Leclaire's latest injury threatens to cripple career

BRUCE GARRIOCH, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:41 PM ET

Pascal Leclaire has never been able to live up to the hype in his NHL career.

That’s because he’s never been able to stay healthy.

There was no shock, only more eyebrows raised, when the Senators goaltender skated out of his net only 2:06 into the first period Thursday with a groin injury that will keep him out an unspecified amount of time.

It’s the latest in a long line of bumps and bruises on a promising but checkered career. The 28-year-old is in his sixth NHL season — the sixth straight season he’ll miss time with some kind of ailment.

Last season, Leclaire got hit on the bench with a puck in the face while he wasn’t even playing. Then, there was the shot to the head in the morning skate at Madison Square Garden that killed off any chance of getting the No. 1 job back from Brian Elliott.

If only Leclaire could spend less time in the doctor’s office and more time on the ice.

“It’s just too bad he can’t stay healthy,” a league executive said, “because I think when Leclaire is on top of his game, he’s a phenomenal goalie.

“He gets out of position because he moves so fast across the net, but there aren’t many who can move as quick as he does. It’s just hard to explain what has happened here. He’s had injuries ... some of them are just flukes. But you have to stay healthy.”

Making $4.8 million US this season and set to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1, Leclaire isn’t just trying to save the puck. He’s trying to save his career. If he can’t get the Senators into the playoffs, he’ll likely wind up as a backup or in Europe next season.

Leclaire isn’t just battling to stay in the NHL, either. He’s battling a fragile reputation.

That reputation took another hit when — after being the Senators’ best player through the first three games and two minutes of the season — he’s laying on the trainer’s table.

Indications are the groin isn’t the most serious injury he’s suffered, but it threatens to deal the biggest blow to his career.

“This guy was ready to take a major step and then this happened,” said Rogers Sportsnet analyst Doug MacLean, who, as Columbus Blue Jackets GM, drafted Leclaire eighth overall in 2001.

“I was sick to my stomach almost when I watched it.

‘Perception bump’

“This is a real crossroads for Pascal and I’d tell him that right to his face. He’s got to bounce back from this and show his teammates and his organization that he can overcome this. I think he will. I think this is just a tweak.

“I really believe he’ll overcome this because of what I’ve watched the last three games. This is just another bump for him, but this is a big bump ... It’s not the groin and it’s not the hand, it’s a perception bump.”

If Leclaire can bounce back, he’ll also be battling fears over when the next injury will occur.

If he can’t, his name will be added to the list on the infamous Senators’ goalie graveyard. Martin Gerber, Damian Rhodes, Tom Barrasso, Ron Tugnutt, Craig Billington and Patrick Lalime among them.

Leclaire can avoid that fate if he returns quickly.

“He has shown he can be a No. 1 goalie in this league, he just has to stay healthy,” said the executive.

The question is: Will that ever happen?


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