Mike Richter

Mind The Net

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 deadline.

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 attractive.

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 healthy.

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.

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