DULUTH, Ga. - Had he been weaker in spirit, Alex Auld might have looked skyward in frustration at some point in the last three years - three up-and-down seasons that have mimicked the movement of a goalie dropping into a butterfly and popping back onto his skates.
In 2005-06, as a 24-year-old, Auld was the No. 1 goalie in Vancouver. In the summer of 2006, he was traded to Florida for Roberto Luongo, one of this generation's finest goalies. Last year, Auld hurt his left knee, an injury that required season-ending surgery. Then Florida walked away from Auld, declining to tender a qualifying offer last summer, a move that threw him into a high-supply market that led to a one-year, two-way contract with Phoenix.
When Auld couldn't hold the fort behind a shaky Phoenix defense at the start of the season, he was assigned to San Antonio. Auld had just settled into his new place when the Bruins acquired him last Thursday, meaning he'd have to leave behind his pregnant wife, Melanie, while he hurried off to Boston.
But on Monday at
"I guess the outcome could have been a lot different," Bruins coach Claude Julien said after the 4-1 win, "had he not bailed us out there, especially in the second period."
The Bruins have been tracking the 6-foot-5-inch, 221-pound Auld for some time. In 2006, Auld was on the Canadian roster during the World Championships when Julien, an assistant coach for Team Canada, noticed how big he was in net. Last year, in Boston's season opener, Auld stopped 34 shots in Florida's 8-3 thumping of the Bruins. A little over a month later, Auld made 29 saves in the Panthers' 3-2 victory over the Bruins.
This past summer, after acquiring Tomas Vokoun from Nashville and pegging Craig Anderson as their No. 2 goalie, the Panthers didn't tender Auld a qualifying offer because of their goaltending depth and because he would have most likely scored a decent payday through arbitration.
Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli kicked the tires on Auld before he signed a $600,000 contract as an unrestricted free agent with the Coyotes Aug. 13.
So this month, when the Bruins had questions about the health of Manny Fernandez and Jordan Sigalet, Chiarelli started talks with Phoenix GM Don Maloney about Auld. And when Tim Thomas pulled his groin last Wednesday, Chiarelli pulled the trigger, packaging Providence forward Nate DiCasmirro and a 2009 fifth-round draft pick for Auld.
"We needed someone who'd had NHL success," Chiarelli said. "So it was pretty clear that Auld was the guy."
For Auld, the trade was a promise fulfilled by Maloney, who acknowledged the goaltending traffic jam and informed the native of Thunder Bay, Ontario, that he'd move him when possible. Because Phoenix is developing 22-year-old Josh Tordjman and 24-year-old David LeNeveu in San Antonio, Auld had appeared in only two games (1-1-0, 2.53 goals-against average, .906 save percentage) for the Rampage since his Nov. 20 assignment.
Knowing that a deal could go down, Auld kept his focus in practice to guarantee that he'd be ready if he got an NHL job.
"When you first turn pro, you're worried about lots of things," Auld said. "You're worried about everything else that's going on. The older you get, the more you realize that you've just got to take care of yourself and make sure you're prepared. That's all you can really do.
"At the end of the day, you've just got to control what you can, and preparation is one of the biggest things you have control over. That's practice and pregame routines and all the stuff you have complete control over. You've really got to take ownership of that and make that a staple of your game."
In 2005-06, Auld thought those work habits were helping him round into a starting goalie. He finished eighth in the league in wins, going 33-26-6 with a 2.94 GAA and a .902 save percentage for Vancouver. Then on June 23, 2006, Auld was shipped back to Florida, the team that drafted him 40th overall in 1999, in a deal that was a heist for the Canucks, who nabbed Luongo in return.
"Roberto's a special player," acknowledged Auld. "A GM may never get an opportunity to get an impact player like that, especially at such an important position. I know [Vancouver GM Dave Nonis] felt he had to make that move. It's worked out very well for him. He is a very gifted, very special goalie."
Less than three months after the deal, Florida GM Mike Keenan was forced to resign. Coach Jacques Martin, who took over GM duties, eventually designated Auld the No. 2 to Ed Belfour until Auld's season was cut short because of surgery on his left knee.
"In [Keenan's] eyes, I was a big part of the deal, getting a young goalie back," Auld said. "Unfortunately, he was relieved of his position before the season even started. Whenever the GM who trades for you doesn't end up being your GM, it's never really a good sign."
Fresh startAuld, whose knee has fully healed, understands the situation with his new club. Thomas, who pulled his groin last Wednesday against New Jersey, skated in Boston Monday and is close to returning, according to Chiarelli. Fernandez's timetable is unknown, but because of his contract situation, he would most likely play for the big club if his knee and back issues clear up this season.
Auld also knows there might be reasons he's with his fourth organization in three years. He is the second-tallest active netminder - only 6-6 Stephen Valiquette, the No. 2 goalie for the Rangers, stands taller - but he must improve his rebound control and quickness to put himself in proper position.
"I always try and work on my movement, speed, and positioning," said Auld. "I always strive to be as perfect positionally as possible. It's a hard thing to do. The puck can move so quickly. I try and simplify things. Not over-move or do anything extra. Just try and be efficient."
In two Boston starts, Auld has been two goals away from perfection. He will most likely start his third straight game tonight against Atlanta, bringing a 2-0-0 record, 1.00 GAA, and .972 save percentage into the match.
"Pucks are finding me," said Auld. "Sometimes you battle to find pucks. I found that, [Monday] night, a lot of them just hit me. That's a sign of positioning and a sign of being in a groove, I guess.
"Got to work hard and keep that going. It doesn't come by accident."
Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at email@example.com.