Being a Florida Panthers’ fan is hard enough as it is, but news of goalie Roberto Luongo’s injury hit like a lead balloon.
The netminder will be for two to four weeks after leaving the season opener on Saturday with a lower body injury. It was a freak thing, with teammate Frank Vatrano falling on Luongo.
The diagnosis is an MCL strain in his right leg and the prognosis is, to wax Seinfeldian, negative.
What that means is that the Panthers are already facing hardship and their quest to return to the post-season after two years out of the dance just got harder. They’ll turn to backup James Reimer to do the deed.
Reimer was signed to a five-year deal worth $17 million in July of 2016 and his role with the Panthers was always clear. He’s been a solid backup and performs well under pressure, which makes him a decent-to-good buy for this exact situation.
Last season, Reimer delivered on a career-high 42 starts with Luongo out with an injury.
So yes, this is familiar terrain.
Where things break down from here is in the arrival of Michael Hutchinson, who was inked to a one-year deal this off-season and was intended to be Florida’s starter in the AHL. The outside plan was always that he’d get the call if injury struck, but few people expected said injury to strike in the opening contest.
That means Hutchinson, who was drafted by Boston in 2008 and who spent three seasons in the Bruins’ system without seeing a game in the NHL and who went to Winnipeg in 2013 and finally played hockey, may see some action.
Hutchinson played 102 games for the Jets and amassed 43 wins with a .910 save percentage. Last season, he won 17 of 26 games with the Moose. In one start with Florida’s AHL affiliate Springfield Thunderbirds, he posted a .957 save percentage.
There are other goalies Florida could call on, like Sam Montembeault or even Chris Driedger, but it probably won’t come to that unless Reimer goes down and Hutchinson turns out to be a disaster.
The point of all this is that Reimer can and will shoulder the load in Florida just fine. And this window of opportunity will shine a light on what’s to come for the Panthers, which is a system full of goalies that, more than ever, have to be at the ready with Luongo’s career winding down.