Continuing our "X factor" segment on Blueshirt Banter we go from the biggest X factor (popularity wise) in Sean Avery to the most important in Martin Biron.
Since the post-lockout era the New York Ranger have been missing one of the most vital cogs to a successful team: the backup goaltender.
We all know that John Tortorella loves to ride his starting goaltender -- even Tom Renney was guilty in this department -- but it's a strategy that is simply counterproductive. Playing your starting goaltender in 70+ games a year in order to get into playoffs, and then have your goaltender gassed for the playoffs, isn't the best plan.
Now, in Tortorella's defense he didn't exactly have many options last year. Steve Valiquette (while a great guy) fell off the side of a cliff and was absolutely dreadful during his time in both the NHL and the AHL. Chad Johnson -- the popular choice because of his age -- played well but never gathered the trust of the coaching staff to give Henrik Lundqvist some much needed rest.
So when the free agent gates opened this year Glen Sather new that he needed to add another veteran goaltender to the team, and he did. Signing Biron to a two-year $1.75 million ($875K cap hit) deal. Sather got his man, and for about as cheap a price tag possible for the former starting goaltender who won 59 games in his two-year starting stint for the Philadelphia Flyers between 2007 and 2009.
See what makes Biron an X factor after the jump.Biron opens a whole new set of options for the Rangers brass this upcoming season. For starters you have to look at what he does for Lundqvist. The difference between giving Lundqvist 10 games off and 20 games off in a season is immense. If the Rangers were to make the playoffs and Biron started 20 games that would leave Lundqvist fresh and rested for a potential stretch run. Where in past years Lundqvist has been notably gassed and tired during playoff games -- even more evidence was Lundqvist in the final game of the season this year in which Lundqvist stood on his head but was almost too tired to interview afterwards.
Biron, who has been a proven starter before in his career with both the Buffalo Sabres and the Philadelphia Flyers, should be the answer to those questions. He won 31 games once with the Sabres, and won 30 games and 29 games in his two seasons with the Flyers. He should have no problem backing up Lundqvist, but how big of a role will he fill?
Well, that's why he is an X factor. Obviously the Rangers brass would love to see Biron play in 20+ games, but will he be able to handle it? We all know that Tortorella is probably a big factor in this scenario as well, because he doesn't exactly have the longest fuse when it comes to trusting backup goaltenders. But something is going to have to give if the New York Rangers are expected to be a playoff contending team this season.
Biron, who is coming off a one year stint with the New York Islanders, didn't exactly have the greatest year last year. He was beaten out of the starting role by Dwayne Roloson and was eventually relegated to Bridgeport, during a period of time in which it looked like Rick Dipietro was trying to make a comeback, again.
As a result a ton of it will depend on Biron himself (rightfully so). I am in no was assuming that Biron is going to lose a game and Tortorella is going to pull him for the rest of the season, let me make that clear. What I am saying is that Biron is coming in with a nice resume, but has to work his way into Tortorella's trust, which is how it should be.
The difference between a bad Biron and even simply a solid Biron is the difference between a playoff contender and a playoff pretender. In the end the Rangers really would only be looking for a .500 record from Biron, I don't think anyone would complain if Biron went 9-9-2 on the year.
While those nine wins in 20 games doesn't seem like a lot, think about it. Not only is that 18 points on the year, but it also makes Lundqvist more fresh for his 62 games. Imagine how much better Lundqvist's record would have been if he were better rested throughout the season? Add that to the fact that Lundqvist was still his normal superhuman self last year and you have a recipe for success.
But the other thing that Biron brings to the table is security. If Lundqvist get injured (knock on wood) Biron is a proven veteran who can step in and fill the void. But what's just as important (and in the end more likely) is if Lundqvist tweaks something in a game (in which he could play but he should probably rest for a few days), Biron fills that void as well.
I have no information to back this up (so it's pure speculation) but I would assume that there were times last season when Lundqvist was hurting, and played through the pain because there was no viable option as a backup goaltender. I'm sure that happens to every team in all sorts of different positions. Hockey is a physical sport, bumps and bruises happen (even to goaltenders), and now the Rangers have a guy that can allow Lundqvist to "lick his wounds" if it happens to him. It's a good thing, nay; it's a great thing.
So while Biron is certaintly not going to contend with Lundqvist for the starting role on this team, he is an important piece to the puzzle nonetheless. Thoughts?