In relatively no time at all the Tampa Bay Lightning went from having a bit of a crisis in net to having a plethora of netminders. General Manager Steve Yzerman made good on addressing the organization’s need for stronger goaltending and was able to pick up Nashville’s Goaltender-Understudy Anders Lindback in addition to bringing back Riku Helenius. Throw those in with Mathieu Garon, Dustin Tokarski, and Jaroslav Janus and you have one crowded crease. The following are my thoughts on how this is all going to work out.
#1 – Anders Lindback
Despite having only logged 28 starts (38 total appearances) over the last two seasons, Lindback was (in my opinion) brought in to immediately take Tampa Bay’s #1 goaltender vacancy. Though this will be his first endeavor taking on the #1 spot, he should not have too much trouble adjusting to the increased responsibilities. Lindback should have already gained a solid head start on this undertaking as his previous coach in Nashville, Mitch Korn has helped shaped the careers of some notable netminders: Dominic Hasek, Martin Biron, Thomas Vokoun and of course Pekka Rinne. Lightning Goalie Coach Frantz Jean should have no issue picking up where Korn left off in order to get Lindback to #1 form. Couple the coaching with the veteran experience of Mathieu Garon behind him, he should have a solid first year in Tampa Bay.
#2 – Mathieu Garon
Last season Garon started out as the #2 behind Dwayne Roloson and then became somewhat of an equal partner as Roloson began to slump. Towards the later end of the season Garon was making quite the case to be #1 while riding quite the hot-streak, that is until he tore his groin, ending that run and his season. Despite moments of solid play and brilliance, Garon does not have all the tools necessary to man the crease the majority of the year, let alone the numbers. However he is a solid fit for the backup spot in Tampa Bay, where he will benefit the organization more by mentoring Lindback.
#3 – Dustin Tokarski
The Calder Cup winning Norfolk nerminder should easily keep his #1 job in Syracuse for the start of the 2012-13 American League Season. I expect even more drive and focus out of Tokarski this season after spending a week in the Show, where he started five games for the Lightning after the Garon injury. He is going to want to return and return as soon as possible. With a little more time in the AHL and further refinement of his abilities he should be up in Tampa the following season to take the #2 spot as I feel that Garon will not be resigned after his contract expires next year. Then again he could get beat out by the returning Riku Helenius.
#4 – Riku Helenius
Former Lightning First Round Draft Pick (2006, 15th Overall), Helenius has spent more time playing in Europe than in North America. Last season he backstopped jyP HT Jyvaskyla (Sm-liiga) to a championship and in the process was awarded the Urpo Ylönen trophy (best goaltender). Helenius’ return is quite the boon for the Lightning’s goaltender depth, having already played serious minutes in Finland. Being back in the States will give him a chance to face AHL/NHL talent in order to prepare him for a possible starting position with the Lightning (should things not work out with Lindback [why do you think it was only a two-year contract]). Plus Helenius will no doubt put even more pressure on Tokarski to excel and improve his game.
#5 – Jaroslav Janus
Unfortunately for Janus, he is the odd man out. Despite easily taking the reigns in Norfolk while Tokarski was with Tampa Bay, he was bumped out by Helenius’ return. The organization will no doubt want him to keep playing and that’s why there are reports out about him possibly playing across the Atlantic. Janus is a good netminder, just not as promising or seasoned (in Garon’s case) as those above him.
– Jim Courteau
Follow me on Twitter @BlackSheepJim