Is Mikael Tellqvist the real deal?

By Stephen J. Holodinsky

Is Mikael Tellqvist the real deal?

The average goaltender in the NHL doesn’t ever start to make a mark in the big time until he’s 24, 25 years old. Some take longer. Evgeni Nabokov, last season’s Calder Trophy Winner is a prime example of what is the normal incubation time for a starting netminder. Yes, there are exceptions like Robert Luongo and Tom Barrasso, both who were starting games before they were old enough to drink, but that’s what they were, exceptions. Jocelyn Thibault was thrown to the dogs at the age of 20 and although his won/loss record looks impressive this season, questions still abound. Jose Theodore, the league’s hottest puckstopper going into the Olympics was in the NHL at an early age but was well cocooned in Montreal behind Jeff Hackett and Thibault and it’s showing now.

Now take Mikael Tellqvist. He turned 22 last September before he’d ever played a game in North America. Many, upon hearing of his signing had already anointed him the Leafs back-up goalie for the 2001-2002 season, or at the very least the starter in St. John’s. Now he’s struggling in the AHL to the point that Sebastien Centomo, an afterthought in the Leafs pipeline, has stolen his thunder. What happened? First off, we we’re all to guilty of knee jerk reactionism, in that we expected so much from the kid, anything less than the Vezina would have been a disappointment.
Let’s be realistic here. Tellqvist had never played the North American game, Centomo had a lifetime’s worth of experience. Was it any surprise that the latter out-performed the former this season? Let’s look at the Swedish puckstopper a year from now and see what he’s doing. Any gravedigging before then is premature.

Does Nathan Dempsey deserve to be in Toronto fulltime?

Nathan Dempsey, for years it seems, has been the symbol for many woulda-coulda-shoulda-been NHLers that if you persevere you too can make it in the big show. Chronically too light to play his position at the pro level, the Alberta native has been the good soldier for years, putting in his time on The Rock. No doubt he figured that if he consistently delivered there, which he has, he would get his chance at that elusive major league salary. Instead, he’s seen the likes of Tomas Kaberle and Danny Markov promoted ahead of him, and Cory Cross, Bryan McCabe, Dave Manson, Aki Berg, Wade Belak, Anders Eriksson, and Jyrki Lumme airlifted in over his head. He’s even watch Petr Svoboda and Karel Pilar get auditions with the big club that should have been his by rights. From that point of view, it sounds like he’s gotten a bum steer.

But there is more to it than that. Remember, the Leafs have had Dempsey in their system for a good many years. While those in the blueliners camp might have seen consistency, those in the Leafs camp have seen stagnation. What you see now is what you’ve seen for years with the pride of Spruce Grove, Alberta and what you’ll see for the foreseeable future. Kaberle, Markov, Pilar, and Svoboda all have considerable upsides to their games. Manson is no longer with the team, Cross is being squeezed out of the rotation and Eriksson is now in the AHL. Even Belak has improved his puckhandling and skating as of late and with Domi in the last year of his contract, he’s going to have to be part of the lineup in future years as long as Gary Bettman is pro-fighting. In short, the fact that he was passed over in the waiver draft in September only underlined the fact that it may indeed be time for the weekend warrior in all of us to adopt a new hero. This one has just about outlived his usefulness.