Mar 20, 2013; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Anders Lindback (39) makes a blocker save against the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre. Toronto defeated Tampa Bay 4-2. - USA TODAY Sports
What does Anders Lindback's injury mean for the Lightning goaltending pipeline?
Earlier today the Tampa Bay Lightning reported that goaltender Anders Lindback suffered a high ankle sprain in last night's game against the Toronto Maple Leafs, and that this injury will keep him out of the lineup indefinitely.
Lindback said he jammed the ankle sliding over to his post on Kadri's partial brkaway when the skate blade hit the post, said he felt a pop— Erik Erlendsson (@erlendssonTBO) March 21, 2013
On Lindback RT few injuries worse for G than high ankle; even hip labrum can heal faster/better post-surgery. Bernier still feels 1 from Jr!— Kevin Woodley (@KevinisInGoal) March 21, 2013
This news sucks not only because it seems to put an end to whatever hopes the Lightning had of clawing their way back into playoff contention, but also because it means
I've wasted all those hours I spent on a post about Lindback's development that Lindback isn't going to be getting any of the one thing he needs most: playing time. Expect him to be out quite a while, possibly even for the rest of the season. This isn't likely to be healed in a week.
It also raises the specter of the Lightning's goalie depth. We'd been saying since August or so that the Lightning finally have the kind of depth they've needed organizationally, but that's much more potential than actual. When looked at in terms of what might happen in the next year or so, the Lightning have good depth. When looked at in terms of next week? Not so much. There just isn't anyone in the system who is ready to step in and carry either the NHL or the AHL team for the rest of the season.
What happens next? First is a call-up of Cedrick Desjardins from the Syracuse Crunch. Again, via Erik Erlendsson:
Lindback will go on injured reserve (minimum 7 days) and Desjardins will be called up; Boucher leaning toward Garon both games this weekend— Erik Erlendsson (@erlendssonTBO) March 21, 2013
When the Lightning acquired Desjardins in February it was rationalized explicitly with the thought that the team was more comfortable with Desjardins than with either Dustin Tokarski or Riku Helenius in the case of injury to Lindback or Mathieu Garon. And when Garon went down earlier this month, Desjardins was, in fact, the go-to guy.
While he didn't exactly astonish in that, his third total NHL game ever, there's not any real reason to expect a change in the team's opinion of Desjardins or of Helenius. As of today, they've been splitting duty there in Syracuse, each having 8 starts since Desjardins joined the team. It seems that the franchise's faith in him is undiminished. He'll come into this call-up having posted a 20-save shutout against the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Wednesday night. He's got a .912 SV% and 2.62 GAA for the season (.933/1.74 since coming to Syracuse.)
So now Riku Helenius will be given the opportunity to show whether he can, in fact, rise to the occasion and become the goalie the Crunch (and the Lightning) need him to be. Consistency--mentally and technically--will be the key for Helenius. He's quite capable of playing lights out in the Syracuse net; he just doesn't seem to be able to do it on a regular basis.
At this point, Helenius has a .894 SV% and a 2.75 GAA. And while those numbers are not good, they are getting better as he gets more playing time. He had a .907 in February and March, compared to an .883 for October through January. Significantly, he's posted 4 shutouts this season, but also has had 7 games where he gave up four or more goals. Statistically, it has been a feast or famine sort of season, and that must improve for the Lightning to take a chance on him at the NHL level.
After Helenius, though, the Lightning's depth becomes much more tentative. I expect that Pat Nagle will be called up from the Florida Everblades to the Syracuse Crunch, at least in the short term. The problem is that in his 31 games in the ECHL, Nagle has posted a .904 SV % and a 3.02 GAA. This isn't a stat line that inspires a whole lot of confidence, either.
Adam Wilcox is still in school (a freshman, in fact, at the University of Minnesota) so he's not a viable option. Neither is Andrei Vasilevski, whose KHL season has come to a recent end when his Salavat Yulaev Ufa was eliminated in the Conference Semifinal last week. Vasilevski is, after all, only 18 years old, and has spent most of this season playing in the Russian junior league (MHL).
And that leaves only Jaroslav Janus. Janus has a two-year contract in the KHL with Slovan Bratislava, but he reportedly has an out-clause for next season that would allow him to sign with the Lightning or the Crunch and return to North America for 2013-14. But could he come over for the rest of the Syracuse Crunch's 2012-13 season?
There are many questions involved here. Would the KHL allow him to sign in North America before this summer? Would the AHL and the NHL allow him to sign here? Would he have to go through re-entry waivers? (It seems not, as Janus did not have a contract with the Lightning but was extended a qualifying offer by them. S/t to Kyle Alexander of Lightning 101 /@Lightning_101 for that info.) Is it even advisable to try to bring him over?
However, Janus does have something no other goaltender in the Lightning system has: AHL experience. While he's unproven at the NHL level and is really not ready for the big show, he could conceivably help provide stability in Syracuse in a tandem with Riku Helenius. In any event, it's an interesting question to consider.
As far as the fate of the Lightning for the rest of the season? Well, at this point anything can happen. Any one of these goaltenders could possibly get hot and give the team the push they need to make a run. That isn't very likely, however. Most likely is a team save percentage between .890 and .910 and a continuation of the results we've seen for the past month.