By Jacob Underwood
(Note: As the Predators enter the most important off-season in franchise history (to date) we at 24/7 will take a look at some of the key storylines.)
While the main focus of the 2012 offseason will be on the continued tweaking of the forwards and defense, one key position that will be an afterthought for most is goaltender.
Goaltending, specifically the backup role, may be as critical as any position on the roster. With Pekka Rinne signed for seven years, David Poile has the luxury of focusing on Rinne’s backup, Anders Lindback, and determining what he feels is the best course of action.
Following a strong rookie campaign in 2010-11, Lindback was a guy many viewed as a future starter in the NHL. He was thrust into action earlier than expected after Rinne suffered a knee injury in the home opener against Anaheim. He won his first two starts, including one at Chicago, and earned an overtime loss against the high-octane Washington Capitals in his third consecutive start. He helped the team earn at least a point in 11 of his first 12 NHL starts and finished the year with an 11-5-2 record.
This past season, Lindback never really settled into a grove. His first start didn’t come until the 14th game of the season and his third win didn’t come until March. He finished the year with a 5-8 record, but three of those wins came in his final four starts.
The 24-year-old restricted free agent is a piece that Poile could look to trade away for a draft pick or two. As it stands, the Predators don’t have a pick in the first two rounds of the 2012 draft, a position Poile doesn’t like to be in. Two teams in the East, Tampa Bay and Toronto, need goaltending. Both would be appealing trade partners because both teams pick in the top-10 of every round.
Poile could also elect to re-sign Lindback, an option that could be more valuable both long-term and short-term.
Lindback’s qualifying offer is $715,000. At that price, the team would be hard-pressed to find a better player for less. Lindback might be the most talented goalie in his price range. Poile has made it known that the team would need to go out and sign a veteran to back up Rinne if Lindback was traded.
A strong year would undoubtedly increase his trade value and you can’t overlook the value he would bring to the team on the ice next season. In pro sports, you never know when the window of opportunity will close. Rinne was called upon a lot last season, appearing in 73 games. That total was tied for the most games played by a goalie last season. That’s a stat that can’t be overlooked.
Yes, Rinne is one of the best netminders in the league, but 73 games is about 10 too many. In the post-lockout era, only two goalies that backstopped their team to the Cup Final started more than 60 regular season games, Marc-Andre Fleury (61) in 2008-09 and Jonathan Quick (69) this season.
The comfort level the staff has with Lindback should allow for a more natural split between he and Rinne next season. If Lindback settles in like he did in his final three starts (3-0, .967 save percentage) he could be worth a lot more next summer.