The year of the backup.

Dany Sabourin was originally signed to a one-year contract by the Penguins organization (during the lockout of 2004/2005), to be the full time goaltender for the organization’s affiliate, the Wheeling Nailers in the ECHL. Sabourin had been signed as a free agent after having had a stint in the Calgary Flames’ organization. During the 2003/2004 seasons, Sabourin ended up spending time in all three of the Calgary Flames (NHL), the Lowell Lock Monsters (AHL) and the Las Vegas Wranglers. (ECHL).

While in the ECHL playing for the Wheeling Nailers, Sabourin was having a very strong showing during the 2004/2005 season, while the Wilkes-Barry/Scranton Penguins found themselves with a struggling Andy Chiodo and an inconsistent Marc-Andre Fleury at goal. A year earlier, Chiodo had been sent to Pittsburgh while Marc-Andre was sent back to junior, and he showed brilliancy and a hunger to win while in the NHL. Chiodo has the distinction of ending the long and prolonged Penguins 18-game losing streak during the 2003/2004 season. But more than that, he is rightfully credited for starting the late season winning surge that the Penguins brought to the end of the 2004/2005 regular season. And with both WBS goaltenders struggling at one point in the AHL 2004/2005 season and coach Michel Therrien being critical of Fleury’s play, the Penguins management decided to call up Sabourin to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, and sent Andy Chiodo to Wheeling.

Surprisingly, Sabourin continued his good play at the AHL level. He did so well during this period, that Sabourin ended up taking over the starting goalie position over an inconsistent Fleury. Eventually, Coach Therrien, knowing well that the Penguins organization priority is to develop the first round pick Marc-Andre, ended up splitting the goaltending duties between Sabourin (out of merit), and Fleury. The combination, lead in no small part by Sabourin’s showing, would help move WBS down the stretch into the AHL playoffs. Andy Chiodo, although improved after his demotion to Wheeling, found himself as the odd-man-out since there was no justification to demote the overachieving Sabourin back to Wheeling.

When the time came for the AHL regular season stretch into the playoffs, WBS found itself having to submit the Clear Day roster to the AHL offices. The Clear Day roster is comprised of the players who are eligible to compete during the remaining four weeks of the American Hockey League regular season and in the Calder Cup Playoffs. These players cannot be substituted, unless emergency conditions arise. The Penguins filled the list and submitted Sabourin and Fleury as the two goaltenders that they would carry. But in the back of everyone’s mind, were memories of the prior year, during which Andy Chiodo had excelled over Fleury and all the other available goaltenders to WBS and carried the team deep into the AHL Calder Cup playoffs. All the way to the Calder Cup finals, in fact. In that year’s playoff run, Chiodo had proven that he was the better performer during pressure filled situations. Rumors surfaced that WBS Coach Therrien, while having been critical of Fleury’s play at the time, wanted to carry Chiodo in the lineup for the playoffs. Mysteriously, right before the playoffs started Sabourin came down with an undisclosed injury: Enter Chiodo into the lineup.

Whether rumor or truth, the alleged Therrien inclination that Chiodo would thrive under pressure, proved to be right. Fleury faltered in his few outings, while Chiodo just totally excelled with the added pressure and saved the Baby Pens from elimination in the first series of the playoffs. The Baby Pens (and Chiodo’s) playoff run eventually ended by losing to the red-hot Philadelphia Phantoms who ultimately won the Calder Cup.

As for Sabourin, apparently the Penguins organization has been duly impressed with his showing of last year, and gave him a qualifying offer in the form of a two-way contract (NHL/AHL), for what I believe is only this year.

So when the Pittsburgh Penguins training camp starts, expect to see a tooth-and-nail battle between the youngsters for that backup position to the 30-year-old Thibault. They will have Sabourin (24), Fleury (20), Chiodo (22), and Sebastien Caron (25) all “fighting” it out in a sense, although apparently all goaltenders get along extremely well between them, and no locker room distortion is expected. Caron, had just been signed to a long term contract by Pittsburgh the same year that Fleury was drafted, having showed the year before a strong showing during an extended call up to the NHL on a Pittsburgh Penguins team with a universally considered weak defense. Although Caron was not able to play in the AHL last year, due to having signed that long term NHL contract that effectively locked him out of the Penguins organization, he is still considered a promising (minimum as a backup) goaltender.

This brings a sense of drama to Pittsburgh, since if Caron does not get the backup job, he would have to clear waivers to be demoted to the AHL, and probably would be picked by another team. There are plenty of NHL franchises that do not have a deep and promising line of goalie prospects in the waiting, which would be glad to pluck him out of Pittsburgh. The fact that Fleury has yet to show consistent play does not worry anyone in Pittsburgh. He is quite young, full of talent, and the Penguins will not give up on him any time soon. But the assumption by many fans that Fleury will automatically be the backup goaltender in Pittsburgh for the 2005/2006 season is clearly not a cut-and-dry proposition within the organization. In fact, he might benefit for full-time play in the AHL, as opposed to part-time NHL duty behind Thibault, while at the same time reaping the benefits of having a full-time goaltending coach working daily with him. Pittsburgh lost assistant coach Lorne Molleken during the lockout, who had the very important side-duty of being the organization’s goaltending coach (one of the required criteria for his hiring). But the organization has decided that not only do they want to replace Molleken, but that they need a full time goaltending coach for the organization’s promising goalies. Pittsburgh’s Coach Eddie Olczyk has stated to the press that this is one of the priorities of the club after their top-priority of signing free agents. It would seem essential, seeing that Pittsburgh finds itself with a logjam of VERY promising young goaltenders in the fold.

And how it all unfolds could be crucial to Pittsburgh, since they might look back at this year as the year when they made the right or wrong decisions for the future of the Penguins.

It is going to be interesting to say the least.

26 Responses to The year of the backup.

  1. LeafsLegacy says:

    what’s your point

  2. splendidchink says:

    How can you say that MA Fleury was inconsistant at WBS? His statistics during the regular season were some of the best in the AHL:2004-05 Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Games:54 Wins:26 Loses:19 Ties:4 Mins:3029 Shutouts:5 GAA:2.52. He also played 5 more Games at the WJC, for a total of 59. The problem was he got tired at the end of the season, which was his first full year out of Junior. This is not uncommon for a very young goalie. Chiodo had only played in 36 games between Wheeling and WBS, and Sabourin 47. All had similar GAA’s. MAF has to get stronger-he is younger than the rest by 2 years or more. I’ve seen all 3 play in person. and when he’s on, MAF plays on another level I that I doubt any of the others could match.

  3. billybrown says:

    His point is the Leafs suck and their legacy is one of major sucking.

  4. splendidchink says:

    as the rest of the Pens will do to the Filthydelphia Slugs this year. Check out this video:

  5. rc21pa says:

    Sabourin (24) is a back up as long as he is a Pen. Fleury (20) is the future star goaltender for the Pittsburgh Penguins. They arn’t paying him as much as he is getting and they arn’t wasting a first round pick over all for someone to ride the pine. Chiodo (22) is possibly a back up to Fleury for the rest of his career as a Pen and used for about 10-20 games a season or as long as Fleury is injured or cold. Sebastien Caron (25) is the best canadate for being traded as soon as he is worth something to help the Pens for a playoff run. If what I am reading is true about Tarnstrom and a reasonable contract look for a Caron/ Tarnstrom package for some help on the defense.

  6. kamullia says:

    I do agree with you that Marc-Andre did have problems from fatigue during the last season. But I can not agree that his regular season statistics were some of the best in the AHL. A close review of the Official AHL statistics reveals that Fleury ranked as follows against other AHL goaltenders with 30 or more games during the 2004/2005 season:

    23rd in Goals-against-average

    41st in Save percentage

    12th in shotouts (tied with another 8 goaltenders with 5 s.o.).

    In a league that showcased 28 teams, I do not consider these above as “league leading”.

    He did however break into the top 10 in the league in one category. He was good for 9th overall in total minutes played.


    And yes, those are the regular season statistics, not the Calder Cup statistics.

    Fleury will probably be the best goaltender in the end, but he has yet to prove it.

  7. kamullia says:

    You are probably right about most of your assesment, IF Fleury develops, but I am curious as to your take in one subject:

    If indeed the Penguins did trade Caron away this year in a package with Tarnstrom as you suggest, who do you feel will “ride the pine” (as you put it) behind Thibault?

  8. jrl2282 says:

    Nobody will. Thibault and Fleury will split time it’s a well known fact. If they make the playoffs Thibault is the man however for experience. Chiodo is their 4th Goaltender at best behind Thibault, Fleury and Caron. Sabourin was newly acquired and why I dont know but well see.

  9. jrl2282 says:

    That was a bunch of nothing, just stats given.

    What’s the point in all of this is there an arguement between who is the starter because there really isnt.

  10. splendidchink says:

    Lets see…save pct is inaccurate ; 7th in games played (explains the tired aspect), 11th in wins, 14th in win pct., 12th in total saves…as the youngest goalie to play in over half of his teams games. Remember Barrasso, etc.? It ain’t the GAA-it’s the wins. And considering the young age of the WBS Pens, enuf said. If you would have followed WBS, and the AHL in general, as I stated earlier, no other goaltender in the league made as many spectacular saves than MAF.

  11. kamullia says:

    Thibault and Fleury splitting time in Pittsburgh is more of the fans conclusion, than a well known fact. I have yet to find so far anyone in the Penguins organization that has made any such statement or alluded to this “fact”.

    Moreover, an interview with Thibault when he came by Pittsburgh, seemed to suggest that he was hired by the organization with the intention of carrying most of the workload: “I’m here to play a lot of games, try to help this team win. And the Penguins are making a commitment to win, starting this year. It should be an interesting year.”

    See the links below for a video of the interview or an article summarizing the interview on the Post-Gazette:

  12. jrl2282 says:

    I’m a nice guy around here about everything and aslo a Pens fan, but who really cares about this. This isnt headline news that anyoen really wants to hear about.

  13. kamullia says:

    All the rankings I mentioned are accurate being that I used the official AHL statistics. Make sure you keep in mind that I looked only at the goaltenders who played 30 OR MORE games. In fact, if I include all goaltenders regardless of how many games played, Fleury fairs worse.

    Regardless, the numbers you are mentioning are not accurate as far as the official AHL statistics. You might want to double check your source. For example, Fleury ranked 13th in wins, not 11th as you mentioned. See the official AHL ranking below:

    1 Miller, Ryan ROC 41

    2 Lehtonen, Kari CHI 38

    3 Finley, Brian MIL 36

    4 MacDonald, Joey GRA 34

    5 Niittymaki, Antero PHI 33

    6 Garon, Mathieu MCH 32

    7 LaBarbera, Jason HAR 31

    8(Tie) Toivonen, Hannu PRO 29

    8(Tie) Budaj, Peter HER 29

    10(Tie) Danis, Yann HAM 28

    10(Tie) Emery, Ray BIN 28

    12 Ward, Cam LOW 27

    13 Fleury, Marc-Andre WIL 26

    Incidentally, I do follow the WBS hockey closely, and I do agree that Fleury makes some spectacular saves. But I feel that a spectacular save does not make you a good goalie. In fact, the goalie who makes the save look routine, is probably better, because he was positioned correctly and did not have to make an extraordinary move to stop the puck.

    I would rather believe in the save percentage as a good measure, since the higher save percentage, the much more rubber will have to be fired at the goaltender before a goal goes in. Even if the save is unspectacular.

  14. kamullia says:

    You are welcome to stop reading this page at any time you feel like it. Feel free to roam. 🙂

  15. pens_fan says:

    i garuntee 2 of those 5 goalies will get traded as well as tarnstrom and morozov expect a solid 2nd line center and a stay at home defensemen in the burgh soon

  16. H_E_DBL_HCKY_STCKS says:



  17. NemiNA says:

    Not to mention Hardcore sucking. A whole other league of sucknosity.

  18. NemiNA says:


  19. NemiNA says:

    How is 2.52 a good GAA when Guys like Ward and Niittymaki were under 2?

  20. Lint07 says:

    That was a very nice, well-written article.

    Unfortunately, there’ll always be nay-sayers to shoot down people’s articles.

    Keep up the good work!

  21. pens_fan says:

    you know you didnt have to read it or comment on it if you dont like the topic whyd you bother coming in here?

  22. H_E_DBL_HCKY_STCKS says:

    Dude chill out. I am only kidding….but you have to admit thats a pretty long article to talk about a back up spot…..

  23. Hollywood666 says:

    I can’t believe Dany Sabourin got mentioned in an article, are you his father or something?

  24. splendidchink says:

    Get YOUR facts straight…Niittimaki was NOT under 2…2.07. ..and the other Philly stiff was 2.34. Better GAA, but with more ex NHLers in front of them. And a team that stressed defense first.

  25. rc21pa says:

    by reading all the Penguins rosters including the one on there homepage it looks like Fluery is the leading canadate.

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