Martin Gerber was the big free-agent signing in the summer of 2006, but
ended up losing the job to Emery and never gained the confidence of his
teammates or the fans. He wound up being demoted to Binghamton of the AHL
and then dealt to the Leafs at the trade deadline last year.
Now Leclaire, acquired from the Columbus Blue Jackets along with a
second-round pick for forward Antoine Vermette, steps into the role, coming
off a season that was ended in January by surgery on his ankle.
It was the second time in the last three seasons Leclaire had his season
ended by injury. He hurt his knee in December, 2006 which led to surgery and
ended his season. He missed nine games late in the 2007-08 season with a
So, the big question is can Leclaire stay healthy?
“These things happen. I’m not the first guy to get hurt long term,” said the
26-year-old, wisely choosing not to dwell on the injuries or worry that he
might get hurt again.
“I’m more of a day-to-day guy. I take it as it comes and I was always
confident I’d come back healthy.”
“This is not really a comeback,” he corrected a questioner yesterday. “It’s
a new start.”
With Gerber having flamed out and journeyman Alex Auld and prospect Brian
Elliott tending the net, Senators GM Bryan Murray knew he had to upgrade the
goaltending position in the latter part of last year. With the rise of Steve
Mason as a star in Columbus, the injured Leclaire was a logical target.
“They were trying to make the playoffs and wanted a ‘today’ player and
they’d give up an asset to get him,” said Murray. “You don’t get a good
goaltender without playing a price. We think (Leclaire)’s upside is very
high. We took a little bit of a risk (because of the injury), but my feeling
is players do recover and can get back on track quickly.”
Murray wanted a goaltender who could bring an elusive quality here.
“One of the things this team has lacked is confidence,” said Murray, “and
this is another chance for it to happen.”
Leclaire, a native of Repentigny, Que., north of Montreal, knows the kind of
scrutiny a goalie gets in a Canadian city. He grew up idolizing Patrick Roy
and Martin Brodeur.
“I like them because they didn’t play like robots,” said Leclaire, who’s a
hybrid goaltender, blending both his own athletic style with some elements
of the butterfly school.
“There are going to be nights where he’s not going to look like the rest of
the goalies in the league,” said Senators goaltending coach Eli Wilson.
“He’s a goalie at heart with an old-school mentality. He’s quick and
powerful and he’s got his own way of doing things. He’s got patience and
will stay on his feet.
“He’s great to work with. He keeps things fairly loose and he’s open-minded
and has coachability, all the things we like to talk about.”
Senators coach Cory Clouston said he would like to see Leclaire play about
60 games, which would be the most he’s played in any season going back to
junior (he played 54 for the Blue Jackets in 2007-08 with nine shutouts and
a .919 save percentage).
Can he do it? Is he capable of staying healthy and becoming a bona fide
Leclaire was the top goaltender taken in the 2001 draft, eighth overall, six
picks behind Senators teammate Jason Spezza (as an aside, Emery was taken
99th overall and Gerber 232nd in that draft).
He comes in here with a fine pedigree, but the questions abound.
He’ll start answering them Saturday.