If you’re a Lightning fan, you’ve probably heard by now about the drama that engulfed the Boltosphere on Friday and Saturday. We still don’t completely know what happened, but it ended with goaltending prospect Riku Helenius being suspended for breach of contract.
He’s probably headed home to Finland. Again. After having been shunted aside by the Tampa Bay Lightning. Again. [UPDATE: This afternoon, it was announced that Helenius will report to the Florida Everblades, his ECHL team, but won't play there since they have two goalies. The team will continue to try to work out a trade.]
This post isn’t really about the whys and wherefores of Helenius being replaced in net by Kristers Gudlevskis. There are reasons and reasons for that to have happened at some point this season. But as Alex Ackerman (Chairman How’s Glorious Army, Raw Charge) points out, it didn’t have to happen the way it did. Everyone made choices here about what to do and how to do it and some of those choices were bad choices and people got hurt along the way.
Everyone gets hurt, of course. It’s part of life. But sometimes folks choose to do things in such a way as to not minimize the hurt, and “it’s a business” only goes so far in absolving people of that.
It is at this point that I acknowledge that some of my readers may not have been following the Tampa Bay Lightning goaltending prospect pipeline all that closely and may not quite know what the hell I’m talking about. And really, there’s enough drama here to make this a very long post indeed.
In the end, I suppose what matters here are four facts:
- Riku Helenius was not playing well enough to hold onto his spot with the Syracuse Crunch or to make the jump to the NHL.
- Riku Helenius is a good guy who’s going through a tough time both personally and professionally.
- The Tampa Bay Lightning’s management made choices that compounded the effects of those first two things.
- And Riku Helenius made choices that compounded it all once more.
It wouldn’t have harmed anyone–not the team, not the players, not the franchise–to find Helenius a spot before promoting Gudlevskis. We are, after all, talking about a difference of a few weeks in a season that’s basically in the toilet anyway. Even if it had taken two months, waiting would not have made a difference to anyone but Riku Helenius.
The Crunch’s problem in December was not simply goaltending and their problem now isn’t simply goaltending. While Gudlevskis unquestionably deserved promotion, he isn’t going to save this team by himself. Honestly, another two months in the ECHL wouldn’t have harmed him. As much as he needs AHL challenges, we’re talking about a small amount of time in the long run. And it would have been the morally right thing to do, a simple thing. A kindness.
None of that absolves Helenius of his mistakes, of course. Whatever one thinks of his chances of coming back and salvaging this season for himself, his choice to leave his team stranded was less than professional and horribly timed. We don’t know what prompted his decision or what had been communicated to him before he left. We don’t know whether a callup to Syracuse was coming his way if he’d waited a few hours. All we know is that by leaving when he did, he became the center of an unfolding story that exposed once again the poor choices that were surrounding him.
What I keep coming back to is that the Lightning/Crunch, in their rush to make one right decision, made a wrong one and the wrong decision had consequences for a human being. And we now have a young man having to start his life over again. While this is the reality of the business of pro sports, it still hurts. We’re allowed to feel sympathy for other people, even when it’s just life that’s screwing them over.
I wish Helenius the best in everything. I believe that God puts us in places where we need to be when we need to be there, and that sometimes rejection is actually an answered prayer. But it hurts in the meantime. And the world is a better place when we minimize hurt to the best of our ability, whether we’re in a business or not.
For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future. Jeremiah 29:11