PHILADELPHIA -- It’s taken awhile – a long while – but the Thrashers will soon finally face a hard decision it dodged four months ago. The franchise is not going to keep three goaltenders and soon, it will have three.
Who is the odd-man out?Johan Hedberg, Ondrej Pavelec or Kari Lehtonen?
Lehtonen made his second conditioning start at AHL Chicago Wednesday, part of his rehab from two offseason back surgeries. His return is imminent.; the two-week rehab assignment ends next week. The decision on what two players to keep was to have been made during September training camp. However, Lehtonen’s back woes put any move on hold.
The depth was good thing, but only for so long.
“The plan now is for [Lehtonen] to play there through the weekend,” Thrashers general manager Don Waddell said. “Now you are talking about him coming back here Feb. 1. A decision will be made then what we are going to do. Ideally, you don’t want to carry three goalies.”
Waddell said the likely scenario will involve trading one of them.
“If you can turn one of those, as an asset, into something you can get, you will look at that,” he said.
Thrashers coach John Anderson said that when Lehtonen returns from Chicago, he will play initially. Then a decision will be made. One option could be to return Lehtonen to the AHL to continue playing games during the NHL’s Olympic break. Lehtonen, who is earning $3 million this season, would first have to clear waivers.
In Lehtonen’s absence, Hedberg and Pavelec have been sharing the net. The Thrashers (23-21-8, 54 points) were just one point out of a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference heading into Wednesday’s NHL schedule. One of the three teams just a point head is Philadelphia, Thursday’s opponent.
Hedberg has played in 27 games, including three of the past five. In those last three starts he has allowed just one goal in each, with a .965 save percentage, but has just a 1-2 record to show for it.
“One win is not a roll,” Hedberg said. “That’s just a reflection of we are doing things right. We are tightening up and not giving as many odd-man rushes. You can tell if the goalie is playing well, it’s a reflection of what the team is doing in front of him.”
Hedberg is 11-8-4 with a 2.46 goals-against average and a .917 save percentage. He will become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. Hedberg, 37, knows a decision is forthcoming.
“I knew from the summertime that [Pavelec] was really good last year when he came up. I know that he really wants to be playing in the NHL,” Hedberg said. “Kari is a great goaltender. I knew for me it was going to be a big, big year. I’m getting up there in age and I want to prove to the team and management that I want to be here. That’s all I can do.
"The team is going to have to make a decision on what direction it’s going to go in. We’ll see. I have no idea what their thoughts are. I’m just going to try to focus on my part of it and help my stock.”
Pavelec has appeared in 32 games. The 22-year-old has a 12-13-4 record with a 3.47 goals-against average and a .903 save percentage.
Pavelec played for Anderson at AHL Chicago when the team won the 2008 Calder Cup championship.
“First off all, I don’t control those things,” Pavelec said. “My job is to help the team to win the game. We’ll see what happens when Kari comes back. It’s going to be interesting, but it’s not a question for me. ... To be honest, the only thing on my mind is to help the team win the next game.”
Despite being beset by injuries during his five-season Thrashers career, Lehtonen is the franchise’s all-time leader in games played, wins, shutouts and save percentage. He is also an unrestricted free agent following the season.
“I don’t think we need to keep three goalies but we’ll have to make an educated decision as opposed to saying ‘OK, I’ll pick this guy,’ ” Anderson said. “We’ll have to let it play out.”