The “soap opera” that has been the Canucks’ goaltending situation has quieted down this season after a couple years of drama surrounding the position. The instability started in earnest during the 2011 Stanley Cup finals when Roberto Luongo melted down against the Bruins, which was followed by two seasons of controversy as Cory Schneider took over as the number one netminder and the team valiantly tried to deal Luongo.
No trade was forthcoming, however, as Luongo’s large contract deterred teams from making an offer General Manager Mike Gillis found appealing. The inability to trade Luongo resulted in Gillis going a different direction, trading Schneider on Draft Day last summer to New Jersey for a pick that turned into top prospect Bo Horvat.
This meant Luongo was back as the starter, and after a summer of uncertainty where no one was really sure what Luongo was thinking, he returned to the team and has performed solidly all season long.
The trickle down effect of the trade was to open the backup goaltender spot in the organization. There was much speculation that the team would acquire a veteran to backup Luongo, but in a somewhat surprising move, the team decided to go with Swedish rookie Eddie Lack. Lack has been a solid fill in, but more might be needed now that Luongo is sidelined with a lower body injury.
So who is Eddie Lack, and how did he make his way into this critical role with the team?
Lacks’ Early Days in Sweden
Lack, who turns 26 on January 5th, began his professional career in the second rung of the Swedish league. He played for Leksands IF, with his first full year at this level coming in 2008-09. He registered a strong performance, finishing with a 2.02 goals against average and a .930 save percentage as a 21 year old.
Eddie Lack, known as The Stork due to his long, lanky build, moved up to Sweden’s top league the following season, backing up Jacob Markstrom for Brynas IF. Lack had a solid season once again, compiling a 2.67 GAA and a .911 save percentage.
Though Lack showed potential as a goalie prospect, he was never drafted by an NHL team. He caught the attention of the Vancouver Canucks, however, and he was signed as a free agent to join the organization in April 2010.
Strong Play in the AHL
Lack began his North American career with the Canucks top minor league affiliate in Manitoba of the American Hockey League. He continued his steady progress during the 2010-11 season, posting a 2.26 GAA and .926 save percentage, figures that landed him a spot on the league’s all-rookie team. He helped the Moose advance to the second round of the playoffs, and then earned a call up to Vancouver for the team’s post season run.
The Canucks relocated the franchise to Chicago the next season, and Lack again posted strong numbers with a 2.31 GAA and a .925 save percentage. He was firmly entrenched as the organization’s third goaltender, and he was seemingly just a Luongo trade from moving up to the big club.
Injury Derails Lack’s Progress
Unfortunately, things did not quite go as planned for the Swede. First, the lockout happened and all player movement at the NHL level was halted. This meant Lack was destined to stay in the AHL until the labor dispute ended and Luongo was moved.
But even this scenario never came to pass, as Lack suffered a season ending hip injury early in 2012-13 campaign. He only played in 13 games with Chicago, and continued to be stuck behind two all-star caliber players in Vancouver.
Eddie Lack’s Strong Start to NHL career
The Schneider trade then took place in the summer of 2013, and the speculation began about who would provide relief for Luongo. Vancouver signed another Swedish netminder, Joacim Eriksson, as a possible candidate for the position, but it became clear he needed some AHL seasoning before being ready for the big stage.
With Lack coming off an injury, there was some question whether he would be ready to step into the backup role, but his strong play in training camp (and a tight budget) convinced the Canucks Lack was ready for the big time.
In his limited play so far, Lack has proven to be a solid backup for Luongo. He has started seven games and relieved Luongo in four others, compiling a sterling 1.93 GAA and .928 save percentage. He has a 6-2 won-loss record, and recorded his first NHL shutout against Carolina on December 9. He also persevered to a shootout win over the Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks in December, showing that he can have success against the NHL’s best.
Luongo went down early in the game Sunday against Winnipeg, but with the week-long Christmas break giving him time to recover, it is unclear if Lack will need to take on a more full time role.
Lack’s Twitter Presence
The Canuck’s already had one goalie with a famous twitter account in Luongo’s @strombone1 persona, but Lack has also made his presence felt in social media. Lack has more than 35,000 followers on his @eddielack account, and his self-deprecating humor has increased his popularity.
Luongo himself has engaged with lack in a humorous way on twitter, as a recent tweet demonstrated, in response to Lack’s glee at getting to dine with his idol:
@eddielack looking forward to the wine, dining minus the 69ing…..
— Strombone (@strombone1) December 21, 2013
Lack’s strong performance on and off the ice makes him a strong heir apparent to Luongo in Vancouver. The more confidence Coach John Tortorella has in lack, the more he can rest Luongo in anticipation of his possible Olympics appearance and hopefully a meaningful playoff run. The team’s faith in Lack has paid off so far, and if Luongo needs significant rehab, it will be fun to see how the rookie performs as the main man.