for Rochester of the AHL, Marky was 16-20-1 with a 2.98 GAA and a .907 SA%. Hardly appearing ready for the big time of the NHL. But Markstrom worked hard this offseason, and worked hard in training camp to prove that he is working his way to being the eventual number one netminder of the club. Markstrom will be much better served by going to the AHL and dominating that league, and coming back with full blown confidence either later this year, or next season when he’ll be ready to challenge, yes challenge Jose Theodore for the number one position. That will make both goaltenders better.
Speaking of Theodore, knock it off with the nicknames and the ready to toss in the towel attitude. It’s mostly just sour grapes. People are missing the point that this is a team game. Jose Theodore was not brought here to be the be all end all to goaltending for the Panthers. He’s not Tomas Vokoun and thankfully he’s not the headcase that has become Roberto Luongo. The issues that the Florida Panthers are having are related to the lack of secondary scoring and sloppy defence. For those of you only watching one segment of the game, I invite you to watch the entire part of the game. No goalie is responsible for not clearing the puck out of his zone, for missing wide open nets, and for not being able to punish the other team with physical play. When the Panthers consistently put that all together and learn to get that killer instinct, whether it’s the group they have now, or the pieces that are added down the road, you’ll thank me for being the voice of reason.
What’s the rush to keep Markstrom here now and potentially ruin his psyche? Nothing other than selfishness and not thinking this through. The goal of this team is to make the playoffs this season if at all possible. It’s a long grind, and it’s going to be a rough go. Does Markstrom need to be around this pressure cooker so early in his career? Not without getting some more starts under his belt in the AHL. We aren’t desperate for goaltending. We are desperate for scoring. The Clem and Theodore situation will resolve itself soon enough. If for whatever reason things get to a point where Marky has to be called back up, then the Panthers can do so since they know he can play here.
Until then let Markstrom learn, and dominate in the AHL, and in the meantime, support the guys in net here.
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