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Suddenly A Dilemma Arises For Binghamton Devils In Net

The NJ Devils declined to offer a qualifying offer to goalie Ken Appleby earlier this week, and I believe this might haunt the Devils’ Organization unless they come to terms very soon

Photo provided by Alicia Strauch

The NJDevils declined to offer a QO to Ken Appleby it was announced last Monday.

Although, there is word that the two parties are currently negotiating a new deal, I have some issues from the past season to address regarding the goaltenders and what’s for the upcoming season in Binghamton. The overall assumption is you can only go so far as a goaltender will take you. As often as the defense comes to use, or not, they are totally relied upon to lead the way.

In the past when Ottawa was running the show for the B-Sens, who spent 15 seasons here as the parent club that included a Calder Cup Championship, the charge in that regular season was led by veteran goaltender Barry Brust. But an injury forced him to ride the pine after opening the series with the Manchester Monarchs and as a result, the reigns were handed over to rookie Robin Lehner after being down three games to one after four.

Lehner then went on a tear the rest of the way as the City of Binghamton finally obtained the ultimate prize in 2011 that included a Playoff MVP trophy behind the rookie netminder. Although it was a bumpy ride throughout his time in Binghamton for Robin, I have always been focused on goalies with this latest season being no exception.

Too Many Moves In-Between The Pipes

There was a culture shock in the unexpected change of the goaltender’s scenery last season for the Binghamton Devils. Part of the start in early October was the tandem of Scotty Wedgewood and Mackenzie Blackwood that would assumingly lead the BDevils out of the gate, with Appleby playing in Adirondack for the Thunder of the ECHL.

But that was just the beginning of a revolving door. No one anticipated things that changed with Wedegewood then traded a short time later to the Colorado Avalanche in exchanged for a fifth-round pick. The Avalanche eventually dealt away Wedgewood and forward Tobias Rieder for goaltender Darcy Kuemper soon after.

Next move for the Devils was Eddie Lack and his nearly $3 million salary welcomed into the equation in a trade for defenseman Dalton Prout. In hindsight, Prout would’ve been a nice addition for Binghamton, as the defense here was just plain brutal and could’ve used the services of a veteran like him on the blueline.

Lack played poorly in his short stint for the BDevils and was often out with a nagging lower body injury that sidelined him for more games then played.

Enter Ken Appleby

At 6’ 4”, 210 lbs. the quick agility he possessed was put to the test with his sudden reflexes for a big guy and his ability to control the rebounds in front of what was a porous defense in Binghamton.

Photo provided by Alicia Strauch

If there was one thing to say about Appleby and his performance last year (10-13-1-0, 2.76 GAA 0.901 SV%) in his third professional season, was his ability to block shots at ease including his brief time representing the big club for New Jersey. The 23-year-old netminder proved he belonged despite his undrafted status.

Getting back to my point from the beginning, NJ needs to give Appleby his due diligence and offer him a new contract on July 1st.

Sure there are some fans that don’t care in what transpires on “the farm”. However, those same fans should not ignore the importance on a winning culture and what it could possibly transpire up top as it begins with developing players in the AHL with a positive atmosphere.

I have seen Appleby in just about all his games last season and it would be a regrettable decision on the Devils part to have him simply walk.

Besides, Appleby responded quiet well for New Jersey with a 1.45 GAA and a 0.945 SV% in three appearances. He’s a valuable piece in-between the pipes in moving forward. At least I would hope, as to simply give up on him would surely be a mistake.

Un-Drafted Cam Johnson

Although Johnson appeared in three starts late last season for the BDevils, (0-1-0, 3.90 GAA, 0.876 GAA) I wasn’t able to catch his games as all were on the road. The 6’ 1”, 205lbs. native out of Troy, MI is soon to be 24 years-old in July.

2016 NCAA Division I Men’s Hockey Championships Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

I’ve been down this road too many times before with the latest experiment gone wrong with ex-Ottawa Senators’ goaltender Matt O’ Conner and I am not prepared to repeat the same results in rushing Johnson just to save face of letting Appleby walk.

Mackenzie Blackwood is 21 and is the only drafted player amongst the three as a 2nd round pick in 2015 and had some struggles of his own that resulted of him being sent down mid-season to Adirondack to help find his game. He never did as his final line was 7-17-1-0, 3.41 GAA 0.882 SV% in 32 for the BDevils in his second season in the pros.

A scenario of a Blackwood/Johnson tandem in Binghamton scares the hell out of me. Here we have not one, but two potential goaltenders under 24-years-old leading an AHL club with less combined pro experience than Appleby.

Sure there is always an option to bring on a veteran to help along the process, but there is no sure thing that the naturalization would flow without some flaws. Just ask Eddie Lack.

Give me an Appleby/Blackwood tandem in Binghamton while Johnson seeing some important time playing in the ECHL at the start in October. It would avoid bad optics and a scenario that can be avoided.

Give Appleby a contract that he has earned.