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Is the Big, Athletic Goalie the New Running Back? Making Sense of Sharks’ Romanov Signing

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Credit: VHL

“I have zero info on Romanov.”

On the face of it, the San Jose Sharks signing Georgi Romanov to an NHL contract is something of a mystery. So much so, the first scout from outside of the Sharks organization that I asked about Romanov admitted to having nothing on the Russian netminder.

Romanov, 23, has only made one KHL appearance in his career, toiling mostly in second-division VHL.

He hasn’t exactly dominated for Gornyak-UGMK either, posting an 8-13-5 record and a .907 Save % in 31 contests last season. His battery mates, Vladimir Galkin and Vladislav Okoryak, posted a .933 in 10 games and a .924 in 24 games, respectively.

However…

“Georgi has size, moves very well around the crease and is athletic,” San Jose Sharks GM Mike Grier said in a team press release. “We feel like he has a good package to be successful.”

BREAKING: Sharks Sign Pulli, Romanov

The usually well-informed scout was simply impressed that the Sharks, in this day and age of information, found someone he had never heard of: “That’s a hell of a pull for your Russian scout.”

For the San Jose Sharks, that would be European scout Nikolai Ladygin, though it’s unclear if Ladygin was the point man in this case. Of course, Sharks director of goaltending Evgeni Nabokov, who’s represented Russia in international play, likely has his share of contacts here.

The surprised scout offered his theory as to why the San Jose Sharks inked the 6-foot-6 Romanov, citing recent Vancouver Canucks’ signing Nikita Tolopilo.

Like Romanov, Tolopilo is 6-foot-6. He’s also 23. And he’s also never played regularly at the highest echelons of pro hockey: The Belarusian keeper has starred the last two seasons in second-division Allsvenskan.

“He provides a combination of tremendous size and skill,” Canucks GM Patrick Allvin offered in his team’s press release.

“You can teach a big goalie with good structure to work in a good, structured [defensive] system,” the scout suggested. “Like Pheonix Copley in LA, Akira Schmid in New Jersey, and Adin Hill in Vegas. They won’t be top of the league, but they will get you at least league-average goaltending, maybe slightly better.”

Copley is 6-foot-4, Schmid is 6-foot-5, and Hill is 6-foot-6. Their teams ranked, respectively, third, ninth, and 10th in 5-on-5 Expected Goals Against. And Copley, Schmid, and Hill went a combined 49-18-6 this past season.

They’re also all relatively inexpensive: Journeyman Copley and prospect Schmid all made close to the minimum salary last season, while Hill checked in at $2.175 million AAV.

Certainly, no one would confuse Copley, Schmid, and Hill as among the league’s best, but there’s also no doubt that they brought a lot of value to their respective organizations this year.

If you’re a football fan, all this might remind you of how running backs have been devalued in the Draft over the last decade.

Per NBC Sports Philadelphia: “In the 1950s, 40 running backs were taken with top-10 picks (and 48 in the much-shorter first round). In the 60s, those numbers were 30 top 10 picks and 43 in the first round. Then 17 and 44 in the 1970s, 17 and 50 in the 1980s, 12 and 34 in the 1990s, then just 7 and 32 in the 2000s.”

And since 2010, 8 in the top-10 and 21 in the first round.

It’s a similar story with goaltending in the Draft, just a little behind: From 2000 to 2009, seven goaltenders were selected in the top-10, while 22 were picked in the first round, both decade highs since the inception of the modern NHL Draft in 1969.

Since 2010, there have been zero goalies drafted in the top-10, and just 10 in the first round.

The bigger picture idea, in the salary cap era, don’t spend so much (financial or in draft capital) on a position where it’s easier to find interchangeable effective parts. You can then put your running back (or goaltender) savings toward other positions.

So is the big, athletic goalie the new running back?

For what it’s worth, I shared this theory with a couple of knowledgeable goaltending sources, and they pushed back.

But that’s a story for another time. I think it’s still good food for thought.

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