But whether or not Martin Brodeur is a fraud is a discussion for another day. Today we're taking a look at a guy -- Pascal Leclaire -- who just might be the heir apparent to Brodeur's throne. No, not in terms of all those wins, Cups,
Leclaire, the Jackets' first-round pick (eighth overall) in the 2001 Entry Draft, signed a three-year deal with Columbus on Wednesday, which Puck Daddy summarized as follows:
He'll make $3 million this season, $3.6 million in 2009-10 and $4.8 million in 2010-11. Leclaire made $1.4 million last season, when he was an outstanding 24-17-6 with a 2.25 GAA and a .919 save percentage -- good for ninth in the NHL for goalies who played more than 50 games. The fact that Leclaire only played 54 games likely kept him out of the Vezina voting, which was a shame.The 11.4-million-dollar question, then, is "Was last season an aberration?" And the answer is "no"... as long as head coach Ken Hitchcock sticks around.
A three-year deal is rather perfect here: Long enough to lend a sense of stability, short enough where the Jackets aren't hamstrung with a dud keeper if last season turns out to be an aberration.
According to the brilliant Allan Ryder of HockeyAnalytics.com, the Blue Jackets had the lowest quality of shots faced of any team in the League (here's the PDF containing the source for that stat). What this means is that the Jackets had the highest percentage of shots against coming from low-risk areas (say, the half-boards) versus high-risk areas (the top of the crease, for example) of any team in the League. Combine that with the fact that C'bus faced the sixth-fewest shots per game in the League and Columbus, concludes Ryder, was the third-best defensive team in the NHL last season (San Jose and Detroit were first and second, respectively).
It's important to note that aside from perhaps keeping rebounds out of dangerous areas, this stat-backed praise has nothing to do with the goaltender -- whomever was in goal for the Jackets (be it Leclaire, Freddy Norrena or Daniel Lacosta) likely faced "easier" shots than any goalie in the League and faced fewer of them on average than more than two-thirds of his netminding colleagues. And that's Ken Hitchcock's system, in a nutshell, and it's the same system that coaxed a Jennings Trophy out of Roman Cechmanek and Robert Esche (yes, that Roman Cechmanek).
Of course, one still has to make the saves no matter the degree of difficulty of the shots faced, and "Pazzy" did that, to the tune of a .919 save percentage (Norrena, on the other hand, did not, posting a .896 save percentage, a good indication that he more or less stinks out loud). But given Leclaire's limited playing time, Norrena's poor play in the time he got, and Columbus's stout defense, the stats (again, per Ryder) say that the Jackets had the third-worst contribution from their goaltenders of any team in hockey in 2007-08 (only Washington and Tampa got less from their men behind the mask).
So what we've got in Columbus is a good goalie with a strong pedigree putting up big-time stats in a great defensive scheme. It's a formula that has worked well for at least one Quebecer, and I'm sure Pascal Leclaire would be happy to follow in those footsteps, even if it means never getting full credit for the numbers he racks up along the way.