Monday, 12 October 2015

Crowding The Crease

When last year's Calder Cup-winning netminder in JF Berube was placed on waivers by the Los Angeles Kings, you knew that someone would probably kick the tires on him. After all, there can only be one Cup-winning starting goalie per year, so seeing the Kings take a risk and hope he passed through the waiver wire was a big risk. As we know, the New York Islanders took a shot with Berube as they saw value in him and claimed him. That left a sizable hole on the Ontario Reign roster, so the Kings began the process of filling that hole with competent goaltender. Or something like that.

On Friday, the Kings signed former starter Peter Budaj to a one-year deal after he was not signed by the Winnipeg Jets following a 0-9-6 season last year. His 3.55 GAA and .888 save percentage were rather dismal in the AHL, and he lost his job to Connor Hellebuyck who had an outstanding season last year with the St. John's IceCaps. Why the Kings went after Budaj when there were other more suitable netminders out there - David Leggio? - is beyond me, but GM Dean Lombardi inked the netminder with what I'll assume to be hopes that he can rediscover his NHL netminding ways that seemed to escape him at all points last season.

Budaj won't supplant Jonathan Quick or Jhonas Enroth on the Los Angeles depth chart, so this is clearly an AHL move rather than an NHL move. That leads to the question of why Dean Lombardi would sign a 33 year-old netminder to lead the Ontario Reign when his stats say he'd be better off in the ECHL or SPHL at this point. To simply fill Berube's vacant roster spot with a warm body is hardly Lombardi-like in the GM's approach to finding solid talent that can be developed.

Compounding the matter of bringing in an older goalie is the fact that Lombardi went out on Saturday and signed Ray Emery to a PTO for the Ontario Reign! Emery, also 33, will join his second team on a PTO after the Lightning released him earlier this month. Emery spent last season with the Philadelphia Flyers where he went 10-11-7 with a 3.06 GAA and an .894 save percentage. While his numbers are statistically better than Budaj's are, why is Dean Lombardi signing veteran goalies like they're going out of style?

The Ontario Reign did lose a good player in Berube when the Kings waived him with the intention on returning him to the AHL club, but they still have good goaltender available to them. Patrik Bartosak and Michael Houser are the two netminders who were preparing to take the bulk of the work, but now there's a four-way dance happening in Ontario with these four men. Bartosak was 13-8-5 in 28 games with Ontario last season with a 2.23 GAA, a .919 save percentage, and two shutouts. Bartosak also backstopped the Monarchs last season in the Calder Cup Final against Utica after Berube was felled with an ankle injury, so he should be the guy that Ontario turns to most often this season.

Michael Houser is just 23, but the Ohio-born goalie had a great season with the San Antonio Rampage last year when he went 19-9-4 in 37 games with a 2.83 GAA, a .900 save percentage, and two shutouts. Houser, you may remember, was with the London Knights in 2011-12 when he posted a record of 46-15-1 in helping the Knights advance to the Memorial Cup before falling in overtime to the Shawinigan Cataractes in overtime in the championship game. In other words, Houser can play. He's another solid addition to the Reign team, and he and Bartosak should be a good tandem for this season.

If they play.

The Manchester Monarchs, Los Angeles' ECHL affiliate, opens their season in four days, and they have their goaltenders set, it seems. The Reign appeared to have their netminders set as well, but Dean Lombardi decided to bring in two players who most likely would have sat out this season unless an emergency arose somewhere and a goaltender was desperately needed. For what reason? No idea. There is absolutely no reason to sign both Budaj and Emery on consecutive days when neither of them are needed at this point.

I have no idea what Dean Lombardi is doing in Los Angeles. With the settlement reached with Mike Richards and now this crowded crease situation in Ontario, I'm not sure that Lombardi is playing with a full deck any longer. Toss in the Jarret Stoll drug problem and the Slava Voynov domestic abuse problem, and it seems that this castle that Lombardi built for the Kings is standing atop pillars of salt and sand with the tides closing in on this house of cards.

Maybe the Kings aren't such a model franchise after all.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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