Roundtable’s 2017-18 Most Valuable Player Award

(Photo Credit: Scott Paulus)

When the 2017-18 season was lining up and getting ready to go: I was highly concerned about the Milwaukee Admirals goaltending situation. It had been years upon years of a prospect or two rolling in, both with a decent ceiling to reach for, and often enough they would so quality spurts of great work in net. That wasn’t what this season was going to be. There were going to be three gambles, two potential projects, and one attempt of a revival project.

What happened early pretty much summed up the way things would be in net. Anders Lindbäck was the man. It made you look at his recent history and wonder if it all served to build up to it clicking with the Admirals in an AHL season that could boost him back to an NHL opportunity. He was the foundation from which the Admirals did everything well this season and night in and night out gave them a chance to succeed on certain evenings when they probably shouldn’t have had a chance. And he is without question our selection for the 2017-18 Most Valuable Player Award.

It has been one heck of a road for Lindbäck to get to where he is at this stage of his career. He was a seventh round selection of the Nashville Predators in the 2008 NHL Draft and would make the leap from his native Sweden to North America for the 2010-11 season.

Now, here is what I’d like you to think about. What if the recently signed goaltender Miroslav Svoboda plays the majority of next season in the NHL and makes 20 or more appearances? If that sounds nutty it certainly didn’t in that 2010-11 season because that is exactly what happened for Lindbäck and the Predators.

Lindbäck was thrust instantly into the fires of the NHL and he really never escaped the heat until last season. All of his development time came with a touch of home cooking in Sweden and straight into the frantic nature of high level NHL competition. His play was turbulent and consistency erratic. And it made for an adventure that saw him join five different NHL organizations in five seasons.

When the red flag really lifted was last season. There was no NHL contract on the table for Lindbäck. In fact, the best offer he could get was to sign a professional try-out (PTO) contract with the Ontario Reign to start the 2016-17 season. He made 4 starts, had a record of 2-1-1-0, and held a 3.40 goals against average and 0.870 save percentage. He was released midway through November. After six-years of work he flew back home to play hockey in Sweden for Rögle BK.

I’m not sure what it was after the trials and tribulations that Lindbäck had went through that made the Predators organization think he’s worth going back to the well on. He did decent work with Rögle BK -but- it’s the Swedish Hockey League and he wasn’t on the minds of anyone a season prior. Perhaps it was just worth the chance to give someone, noted as an extremely good person and hard worker, another shot. It was a low risk, high reward gamble that paid off.

When speaking with Milwaukee Admirals head coach Dean Evason ahead of this season he mentioned that Lindbäck was going to be “the guy” for them in net. It was obvious right from the beginning he would be the anchor and made all the more so once the regular season started. In almost every game Lindbäck would make a highlight reel save but, more than anything, kept an Admirals team with an up-and-down nature in hockey games where they could have otherwise been blown out of the building. If Lindbäck was not the goaltender of choice for this season? I cringe at the idea of how early the fate of the Admirals season would have been finalized. With him in net? The Admirals played meaningful hockey until the final week of the season.

And here is the thing, too. His numbers weren’t the flashiest thing and he would occasionally overplay the puck behind his net and cause some turnovers that would end up right back in his net. What sticks out to me through that is the amount of times he was active around his net and alleviated so much more damage than he was already facing on a regular basis. Lindbäck faced 1736 shots this season. It is the most shots against from a goaltender playing in 60 or less games in the AHL since Connor Hellebuyck in 2014-15. By contrast, Lindbäck won more games (31 wins) in less work (56 games) with a better goals against average (2.82) than Hellebuyck did that year. Lindbäck never stopped battling.

What happens next for Lindbäck? That became a very big question after yesterday’s news from the Predators. It seems Troy Grosenick, who was acquired from the San Jose Sharks at the NHL Trade Deadline this season, is positioned to be that third choice goaltender for the Predators and “the guy” for the Admirals next season. Svoboda and Niclas Westerholm will be the projects for the next two to three seasons.

Where all of that puts Lindbäck is in a position where he likely will need to look outside the Predators organization for work. It hasn’t been since the 2010-11 season that the Predators stationed four of their own contracted goaltenders beneath the NHL and into the AHL and ECHL. It just feels that the writing is on the wall at this stage.

Yet, if the Predators were smart and could open that pocket book open for Milwaukee, it would make all the sense in the world to do this all over one more time. If Pekka Rinne or Juuse Saros were to suffer significant injuries? If Grosenick gets hurt next season and is out at the same time that Rinne or Saros would get hurt? What do the Predators actually have? It’s a dangerous game that the Predators are playing at: cost effectiveness and with the hope of staying injury free. From a risk management standpoint? It’s unsettling.

So, why not do this again? Is it really to save a few margins of a percentage on AHL spending? I can’t imagine there was a player in the AHL this season who made a bigger individual impact on their team than the soon to be 30-year old Swede in Milwaukee.

No one played more hockey in net in the AHL this season than Lindbäck: 56 games of a 76 game schedule and 3382:32 of net-time. That’s quite an insurance policy to have if you’re Nashville and one that showed he still has what it takes to be an NHL caliber goaltender. It would be an absolute shame to see Lindbäck walk away after a season like this. Everything that was good about the Admirals in 2017-18 started with Lindbäck in net. Everything.

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