Predators could look to past not future for next backup goalie

Sunday, June 17, 2012 at 11:26pm

There’s no doubt that the Nashville Predators have a backlog of young goalies.

The question is whether not they have a backup, and the answer in the immediate aftermath of Friday’s trade that sent Anders Lindback to Tampa Bay is no.

“Asking me right now, I’m favoring using a more [veteran] player," general manager David Poile said. “I think that’s a more logical road for us to go.

“…We’re not going to sign somebody just for the sake of signing somebody. It has to be the right guy, and we’ve already developed a list of seven or eight guys we think, arguably, could fit this role. If they weren’t available then we’d go in the other direction and use the younger players.”

One minor league affiliate — in fact, one continent — was not enough during the 2011-12 season to accommodate the development of all of the prospective netminders.

Nashville drafted four goalies in 2007 and 2008 and all of them were in the system last season. Lindback (seventh round, 2008) was the backup to Vezina Trophy finalist Pekka Rinne for the Predators. Jeremy Smith (second round, 2007) and Atte Engren (seventh round, 2007) spent the bulk of the season with AHL affiliate Milwaukee, and Chet Pickard (first round, 2008) played the majority of his third professional season with Cincinnati in the East Coast Hockey League.

The Predators added to the mix last June when they used their first pick in the 2011 draft on goalie Magnus Hellberg, who remained in his native Sweden.

After two seasons behind Rinne, Lindback wanted an opportunity to play more, if not to start. Nashville gave that to him when it shipped him — along with minor league forward Kyle Wilson — to the Lightning for a pair of second-round picks in this week’s draft and a third-round choice in 2013.

Rather than automatically bump up all the others one spot, though, Poile wants to look around the league first. He also has to consider that the line of succession will change slightly in 2012-13 when Engen returns to Europe and Hellberg makes his North American professional debut, which is not yet guaranteed but is likely to happen.

“Smith came along really well this year,” Poile said. “I wouldn’t be adverse to giving him an opportunity. … Jeremy’s getting closer all the time. Each year he’s gotten better as a goaltender. I think he’s matured as a person [and] his ability to handle the goaltending task, if you will. I think he’s on a really good track.

“That’s certainly going to weigh in our decision when we make a signing or don’t make a signing. I know he can play some games for us if we need him to.”

Two weeks before the start of the free agency signing period, there are plenty of options, including some familiar ones.

• Chris Mason: He’s had two previous stints with Nashville and is fourth on the franchise’s all-time wins list with 58.  He has spent the last two seasons with Atlanta/Winnipeg.

• Dan Ellis: He joined the Predators in 2007-08 under similar circumstances. Eventually was pushed out by Rinne but went 49-42-8 in three seasons.

• Michael Leighton: He has just 104 appearances in nine NHL seasons, but his experience includes one good playoff run with Philadelphia (8-3, three shutouts) in 2010 and one period played for Nashville (two goals allowed) in 2006-07.

• Alex Auld: A second-round pick by Florida in 1999, he was Vancouver’s starter in 2005-06 but since has played with seven different franchises (one of them twice), almost exclusively as a backup.

• Johan Hedberg: He was the backbone of Pittsburgh’s run to the Eastern Conference finals in 2001 and was a part-time starter for four seasons in Atlanta. He has been Martin Brodeur’s backup in New Jersey for the last two years.

• Andrew Raycroft: He spent the last part of last season in the AHL and has been with four teams in the last five seasons. He had a 2.05 goals-against average in 57 games for Boston in 2003-04 but never has come close to that sort of production since.

• Scott Clemmensen: Groomed in New Jersey behind Brodeur, he has played between 23 and 31 games in the last three seasons with Florida. Won one game for the Panthers in the 2012 playoffs.

• Brent Johnson: He won 34 games for St. Louis in 2001-02 but has been a part-time netminder for four franchises since. The last three years he has been Marc-Andre Fluery’s backup in Pittsburgh.

While it remains to be seen which player — if any — Nashville eventually gets, any veteran goalie knows for certain exactly what he’s getting into if he signs with the Predators.

“Pekka [Rinne] is a top goalie,” Poile said. “We all realize that. He’s a workhorse. He’s going to play the bulk of the games.”