The Winnipeg Jets may have solved their mini-crisis in the crease but Anton Forsberg might want to keep his suitcase packed, given how his wacky week has played out.
The 28-year-old was claimed on waivers Friday morning, filling the organizational void created Tuesday when Eric Comrie was plucked off waivers by the New Jersey Devils. With Connor Hellebuyck and Laurent Brossoit holding down the fort with the big club, and 22-year-old Mikhail Berdin destined for big minutes with the Manitoba Moose, the Jets needed an experienced body to stop practice pucks and be an injury insurance policy.
Under terms of this unique season, all 31 NHL clubs must carry a third goaltender, either as part of the maximum 23-player roster or the four-to-six player taxi squad that can practise and travel with the team but doesn't count against the salary cap. Comrie was set to fill that role, but the Devils grabbed him after Corey Crawford's surprise retirement left them with a job opening behind No. 1 netminder MacKenzie Blackwood, setting off quite the chain of events.
Forsberg, a native of Sweden, began his week in Edmonton, where the Oilers tried to pass him through waivers to go to their taxi squad as the next-in-line to Mikko Koskinen and Mike Smith. Those plans were intercepted by the Carolina Hurricanes, who made a successful claim, believing their designated third-stringer, Alex Nedeljkovic, was likely going to be claimed by another team. But when he passed through waivers on Thursday, the Hurricanes put Forsberg back on the scrap heap.
That's where the Jets came calling Friday morning. But the move comes with some risk. For Winnipeg to now assign Forsberg to the taxi squad, they would again have to expose him to waivers. And you can bet the Oilers will want their original property back, especially with news that Smith is expected to now miss several weeks with an injury. So the Jets must carry him on their roster, which means another player has to be removed to make room.
That would be young forward Kristian Vesalainen, who is exempt from waivers and was reassigned to the taxi squad on Friday afternoon. That's a costly demotion, as his US$894,000 NHL salary is considerably less than the AHL salary a player of his stature, with a two-way contract, receives. But such is life in the new-look NHL, where COVID-19 protocols have created all kinds of new rules this winter.
Forsberg was drafted by Columbus in 2011 and has 48 NHL games on his resumé with a 12-25-4 record, 3.22 goals-against-average and .922 save percentage. He's spent much of his career in the AHL, helping Lake Erie capture the Calder Cup in 2016.
As a result, the Jets now have three goalies, 13 forwards and seven defencemen on their active roster. Berdin, Vesalainen and fellow forward David Gustafsson, along with defencemen Logan Stanley and Dylan Samberg, form the current taxi squad. Stanley was bumped up to the big club Thursday when Dylan DeMelo missed the season opener to attend the birth of his child. Stanley was reassigned on Friday.
The Jets are likely to move Berdin to the Moose in a week or so, once Forsberg gets to town and finishes a week of self-isolation. He had remained in Edmonton as his playing rights were being pulled in multiple directions, but all Canadian provinces, including Manitoba, are requiring a seven-day quarantine for any players who travel in from another province, even if there is no such rule in place for regular citizens.
Those rules are waived for all Canadian teams as they charter between provinces this winter to play 56 games.
The Jets, who were off Friday following a season-opening 4-3 overtime victory over Calgary Thursday night, have also recalled depth forward Marko Dano from Dukla Trencin of Slovak Extraliga, where he had been on loan with the start of the new season delayed. Dano, 26, will report directly to the Moose, as he was placed on waivers earlier this month and cleared. He broke a hand while skating overseas but is fully recovered.
Teams can move players between the taxi squad and NHL team, and the AHL and taxi squad, all year. It's likely Dano, once he's back up to speed, could move up on the depth chart.
Winnipeg will return to practice on Saturday to get ready for a three-game road trip that begins Monday in Toronto.
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Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.