Hundreds of minor league goalies can spend their entire career in a tireless fight for the elusive opportunity to become the next diamond in the rough. Then there are others that finally reach their penultimate goal of starting an NHL game, but like a dream, it lasts just one night and dissolves in a rude awakening when they are quickly demoted back to a place they really don’t want to be.
But every year there are a few call-ups that become the called-upon, and turn themselves into the main source of their team’s sudden surge. So for all of the struggles that Ty Conklin has faced over the last five seasons, his sudden resurfacing with the Penguins since Marc-Andre Fleury’s injury is a tremendous story in goaltending retribution.
It all started exactly one month ago when the Penguins summoned Conklin from Wilkes-Barre Scranton on emergency recall. At the time, many of the coaches and staff within the organization (and those pseudo-analysts like me) believed that he would only serve as Dany Sabourin's backup, nothing more, and would return to the baby Pens the moment Fleury was off the IR. In fact, the spotlight was mainly on Sabourin, as it was his chance to take advantage of the experience he gained playing behind Roberto Luongo in Vancouver last season. For the time being, it looked to be his team and nobody else’s.
But we all know that many have tried and many have failed. Turns out, it was just not in the stars for Dany, so Conklin, the persistent Alaskan native, was given another chance to display some poise and consistency for a young team desperately in need of veteran goaltending. Rumors were already flying around that the Penguins were actively seeking a goalie to serve as a fill-in. But like many organizations, there’s always an “evaluation” period of time in which they allow the goaltender to show what he’s made of. This saves money and can salvage a general manager from making a capricious decision.
While it’s tough to call Conklin a veteran since he’s only played in 84 NHL games, the experiences he’s faced since his first call-up with the Edmonton Oilers in the 2001-02 season certainly warrants it. He was tossed around like a rag doll the past two seasons, being waived by the Oilers in February 2006, then waived by the Columbus Blue Jackets and sent back down to the AHL just before the 2006-07 season started. Then he was traded to Buffalo in February 2007 at the trade deadline, left unprotected by the Sabres and then signed as a free agent by Pittsburgh at the start of this season.
So Conklin has legitimately turned into the feel-good story of the season, winning seven straight games, including two by shutout, one against Buffalo – his former team – and the second against Florida on Friday. If Ty continues playing this way, which certainly seems like that’s the path he’s heading down, management will face some difficult decisions when Fleury returns. But there are many reasons why Conklin has solidified his spot on the roster, despite the fact that he’s only an “emergency recall.”