Last week the Lightning and the Syracuse Crunch announced that they had hired David Alexander of Alexander Goaltending as a goalie and video coach for the AHL team. While this isn't the goaltending news many Lightning fans wanted to hear, it is still very good news.
Alexander has coached at the the University of Maine for five years in addition to running his goalie school in New Brunswick. He is also a member of the Goaltenders Consultant Group and has worked in a variety of other coaching positions.
I suppose it's no secret where I stand on the subject of Tampa Bay Lightning goaltending coaches. I have my doubts about the direction the club has been going over the past three years in this area. And it's necessarily through this lens that I view the hiring of a young, enthusiastic, and thoroughly modern coach like David Alexander. There are positives to such a move on many levels.
First: I applaud the fact that the franchise has committed to a two-goalie coach system. This hiring makes Tampa Bay the seventeenth NHL franchise with two or more goalie coaches. It's hard to determine exactly how each of these teams use their coaches. I do not know how many of those teams, for instance, have one coach dedicated strictly to the AHL team as Alexander will be. I don't know how many of them are full time. Still, this is a growing trend that has also proven to be successful in Europe, and it's good to see Lightning management understands the benefits of providing their AHL goalies with the resources they need to continue their development.
Second: I applaud the Lightning for sitting down and thinking about what they want in a goaltender coach and then going out and finding someone who fits that vision. It is a good thing to maintain an overarching philosophy about how to approach the goaltending from the top of the organization down. It makes it easier to identify the players you want to target for acquisition; to integrate goaltending with other aspects of the game; and to evaluate how well your goalies are performing in your system. It's the difference between acknowledging that someone is a good goalie and that they are a good goalie for your team.
Third: David Alexander has some very good ideas. One of those ideas is a unique video training and analysis application for goaltenders that he has helped to develop. Video analysis can be a powerful tool, and Alexander knows that very well. I can't imagine that he won't use this app in his work in Syracuse, and that's going to give his goalies the ability to look at themselves from a different, external perspective. And that gives weight to the advice that the coach gives. Seeing is believing after all. So small adjustments can be easier to incorporate into your game.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly: He's not likely to enforce a strict understanding of the "right way to play" at the expense of his players' instincts.
This is actually something of a tricky subject. There are a lot a different ways to play goal--as many as there are goaltenders, probably. There's no one-size-fits-all approach. There is, however, a fundamentally important set of tools for goalies to use. It's critical to have a good grasp on the fundamentals, but to take into account the fact that every player responds to stimuli differently, just as every other human being does.
From what I know about Alexander, he hasn't got a party line on this issue. I hear Lightning fans of all kinds say things like that's how big goaltenders should play, or they need to take up the "net-out" approach like Henrik Lundqvist. And frankly, except in very particular circumstances, statements like that are...well, bullshit. Size is a tool that all goaltenders should be able to use. It should not be a style. "Net out" is a tool that goaltenders can use if it fits them. You have to know the whys and why nots of using them. You have to make a conscious choice about where and how you use those tools and where and how you use others.
We have to get away from the idea that how your goaltender looks while making a save is more important than the save itself. We have to get away from the "big guy slow, little guy fast" idea of twenty years ago. Some guys are blocker goalies not because of their size, but because of how their brains work. Other guys are reactive goalies because that's how their brains work. Every goalie has strengths and weaknesses, and that--not preconceived notions of how a goalie ought to look--should be the overriding factor in save selection and in building a player's personal toolkit.
In short, stop trying to make every goaltender play like Henrik Lundqvist and appreciate them for the good choices they do make.
I'm very encouraged by this hiring. I think that Alexander will not make major changes to either Cedrick Desjardins or Riku Helenius's games, but will help increase their ability to make their own corrections. My personal take is that he will help them see their play better, and so be more aware of their own mechanics and movements. This will, in turn, allow for better choices in game situations. I think he will help calm Helenius's game down a bit while helping Desjardins with his focus.
I won't make any predictions about the upcoming season. Anything can happen. However, I am glad that the Lightning have added one more great resource for their young goaltenders. This is a hiring that can have great long-term benefits for the franchise.