The New York Rangers have two questions to answer in the wake of Henrik Lundqvist's vascular injury that will sideline the goalie for at least three weeks.
1) Do they think Cam Talbot can be a No. 1 goalie without a reliable backup until Lundqvist returns?
Lundqvist to miss at least three weeks
New York Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist will miss at least three weeks with a vascular injury sustained Jan. 31 against the Carolina Hurricanes. READ MORE ›
If Lundqvist is out for three weeks he'll miss at least 12 games, including the one he missed Wednesday. The Rangers have two sets of back-to-backs in that timeframe.
2) Do they need to acquire a veteran goalie to work in tandem with Talbot until Lundqvist is able to return, provided he is able to return this season?
The Rangers basically admitted Friday they're not 100 percent certain on the three-week timetable. The statement they released left open the possibility Lundqvist will be out longer.
"Henrik will remain sidelined at least three weeks, until he is reevaluated and we have completed the process of conferring with the medical experts," the Rangers said in the statement.
What we know is the Rangers will play the Nashville Predators on Saturday with Talbot as their No. 1 and Mackenzie Skapski as his backup. They went with that lineup on an emergency basis Wednesday, when Talbot made 18 saves in a 3-2 win against the Boston Bruins.
This is not an emergency situation for the Rangers anymore. It's actually quite similar to what the St. Louis Blues faced earlier this season when Brian Elliott went down with an injury on Nov. 25.
The Blues didn't want to give all the reps to rookie Jake Allen and have him backed up with an American Hockey League goalie, so they signed Martin Brodeur to help carry them until Elliott could return.
Once Elliott was back, he resumed his job as the No. 1 goalie, Allen went back to No. 2, and Brodeur retired.
Talbot is similar to Allen in that he has been effective but in a limited role. He has started more than two consecutive NHL games once. He has appeared in 33 games dating to last season. Allen had 23 NHL appearances when Elliott was injured.
The Rangers, like the Blues, don't appear enamored by what they have ready and available to them in the AHL.
Skapski has never appeared in an NHL game, but he was recalled over Yann Danis, who has 53 games of NHL experience. Danis hasn't played in an NHL game in nearly two years (March 10, 2013), and his numbers in Hartford aren't all that impressive (2.69 GAA and .915 save percentage in 17 appearances).
If the Rangers choose to stand pat and give all the reps to Talbot with either Skapski or Danis as his backup, it's because they have built an eight-point cushion in the standings for a Stanley Cup Playoff spot and believe Lundqvist won't be out any longer than three weeks.
If the Rangers stand pat, it could be because the 2015 NHL Trade Deadline isn't until March 2, which falls after the three-week timetable. That gives them time to wait and see if Lundqvist is going to be out for the projected time or longer.
Waiting is risky. What if the Rangers wait and it becomes clear that three weeks is going to turn into three months, or longer, and the goalies who are available in a trade now are no longer available when they want to act? What if the Rangers wait and Talbot falters in these next 12 games? Teams will know the Rangers are in a bind and will drive up the price in trades.
Talbot might be able to handle the job as the No. 1 goalie, and Lundqvist might be out three weeks, but the Rangers wouldn't be protecting themselves by waiting.
There are options available to them if they choose the trade market.
Buffalo Sabres goalies Jhonas Enroth and Michal Neuvirth and Edmonton Oilers goalie Viktor Fasth fit the bill for what the Rangers need, which is an experienced goalie playing on an expiring contract that includes a reasonable NHL salary-cap charge.
It's unclear what any of them would cost in terms of assets in a trade because the market for goalies at this time of the year is fluid, but all three appear to be available.
Enroth is the best option because of his $1.25 million salary-cap charge. Neuvirth's cap charge is $2.5 million, and Fasth's is $2.9 million.
Washington Capitals goalie Justin Peters could be an attractive option, but he's signed through next season.
Evgeni Nabokov was recently waived by the Tampa Bay Lightning, but the question with him is does he have enough left to be an injury replacement even if it means starting only a few games?
Regardless of how the Rangers feel about Talbot, there is no guarantee the answer to question No. 1 is "Yes," and there is no guarantee Lundqvist will be back in three weeks. The Rangers would be better off protecting themselves by saying "Yes" to question No. 2 and acting quickly to address it.