This week, we’re going to preview the Syracuse Crunch roster in three parts. Part One will concentrate on the goaltenders, Part Two on the defense, and Part Three - you guessed it - the offense. There may be a few changes along the way if the Lightning or the Crunch tweak their rosters, but for the most part this should be the team that the Crunch uses to defend their AHL North Division title.
Remember way back in June when there were no goaltenders under contract for the Syracuse Crunch? Eddie Pasquale was heading to Russia and Connor Ingram to Nashville. Well, that has changed and heading into the season goaltending might be the clearest position on the team. A flurry of transactions brought five goaltenders into the organization (technically six, but Marek Mazanec, part of the J.T. Miller trade, is most likely going to the Czech Republic to play for Mountfield HK).
Despite all of the activity, it seems the Crunch should have a clear path for their goaltending: Scott Wedgewood is the starter and Mike Condon is the back-up. Of course, the problem is that there is one more goaltender in camp that is looking for playing time. The issue has shifted from having no one to play in the net to having to find time for three.
It’s not a bad problem to have, especially since players in camp are veteran professionals. For the first time in a long time, the Lightning’s affiliate doesn’t have a prospect they are grooming. There is no rookie to break in and teach the ropes to this season. In fact, all three goaltenders currently on the roster have played in the NHL.
That might be a strategic plan for the organization. Last season, when there was an injury on the big club, the well was a little dry when the Lightning needed to call someone up. Both Connor Ingram and Eddie Pasquale had a whopping zero games of combined NHL experience, which wasn’t exactly ideal.
With a bit of a gap in goaltending prospects (their top netminders are at the very least a year away from entering the professional ranks), it makes sense that they would load up Syracuse with goalies that can come up and not be overwhelmed by the NHL. The added benefit is Syracuse ending up with a pretty stacked goaltending tandem in the AHL.
The Interloper: Louis Domingue
2018-19 Stats - NHL - 26 Games, 2.88 GAA, .908 SV%
This is one of those situations that isn’t great for anyone involved. Louis Domingue has earned his day in the NHL and doesn’t want to be in Syracuse, the Lightning don’t have room for him in Tampa, and the Crunch, while appreciative of his services, don’t want three goaltenders on the roster.
Hopefully the situation resolves itself sometime early in the season and General Manager Julien BriseBois can find a deal for Domingue somewhere. There will be a delicate balance for Coach Groulx between getting Domingue playing time and making sure he isn’t injured. After the week between games one and two, the Crunch have a stretch of four games in just over a week, so he should see action in at least one of those games.
The problem for the Crunch comes if he can’t be moved early in the season. With all of their additions, playing time in Syracuse and Orlando will be hard to come by. Should the trade process drag along, expect Domingue to move into a number one role until a deal is found. He’s honestly too good to be riding the pine in the AHL.
The Starter: Scott Wedgewood
2018-10 Stats - AHL - 48 Games, 2.68 GAA, .908 SV%)
While it’s his first season with the Crunch, Wedgewood is no stranger to Syracuse. The Ontario native was originally drafted in the third round of the 2010 NHL draft and has played in the AHL with Albany/Binghamton, Ontario, and Rochester. He’s also had experience at both ends of the professional spectrum, playing in the ECHL with Trenton and Adirondack, while also having brief cups of NHL coffee with New Jersey (4 games) and Arizona (20 games). He even managed the professional hat trick in 2015-16 when he played at least one game in all three leagues.
There is no doubting Wedgewood is an experienced netminder. He has over 160 games of AHL experience along with his brief forays into the NHL. The biggest question for the 27-year-old will be if he can stay healthy. Last season, he appeared in a career-high 48 games for Rochester, which represented a marked departure from the previous three seasons where he was beset by a variety of injuries and limited him to 64 total games over that stretch.
After a solid start to his career in the Devils’ organization, shoulder injuries started to plague him in the 2015-16 season and culminated in labrum surgery in November of 2016 that sidelined him for most of the 2016-17 season.
The following season saw him start in the New Jersey organization but he was then traded to Arizona, where he had his first shot at being a starting goalie for a NHL club, before he was then traded to Los Angeles. With all the shuffling around he only played in 27 games, but was healthy for most of the season.
If he is truly over his injuries, the Crunch should be getting a younger version of Pasquale. He isn’t a flashy goaltender, but has excellent instincts and reactions. He moves well from post to post and can handle the puck.
While he set career highs in games played, wins, and shutouts last season, he did struggle a bit at the end of the season and in the playoffs. There was also a stretch in January where he missed a few games due to a stress fracture in his ankle.
We reached out to the fine folks at Let’s Go Amerks to see if they can provide any additional information on the Crunch’s new starter. We asked them if there is anything we should be concerned about:
“The only concern with Wedgewood last season was that his performance decreased as the season went on. Instead of an ever improving save percentage, it went the other direction. There’s always other factors and rarely all on the goalie but when the playoffs arrived, the big saves just weren’t there.”
That could be an unintended benefit of Domingue hanging around in the beginning of the season - it will lighten Wedgewood’s workload. Even if Domingue is moved early on, it’s unlikely Wedgewood will be hitting the 45+ game workload...because his backup should be getting into plenty of games.
The Backup: Mike Condon
2018-19 Stats - AHL - 1 Game, 6.01 GAA, .739 SV%, NHL - 2 Games, 6.38 GAA, .800 SV%)
Condon was a bit of a surprise add to the goalie mix as he came over to the organization in exchange for Ryan Callahan’s cap hit. Like Wedgewood, the former Princeton goaltender has plenty of professional experience under his belt. He’s seen action in 129 NHL games spread between the Montreal Canadiens, Pittsburgh Penguins, and Ottawa Senators. He’s also played in 57 AHL games with Hamilton, Bellevue, and Houston.
That’s a lot of games played; unfortunately, only three of them came last season. A lingering hip injury limited Condon to two games with Senators (Ottawa) and one more with the, well, Senators (Bellevue.) It’s an issue Condon has dealt with since his college days, but the inflammation became unbearable last season and he had to shut it down.
Based on reports so far, he should be ready to go at the beginning of the season. In all likelihood, he won’t assume his true back-up responsibilities until a decision is made with Domingue. Until then, he’ll act as a third goaltender, getting into practices and maybe occasionally seeing some game action.
Condon has an excellent work ethic and doesn’t panic under heavy pressure on the ice. He does a decent job of controlling rebounds, but can occasionally get out of position. Much like their NHL brethren, the Crunch will be working on limiting shots from high danger areas which should help him out.
Ability isn’t going to be a problem for the goaltenders this season. The big question is going to be if they can make it through an entire season. The good news is if Wedgewood or Condon happen to go down, the Crunch do have Spencer Martin and Zach Fucale (who used to share training camps in Montreal with Condon) waiting in the wings (well, Orlando) to step up.
Will they combine to lead the league? Most likely not, but they should be solid enough to keep the Crunch at the top of the standings. While the early season depth charts have Wedgewood at the top, Coach Groulx has no problem playing the hot goaltender. There should be a healthy competition between Wedgewood and Condon throughout the season and that should be beneficial for the team.