Carolina Hurricanes goalie Manny Legace has faced a fair share of adversity in his career. After being drafted by the Hartford Whalers in the eighth round of the 1993 Entry Draft, the franchise apparently gave up on him and traded the young goalie to the Los Angeles Kings in 1998 for a conditional draft pick.
The Kings let him go shortly after that and he was eventually signed as a free agent by Detroit in 1999, but they put him on waivers early that season. The Red Wings had not completely given up on him though and claimed him back off the waiver wire a bit later. He stayed with the Wings for several years after that.
Playing the role of backup is nothing new to the veteran. While he was in Detroit, he served as understudy to the likes of Chris Osgood, Dominik Hasek, and Curtis Joseph. Not only was he a suitable backup, he stepped up and played a major role when one or more of the star goalies went down to injury.
In the 2000-01 season, he had a 24-5-5 record. In 2005-06, when Joseph and Hasek both fell to injuries, (and each had respective salaries of $8 million and $10 million), Legace held the fort with a 37-8-3 record at a fraction of the cost. Unfortunately for the goalie, when the Oilers eliminated the Wings in the first round of the playoffs that postseason, Legace got the brunt of the blame and was released that summer.
The St. Louis Blues signed the goalie that offseason and Legace played well enough to earn an All Star bid in 2008. Still, the netminder has not received much recognition. After three years with St. Louis, he was not offered another contract and was looking for work last summer. He was eventually given a tryout during the preseason by Atlanta, but was released before the season started.
The Canes picked him up from the Thrashers' AHL affiliate in Chicago back in November when Cam Ward was injured with a lacerated leg.
"I've been under-appreciated my whole career, but that's helped me to keep my head small, " Legace joked one day after practice. "But I made it to an All Star game and I've had some good years."
I asked the goalie how he was able to keep mentally prepared as a backup.
"I have been very fortunate to play with some real professionals, guys like Chris Chelios and Nicklas Lidstrom. You spend some time with guys like that and you learn what focus is all about."
Legace has not exactly had an easy stay in Carolina and had to compete with Michael Leighton in order to keep the backup job when Ward returned to action. But the veteran out-played Leighton, forcing the Hurricanes to put their previous second string goalie on waivers.
Now that Ward is out again, this time with a back problem, Legace has done more than his part to hold the fort. He has a 5-0-0 record with a save percentage of .941, a GAA of 1.59, and has the team's only shutout of the season.
But despite all of this success, Legace will probably be back to square one when the season is over and will be looking for a new contract from another NHL team. The emergence of Justin Peters means that the youngster will probably be Cam Ward's understudy next season.
Still, don't count out Manny Legace. He's been a fighter and a scrambler his entire career and he is making a good case for himself to get an NHL contract again next season, even if it is not with the Hurricanes.
He will have his hands full tonight in the Nation's Capital, but the Caps would do well not to under-estimate him.
Although, that's just the way the goalie likes it.
(We will have the game preview up at about 2 this afternoon.)