The Riveters have re-signed more of their 2015-16 roster than any other NWHL team, but have yet to sign goaltender Nana Fujimoto. Prior to last season Fujimoto was believed to be the best player on the Riveters’ roster, but she her play noticeably declined after returning from an undisclosed injury after an exceptional start to the season.
Fujimoto’s $21,000 contract made her the highest paid Riveter last season on a team that underachieved by nearly every conceivable measurement of success. It begs the question: should the Riveters again make Fujimoto the highest paid goaltender in the NWHL?
There is one inescapable fact about Fujimoto’s injury-abbreviated season; she was in net for all four of the Riveters regular season wins. She was also one of the league’s most popular players in a sport that cannot afford to overlook the marketability of players who are fan favorites.
A deeper look at the numbers shows that, wins aside, Fujimoto posted only marginally better baseline individual statistics than Jenny Scrivens did, with her minimum salary of $10,000, for the Riveters.
Fujimoto posted a 0.911 save percentage while Scrivens posted a 0.902 save percentage in about 470 fewer minutes of regular season hockey. But in the postseason Scrivens posted a significantly better save percentage and gave her team a better chance to win in the 96 minutes and 32 seconds she was in net than Fujimoto did before she left Game One against the Pride after allowing four goals on 18 shots.
Fujimoto is undoubtedly the more technically sound goaltender, but just how important is bringing back a superb goaltender that struggled with injuries and consistency? Especially knowing the Riveters are planning to make major changes this season.
As great as a healthy Fujimoto can be, the Riveters’ biggest need is speed and skill as head coach and general manager made clear in his recent interview with Today’s Slap Shot. An exceptional goaltender can help cover up many of a team’s weaknesses and shortcomings, but the Riveters cannot hope to win games by losing the possession battle every night and hoping that their goaltender steals games for them.
The New York Riveters need their best player to be someone other than their goaltender.
After bringing back the two best defenders from the 2015-16 season by re-signing Ashley Johnston and Kiira Dosdall, the focus must now turn to finding a way to bring youngsters Alex Carpenter, Dana Trivigno, Haley Skarupa, Erin Ambrose, and Princeton netminder Kimberly Newell to New York.
The Riveters are undoubtedly better team with Fujimoto in net, but they can ill-afford to let talented young stars like the Boston College trio slip away by not being able to invest in them. Cap room and dollars need to be set aside to land marketable, talented young players like Carpenter, Trivigno, and Skarupa- all of whom won gold with the United States in the 2016 Women’s World Cup.
The team’s four highest-paid players last season were Fujimoto, Liudmila Belyakova, Meghan Fardelmann, and Janine Weber. Through injury, questionable usage, and misfortune in the form of some bizarrely low shooting percentages, all four players had underwhelming seasons with the Riveters in 2015-16. The team’s lack of success does not rest on their shoulders alone, but their price tags make them worthy targets for criticism on a team that finished with a record of 4-12-2.
Fujimoto and the Riveters other highly paid players deserve roster spots on next year’s team, but they can’t be the priority now that the team’s leadership group has been brought back.
As many jerseys as those four players may have sold last year, the Riveters need a new core of talented players to build around. The best place to start is with the talented young American-born players former general manager Dani Rylan drafted in 2015 and the first name on that list has to be Carpenter’s.