Summer’s Over, Everyone Back to the Tenders’ Lounge!

The 2008-2009 season is about to get going, well, at least the training camps for the new season are about to get underway.  Just as the players need to work off those summertime beers, Tenders Lounge needs to warm up after a couple months on the beach.  In the spirit of “what I did this summer” essays from the first day back at school, here’s an update on what goalies did this summer (post July 1st signing frenzy).

Pascal Leclaire, a restricted free agent, re-signed with Columbus for $11.4M for three seasons, or based on his performance last year, $422,222 per shutout (Leclaire had NINE of them in ’07-08).  Leclaire had a great performance in net for Canada at the World Championships, leading them to a silver medal and probably forcing the Blue Jackets’ management to open their wallets a little more than they planned.  You could make a pretty good argument that Leclaire would have been worth the compensatory draft picks if another team had signed him to a qualifying offer.  There was no way the Jackets, who are yet to play their first post-season game, could have let Leclaire get away… pretty good positioning for Leclaire (and his agent).

Ryan Miller (not exactly dressed for summer in this photo), who was scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent at the end of next season, signed a $31.25M extension that will keep him from shuffling out of Buffalo at least until summer of 2014.  Sabres fans had grown weary, VERY weary, of seeing the likes of Chris Drury and Brian Campbell shipped out of town rather than re-signed to long-term contracts so news of Miller’s contract extension was a ray of light for fans who have suffered too much and for too long.  Does this mean the Sabres are on their way back to challenging for the Eastern Conference?  No, but if they had let Miller get away a playoff run was going to be a lot further in the future, or even in a different city.  After watching the NFL Bills sign an $78M deal to play eight games in Toronto over the next five years I can’t help but wonder if the Sabres ownership didn’t place a call to Jim Balsillie to pitch the idea of playing a few Sabres “home” games in Hamilton.  The Miller signing at least shows some much needed commitment to the city and the fans and should (temporarily at least) squash any rumors of the Sabres moving to Kansas City.

Atlanta re-signed restricted free agent Kari Lehtonen to a one-year deal for $3M, close to a 50% raise for the Thrashers number one goalie.  Why didn’t the Thrashers lock Lehtonen down for longer?  Two words:  pulled groin.  Lehtonen has shown the potential to be one of the best goalies in the NHL and a player the Thrashers can build a team around but he’s also been sidelined for too many games with a pulled groin muscle.  For Lehtonen’s sake (and therefore the Thrashers’ sake as well) here’s wishing a healthy season (and even bigger contract next summer) to this fabulous Finn.

Tampa Bay gave Mike Smith a two-year contract extension worth $4.4M after picking him up in a deadline deal from Dallas last spring.  More importantly for Smith the Lightning publicly (and financially) made a commitment to Smith as their number one goalie just a few weeks after signing Olaf Kolzig.  With Marc Denis off to Montreal to try to resurrect his career the Lightning have cast their lot with Smith.  Smith had good reason to be a little nervous after seeing Godzilla come to town but the new owners said Smith is the guy.  They’ll probably even spring for some new gear that matches the Lightning colors.

The Bolts also signed two-time Stanley Cup champion Mike Vernon to be a special advisor to the new ownership team in Tampa.  There are two vivid memories of Vernon that stand out in my mind:

1. parachuting into Portland to lead the Winter Hawks to a Memorial Cup championship over my hometown Oshawa Generals in 1983 (used to be that teams playing in the Memorial Cup could pick up additional players for the tournament; the Winter Hawks picked up a star goalie from the Calgary Wranglers and the Gens admirably went with the players who got them there.  And then lost.)

2. the most beautiful glove save EVER when Vernon robbed Stan Smyl in the first round of the ’89 playoffs.

Except for Nikolai Khabibulin, goalies seem to have fallen under a curse in Tampa.  Hopefully Vernon can lift the curse for both him and Smith.

The New York Islanders hired former Quebec Nordique Scott Gordon as their new head coach, replacing Ted Nolan.  The Isles now have a former NHL goalie (kind of) behind the bench and a former goalie behind the GM desk.  Gordon’s NHL playing experience was limited to a total of 23games for the Nordiques between 1989 and 1991 before he made the move to coaching and eventually became Coach of the Year last season in Providence.  How did he end up on Long Island?  Well, when he wasn’t getting a cup of coffee in Quebec he was also playing in the AHL where he shared the crease with a young Garth Snow.

So with that it’s time to get the gear out of the garage, do some deep knee bends, play a few pickup games and get ready for a new season in the crease.  And the first full season of hanging out in the Tenders Lounge!

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