by Ron Spence
A number of blogsites have linked – or quoted – our recent Jason LaBarbera article.
Some have focused on his lack of formal goalie training, others his inconsistency.
But, one question is always asked.
Why did the Canucks keep him and dispatch Curtis Sanford to Manitoba?
Curtis Sanford’s Moose Record 2008-09


courtesy of moosehockey.com
I believe that the decision was based on: size, upside, economics and politics.
LaBarbera is huge.
“If you’re big and you have patience,” L.A. assistant John Van Boxmeer said of LaBarbera, “you’ll be in the right place at the right time. Stay upright and a lot of pucks are going to hit you.”
Curtis is smallish and gets beaten top shelf.
Sportsnet.ca’s notes Sanford’s lack of size and durability.
LaBarbera has his shortcomings, as well, but the Canucks believe that they can improve his mobility and consistency.
Nashville goalie coach Mitch Korn once said:
“Rather than just saying, `You have to develop on your own, son’ or `You have to play to develop,’ teams should invest time and’ effort into their players as San Jose has with Nabokov. They really brought Nabokov along, and I’d like to think that we did the same with Hasek in Buffalo and Vokoun in Nashville, just as the New Jersey Devils did with Martin Brodeur and Philadelphia did with Brian Boucher. You have to put in time to get results.”
The Canucks are willing to put in the time with Jason LaBarbera.
Bottom line?
They can help Jason to improve, but can’t make Curtis any larger.
Jason LaBarbera can play very well – as Canucks’ fans can verify – and has played well against some of the NHL’s top teams and goalies (See following trivia question).
LaBarbera was the American Leagues’ MVP one season, still hold that league’s record for shutouts, and has received numerous other AHL awards. Curtis Sanford has never won an award and was only a second team All-star once – in 2001 in the ECHL.
LaBarbera has been inconsistent – understatement – but there are reasons for this: lack of effective coaching and counseling.
Ian Clark had worked with LaBarbera – before the ‘nucks traded for him – and knew his shortcomings.
“We’re trying to quicken the pace of his movements so he’s not drifting as much,” Clark told Ben Kuzma when Vancouver first acquired him. “Every now and then he’s caught being unstable. That comes from either being too slow to get there, or you’re trying to get too much position.”
Clark knows Jason’s technical and emotional weaknesses. LaBarbera’s comments the day of his loss to Dallas indicate what Clark is teaching him.
While Clark is working on LaBarbera’s technique and psyche, the  backup goalie can also learn from the league’s best net minder.
They are similar body types and Jason can observe Luongo’s workouts and techniques, plus ask questions.
Does coach V like LaBarbera? Well the kid beat his team twice last season when Roberto was in goal.
Mike Gillis had a number of reasons to trade for – and keep – the big guy.
When he was a players’ agent, his client Steve Valiquette shared goalie duties in Hartford with Jason.
“I was familiar with Jason for a long time,” Gillis said, “because of the situation with Valiquette and with them being competitors in the same [Rangers] organization.”
Second, Sanford was Dave Nonis’ man – not Gillis’ – and had not played well this season.
Third, had Gillis placed LaBarbera on waivers, he might have lost the 7th round pick he paid for Jason – and Gillis was choked when McIver was grabbed off waivers by Burkie early in the season.
Fourth, there are some salary cap factors involved.
Although Labarbera makes $175,000 per season more than Sanford, he costs the Canucks $200,000 less in their Cap Hit – which could be helpful should the team be looking for a rental player (salary cap hits are pro-rated, meaning that if you grab a player part way through the season, then you’ve really only have to pay his salary for a shorter period of time, and his cap hit is pro-rated as such.).
courtesy of nhlnumbers.com
Fifth, the Canucks have a better chance of re-signing LaBarbera – for cheap – because he’s a local boy.
Sixth, I think that placing Sanford – and not LaBarbera – on waivers was a wakeup call for the rest of the team, who were underachieving at the time.
Seventh, it’s obvious that Cory Schneider isn’t ready to jump to the NHL, and should continue to face lots of rubber in Winnipeg rather than becoming a backup in Vancouver. Which means that Vancouver needs an effective backup for one plus seasons – behind Luongo.
But, I think that there’s a bigger factor in play here.
If LaBarbera continues to improve – under Ian Clark’s guidance – he will be offered a long term contract.
And when Cory Schneider becomes the ‘nucks Number One man in a year or so, he will have a backup who can play a significant number of games.
I believe that the Vancouver Canucks are grooming Jason LaBarbera to be that player.
Writer’s Note: Some of the goalies who Mitch Korn has coached are: Dominik Hasek, Tomas Vokoun, Chris Mason, Dan Ellis, Steve Shields, Robb Stauber, Marty Biron, Olaf Kolzig, Pekka Rinne, Brian Finley, Ty Conklin, Steve McKichan (formerly the Toronto Maple Leaf goalie coach), Clint Malarchuk (now the Columbus Blue Jackets goalie coach), Grant Fuhr (now Phoenix Coyote goalie coach), Mike Dunham (now NY Islander Goalie Coach), and Corey Hirsch (now the Tornoto Maple Leaf goalie coach).


  1. Great read, Ron. I agree with you about coaching. let’s see what this kid can do with some major league coachin. And playing behind Roberto can’t be a bad thing…learning from the best.

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