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2013 AHL playoffs: Leave the Tokarski trade out of it

Losing the Calder Cup Finals in six games reopened an old wound for some Lightning fans, and yet it's the most misplaced excuse for Syracuse not winning the 2013 Calder Cup.

Cedrick Desjardins, seen here in Tampa, was the workhorse goalie for the Syracuse Crunch from early April until the team's elimination in the 2013 Calder Cup Finals.
Cedrick Desjardins, seen here in Tampa, was the workhorse goalie for the Syracuse Crunch from early April until the team's elimination in the 2013 Calder Cup Finals.

It started again late last night as the Grand Rapids Griffins were celebrating their Calder Cup win over the Syracuse Crunch; the "what could have been" rhetoric that seems misplaced at best and ignorant at worst.

Fans - specifically those outside of Syracuse - during their lament of the Crunch's loss, invoked the Cedrick Desjardins trade as a focal point in the season, in the worst way possible.

"Just imagine how much further this team could have gone with Tik in net".

"If only they had Dustin Tokarski in goal instead of Cedrick Desjardins."

Just imagine if people were paying attention to the Syracuse Crunch goaltending situation a little more acutely than through the headlines and transaction column.

The most trying part of the 2012-13 Syracuse Crunch season wasn't having Dustin Tokarski traded to the Montreal Canadiens organization. There was an issue with the position of goaltender before he was traded; there was an issue after he was traded... That issue wasn't just performance of Tokarski (and the lack there of) this season for Tampacuse, but also an issue of personnel that can't be forgotten.

Losing backup Riku Helenius for two extended periods during the season was as cumbersome, if not more of an issue, for the club than the perceived downgrade by trading Tokarski.

Cedrick Desjardins played well during the AHL playoffs. Stats don't lie, and the team's record is proof enough that he was playing well enough: a 2.30 GAA and a .908 save percentage in 18 games during the post season. Yes, that save percentage could have been better but... Well, it was above the Frantz Jean Line for Lightning goalies. When you subtract two games against Grand Rapids during the finals, games where Cedrick gave up 4+ goals, his GAA drops to 1.96 and save percentage blooms to .920.

The numbers were better than what Tokarski did with Syracuse during the regular season for Syracuse (2.48 GAA, .900 save percentage) though largely lower than what Tik had done for the 2012 Norfolk Admirals in the playoffs (1.46 GAA, .944 save percentage in 14 games).

This wasn't last year's Admirals, though. And this season's Tik wasn't last season's Tik.

The thing is, Tokarski had a backup and a tandem at all times during his tenure with the Ads and Crunch, he could be rested or pushed by the capable play of Jaroslav Janus (in 2011-12; in fact Janus also started 4 playoff games for Norfolk during their Calder Cup run, posting a 1.69 GAA and .937 save percentage) and Riku Helenius (in 2012-13).

Desjardins lost his capable backup when Helenius left the club for personal reasons in April (tending to his mortally ill mother in Finland), Desjardins was alone. Pat Nagle, promoted from the ECHL to serve as Ced's backup, didn't rise to the challenge of playing in the AHL; he saw only 97 minutes of ice time in two games with Syracuse during the regular season and posting a 3.70 GAA and .875 save percentage. With a suspect backup, Desjardins became the workhorse in net, carrying the Crunch from April 6th through Tuesday's Calder Cup finale.

And that same situation would have played out - a subpar backup for an overworked starter - had it been Dustin Tokarski in net in Syracuse and not Desjardins.

It feels disrespectful to talk about this, or to insinuate that Helenius' absence may have affected the Crunch... But it's also a necessity to point out when explaining the Crunch's goalie situation in the playoffs. The fact is that Tokarski versus Desjardins is moot, and anyone who still cites it misses the forest for the trees.

The Crunch lost in the Calder Cup Finals, and neither Tokarski nor Desjardins would have stopped it. The better team, Grand Rapids, won. They effectively shut down a potent offensive attack from Syracuse, includng rendering the reigning AHL MVP (Tyler Johnson) largely scoreless in the finals. Johnson had all of one goal in six games versus Grand Rapids.

It's hard to swallow, admitting an opponent was better than your own team, but sometimes you just have to accept it.