The turning of the calendar is usually an exciting time in hockey – teams have a pretty good idea of who will make the playoffs and the buzz around undrafted free agents is starting to get loud. While the lockout is robbing us of our NHL joy, let’s take a look at how some the Tampa Bay Lightning’s goaltenders are performing this season. I’ve included the six who I believe have the greatest chance to make an impact in the 2013-2014 season.
Anders Lindback, Ilves, SM-liiga (Finland): 13 GP, 3-6-4 record, 2.33 GAA, .930 save %, 3 shutouts.
Mathieu Garon: Inactive thus far during the lockout.
Dustin Tokarski, Syracuse, AHL: 21 GP, 12-5-3 record, 2.41 GAA, .901 save %, 1 shutout.
Riku Helenius, Syracuse, AHL: 11 GP, 7-3-0 record, 2.83 GAA, .884 save %, 2 shutouts.
Jaroslav Janus, Bratislava, KHL: 34 GP, 12-11-11 record, 2.07 GAA, .933 save %, 4 shutouts.
Adam Wilcox, University of Minnesota, WCHA: 16 GP, 10-2-3 record, 1.78 GAA, .920 save %, 2 shutouts.
Whew, that was a lot of shuffling back and forth between tabs. Here are some quick thoughts on each player and some quotes from Mike and Chad at Bolt Prospects:
- Lindback’s numbers are impressive on a bad Ilves team. I’m anxious to see how he does in Tampa.
- Garon has been practicing regularly in Brandon. At least he’s skating? Chad: “If contracts count this year and Garon is gone next year, for sure one of the 3 [Helenius, Tokarski, Janus] will be in Tampa.“
- Tokarski has been adequate in Syracuse, but neither goalie has pulled away from the other. Given that Dustin is a restricted free agent next summer, I’d like to see a little more drive and consistency in his play. Chad: “Contract wise, Helenius is likely the only one-way contract next fall. If you can give Tik a 2-way, you do it.“
- Helenius has been playing better, but his numbers are still rough. It’ll be interesting to see if he keeps improving once he returns from Finland (family matter).
- Janus is playing quite well and that is terrific to see. Time will tell if he can keep it up, but he could be setting himself up for a Helenius-esque contract (two years, one way in the second year) if he wants to return right away. Mike: “Think they’ll try and bring Janus back on a 2-way to split the starts in Syracuse and that, well, may not be an easy sell to him.”
- Wilcox’s stock is soaring as he continues to dazzle in his freshman season at Minnesota. I included him in the list because he’s already 20 years old (AHL eligible); could Yzerman look to lure him out of school early?
My main thought at this stage is this: if Garon is not re-signed after this season/lockout year, we could be in for a hell of a three-way battle for the backup job in Tampa. Helenius has a one-way deal for $600,000 next season and one assumes that gives him a leg up for sticking with the big club. If Tokarski is re-signed, though, he will certainly not go down without a fight. The real wild card to me is Janus: he surely doesn’t want to platoon in the AHL again, but could he be lured over to camp if he gets an out clause? Give him a similar structure to Helenius but allow him to go back to the KHL if he doesn’t make the team out of camp. It could really bring the best out of all three goalies and, potentially, could be the spark that pushes Tokarski to another level. There’s a lot of time between now and then, but one thing is for certain: depth is a wonderful thing to have.