According to conventional wisdom, the fastest way for a NHL expansion team to attain respectability is to build from the goaltender out.
That means the Florida Panthers and the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim are in good shape, because Thursday's expansion draft is sure to feature a smorgasbord of quality goalies.
"The key to building an expansion team is getting a good goaltender," Toronto assistant general manager Bill Watters said. "Based on this year's format, they're going to get a very good goaltender to build their team around."
During last year's expansion draft for the Lightning and the Ottawa Senators, the established teams each could protect two goalies. The most coveted unprotected goaltenders were Hartford's Peter Sidorkiewicz, who was taken first by Ottawa, and Pittsburgh's Wendell Young, who then was chosen by the Lightning.
This time around, teams can protect only one goaltender.
"They're going to get an absolute starter in the NHL. We got backups," Tampa Bay Lightning president and general manager Phil Esposito said. "That's not a reflection on Wendell or anybody. It's just the truth."
The goaltenders who could be left unprotected this time include Kay Whitmore (Vancouver), Daren Puppa (Toronto), John Vanbiesbrouck (New York Rangers), Ron Hextall (Quebec), Mark Fitzpatrick (New York Islanders), Craig Billington (New Jersey) and Robb Stauber (Los Angeles).
Getting a goaltender like any one of them would be analogous to an expansion NFL team nabbing an established quarterback such as Joe Montana or Phil Simms rather than, say, a perennial clipboard-holder such as Cody Carlson.
"As a manager, it'd be easy to say: "Damn. I've worked hard to build my team. We were scrapping along for five years trying to get a good backup, and now we might lose him,' " said Pat Quinn, the president, general manager and coach of the Vancouver Canucks. "But that's the price of expansion."
The price could be steep.
Expansion was announced in mid-December, but club officials did not learn until early March that the two franchises would join the league in time for the 1993-94 season.
Other than Toronto (which traded Grant Fuhr to Buffalo in February for Dave Andreychuk, Puppa and a first-round draft pick), teams with more than one quality goaltender opted to hold pat as they jockeyed for playoff position.
"Contending teams didn't want to make a lot of moves," Detroit Red Wings general manager Bryan Murray said. "Then we found out the (draft) rules fairly late, and it made it difficult to move people around."
Although a quality goalie ordinarily would command a top draft pick or an established star or both, everyone now knows they could offer much less for them.
"It's a buyer's market," Watters said.
But isn't something better than nothing?
The existing 24 teams each will lose two players in one of the following combinations: one goalie and one forward; two forwards; or one defenseman and one forward.
"A lot of teams have called here with interest in Kay (Whitmore), but in our circumstance, it may be better to lose him to ensure we don't lose a defenseman as well," Quinn said.
To the Canucks, it might be better to offer Whitmore as a potential sacrificial lamb and save a defenseman such as veterans David Babych or Doug Lidster.
"I'm in a little bit of a dilemma," Detroit's Murray said. "I've got a couple of real good young players. Do I protect them, expose them or try to trade them to get something? Today, that's a fairly tough call."
Of course, some teams may try to work out deals promising to reward Florida or Anaheim with certain players or draft picks in exchange for not taking their goalie.
"I'm sure someone out there is trying to reinvent the wheel," said Tony Esposito, the Lightning's director of hockey operations.
While NHL officials said the Panthers and Mighty Ducks will fare well in the draft, some suggested that the Lightning, Ottawa and San Jose could benefit from Friday's so-called reverse phase _ when they are allowed to draft players from those selected by Miami and Anaheim in Thursday's expansion draft.
San Jose already has made a move, acquiring goalie Jimmy Waite from Chicago on Friday for "future considerations." That trade enables Chicago to avoid exposing a valuable goaltender _ Waite or Ed Belfour _ but goalie remains the expansion draft's deepest position. Tony Esposito said that could be the Lightning's opportunity to find its starter.
Potential pool of goalies
Goaltender (Team) GP MINS GAA W L T SO GA SA Save %
Kay Whitmore (Vancouver) 31 1817 3.10 18 8 4 1 94 858 .890
Daren Puppa (Buffalo/Toronto) 32 1785 3.23 17 7 4 2 96 938 .898
John Vanbiesbrouck (Rangers) 48 2757 3.31 20 18 7 4 152 1525 .900
Ron Hextall (Quebec) 54 2988 3.45 29 16 5 0 172 1529 .888
Mark Fitzpatrick (Islanders) 39 2253 3.46 17 15 5 0 130 1066 .878
Craig Billington (New Jersey) 42 2389 3.67 21 16 4 2 146 1178 .876
Robb Stauber (Los Angeles) 31 1735 3.84 15 8 4 0 111 987 .888