Throughout the off-season, the Florida Panthers have seemingly been involved in every goaltending rumor out there. First it was Roberto Luongo, then the draft came around and it was Ilya Bryzgalov, then in August, Tim Thomas‘ name started popping up, then when the Scott Clemmensen news first broke, it was Rick DiPietro. Where are we at now? With training camp set to begin it appears that Tim Thomas may be brought in…or maybe Ilya Bryzgalov…at this point, who the hell knows?
Here is what we do know: On Tuesday, TSN’s Bob McKenzie broke the news that the Panthers have offered Tim Thomas an invite to training camp. With Thomas considering his options, the pertinent question is, do the Panthers intend to bring Thomas in to be the team’s number one goaltender or to back up Jacob Markstrom? The answer to this question could be key in deciding Thomas’ future as ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun tweeted that according to Thomas’ agent, Markus Lehto, the 39 year old keeper still wants to be a number one goaltender.
Not content to sit around and wait on Thomas, the Panthers have also considered bringing in ex-Flyer Ilya Bryzgalov. Depending on how you read this tweet from Darren Dreger, one could come to the conclusion that the Panthers have also extending a training camp offer to Bryzgalov as well as Thomas. I guess Dale Tallon was not kidding when he said the team will be “looking at every possibility” to improve during training camp.
Who will the Panthers ultimately bring in? Will it be Tim Thomas, will it be Ilya Bryzgalov? Will it be neither? Thomas’ desire to be a number one may be a deal breaker and while it is understandable that he wants to be a starting goaltender, Mr. Thomas may have to face the hard truth that he may not get what he wants. Think about it, what team is going to bring in a 39 year old goalie, who has not played in 16 months, and simply give him the starting job. If Thomas wants to return to the league, he is going to have to accept an invite from a team, prove his worth in camp, and then compete for the number one job throughout the regular season. Right now, Thomas being good enough to even make an NHL team is up in the air, let alone be a number one keeper.
If either Thomas or Bryzgalov is brought in and makes the team it is highly likely that, even if they are officially “the backup goaltender”, they will receive a large amount of playing time. The Panthers will want to be careful with Jacob Markstrom as he embarks on his first full NHL season. The 23 year old has been injury prone in the minors and since coming to the US, he has yet to play more than 60 games in a single season. The Panthers will probably not want Markstrom to exceed that 60 game mark by much this year so whoever is the backup can expect to see ample playing time. Also, this is assuming Markstrom can stay healthy all season which he has yet to prove he can do.
What does all this mean for Scott Clemmensen? If the Panthers bring in another goalie, it could mean Clemmer gets released but the Panthers lack goaltending depth throughout the system and they will be paying Clemmensen $1.2 million regardless of whether he is on the team or not so they may just be content to send him to the AHL as insurance should the injury bug strike again.