On Friday, the Tampa Bay Lightning kicked off their offseason by trading for Anders Lindback from the Nashville Predators. The 6’6″ Swedish netminder has spend the last two seasons backing up Pekka Rinne, leaving him no chance of promotion with the Predators, but he’s expected to step in immediately as the Lightning’s number one goaltender.
The Lightning don’t need much out of Lindback: even mediocre goaltending would be an improvement over the grotesque performance of Dwayne Roloson last season, though he admittedly didn’t have much help in front of him. But is Lindback ready for the job? He has appeared in just 38 games in his NHL career and while he has posted decent enough numbers, the transition from backup to number one can be exceedingly bumpy.
Lindback won’t be the only young backup making that difficult transition this offseason. At least 3 other young backups are expected to be number one goaltenders next season, with the possibility of more.
With his play during big games in the regular season and the trust of his head coach in the playoffs, Cory Schneider showed that he was ready to be a number one goaltender in this league, leading most to assume that Roberto Luongo is on his way out of Vancouver. It’s not quite that clear cut, however, as it’s entirely possible that the trade value of Schneider is much higher than Luongo’s; it all depends on what type of offers GM Mike Gillis receives from around the league. In any case, the 26-year-old Schneider will be a starter next season, whether in Vancouver or elsewhere.
While Schneider is the oldest of the goaltenders under consideration here, he doesn’t have the most NHL experience. Tuukka Rask bears that description, having played in 102 NHL games with stellar statistics. Previously stuck splitting time behind Tim Thomas, Rask will get the chance to be the Bruins’ full-fledged number one as Thomas is expected to take this coming season off, either to spend more time with his family or prepare for the coming apocalypse.
The third goaltender expected to step into a number one role has the least amount of NHL experience but is coming off a stellar performance in the playoffs. Braden Holtby has just 21 regular season appearances to his name, but it’s his 14 playoff starts that has people excited. With Tomas Vokoun’s rights already traded to the Penguins, it’s clear that the Capitals will go with a tandem of Holtby and Michal Neuvirth, with Holtby likely to be given every chance of securing the starter’s job.
There are a few other young backups who might get a shot at being a number one goaltender next season, but it’s not as sure as the above four. Jonathan Bernier of the Kings is one of them. Bernier has already proven far too good for the AHL, but there isn’t a chance in hell that Bernier could steal the starting job from Johnny Quick. It’s entirely possible that Bernier will get moved this summer to a place where he could battle for the number one role. He has more NHL games than Lindback and similar career numbers. I personally think Bernier is better than Lindback, but whether he will end up as a number one this coming season will depend on whether a team desperate for goaltending takes a chance on him.
Sergei Bobrovsky had a disappointing sophomore season, both losing his chance to be the Flyers’ number one goaltender to Ilya Bryzgalov and seeing his statistics drop across the board. He is still a very good young goaltender, however, and could end up as a number one goaltender in Philadelphia if Bryzgalov stumbles out of the gate next season or if Bryzgalov excels and the Flyers decide to get some value out of Bobrovsky in a trade. With Bryzgalov signed for the next forever years, Bobrovsky’s one chance to be a number one will likely be away from Philadelphia.
Finally, the least likely young backup to earn a number one job next season is Jhonas Enroth. His only chance would be if Ryan Miller suffered a long-term injury. Last season it seemed like that might indeed happen, as Miller missed time with a concussion, but it ended up being only 8 games. Still, Enroth has shown that he is a capable, if unspectacular, starter and is an option for the Sabres.
Of these 7 goaltenders, Rask is the safest bet of the bunch, playing behind a strong Bruins team with plenty of experience playing a large chunk of games. All of the others still have question marks hanging over their heads like they were Mario Brothers, even a supposed sure thing like Schneider. Making the adjustment from being a backup who plays fewer games, generally against weaker opponents, to playing night in and night out against the best the NHL has to offer can be daunting.
Plenty of young goaltenders manage one or two stellar seasons than flame out, with Steve Mason being the most recent example. There are a lot of one-hit wonders in goaltending history. Whether it’s mental pressures or teams simply learning how to beat them, some goaltenders just aren’t cut out for being consistent number one goaltenders season after season.
As for Lindback, how well will he fare in Tampa Bay? I’m awfully worried: the Lightning are pretty terrible defensively, which will make things hard on him. On the other hand, the Lightning have a lot of offensive firepower and might be able to outscore their defensive woes if Lindback can give them even league-average goaltending.