The Sea-to-Sky Boner Report: Oct 13th 2013

That's Offside!
October 13 2013 12:01PM

The WHL's Eastern conference has not been kind to the Vancouver Giants (1-7-1-1), as they not only lost all five games on their road trip, but they also lost top forward Cain Franson to an injury, at least in the short term. The good news is that Dalton Thrower's return and some good old shooting percentage regression has led to some offensive results, as the Giants scored more goals in the last seven days than they had all season. Alec Baer, Brett Kulak and Andreas Eder all found the back of the net for the first time this year too.

But that's about where the good news ends. Despite having what should be a strong blueline, the Giants just can't keep the puck out of their net. Read on past the jump for more.

It's more than likely that a lot of the Giants' defensive woes are really goaltending woes. Team save percentage is currently an abysmal 0.859, and starter Payton Lee is only stopping 84.7% of shots against. He has been easily the worst goalie in the entire WHL, sitting dead last in save percentage among goalies with more than 100 shots faced. Unfortunately, and most concerning for Vancouver, is that this is nothing new. Last season, even though he was a rookie and shouldn't be judged too harshly on his performance, he was also last among goalies in save percentage with a less-bad-but-still-terrible 0.879 mark.

Now, this may not mean anything in regards to how Lee develops since we know that goalies grow in erratic and unpredictable ways, but it's still worth looking at how goalies on successful teams performed to get a sense of what a solid WHL goalie is. As a really rough benchmark, I looked at the goalies who played more than 20 games in a year in which their teams went to the WHL finals. The reason why I looked at team performance rather than goalie performance is that Payton Lee doesn't have to be a star goalie for the Giants to do well. As we've seen with NHL teams like Detroit (Osgood) and New Jersey (Brodeur for the last three seasons), good teams can be good with below average goaltending. So, now the question becomes whether Lee is performing like a guy who can just be mediocre but not cost his team. Well, the answer isn't "no" but it's less than encouraging.

In the last 5 years, there have been 11 goalies that met the criteria for success and games played. In the seasons they led their teams to the WHL finals, they had an average save percentage of 0.914. However, Lee isn't expected to be ready to post those kind of numbers, so it's more valuable to look at how each of these goalies did in their WHL rookie seasons and compare that to Lee's. Here's how Lee stacks up to these guys:

Last place is never promising. But, Payton Lee does have some things working in his favour. First and foremost is his age. As a draft-eligible 1996 birthday, he's pretty young and has a lot of time to grow and develop. The second is that the sample of games here is too small to draw any definitive conclusions beyond "maybe we should keep an eye on this because this is really, really bad." For what it's worth, goalies drafted out of the WHL last season posted an average save percentage of 0.913, so if Lee has any plans on being drafted after this season, he has to stop far more pucks.

So is Payton Lee a bad goalie? Right now, yes. He's terrible. Fortunately for the Giants, "right now" doesn't really mean much as they're in a rebuilding process and only need him to be good in a year or two down the road. Can he develop into a good goalie? It's possible, but his performance to date should at the very least raise some red flags. If he continues to struggle, the Giants may be forced into starting Jared Rathjen and exploring the trade market for options in goal.

Vancouver finished up their Eastern road trip tonight with a game against the Swift Current Broncos (5-3-0-1) last night. They were without Blake Orban, who's serving a one-game suspension, as well as Dalton Sward, Rob Trzonkowski, Scott Cooke, Jakub Stuckel and possibly Travis McEvoy and Cain Franson. They will now return to Vancouver to begin a 3-game home stand that kicks off against Kamloops on the 18th.

Around the B.C. Division

Kamloops Blazers: Early struggles continue, going 0-3 this past week with a loss to Prince George and two to Tri-City...Have scored only 21 goals through 9 games, tying them with Lethbridge for the WHL's second worst offensive team, ahead of only Vancouver...Assigned former Giant F Tristan Sieben and F Devin Oakes to Jr. A.

Kelowna Rockets: 16-year old rookie F Nick Merkley was named CHL player of the week after scoring 4 goals and 2 assists over 3 games...Lost first regulation game of the year 6-3 on Tuesday to WHL scoring leader F Mitch Holmberg and the Spokane Chiefs...Ranked among the CHL's top-10 teams for the first time this season.

Prince George Cougars: Rookie G Ty Edmonds was named CHL goaltender of the week after posting two shutouts and a 1-0 loss. Edmonds sits 2nd in CHL save percentage, stopping pucks at a 0.938 clip so far.

Victoria Royals: Went 2-0 this week with wins over Tri-City and bottom-dwelling Lethbridge. Now sit at 5-5-0-0 on the season...F Luke Harrison served a 1-game suspension and did not play in the win against Lethbridge...Since being returned from Calgary, D Keegan Kanzig has 0 points, 19 PIMs and is a +3 in 6 games.

Other News and Notes:

  • Top NHL prospect F Sam Reinhart of the Kootenay Ice leads all draft eligible players in scoring with 19 points in 8 games, good for 2nd in the WHL. Other 1995 born players among WHL scoring leaders include F Leon Draisaitl, F Conner Bleackley, F Brian Williams, F Greg Chase, F Tyson Baillie, and D Julius Honka.
  • Seattle rookie F Mathew Barzal scored 8 points in 4 games to jump into the WHL rookie scoring lead.
  • Seattle had a busy week on the trade front, sending D Griffin Foulk to Lethbridge for D Adam Henry, and D Jesse Forsberg to Moose Jaw for a 3rd round pick.
  • At 8-2-0-0, Seattle also sits atop the WHL standings. The best team has probably been the Medicine Hat Tigers though, as they have outscored their opponents 39-20 on the year. The Tigers have three wins and a 5-4 overtime loss since the return of F Hunter Shinkaruk.
  • Lethbridge and Vancouver sit last in their respective conferences, both with just one win on the season.
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Rhys Jessop - CanucksArmy's resident CHL buff/hater of prospects, depending on who you ask. Follow my ramblings on Twitter: @Thats_Offside. Email contact: thats.offside.hockey[at]gmail.com
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