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Between The Pipes

Irbe inherits strongest crop of Caps goaltenders in two decades

Monday, 08.17.2009 / 1:35 AM / Features
By Mike Vogel  - WashingtonCaps.com Senior Writer
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Between The Pipes
New Capitals goaltending coach Arturs Irbe inherits a strong stable of netminders as he prepares for his first season on the job in 2009-10. For the first time in a long time – perhaps in franchise history – the Capitals’ system is flush with goaltending from the top of the organizational depth chart on down. And most of that goaltending depth has been drafted and developed by the Capitals.

Veteran netminder Jose Theodore won 32 games in goal for the Capitals last season, one shy of his career high. Theodore turns 33 in September, just before he heads into the final year of his contract. Signed to a two-year deal last summer, Theodore has had a history of big seasons in his contract years.

First-year pro Semyon Varlamov posted a 30-13-2 combined record at AHL Hershey and Washington in 2008-09, including the Stanley Cup playoffs. Varlamov, a first-round (23rd overall) choice in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, celebrated his 21st birthday during the playoffs. It was his netminding heroics that helped push the Caps into the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time in more than a decade.

Michal Neuvirth also turned 21 this past spring. The Czech-born goaltender was also a 2006 Entry Draft choice (34th overall) of the Capitals, and also a first-year professional in 2008-09. Including the postseason, Neuvirth was 33-19-2 in a season that included stops at the ECHL, AHL and NHL levels. He went 16-6 with a 1.92 GAA and a .932 save pct. in helping the Hershey Bears to the 20009 Calder Cup championship. Neuvirth was named winner of the Jack Butterfield Trophy as the Calder Cup playoff MVP.

Goaltender Braden Holby was a 2008 Washington draft choice. Selected in the fourth round (93rd overall), Holtby went 40-16-4 with the Saskatoon Blades of the WHL last season. The 19-year-old (he turns 20 in September) Saskatchewan native reported to Hershey during the playoffs, where he practiced with the Bears and watched as they claimed their 10th AHL title. Holtby is set to turn pro in 2009-10.

Late last month, the Hershey Bears signed goaltender Jason Bacashihua, a former first-round draft choice (26th overall in 2001) of the Dallas Stars. The presence of Bacashihua in Hershey gives the Bears a solid backup to Neuvirth, who is the likely No. 1 netminder in Chocolatetown for 2009-10. It also likely enables Holtby to play a fuller slate of games with the South Carolina Stingrays of the ECHL.

It has been nearly two decades since the Capitals boasted the type of goaltending depth they currently have in their system, especially home-drafted and developed goaltending depth. Going back 20 years, the Caps had a teenaged Olie Kolzig (drafted 19th overall in 1989), a teenaged Byron Dafoe (chosen 35th overall in 1989) and 21-year-old Jim Hrivnak (selected with the 61st choice in the 1986 draft) in the system.

Washington had 28-year-old veteran Don Beaupre in the stable as well. Having just traded Clint Malarchuk in March, 1989 and having lost Pete Peeters to free agency in June of that year, Beaupre was the team’s de facto No. 1 netminder. At that stage of his career, Beaupre had won as many as 20 games just once (25 wins for Minnesota in 1985-86) in his NHL career and had a total of 131 NHL victories. Theodore carries 215 career victories into the 2009-10 season.

Washington does not have a stellar history in the area of homegrown goaltending.

Of the nine goaltenders drafted by the Capitals in the 1970s, none was drafted higher than 91st overall. The results were predictable; none of the nine made their mark in the league and only two (Jim Bedard and Rollie Boutin) played at all in the NHL. That duo combined for a total of 95 NHL games played, all for the Caps.

The Capitals went two summers (1979 and 1980) without investing any draft choices in goaltending before tabbing Polish backstop Peter Sidorkiewicz with the 91st overall pick in 1981. It marked the third time the Caps had used pick No. 91 overall on a goaltender, matching the highest they had chosen any netminder overall to that point in their history.

Sidorkiewicz went on to enjoy a 246-game NHL career in the league, but never played for the Capitals. The first Polish-born player ever drafted by an NHL club, Sidorkiewicz was dealt with Dean Evason – now a Capitals assistant coach – to Hartford for David A. Jansen on March 12, 1985.

Sidorkiewicz later was dealt from Ottawa to New Jersey where he became hockey’s Wally Pipp. Because Sidorkiewicz was sidelined with a shoulder injury at the start of the 1993-94 season, the Devils summoned netminder Martin Brodeur from the team’s Utica farm team in the AHL. Brodeur never relinquished the reins, and Sidorkiewicz never won another game in the NHL.

Washington spent two picks on goaltenders in the 1982 draft and two more in 1983. Those four picks led to a total of exactly one NHL game played, that from Alain Raymond, an 11th rounder (215th overall) in 1983. Two more drafts passed before the Caps dipped into the goaltending pool again, this time doing so earlier than at any point in previous franchise history. The Caps went for goaltenders with consecutive third-round picks, taking Shawn Simpson with the 60th choice and Hrivnak at 61. Simpson never played in the NHL, but Hrivnak played 85 NHL games including 59 with the Capitals.

No goaltenders were chosen in 1987, and then the Caps tabbed goalie Duane Derksen with a fourth-round pick (57th overall) in the 1998 NHL Entry Draft. At the time, Derksen was the highest-drafted goaltender ever by the Capitals. He played professionally for a decade in North America and Europe, but never made it to the NHL.

History shows that Washington selected 17 goaltenders in its first 15 NHL drafts. Five of those 17 reached the NHL, and they combined to play a total of 427 games, with Sidorkiewicz accounting for more that half of that total. Only 155 of those games played came in a Washington sweater.

The Caps’ goaltending fortunes took a turn in 1989 when Washington chose Kolzig with the 19th overall choice. He remains the highest drafted goaltender in franchise history. Although it took several seasons for his career to get on track, Kolzig played in 711 games with the Capitals, more than the combined total of all other goalies drafted by the Capitals in their history.

The Caps chose Dafoe in the very next round. Although he only played 10 games for the Caps, his NHL career spanned more than a decade and included three 30-win seasons. Dafoe played in 415 career NHL contests.

Washington’s next dip into the goaltending pool came in 1992 when the Caps exercised a second-round choice (32nd overall) on Jim Carey. He turned pro after two seasons at the University of Wisconsin and made an immediate impact in the District in his first year pro.

After playing 55 games with the Caps’ Portland affiliate of the AHL, Carey played in 28 contests with Washington, earning runner-up status for the Calder Trophy. Carey won the Vezina Trophy as a sophomore but his star plummeted swiftly after. Traded to Boston in 1997, Carey played his last NHL game before his 25th birthday. He finished up with 172 games played in the league, 139 of which came with Washington.

The three most successful goaltenders ever drafted by the Caps were drafted in a bunch; Kolzig, Dafoe and Carey were drafted consecutively as far as goaltenders chosen by Washington. Since choosing Carey, the Caps have selected 16 more goaltenders in the NHL Entry Draft. Those 16 men have combined to play in 41 NHL contests, including six from Varlamov and five from Neuvirth. Sebastien Charpentier paces that group with 24 games played; Rastislav Stana also played in a half-dozen games for the Caps, earning the distinction of becoming the first Slovakian netminder to win an NHL game.

Washington has participated in 36 drafts during which it has selected a total of 36 goaltenders. As stated earlier, five of the first 17 goalies the Caps chose reached the NHL, and they played in a total of 427 games in the league. Each of the next three goaltenders Washington tabbed made it, and that trio played in a total of 1,306 NHL games. Four of the last 16 goalies drafted by the Caps have pulled on an NHL sweater and played a total of 41 games.

So, one of every three goaltenders (12 of 36) drafted by the Caps has made it to the NHL. Only one in nine (four of 36: Sidorkiewicz, Kolzig, Dafoe and Carey) has managed to carve out an NHL career of at least 100 games. The dozen goaltenders that did make it to the NHL have played in a combined total of 1,774 NHL games, but just 1,046 with the Capitals.

Irbe and the Caps hope he can help Varlamov, Neuvirth and Holtby add significantly to that total of NHL games played by homegrown goaltenders in the coming seasons. 
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