The good news for fans of the Tampa Bay Lightning is their new would-be No.1 goaltender, Anders Lindback, is a clone of Nashville Predators star Pekka Rinne, and the likeness goes well beyond their size.
At 6-foot-6, Lindback stands an inch taller than his ex-teammate and two-time Vezina Trophy finalist, but it’s when they crouch over in the crease that you really see the similarities in style.
That’s because Nashville’s long-time goaltending coach Mitch Korn likes to give his puck-stopping pupils a fellow NHL goaltender to mirror, and in Lindback’s case, the best example possible just happened to be his playing partner.
(There are some subtle differences, like the glove and blocker positioning seen in the photo above, and Lindback hunching over a little more, something Korn outlined when he first compared the two for InGoal two seasons ago, a breakdown that also talks about Lindback’s ability to pick things up quickly, another positive for Lightning fans as he learns to be a No.1 again)
That Rinne was so good playing that way meant Lindback rarely got the chance to, though he too showed a lot of good signs when he did, compiling a 16-13-2 with a 2.53 goals-against average and a .914 save percentage over two seasons, but also showing he may be capable of more during a couple of impressive streaks on the rare occasions he got to string together multiple starts.
It’s that potential Lightning General Manager Steve Yzerman cited after acquiring Lindback, Nashville forward Kyle Wilson and a 2012 seventh-round pick in next week’s draft from the Predators in exchange for two second-round picks (37th and 50th) in the upcoming draft, a third-round pick in 2013, and goaltender Sebastien Caron, who will be cut loose as a free agent.
“He’ll get an opportunity to play for us, and we think he’s got the ability to develop into a No. 1 goaltender,” Yzerman told the team’s website. “We’ve watched a lot of his games. He doesn’t have a lot of experience, but we like his size, we like his athletic ability and we like his technique. We paid a heavy price to acquire him. There are not a lot of options out there to get a goaltender right now. So, we had to step up with something significant to bring him in, and we were prepared to do that.”
Lindback, a 24-year-old restricted free agent, wanted to play more – and therefore needed out of Nashville, because that wasn’t going to happen without a move after the Predators signed Rinne to a seven-year, $49-million contract extension last season.
The only downside for the Lightning, as noted by Yzerman, is the lack of experience. Lindback is a fast learned with a great mentality for the position, and he has a lot of natural skill to go with his obvious size. But there was a reason Rinne spent three seasons developing in the American Hockey League before breaking through (though it likely would have been a year sooner if not for costly shoulder surgery resulting from a late night attack in his native Finland during those early days). Lindback’s status in his native Sweden enabled him to command a one-way contract coming across to the NHL, but there are some around the Predators organization who feel he could have benefitted more from some time to adapt in the minor leagues.
At least Yzerman has insurance policies in place around him, if not a proven veteran capable of stepping into the No.1 role. In addition to Mathieu Garon, who excels as a backup but tends to hit a roadblock every time there;s a chance to seize a top job, the Lightning has brought former prospect Riku Helenius back into the fold after a remarkable Goalie of the Year run in his native Finland, and fellow Tampa Bay draft pick Dustin Tokarski is coming off a Calder Cup championship just last week.
As for Lindback, InGoal Magazine has enjoyed a couple of memorable conversations with the personable Swede over the last two seasons, including an initial Ask a Pro that include the revelation he used to be more of a goon than a goalie:
“I was a big kid, I liked to go around and hit people,” Lindback said of not becoming a full-time goalie until he was 14. “You learn how to see a game when you play out, but I spent most of the time in the penalty box so maybe it was good to get in goal.”
Be sure to read the entire interview from that first season Ask a Pro, as it’s full of insights into Lindback’s development in Sweden, including a variety of styles from different goalie coaches. And also check out InGoal’s story about how the NHL’s equipment sizing chart helped him out by finally allowing him to wear 39-inch pads, because the old maximum 38-inch pad didn’t have a high enough knee cradle for him to land on when he dropped into the butterfly.
As for where this leaves the Predators, who have never struggled to find goaltending talent, they did sign highly regarded draft pick Magnus Hellberg to a three year entry level contract, but he needs some AHL conditioning, and even with Jeremy Smith and Chet Pickard still in the fold, Nashville is expected to look for a veteran presence to back up Rinne. Which probably also says a lot about whether they really wanted to trade Lindback this soon, or were all but forced to do so.