Early this week on a radio show, a few very respectable hosts were discussing a terrible point they all seemed to agree on: With the Toronto Maple Leafs having two reasonably comparable goaltenders, and incumbent starter Jonathan Bernier struggling in the early season, they should adopt the Calgary Flames' practice of goalie deployment, which is "win and you're in." As in, win the game, and you get to play the next one.
Which, of course, is an out-and-out bad idea - all apologies to those hosts.
The general idea here is that in the interest of getting to play more, goalies will ... try harder to win, or something? As opposed to their current thought process, which is to be indifferent about the game’s outcome, one might suppose.
There are so few NHL spots available for goaltenders, and so many good ones playing, that these guys know their careers and contracts and futures hang in the balance every time they get in the crease. Very few of them have long-term contracts. They’re already crazy, as goalies, and they’re going crazier trying to perform their absolute best every single night.
All you do when you go to a win-and-in rotation is leave the outcome of the next game further to chance by taking one of the few tools of coaching - player usage - out of your own hands.
If a goalie draws Tampa Bay on a Tuesday and plays wonderfully in a 2-1 loss, well, too bad, he’s out. If the next guy comes in on Thursday and wins 7-6 against Arizona, congrats to you - here’s another game.
Now come Friday night you’re willingly putting in a goalie coming off a tough night while sitting down a guy who played great. And that’s not great coaching. Hell, it’s not coaching at all.
Goalie wins as a statistic are similar to pitcher wins in baseball. Some nights you don't get run support, some nights the hitters (or shooters) just happen to be on, sometimes the team around you plays like garbage and you’re left to rot on your little island. Either way, the decision often won't tell you how your goalie actually performed.
There comes a time when you need to shelve your starter for your backup when things aren’t going well. But if you truly believe that your starter is the better goalie - and of course you do, because you named him the starter - then there are times you have to let him play through the rough patches and find his game.
I don’t know what the answer is for Jonathan Bernier and James Reimer. But I do know the answer isn’t to leave their playing time up to a magic 8-ball. It shouldn’t be the answer for any team.