Scoggins: Talbot or Fleury? Goalie debate shows the Wild are in a good place

The 2003 NHL Draft began with the selection of goaltender Marc-André Fleury by the Pittsburgh Penguins as the first overall pick, the first step in a career that would one day end in the Hall of Fame.

Fast forward 19 years, and the No. 1 topic facing the Minnesota Wild on the eve of the playoffs is whether Fleury or Cam Talbot will get the start in goal in Game 1 against the St. Louis Blues.

Coach Dean Evason didn’t offer any clues as to his decision – assuming it’s already been made – but teams tend not to release this type of information publicly until it’s necessary, because competitive play is a playoff craft.

While we wait, it’s constructive to look back to about a month before the 2003 draft for context, perhaps even hints, as to how things might play out for the Wild in the playoffs.

The Wild led two goalies — Dwayne Roloson and Manny Fernandez — to the Western Conference Finals that season. Their tag team arrangement worked well, which raises a question for this ruling:

Why do we feel the need to declare a goalkeeper number 1?

Chances are the Wild will have to rely on Fleury and Talbot in the playoffs to keep moving forward. Call them 1 and 1A.

“Just the way our game is going now,” general manager Bill Guerin said, “I don’t know if we’ll start to see more tandems in the playoffs, but we definitely will in the regular season because that’s so hard for these guys.”

Only one can start Game 1, but that doesn’t guarantee the plan won’t change at some point and then change again. Whoever sits in the opener probably shouldn’t be too comfortable.

No one would ever suggest using a game-by-game rotation. It’s way too disturbing. The likely scenario is that Evason stays with a hot hand, for as long as it lasts, but remains flexible in case the first keeper isn’t keen.

Evason knows he won’t need to cross his fingers and hopes his keeper will pull himself together if he falters. He has a pair of capable veteran goalkeepers, and a mid-series switch could provide a spark, if needed.

“Obviously we’ll both respect whatever decision they make,” Talbot said. “We both played well. We probably both deserve it.”

That was the thought back in 2003 when Roloson and Fernandez split the chores. Roloson started the first four games of the first series against Colorado. Fernandez relieved him in Game 4 and then started the final three games.

In the next series, Fernandez got the go-ahead in Games 1 and 4 against Vancouver, and Roloson handled the rest.

Both guards started two games in Anaheim’s final Western Conference sweep.

In all, Roloson appeared in 11 games and Fernandez nine in the playoffs.

That a debate exists over whether Fleury or Talbot should start in Game 1 shows the Wild are in good shape.

Talbot was more stable on the stretch. Fleury’s playoff experience and pedigree are invaluable if he can find that version of himself.

“It’s a great situation for the Wild right now,” Roloson said from his home in Florida earlier this week. “They’re both going to be invested, they’re both going to be ready to go. They’re going to support each other and that’s the key, support.”

Fans were downright stunned when Guerin made a trade for Fleury at the deadline in exchange for a conditional first-round pick. That pick remains a first-round pick if the Wild advances to the Western Conference Finals and Fleury wins four games in the first two rounds. Otherwise, the choice will be demoted to a second round.

Talbot handled Fleury’s arrival like a real pro. He welcomed him graciously, tightened his own game after he slipped and went 13-0-3 in his last 16 regular season starts. He earned the right to start Game 1.

Fleury’s playoff resume — 160 career starts and 90 wins — can’t be ignored in deliberations between Guerin and the coaching staff.

“We love them both,” Evason said.

Good thing. He’ll need both for his team to make a deep playoff run.

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