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On Ducks, Blues and the goalie depth dynamic

2010 NHL Awards Portraits

2010 NHL Awards Portraits

Getty Images

On Friday, Martin Brodeur practiced for the first time as a St. Louis Blue.

On Saturday, Jason LaBarbera suffered an upper-body injury in Anaheim’s loss to San Jose.

On the surface, these two incidents really don’t have much in common -- but in a broader context, they really do.

Over the last few years, few organizations boasted more talent in goal than Anaheim and St. Louis. Just go back to 2012, for example: St. Louis had Brian Elliott, Jaroslav Halak, Ben Bishop and Jake Allen stockpiled in the organizational warehouse while Anaheim had Jonas Hiller, Frederik Andersen, John Gibson and Viktor Fasth (who they signed in May of that year).

Now, fast forward to the present.

Anaheim, having already moved on from Fasth and Hiller, rolled the dice on Andersen and Gibson as their tandem -- despite the fact that, coming into this season, the two had 27 NHL starts between them.

“It’s funny how this business is,” said Ducks general manager Bob Murray said at the time (audio). “We go from having the deepest goaltending, everybody’s talking about it.

“Now, all of a sudden it’s the two kids.”

St. Louis made a similar move, albeit in slightly different fashion. This summer, the club opted not to retain Ryan Miller -- acquired from Buffalo in a blockbuster move at the deadline, which saw Halak go the other way -- and handed the reins to a veteran (Elliott) and prospect (Allen), neither of whom had much experience as a NHL starter.

“I don’t think I’ve ever coached two guys with less ego than these guys,” head coach Ken Hitchcock raved prior to the season, per the Post-Dispatch. “These guys have no ego. They just come to work and come to play and they’re receptive to information. They want to get better every day.

“This is about as low maintenance a tandem I’ve coached in my life, which is really nice for coaches.”

But then came the injuries.

The Ducks lost Gibson to a groin strain that’ll sideline him until late December. That forced them to recall LaBarbera and, with him now hurt, Igor Bobkov is on his way up to be Andersen’s No. 2.

The Blues, meanwhile, lost Elliott last week to a lower-body issue. That left them with Allen and AHL call-up Jordan Binnington as the lone netminders, which resulted in the Brodeur tryout.

As such, it’s hard not to look at what each team’s ex-goalies are doing elsewhere. Two years after the Blues dealt him away, Bishop has emerged as a star in Tampa Bay; Miller, meanwhile, is near the top of the league in wins with Vancouver.

Halak was just named the NHL’s first star of the week and has been a revelation for the Islanders, while Hiller been solid for a surprising Calgary team.

With all of that said, it’s important to remember a key facet of the Blues and Ducks leaning on their depth in net:

Financial freedom.

The Blues have just $3.3 million committed to Elliott and Allen this year, which allowed them the room to sign Paul Stastny in free agency (and bring back Jori Lehtera from the KHL, which has been an equally vital pickup.) Anaheim has $1.85M locked into Andersen and Gibson, which provided the ability to absorb Ryan Kesler’s contract ($5M annually) while freeing up a good chunk of space should GM Bob Murray decide to add at the deadline.

What’s more, teams have won with inexpensive goalies before. Most will point to the Cup-winning ’08 Red Wings (Chris Osgood, $850K) and ’10 Blackhawks (Antti Niemi, $826K) -- though both teams had expensive backups in Dominik Hasek and Cristobal Huet.

But it’s worth mentioning the Stanley Cup playoffs here, because that’s when the goalies in St. Louis and Anaheim will face the most questions. It’s been a position of weakness for both in recent postseasons -- especially St. Louis, where Armstrong made the big Miller move last season to shore up what’s traditionally been a trouble spot.

“We gave up quite a bit to get Ryan and we felt as an organization that might be a piece that could push us deep and get us into the Stanley Cup and win us a Stanley Cup,” Armstrong said. “That’s why the trade was made.

“It didn’t work out that way, obviously.”