They like this goalie ‘problem’

Times Staff Writer

The careful handling of an often fragile package, a 19-year-old goaltender, is crowding into the active mind of Dean Lombardi, worrying the Kings’ president and general manager.

“This kid has thrown me for a loop,” he said during practice in El Segundo.

The kid is rookie goaltender Jonathan Bernier. Adults might be concerned about long-term implications, but the teenager has seemed blissfully immune to big league pressures, especially in his NHL debut, a winning effort, on Saturday in London.


“It’s still early. Way early,” Lombardi said. “But it’s a good problem to have.”

That cuts both ways. The Kings have the luxury of some time before a decision is truly necessary. Should Bernier play in 10 games, then it counts as one year in his three-year entry-level NHL contract. That would not be triggered if he is sent back to his junior team in Lewiston, Maine, before his 10th game.

So Lombardi is doing research. To that end, he said he recently called Glen Sather to ask the New York Rangers’ president and general manager how he handled then-19-year-old goalie Grant Fuhr while with the Edmonton Oilers in the 1981-82 season. Lombardi said Sather told him about Fuhr being out of shape.

Former King and Oiler Marty McSorley, who was watching practice with Lombardi on Thursday, ended up in Edmonton a few years after Fuhr’s rookie season. McSorley remembers that the team had Fuhr run the arena stairs in a garbage bag to drop weight.

McSorley also said that Sather had a stern father-son talk with Fuhr after the young goalie famously ripped the fans after getting booed that first season. Lombardi paused and thought about his chat with Sather, saying: “He didn’t tell me that.”

With J.S. Aubin’s right groin injury improving, the Kings will soon have three healthy goalies and that could force their hand.

“Right now, we have just played it a day at a time and I think we’ll continue to keep playing it that way,” said Coach Marc Crawford, who will name a starting goalie today for Saturday’s home opener against the St. Louis Blues. “I know long-term it’s not the optimum way you want to advance but right now, it’s what we think is the best thing for our club.”

The Kings said a limited number of tickets remain for the home opener.

The team expects a sellout, which isn’t always a certainty around the NHL these days.

In Detroit, an announced crowd of 17,610 -- 2,456 shy of capacity -- went to Wednesday night’s Ducks-Red Wings game, ending a streak of 396 consecutive home sellouts. And the Colorado Avalanche failed to sell out its home opener against Dallas, falling short by about 500. This was a first for the Avalanche at the Pepsi Center.