With Kari Lehtonen close to returning, the Thrashers will have three goalies at their disposal. General Manager Don Waddell recently told Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter Chris Vivlamore that he will not carry three goalies and that one will most likely be traded.
As if the Ilya Kovalchuk saga wasn't enough, huh? Another item on Waddell's to do list: trade a goalie.
The Thrashers are currently running a tandem of Ondrej Pavelec and Johan Hedberg, but with the oft-injured Kari Lehtonen returning to game shape, Waddell has to make a gamble on which goalies to keep and which one to send packing.
Let's take a look at what the Thrashers are working with between the pipes.
Ondrej Pavelec (6' 2″, 200lbs). The 22 year old QMJHL product was initially given the starting job at the onset of the season. He has been streaky, displaying his skill one night, and then showing off his inexperience the next. In 32 games played, young Pavelec has posted a 12-13-4 record with a 3.04 goals-against-average and a .903 save percentage. He also has two shut-outs to his name thus far. Those are decent numbers considering the defense in front of him: Pavelec has faced an average of 32 shots per game, which is more than Thrashers fans would like to see for a goalie that hasn't played one full season of NHL hockey.
Johan “Moose” Hedberg (6' 0″, 185lbs). Moose has fared particularly well this year, and has stolen several points for a porous Thrashes defense. Case in point: Tuesday night's 2-1 win against the Anaheim Ducks in which he faced 35 shots. In 27 games played, the 36-year-old Moose has posted an 11-8-4 record with a 2.46 goals-against-average and a .917 save percentage. He has one shut-out thus far. Hedberg faces an average of 26 shots per game. In his tenure with Atlanta, Hedberg has made a name for himself as a workhorse and a glue-guy for the locker room. The fans have certainly caught on over the years, as any big save merits thousands of “Moooooose” calls from the fans that do show up.
Kari Lehtonen (6' 4″, 205lbs). Where do we start with this guy? Ever since being drafted 2nd overall in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft, Lehtonen has run into his share of set-backs, and then some. Questions have been raised about his commitment to physical conditioning as well as his work ethic at practice. He has played more than 50 games a season just once in his career, when he played in 68 contests during the Thrashers 2006-07 campaign. Other than that, every season with Lehtonen has turned into a difficult goalie situation for Thrashers brass. However, most hockey enthusiasts and Thrashers fans can agree that despite having a bad attendance record, Lehtonen has the skill-set to become a legitimate starter in the NHL. He underwent two back surgeries since July of '09, which he claims to have solved life-long back issues. He has played one game in a rehab stint for the Thrashers AHL affiliate Chicago Wolves in which he allowed 5 goals on 37 shots for a .865 save percentage. Not exactly impressive, but we'll see how the rest of his rehab stint goes.
After reviewing these statistics, I think one thing is safe to say: Hedberg will not be traded. He is an unrestricted free agent at the end of the year, and at 36 years old, not many teams are in need of his services. Besides, the players seem to enjoy playing with him, as the average shots against the moose are markedly less than shots on Pavelec. With the only winning record between he and Pavelec, Moose is a keeper for the remainder of this season.
That leaves it up to Pavelec and Lehtonen. The question facing Waddell is as such: Do I stick with my 22-year old, inexperienced young netminder Ondrej Pavelec, or do I put my faith in the “new-and-improved” 2nd overall draft pick Kari Lehtonen?
Consider the returns: Pavelec, not having played 60 games in his career, has miles of potential but not much to really show for it thus far. Teams looking for netminding may be hesitant to trade anything significant for an unproven goalie like Pavelec. Logically, trading Pavelec would bring back an equally inexperienced young forward or defenseman.
Lehtonen will be a hard sell simply because of his injury history. However, a healthy lehtonen can post solid numbers and lead a team to the playoffs as he did for the Thrashers in the 06-07 campaign. Trading Lehtonen would most likely bring back a pick/prospect combination or possibly a roster player on a short-term contract. Toronto is in need of solid goaltending…Maybe Lehtonen for a signed Ponikarovsky over the summer?
Hockey fans everywhere have reason to keep an eye on the situations unfolding in Atlanta. Stay tuned…
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Written by Kevin Thurston