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Concealing the starter: why Jared Bednar’s mysterious new goaltender policy fails to move the needle after all

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The Colorado Avalanche won’t officially reveal their starter ahead of game time anymore, but opponents think there’s little advantage to be gained by doing that

NHL: Colorado Avalanche at Winnipeg Jets Terrence Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Jared Bednar’s recent decision regarding game-day announcements was a bit unexpected.

Last week, the third-year Avalanche bench boss announced that he was going to stop giving out information on his in-net starter ahead of the game. Everyone from fans to the media — and the opposition, most notably — would have to wait until the team went out for warm-ups to get confirmation on which goaltender was getting the nod for the upcoming contest.

It was an unorthodox but not entirely unheard of decision. Coaches have been glib about giving out that kind of information in the past, with some of the more traditionally old-school voices specifically hanging out vague and often misleading quotes when pressed to give up too much information too early.

The rationale, many believed, was to keep the other team on their toes. After all, refusing to confirm which goaltender was set to start until there was no time left to prepare would theoretically prevent the other team from being able to draft their plan around one goaltender or the other.

While that logic seems to hold up in the most basic of senses, though, it’s likely a bigger pain for fantasy owners than anyone else — and for the opposing team, it’s almost certainly changing absolutely nothing at all.

NHL: Colorado Avalanche at Montreal Canadiens Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports

With the introduction of more specialized coaching staffs and better technology available to use as a tool, teams have been upping their use of video as a learning tool in all departments.

Goaltenders use video to both scout the opposition and to evaluate their own games, getting an eagle-eye view of what they felt on the ice to better evaluate their timing, positioning, and recovery.

Skaters use video as well, watching systems to both perfect their own games and to familiarize themselves with their opponents. They work much like coaches do now, scouting ahead of matchups to make sure they’ve familiarized themselves with trends and weak areas in hopes it can give them an edge.

Talking to Arizona Coyotes center Brad Richardson, though, he laughed off the idea that not knowing which goaltender was starting a game would somehow throw guys off as they scouted their opponents.

“I almost never look at video,” he admitted, “but as a team we do… and we’re not going to specifically look at one guy over the other. We’d probably take a look at both.”

He went on to explain that as a team, they would likely take a look at all of the possibilities, not just pore over film footage of one starter and one set of line combinations. Preparing for every possibility is the smarter option, he said — and in his opinion, no NHL-caliber goaltender is going to look so drastically different from another that getting an unexpected starter in the other net is going to change the way he plays the game.

NHL: Colorado Avalanche at Arizona Coyotes Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

“Maybe we’ll take a quick look and see if one guy has more holes on this side or the other, or whatever,” he said, “but for the most part, every goalie looks exactly the same, right? I know how I play my game, how I approach… if I get to a scoring chance I’m not going to be thinking about old game footage to think about changing the way I shoot by an inch or whatever. I’ll quickly look to find the holes and take my shot.”

His approach is admittedly more old-school, reminiscent of how the majority of players approached their game preparation when the 33-year-old former Avalanche center first went pro.

Even the younger forwards, though — who often use video much more than their veteran counterparts — were a bit surprised at the idea that not knowing the other team’s starter would make a difference.

“I’d look at video for both guys anyway,” said Coyotes forward Conor Garland. He takes a look at film for the other team before games regularly, and doesn’t think lose much of an advantage at all if the team suddenly decided not to reveal their starter ahead of time.

“That stuff changes for other variables all the time anyway, right?”

Both he and fellow Tucson Roadrunners call-up Mario Kempe were in firm agreement; whether they definitively knew who the other team was starting ahead of time or not, they wouldn’t feel any more or less prepared to face off when game time came along. And although coaches were quick to shut down any notion of giving up their coaching style secrets, one assistant who gave an off-the-record comment suggested that most game film they’d use would have both goaltenders in it anyway. With goaltenders a part of team systems so often now, a strong knowledge of the opposition’s structure and system would give a team their best understanding of the goaltenders to begin with.

Then, there was the way goaltenders approached the concept.

To start, nearly every goaltender in the NHL uses video in their own game approach, familiarizing themselves with at least the special teams for the opposition and watching some of their own game footage to gain a more instinctual level of familiarity with the game.

New Jersey’s MacKenzie Blackwood uses far less video than some of the league’s other young goaltenders, but still said that he approached each game by playing the same way — and relied on knowing a few special teams patterns and his own team’s system more than anything. The idea that a team is able to drastically change their approach — at least in a tangible enough way to move the needle on how many shots a goaltender like him stops — in the hours before the game is absurd.

Coyotes prospect Adin Hill also laughed off the idea that it would give him some kind of distinct advantage to be sprung on the other team at the last minute.

“Every goaltender at the NHL level should be able to stop almost every shot they face, right?” He said. “There are only going to be a few shots that should be able to really put up a challenge for a guy who’s capable of playing in the league, and those aren’t going to go away because the other team didn’t know who was starting.”

“They’re going to have looked at film with both guys anyway,” he added.

The real disadvantage, he agreed, would come if the team wasn’t telling the goaltenders themselves who was starting until game-time — and even then, that was something easy enough to overcome.

“I obviously prefer to know ahead of time,” he pointed out, “and that’s not what’s happening here, I’m sure they’re telling the guys who’s starting well in advance… but I try to just treat every game day like I’m starting anyway, because you never know what can happen, you know?”

It wouldn’t take much more than a minor pre-game adjustment — both guys treating the day as if they were starting in the instance there was uncertainty, or the team scouting both goaltenders in the case of the opposition — for any ‘advantage’ to be all but eliminated in this kind of situation. If anything, it could start to hurt the team more than it helps, with the opposition now scouting both goaltenders even more thoroughly and eliminating any advantage previously possible in the case of a mid-game swap.

Maybe it’s going to work for Bednar. Of all the possible changes a team could make to jump-start their results, though, this one seems to be a hair below doing even the bare minimum — and with the risk of backfire, doesn’t seem all that helpful at all.