Lessons from 2006: the Alexander Auld story

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Team MVP for the Vancouver Canucks back in ’05-’06, pictured above.

Quick trivia question: who was the last Vancouver Canucks goaltender to start a game before Roberto Luongo took over in October of 2006? It wasn’t Alex Auld, even though Auld was handed the reigns down the stretch drive of the 2005-2006 season as the Canucks pushed for a playoff spot.

Auld made 67 appearances for Vancouver in 05-06 after beginning the season as Dan Cloutier’s backup. Cloutier got hurt (as is tradition) after 13 games with an 8-3-1 record and would never start a game for the Canucks ever again. The Canucks, in a race for the Presidents’ Trophy after the first month, slumped for the rest of the season. Auld and his .902 save percentage – which was 21st in the NHL among regulars that season – was named the Team MVP (Cyclone Taylor Trophy), a fact that never sat well with me considering that by any objective measure, Auld wasn’t convincingly the best goalie on his own team.

As I watched Eddie Lack last night though, and kept an eye on James Reimer’s performance, I thought of something. How many times did Auld have to start both halves of a back-to-back? The Canucks are currently leaning on Lack right now and have started him in every game since the Olympic break. That’s a workload that we haven’t seen placed on a Vancouver goaltender since 2007. In Toronto, Reimer’s stock is dwindling quickly but the Leafs don’t have any choice but to start him in back-to-backs with their other ‘tender out with injury.

Overall, Auld started both halves of a back-to-back nine times in 2005-2006. Had CanucksArmy existed in its current form back then, we’d have demanded Marc Crawford shipped out of town faster than you can say “hair gel” is a raspy, high-pitched squeal.

That’s not all.

In the second half of those back-to-back games, which were all on the road and some of which were in dangerous locales. Two of his six losses in those nine games came against Edmonton, the team that wound up winning the Western Conference that year, and another was against Calgary, who had of course gone to the final the previous season and were Northwest Division champions in 2006.

Still, what’s amazing is how well Auld played, considering the circumstances. Auld had a .907 save percentage in those nine games on the second half of a back-to-back, compared to his season average .902 on at least one day of rest. The team itself, however, wasn’t strong in those games. They gave up 32.6 shots against per 60 minutes for poor Auldy compared to 29.7 in other games. Of course, that’s spurred by other factors (all games were on the road and skaters also suffer symptoms from fatigue) but the circumstances weren’t going Auld’s way that season. He was set up to fail.

Put it this way: Dan Cloutier’s last start for Vancouver was November 20, or Game 21 of the season. The Canucks still had 61 games to go and would be in the playoff hunt for 60 of those games.

Alex Auld would start 56 of them.

Not all in a row, mind you. Crawford wasn’t stupid. He just had such little faith in his backup goaltenders. For a while, the Canucks had Robert McVicar, until they went to the waiver wire to claim Maxime Ouellet from Washington, ere trading a 2nd round pick to Buffalo for Mika Noronen on March 9.

Noronen, for the record, would start just twice in his tenure as a Canuck. He’d start four days later in Nashville, played a bad game, and Crawford went right back to Auld until the Canucks were eliminated from contention. Noronen started the last game of the season, a 4-3 overtime win over the Colorado Avalanche.

Back to Lack.

Lack has started 13 consecutive since the Olympic break, and the second half of a back-to-back just once. Auld is not impressed.

After Crawford determined that Maxime Ouellet was six ways from useless, Auld started ten consecutive games between January 2 and 21 in 2006, including four games which were the front and back ends of a back-to-back.

Auld started ten in a row again before the Olympics (broken up so Ouellet could lose the front half of a back-to-back in St. Louis) he’d come back and start seven more consecutive after the break. Noronen came in against Nashville, lost, and then Auld went in for fourteen consecutive before, presumably, his knees had the density of a particularly soggy batch of baked potatoes.

I guess you could say that Lack is within one of the team record of consecutive starts by the surprise No. 1 goalie. Could’ve been you, Mike Fountain.

The Lack-Auld comparison may seem a bit forced, but watching Lack last night I had a mental recollection of Auld’s role down the stretch that year. Nobody expected Eddie Lack to be in this position back in October, just as nobody thought Auld would start 64 games for the Canucks coming out of the lockout. His numbers aren’t particularly good, but what do you really expect when you lean on a guy that you need to be perfect to give your team a shot?

This also means that Jakob “Whereabouts Unknown” Markstrom may be the answer to some snarky trivia question asked on a blog post eight years from today. John Tortorella has hit the ground running with Lack and doesn’t have any reason to cut his workload: the team has just two more back-to-backs the rest of the way and the Canucks still have an outside shot at the playoffs.

Info compiled by cross-referencing six different Hockey-Reference pages, which is a real pain to do on Amtrak Wi-Fi.

  • andyg

    If the goal is to, at minimum, contend for a playoff spot in 2014-2015, I can’t see how the organization can bring both parts of the Lack/Markstrom tandem back next season.

    The 5 worst teams in the NHL employ a tandem like Vancouver’s.

    And if the organization is unwilling to give Markstrom a shot, why acquire him in the first place…

    • Exactly — I don’t understand it at all. It’s not as if Markstrom has done nothing to turn around his own season — didn’t he win AHL goalie of the month just before the trade? If Jensen can get a shot with a hot streak why not Markstrom? And why would Tortorella undermine him by saying he’s not ready?

      Both he and Lack aren’t comparable to Auld, who was a career backup other than that year or in a platoon wherever else he played (even junior).

      • Fred-65

        I’ll always have a soft spot for Auld as he played just well enough to be a piece in the Luongo trade…

        Markstrom isn’t playing for the same reasons the prospects were not given a chance (again) in the name of veterans.

        This management team is going to continue to fight tooth and nail for a playoff spot every single year until they are mercifully terminated.

        And that means “veteran presence” instead of living with the growing pains associated with young players.

        It’s clear that Vigneault was not the issue…

    • Fred-65

      Please please lets think of Luongo as being traded to the planet of Jupiter or some place. He’s gone he didn’t want to be here and he never won any thing for this franchise. He is in Florida with his wifes foot firmly on his neck …or where ever and that all we need to think of. Lack I have to believe is in the next phase of his development playing as much as he has and will return next year all the better for it. Markstrom hopefully will benefit from the coaching of Melanson.

      • I hate the phrase “never won anything” as used by North American sports fans. Luongo won LITERALLY EVERYTHING in Vancouver except Game 7 of the Stanley Cup. To make zero distinction between a guy who had massive success and a preseason flameout is just ludicrous. If you mean “the Stanley Cup,” say “the Stanley Cup”. Does not equal “anything”.

        For the record, I got the Noronen trivia question. Woot, me!

  • Fred-65

    Mika Noronen was also traded for BUF’s 2nd Round pick that eventually became the pick that Milan Lucic was picked with….

    Dont blame GMMG for that.. you gotta thank the two idiots called Burkie and Nonis for that… you two fkn idiots!

    • How dare Burke and Nonis bring Sedin, Sedin, Burrows, Raymond, Kesler, Grabner, Pyatt, Morrison, Hansen, Edler, Bieksa, Salo, Mitchell, Bourdon (RIP), Luongo & Schneider into the organization and leave the foundation for the 2011 SCF team on a platter…

    • Er… Mika Noronen came from Buffalo, not Boston.

      The pick the Canucks sent wound up being used on Jhonas Enroth.

      I think the Sabres won that trade, but about the last thing the Canucks have needed for the last eight years is Jhonas Enroth.

  • I remember Auld for being a decent goalie in a crummy situation who still went out and played hard every night (even if he was never much of a lateral movement kind of guy, kind of important for a goalie). We’ll see where Lack goes…

    Odds are, the era of great goaltending is just generally over in Vancouver, seeing as they traded away someone extremely likely to be placed in the HHoF, and is considered to have been elite through his entire career.

    On a related note to Lack’s save % so far after the break, I don’t think Jensen or Kassian got the memo about tanking. Someone tell them to stop picking up points.