Last week, the Tampa Bay Lightning cleared up their NHL goaltending logjam by trading Peter Budaj to Los Angeles. On Monday, they solidified their AHL goaltending by re-signing Eddie Pasquale to a one-year, two-way deal for an undisclosed amount of money. The move reunites the goaltending duo that led the Syracuse Crunch down the stretch of last season.
Pasquale, originally drafted back in 2009 by the Atlanta Thrashers, brings a wealth of experience to the crease. He’s appeared in 226 AHL games over his career splitting time among Chicago, St. Johns, Hershey, Grand Rapids, Bakersfield and Syracuse. He was part of Grand Rapids Calder Cup Champion team in 2016-17.
The Toronto native was brought in after Louis Domingue had been promoted to the Lightning following Budaj’s injury. Rookie Connor Ingram had been thrust into the starting role and was playing pretty much every game with ECHL veteran Nic Riopel serving as the nominal backup. The organization knew that couldn’t last and brought in Pasquale to ease the workload of their young netminder. It couldn’t have worked out any better.
With the Crunch last season, he went 10-1-1 with a 1.72 Goals Against Average and .938 Save Percentage after being acquired February 1st from the Edmonton organization. He was so impressive thathis only regular season blemish was a game that he played out of his mind. He made 24 out of 25 saves in a 2-0 loss to Charlotte.
He understood his role with the team. He knew that he was there to provide veteran leadership while helping to groom Ingram, the Lightning’s top goaltending prospect. It was a role that he excelled in and was looking to continue. Earlier this season, Pasquale expressed interest in coming back to the Crunch to help mentor the precocious Ingram. In April he told The Post Standard,
“Connor’s probably going to be here again next year. I don’t know what they’re going to do with me next year. I’m unrestricted. But it’d be nice to come back. If they want a veteran guy with Connor, I’m a veteran guy, we have a good relationship and we feed off each other.’’
Despite those comments, it is a bit of a surprise that he re-signed so early. His performance in the regular season could potentially have earned him a spot as a starter for another team in the AHL if he had waited until free agency opened up on July 1st. His decision to return to Syracuse speaks to the stability and professionalism of the Lightning/Crunch organization.
For Ingram, Pasquale’s return does provide some steadiness in the locker room. In just over a season with the Crunch, Pasquale is the seventh different goaltending partner Ingram has shared the ice with. In his first stint with Syracuse ,he practiced along with Kristers Gudlevskis and Mike McKenna. Last season he alternated playing time with Michael Leighton, Riopel, Domingue and Budaj. That’s a lot of different mentors/styles rolling through in a short amount of time.
By all accounts, they get along together very well despite their different personalities (Ingram the energetic, outgoing youngster and Pasquale the more reserved veteran). They also have different playing styles. Pasquale, a larger goalie, uses his positioning a little more while Ingram still relies a bit more on his instincts and athleticism to stop the puck.
Will the two split the net as often next season as they did last? Their playing time was 50/50 following the trade with Pasquale starting 13 games and Ingram starting 12. Coach Benoit Groulx enjoyed having the option of starting either goaltender, a trend he continued into the playoffs. He might have his hand forced a little bit next season though.
Connor Ingram is the younger player and the Lightning will want to see him continue to develop. It made sense last season to have a veteran backup waiting in the wings in case he stumbled in his first professional season. Having survived his first season in the pros, he now has to work on improving his game in order to make the next level. The only way for him to do it is to get more playing time.
It is likely that Ingram will see a little more action, especially early in the season. With the way the AHL schedule is created, Pasquale will still get plenty of opportunity to play. More so than in the NHL, a solid goaltending tandem is important. There will always be back-to-back games or three-games-in-four-nights stretches that require a competent backup.
If things go well, expect Ingram to start about 40-45 games at least with Pasquale filling in for the remainder. While it would be too much to expect him to repeat the numbers he posted for the Crunch last season, if he skews toward his career averages (2.54 GAA/ .914 SV%), that would be more than adequate for the Crunch’s needs.