Is This Jhonas Enroth’s Opportunity?
The latest rumblings coming from the First Niagara Center are that Ryan Miller is experiencing whiplash and concussion symptoms. The fans will get what they want, the chance to see young goaltender Jhonas Enroth take a lead role between the pipes.
I’d first like to make clear that I hope Ryan Miller has a full and speedy recovery. Concussions are becoming not only the most common injuries in sports, but the most dangerous as well. Sidney Crosby, the NHL’s most recognizable player, is still experiencing concussion symptoms almost a full calendar year after his initial injury. So while I hope Miller is back soon, there is no doubt this is a prime opportunity for Enroth to make a statement to both the Sabres and the rest of the league.
According to scouts, Enroth was the elite European goalie eligible for the 2006 draft. The Sabres must have agreed with this ranking, taking him with their second round pick in that year. Although he was highly touted, no one expected him to have the kind of success on an NHL level that he is currently enjoying. Over his very young career he has started twenty games, managing to muster up an impressive 15-3-2 record. What is more impressive are his even more contemporary statistics. Enroth is a perfect 6-0-0 this season, and has not lost a game in regulation since November 24th of last year, a 1-0 lost to Pittsburgh. The numbers are stunning to say the least, and there is little reason to doubt that he can keep it up.
Many fans are debating over the immediate “goalie controversy” as it pertains to this year. I think the more relevant issue lies in next year and beyond. Let’s say hypothetically that Enroth continues his hot play, but Miller reclaims his starting job when he returns en route to the playoffs. In the playoffs, whether fair or not, it’s safe to say that Miller may be interviewing for his own job, if you will. Ryan is by no means getting “old,” but he’s not “young” either. The Sabres will know what they have with Enroth, and may be willing to turn the page and write the next chapter in the franchise’s storied goaltending history. From Enroth’s point of view, he is not going to want to be someone’s backup come next season; he has proven competent enough to be a starting caliber goalie for almost any team. Unfortunately, this may force the Sabres hand in what may be an inevitable decision, to keep Miller or Enroth.
There have been a few examples of goalie controversies in the last few years alone within two teams in Buffalo’s division, Montreal and Boston. In the 2009-2010 season, Montreal backup Jaroslav Halak fell into favor with the coaching staff and had an unbelievable season and playoffs while starter Carey Price was forced to sit and watch. The problem was, neither was willing to be the other one’s backup come next season. The organization was forced to make a decision, ultimately choosing to trade Halak to St. Louis while reinstating Price as the starter. A similar situation took place in Boston in the same year. This time it was backup Tuukka Rask (not a spelling error) who took over the starting job from Tim Thomas. The stories are alike except for the endings; in this case, Rask was willing to move back into his secondary role with the team, watching as Tim Thomas led the Bruins to the Stanley Cup.
So will we have a Montreal or a Boston problem by the end of the year? Will the Sabres trade one of their goalies? Will one be willing to take on the backup role? These are all questions that will need to be addressed by seasons end. While the fans clamor and vehemently make their desire for Enroth to start known, remember, Enroth’s success means one of our two goalies won’t be on the roster next year, and it may not be the one you want.