The NHL’s neighbors on turf, the NFL, came very close to seeing a rare nightmare scenario today. The New England Patriots, already down future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady to suspension, lost backup Jimmy Garoppolo to a shoulder injury and were forced to put third-string QB Jacoby Brissett in to finish the game. In the short term, had Brissett been injured as well, the Patriots would have been hard-pressed to find a suitable replacement on the spot. However, the more important factor is the long-term, as the Patriots play again on Thursday night, and are now down to an inexperienced rookie quarterback and no other available QB’s on the roster.
The equivalent to this scenario on the ice is the loss of multiple goalies. The most crucial part of any successful hockey team, losing both the starting and backup goalie is a rare, but when it occurs it is a death knell for the majority of organizations. It has of course occurred in the short-term before, with the wacky stories of goalie coaches and nearby minor-league washouts or former college players getting an emergency call to duty. But just like the NFL and it’s quarterbacks, the long-term health and availability of goalie depth is a much more important situation than scrambling to find an option for just one game. So just how many NHL teams could survive a stretch without their starter and backup in net?
Ironically, the Patriots’ friends to the north, the Boston Bruins, are one such team. Former Vezina winner Tuukka Rask and Anton Khudobin, who returns to Boston where he first found NHL success, form a strong tandem in goal for the Bruins, but they are not without options beyond the pair. Top prospect Malcolm Subban has made just one NHL start in his pro career, but has been pushing for big league minutes for years and is considered by many to be one of the best goalies not in the NHL. Called into backup duty would be Zane McIntyre, who has not seen NHL action and was sub-par in his first AHL season, but was unbelievable in the college ranks, with three years of dominant play and a Hobey Baker campaign for the University of North Dakota. The young duo would at least provide Boston with more raw talent and potential than most teams could provide that far down the depth chart.
However, the best team to handle such an apocalyptic event in net is likely the Columbus Blue Jackets. With two promising young goalies with NHL experience in Joonas Korpisalo and Anton Forsberg behind incumbents Sergei Bobrovsky and Curtis McElhinney, the transition from one pair to another would not be seamless, but has more long-term potential than nearly any other situation in the NHL. In fact, don’t be surprised if either guy slated for the AHL this year finds themself supplanting McElhinney with the Jackets instead. Another team who could substitute one dynamic duo with another is the Florida Panthers. Many were surprised when Florida went out and traded for Reto Berra and signed James Reimer to a long-term deal this summer, with all-world starter Roberto Luongo already in the fold. It is expected that Berra will join veteran Mike McKenna at the AHL level to start the season, where the pair would provide more experience than nearly any other minor league combo in hockey. Should one or both goalies go down for the Panthers this season, they are well-suited to handle the loss.
The best third-string option in the league? That title belongs to Connor Hellebuyck of the Winnipeg Jets. The Jets will likely try to find a way to give the young stalwart starts in the NHL this season, though he is buried on the depth chart, alongside fellow high-end prospect Eric Comrie, behind Ondrej Pavelec and Michael Hutchinson. Should either goalie struggle, which would not be a big surprise, or get injured, Winnipeg will not hesitate to put Hellebuyck in a position of responsibility. Should both goalies get hurt in a rare coincidence, Hellebuyck could carry the team with the young Comrie giving him some rest occasionally.
Other teams with ample depth to survive Armageddon in goal: the Montreal Canadiens, who very well may need it considering recent history, with Mike Condon and top prospect Zach Fucale behind franchise cornerstone Carey Price and veteran addition Al Montoya, and the Carolina Hurricanes, who signed journeyman Michael Leighton in part to mentor the high-potential Alex Nedeljkovic while Cam Ward and Eddie Lack handle NHL duties. Perhaps the only team that could take this hypothetical scenario a step further and handle three hurt keepers is the Anaheim Ducks, who sported even more impressive depth before the trade of Frederik Andersen to Toronto, but still have experienced backups Dustin Tokarski and Matt Hackett as well as former UMass-Lowell star Kevin Boyle behind John Gibson and Jonathan Bernier.
No one likes to see any player get injured, nevertheless a goalie and certainly not both goalies. However, these teams have the depth and talent needed to handle such a nightmare scenario and it sure would be interesting to watch them try. As the New England Patriots prepare to tackle their quarterback depth conundrum, keep these goalies in mind should such an event occur during the 2016-17 NHL season.