It seems for the longest time the Rangers
have not had to worry too much about goaltending, that all changed two
seasons ago when Mike Richter played in the 2000 All-Star skills
competition when he hurt his knee making a save. What was initially
not thought to be serious eventually deteriorated into season ending
surgery on the ACL in his left knee.
Backup keeper, Kirk McLean played out the
remainder of the year with Milan Hnilicka getting a couple of starts as
the season ran out. Entering the 2000-2001 season the team was
without a starting goalie, Richter was still a month or so from regular
duty and backup Kirk McLean was struggling with back spasms.
Injuries to the two goalies would allow
three rookies (Holmqvist, Labarbera and Yeremeyev) to get limited time in
the NHL. Labarbera earned a nervous ten minutes before spending most
of his season with the Charlotte Checkers of the ECHL. Questions
about his desire and conditioning helped send him to the lower league.
Johan Holmqvist looked confident, but
quality opposition in the Penguins and Senators combined with a soft goal
in the Senators game would keep his brief appearance to two games.
The Kazakh born Yeremeyev got a longer look, but equally unsuccessful in
letting by 16 goals in under 4 games of work.
A late season waiver claim on former
Olympian, Guy Hebert brought some moderately improved goaltending, but a
big contract and a special deal worked out with the Ducks had him heading
out of New York at season's end to be joined by McLean at the Free Agent
Going into the 2001-2002 season there
appears to be no reason for optimism. Richter (who just resumed
skating this week) is once again coming back from a major knee injury,
this will be a contract year for the career blueshirt, but he has a lot to
prove if he wishes to remain with the Rangers, not least of all that he
can stay healthy.
Reports on Labarbera have been encouraging,
off-season workouts have the young goaltender in better shape than he's
been in recent years. He'll need to play extremely well in camp and
the pre-season if he hopes to stick with the big club.
Yeremeyev was signed to a contract
extension amid rumors that he might return to Europe. A friend of
Evgeni Nabokov of the Sharks, he will also have a lot to prove, despite
his strong performance in the minor league last year.
Johan Holmqvist seems to be the most likely
to be the back-up to Richter, but does not have a lock on the
position. His two starts last season came against some tough teams
which may work to his advantage when under consideration.
At 18 years old Dan Blackburn seems
unlikely to make the NHL despite comments to the contrary from the Rangers
GM. Blackburn will seemingly have to stand on his head to win the
backup job that is currently vacant.
Of the remaining minor leaguers, no one is
expected to challenge for a position. Asplund and Lundqvist would
need to spend some time in North America first, while Meyer, Snee and
Wandler look to continue their minor league careers.
Alternatively the Rangers GM may look to
bring in a hired hand to tide the team over. This appears very
likely if there is any question over Richter's health.
Candidates would include:
Chris Osgood, DET - the move to get Hasek
will most likely prompt the moving of Osgood to another team. It
would perhaps be difficult to have both Richter and Osgood on the team
concurrently, though having Osgood around until Blackburn matures might be
Jeff Hackett, MON - the veteran tender
missed a large amount of last season with injuries and has yet to prove
that he's fully healthy again. He still has the ability and might do
well on a weak defensive team unlike Osgood.
Mike Vernon, CGY - another veteran who now
finds his place taken by a younger player. The former Stanley Cup
goalie is getting on in years and hasn't been as effective since leaving
San Jose, but may have some gas left in the tank.
Trevor Kidd, FLA - It may be that Florida
wants to keep their insurance should Luongo stumble. Might take a
few weeks into the season before Kidd comes on to the market.
Bob Essensa, F/A - let go by the Canucks,
he looks to retirement or the Oilers as his two options. Outside
chance that his former GM might be able to work a deal.
Jamie McLennan, MIN - after the performance
of Fernandez last season, the Wild might be interested in moving this
unlucky goalie. The price might be a little high on the prospect
side, but McLennan has starting goalie experience.
Mike Dunham, NAS - the rumors continue to
circulate about the potential availability of the Predators tender.
Dunham has had some health issues which might scare away the Rangers.
Kevin Weekes, TB - the young goalie lacks
starting experience, but has had some pretty strong performances in MSG
Stephane Fiset, LA - another often injured
goalie is now on the market with the arrival (though not signing) of Felix
Potvin. Fiset could be a serviceable goalie if he could stay
At this stage it's too early to tell if the
Rangers GM has any real interest in any of these goalies and it's unlikely
that he'll show his hand before any deal might get done. Sather may
decide to wait until camp and the pre-season, or even into the season,
before making any sort of move.
If that is the case then I'm sure there are
a couple of nervous fans sitting out there.