Florida Panthers: Chris Driedger Creating Unlikely Goalie Controversary
|Photo Credit: Wilfredo Lee/AP|
There is no doubting with how things played out last offseason, that it was only a matter of time before we saw a goaltending controversy with the Florida Panthers.
What wasn't expected was how soon that came along, as well as who started the controversy.
When Sergei Bobrovsky became an unrestricted free agent, people knew they were going to have to open up their check books in order to land the prized goaltender.
A two-time Vezina Trophy winner doesn't come along free agency too often, and the Panthers jumped all over it.
There are obvious concerns about signing a 30-year old goalie to a long term contract, and the Panthers may eventually pay for the seven-year, $70 million contract they gave to Bobrovsky, but they did it hoping he was the final piece they need to start to truly compete in the East.
The move was that much more confusing since a week before the Panthers drafted goaltender Spencer Knight with their first round pick. It's not often goalies go in the first round anymore, but Knight was definitely a prospect worthy of his draft status.
Goalies take time to develop, so even with signing Bobrovsky to a seven-year deal, some goalies can take up to that long to fully grow into their potential. Worse case, they'd have Bob as the backstop until Knight is ready to take over.
Best case, they form a 1-2 tandem for a couple of seasons while Bobrovsky finishes out his contract, and Knight comes cheap.
Of course, Knight seems like he is progressing quickly, currently sporting a 12-1-1 record at Boston College, with a .935 SV% and 2.06 GAA. He was also the goalie for Team USA during their gold medal run at the World Junior Hockey Championships.
Bobrovsky, on the other hand, has done nothing but struggle since coming to Florida. He posted a career worst 3.23 GAA to go along with a .900 SV%.
This season hasn't been any better for the Russian netminder, as his struggles has put him into a rotation with 26-year-old Chris Driedger, who earned his sixth win of the season after the Panthers defeated the Detroit Red Wings 7-2 Friday night.
Formerly a third round pick by the Ottawa Senators back in 2012, Driedger is started to show the case and point about the time it takes goalies to fully develop.
After five years with the Senators, he was allowed to enter free agency after not being tendered a contract. Bouncing back and forth from the American Hockey League and the ECHL, Driedger was forced to sign a minor league contract with the Springfield Falcons to continue his career.
He finally became a regular in the AHL before earning a NHL contract and made his debut last year. Driedger stopped all 27 shots he faced in a 3-0 shutout victory in his first NHL start against the Nashville Predators.
The Winnipeg, Manitoba native carried that momentum from his 12 game stint with the Panthers this season and has earned him the majority of the playing time this season after Friday's game, even earning the opening night start.
Driedger has started 8 of the team's 15 games they have played thus far this season. With Florida set to play the Red Wings again on consecutive nights, the playing time will be more than likely split by the end of Saturday, but regardless it's a position that the Panthers didn't expect themselves to be in.
*Numbers courtesy of Natural Stat Trick. Based off of 5v5 play.
Bobrovsky has allowed four or more goals three times this season - and has surrendered six twice - while Driedger has done the same just once.
While the numbers haven't been there for Bobrovsky, he has had his moments, which is why Driedger hasn't completely taken the net form him. Florida have won five of the seven decisions Bobrovsky has factored in. They have six wins in eight decisions with Driedger starting.
This is probably the last thing that the Panthers wanted to see, their marquee player that they dropped a lot of money on in free agency struggling to the point where he has essentially become a backup.
It'd be one thing if Driedger is riding a hot streak, but after last season, and where we are now so far this year, I would certainly be concerned.
There was going to be a point when we'd question if Bobrovsky was still the go-to goalie in Florida, but that wasn't expected for a couple of years, and by a different player altogether.
What do you think of Driedger's play so far this season? Do you think he ends up starting more games than Bobrovsky? Or does Bobrovsky eventually settle in and play like the goalie the Panthers thought he was when they signed him? Let us know in the comment section below, subscribe to the site at the link above and follow me on Twitter @AJ_Murfy.