The Rangers Need To Acquire Another Goaltender
An injury to goaltender Cédrick Desjardins in Hartford means that the Wolf Pack lack reliability in net, and that the Rangers lack a dependable call-up option.
Going into last season, the New York Rangers felt very strongly about their goaltending depth. Lundqvist is the greatest goaltender of this generation, and so that speaks for itself, while Biron was a proven, reliable backup. For depth, Benoit Allaire was very much sold on Cam Talbot's ability, and he did prove to be a strong goaltender for the Hartford Wolf Pack early in the season. Then all hell broke loose, the Rangers switched brought up Talbot while Biron retired, and the goaltending in Hartford took a hit. It manifested as a problem in a multitude of ways. Jason Missiaen and Scott Stajcer proved to be an underwhelming tandem. The Wolf Pack lost a lot of games in large part or directly because of poor performances in net, it was the most glaring reason for missing the playoffs. Last-ditch acquisitions of Dave LeNeveu and Dov Grumet-Morris were not enough to salvage the season. The Rangers also had to scramble to sign LeNeveu to an actual NHL contract and bring him to NYC in time for a game in the middle of a snowstorm after Lundqvist got the flu.
It's a major reason why the Rangers signed Cédrick Desjardins on the first day of free agency this past summer. Desjardins, then 28 years old, was an AHL All-Star who was well proven and had a few games on NHL experience on his resumé. He'd anchor the Wolf Pack in net, and could be a competent temporary fill-in at the NHL level if necessary.
Desjardins had lived up to expectations. He looked solid in his pre-season showing with the Rangers and posted a 2.63 Goals Against Average and .910 Save Percentage in 15 games with the Wolf Pack. Unfortunately, Desjardins tore his ACL in a game last Friday against the Syracuse Crunch. He's out for the season. In a lot of ways, it's déjà vu in the crease.
The one saving grace for the Rangers and Hartford is that Mackenzie Skapski is playing some fantastic hockey with the Woflpack; some might even argue that he was outplaying Desjardins. In 16 games Skapski has a 2.25 GAA and a .923 Save Percentage. Unlike last year, Hartford at least does have a reason for optimism as opposed to full-blown panic.
Still, there should be concern. Jason Missiaen, who has called up from the Greenville Road Warriors in light of the situation, has been, in his best moments, inconsistent with the Wolf Pack. This season, he let in 13 goals in just roughly 3.5 games of play before being sent down in favor of Skapski. Going with him and Skapski, a 20-year-old with 17 games (one in the ECHL) of professional experience to his name, is far from an ideal situation. Not with the Wolf Pack barely in a playoff spot as is, not with this much of the season left to play, and not after the disaster that played out last season. It would be nice for the Wolf Pack to get into the playoffs. You want your some of your top prospects - McIlrath, Lindberg, Haggerty, etc. - to get that experience. You want to see them tested in "big" games. You want the Hartford season to extend long enough that junior prospects like Adam Tambellini, Daniel Walcott, and Richard Nejezchleb can be brought to the team on an Amateur Tryout and can get a taste of the demands that come with playing professional hockey.
Even worse is to consider the potential implications at the NHL level. Obviously, if Lundqvist goes down for the year then the Rangers are sinking regardless. But imagine a scenario where Lundqvist is shelved for a a month or two. Or Talbot goes down for a long time. Missiaen has struggled mightily to stick at even the AHL level, while Skapski is just getting his feet wet. The Rangers are pleasantly surprised that Skapski has progressed even this far so quickly. To bring him up to the NHL, even if temporarily, would put him in over his head. Are the Rangers truly prepared to hand either of those guys starts at the NHL level and depend on them to hold up to the necessary standard? And that's just regarding the regular season. When Talbot broke his arm during the playoffs last year, the Rangers were a Lundqvist virus or game misconduct or whatever else away from relying on Dave LeNeveu in a Conference Final or Stanley Cup Final game. That's a scary thought, and even then LeNeveu at least had a couple dozen NHL games to his name. Two young goaltenders still trying to figure out the AHL? Forget it.
Will any of those disastrous situations actually manifest? Likely not. On the other hand, would a waiver claim, signing, or swap of a seventh-round pick for a competent third-string goaltender not be wise insurance? That would seem to be a small price to pay for some desperately needed stability in net for Hartford and a dependable band-aid should it ever be needed on the big boy roster.
Best wishes to Desjardins in his recovery. From my limited interaction with him and from what I've been told, he appears to be a well-intentioned guy, and he'll be missed the rest of the season.