Posted on: November 3, 2011 7:15 pm
Edited on: November 3, 2011 7:18 pm
By: Adam Gretz
There are few positions in professional sports that get as much attention and face as much scrutiny as starting goaltenders in the NHL. There are also few positions that are as unpredictable, uncertain, maddening and completely random.
Tim Thomas, the winner of two of the past three Vezina Trophies, is probably the best one in the league right now, and he didn't become a full-time starter until he was 32 years old after being a ninth-round draft pick and bounced around Europe and the minor leagues for nearly a decade.
Pekka Rinne, the Nashville Predators goaltender who just signed a contract that gives him the highest average annual salary in the league at the position (seven years, $49 million), is another example as to just how unpredictable the position can be. During an interview back in 2006, former Predators assistant and current Penguins general manager Ray Shero told the story of how the team initially scouted Rinne prior to making him an eighth-round draft pick in 2004 -- they watched him during warmups in Finland because he rarely played in games for Karpat Oulu, a team in the Finnish Elite League. Actually, he appeared in 10 games, winning eight, during the 2004-05 season, but the first night Shero joined a scout, Janne Kekalainen, to watch him was during warmups. Said Shero in the interview: "I watch him and he's taking shots and I turned to Janne after warmup and said, 'It's your call, buddy.' I can barely draft a goalie during the game let alone warmup. "
Needless to say their decision to draft him has paid off, Rinne has become their starting goaltender, a key member of their core, along with Shea Weber and Ryan Suter, and now, one of the highest-paid players in the NHL.
But was it the right move to give him such a large contract?
I'm not going to deny that Rinne is an excellent goaltender, and based on the way the team around him has played so far this season he's probably their first month MVP. It's also encouraging that the Predators were able to secure one of their home-grown players, and perhaps it's a sign that they will maybe, hopefully be able to keep one -- or both -- of their other soon-to-be top free agents (Weber and Suter). But I'm just not sold on giving out such huge contracts to goalies because, again, the position is just full of so much uncertainty, and one that can be heavily influenced by the team in front of the crease.
Over the past eight years the Predators have had no trouble finding goaltenders that are able to play at a high level, and in almost every season have managed to post a similar save percentage and finish well above (or close to) the league average no matter what their primary goaltending duo has looked like -- whether it was Rinne and Anders Lindback, Rinne and Dan Ellis, Ellis and Chris Mason, or Mason and Tomas Vokoun.
(League average in parenthesis)
2010-11: Pekka Rinne/Anders Lindback -- .926 (.913)
2009-10: Pekka Rinne/Dan Ellis -- .910 (.911)
2008-09: Pekka Rinne/Dan Ellis -- .910 (.908)
2007-08: Dan Ellis/Chris Mason -- .911 (.909)
2006-07: Tomas Vokoun/Chris Mason -- .922 (.905)
2005-06: Tomas Vokoun/Chris Mason -- .916 (.901)
2003-04: Tomas Vokoun/Chris Mason -- .912 (.911)
2002-03: Tomas Vokoun/Mike Dunham -- .911 (.909)
2001-02: Tomas Vokoun/Mike Dunham -- .903 (.908)
2000-01: Tomas Vokoun/Mike Dunham -- .917 (.903)
I'm not sure Rinne can consistently duplicate the .930 save percentage he recorded last season when he finished as a runner-up for the Vezina Trophy, and if he's back around the .915-920 area that is his career average, how much worse would they have been with a combination of Lindback and a free agent signing at a fraction of the price next season?
Like the situation in Phoenix with Mike Smith replacing Ilya Bryzgalov, there would have been a drop, but probably not as large as most would expect, or as large as the gap in salary would indicate, especially given the amount of success players like Mason and Ellis have been able to experience in Nashville (and how how much they've struggled away from Nashville). Keep in mind, Ellis, Mason and Rinne all experienced seasons with the Predators where they finished in the top-10 in the NHL in save percentage. They've consistently been able to find productive goaltenders without breaking the bank, why couldn't they continue to do it?
In the salary cap NHL every dollar counts and the wrong contract can have a large negative impact on a franchise, especially when it's a team that may or may not have an endless supply of money to keep other core players. I guess, in the end, it just goes back to my dislike of such large contracts for a position that is so unpredictable, even with seemingly established players, combined with the belief that players like Weber and Suter are simply more valuable to what they do for the long-term.
As E.J. Hradek pointed out on Twitter earlier in the day, it's a lot easier (and cheaper) to find quality goaltenders than it is to find franchise defensemen.
Photo: Getty Images
Posted on: November 2, 2011 4:13 pm
Edited on: November 29, 2011 5:36 pm
Pucks and Numbers: a weekly statistical look at what's happening around the NHL. This week: how big of a drop has Phoenix experience in goal with Mike Smith replacing Ilya Bryzgalov
By: Adam Gretz
A lot has been made about the early struggles of Ilya Bryzgalov in Philadelphia to start the season, but there hasn't been much discussion about the goalie -- Mike Smith -- that's been asked to replace him in Phoenix, and how much of a dropoff there has been from one season to the next.
Bryzgalov had an outstanding run in Phoenix after being claimed on waivers during the 2007-08 season and proved himself to be one of the better goaltenders in the NHL. We know he's better than Smith, and that the Coyotes would have some large shoes to fill in his absence, but how much of an impact has the drop from him to Smith had on the Coyotes through the first 10 games of the season?
The answer so far: not that much.
When I spoke to Smith over the summer shortly after he signed a two-year contract with the Coyotes, one of the things we talked about was head coach Dave Tippett and his defensive system and how favorable such a system can be for a goalie. Said Smith back in July: "There are systems that are favorable to goalies because you're going to get more shots from the outside. There's not going to be as many scoring chances from the great scoring chance areas in the middle of the ice. For me, with my size and my ability, if I feel like I can get a lot of shots from the outside, I'm going to do my best and have a good opportunity to make those saves."
Of course, that's not really unique to the Coyotes. Every team in the NHL wants to keep the play away from the middle of the ice and limit the number of shots they allow to actually get on net. After all, you're never going to hear a coach say, "yeah, our goal is to give up a ton of shots and scoring chances and let our goalie try to bail us out every shift."
Still, under Tippett's watch the Coyotes have been a very smart, disciplined team defensively and not only have had some underrated defensemen, they've also had a lot of excellent defensive forwards, all of which makes a goaltenders job just a little bit easier. And goaltenders have had their share of success playing for Tippett in Dallas and Phoenix.
Bryzgalov's two best seasons in the NHL came while playing under Tippett's system in Phoenix. Smith had previous experience with him in Dallas for parts of two seasons in the mid-2000's, a stretch that also produced some of his best hockey at the NHL level. And while we're on the subject of coaches, don't discount the impact of goalie coach Sean Burke. I've had more than one Coyotes player tell me over the past year-and-a-half that Burke had a positive impact on Bryzgalov's development, while Smith himself said he was looking forward to the oppurtunity to learn from him.
So how much of a difference are we talking about this season with Smith in goal?
Here's a look at the performance of the Coyotes goalies at this point in the season over the past three seasons. The goalies in each season: 2011-12 -- Mike Smith and Jason LaBarbera; 2010-11 -- Ilya Bryzgalov and Jason Labarbera; 2009-10 -- Ilya Bryzgalov and Jason Labarbera.
The 2009-10 gave up so few goals at that point mainly because they weren't allowing any shots on goal, taking quite a bit of pressure off the two goalies. So far this season there has been a slight been a drop from where they were a year ago, which should be expected (again, Smith isn't as good as Bryzgalov) but it hasn't been all that large.
Actually, it's been quite insignificant. At least not as large as the $8 million difference in salary for this season would indicate. At the current pace the Coyotes would only give up an extra two or three goals per 500 even-strength shots (which can be a more accurate measure of goaltending talent). And if that turns out to be the case, how much are they really going to miss Bryzgalov?
Photo: Getty Images
Posted on: October 31, 2011 3:08 pm
Edited on: October 31, 2011 6:42 pm
By: Adam Gretz
Less than a week after Ilya Bryzgalov faced the Philadelphia media following a 9-8 loss to the Winnipeg Jets -- a game that saw him give up four goals on 10 shots -- and talk about how he has no confidence in himself and how terrible he is (his words, not mine), the Flyers organization is trying to put a muzzle on their $51 million goaltender by limiting the media's access to him.
This, of course, has sparked a bit of an outrage with the writers in Philadelphia for a variety of reasons. Travis Hughes at Broad Street Hockey has a collection of their complaints, and counters by asking why the focus isn't on WHY the Flyers are cutting back on Bryzgalov's access, which seems to be a valid question (more on that in a minute).
There are, of course, a number of reasons as to why the Philadelphia media is so upset about this. For one, Bryzgalov is one of the highest paid players in the NHL, a player that is now the face of the franchise after everything the team went through to acquire and sign him this summer, and a player that is supposed to solve what was considered to be their biggest weakness. He is one of the top players on the team and an important aspect of the team's coverage.
And he's also one of the best quotes and most interesting interviews in the entire league. It's bad news all around for the local scribes.
According to Flyers beat writer Tim Panaccio, the initial policy put forth by the Flyers was going to limit the media's access to Bryzgalov to only post-game interviews, but that has apparently already been revised. As per the revision, Bryzgalov will not be meeting with the press on the day of games before game-time, or the day before games. Sam Charidi said in a Tweet that the Philadelphia chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers Association filed a complaint regarding the situation and the team could face fines for not giving access.
UPDATE: The dispute was resolved with the decision to make Bryzgalov on non-game days.
This all comes after the team's goalie coach, Jeff Reese, talked over the weekend about how Bryzgalov's daily interviews were a "distraction" and could be contributing to his slow start. Is it? And is that why the team is making this effort? If it is, it should be a major concern for the Flyers that a few minutes of his time each day answering questions is preventing him from making saves on game day. He's not the only player in the NHL that has to face questions from the media.
Bryzgalov was going to be facing quite a few changes when he joined the Flyers after spending the past few years having a lot of success in Phoenix. Not only would he be playing behind a different defense in a different system, he was also going from perhaps the most apathetic hockey market in the NHL (Phoenix) to one of the most difficult and intense (Philadelphia). Based on his post-game meltdown on Thursday, as well as the Flyers' efforts to limit the number of times he has to face questions, it would seem to indicate that particular transition isn't going all that well so far.
Photo: Getty Images
Posted on: October 31, 2011 12:01 am
Edited on: October 31, 2011 1:42 am
Hockey season might be in full swing, but that's no excuse for players not to go out to costume parties sporting their best Halloween outfits.
Considering it is Halloween and all, we figured we would have our own hockey costume contest here at Eye On Hockey. Make your vote and may be the best costume win.
Oh, before we begin, let me just say this is the greatness of Twitter. For those athletes daring enough to share, we get to see things like this which hardly ever saw the light of day before.
USA! USA! USA!
My take: Kudos for being daring enough to wear that out. It's a solid start and the post makes it better.
Be all that you can be!
My take: This could be a contender here. The costumes are great for starters. But the real kicker is the pose. Whitney's wife has that solider position perfect. You remember that soldier, you always put it on the highest elevation possible.
Big pimpin', spending Gs.
My take: As I said, a tried and true costume here. I love how both the wig and the mustache are leaning to the side and the sunglasses are a nice touch.
It's all in the hips. It's all in the hips. It's all in the hips.
My take: At the risk of contaminating the voting public, this is my favorite. Stewart nailed Chubbs from the wooden hand to the outfit and even the alligator's eye in the glass container. Chubbs would be proud.
My take: I have to think this one will be on the outside looking in partly based on the photo itself. But at least Kesler didn't go in the same costume as his ESPN the Magazine shoot.
Next up we have recently retired player and former Dallas Stars star Mike Modano trying out an LMFAO costume. You know, the guys who brought you the Body Rock.
Wiggle wiggle wiggle wiggle! Wiggle wiggle wiggle wiggle!
My take: I don't know if Modano actually wore this out of the house or not, he tweeted this out a few days before Halloween as a potential costume. But if he was willing to send it out, it counts. Daring is all I'll say. Oh, and please don't wiggle, wiggle, wiggle, wiggle.
Last up in the contest we present to you the Boston Bruins. Now we already covered this one, but figured it deserved a shot here. For voting purposes, let's just stick with Zdeno Chara in the bunny suit.
"You look like a deranged Easter bunny. He looks like a pink nightmare!"
My take: The homemade touch is great, gives it an authentic feel. But I think this one scared too many people to get enough votes to win.
For the record, Raffi Torres of the Coyotes also dressed up, electing to go with the blackface and dressing up as Jay-Z with his wife as Beyonce. As you might expect, that's drawing a whole lot of criticism for Torres.
Photos: Thanks Twitter!
Posted on: October 28, 2011 7:12 pm
Edited on: October 28, 2011 7:26 pm
By: Adam Gretz
It wasn't that long ago that Cal O'Reilly was an up-and-coming prospect in the Nashville Predators organization, and today he's been traded to the Phoenix Coyotes in exchange for a fourth-round draft pick in 2012.
In 85 games over the past three seasons the 25-year-old O'Reilly scored 11 goals and added 24 assists.
Said Coyotes general manager Don Maloney, “We are very excited to bring Cal to our organization. He is a young, highly skilled player who will help us at the center position. We look forward to having him in our lineup very soon."
The problem O'Reilly ran into in Nashville was that he was simply caught up in a numbers game at this point and was passed over by a number of young players, as well as veteran center Mike Fisher who was acquired prior to last year's trade deadline. The Predators, for all of their struggles offensively this season, have some solid depth down the middle with Fisher and David Legwand, as well as rookie Craig Smith, currently tied for the team lead in points, and fellow youngster Blake Geoffrion. Somebody was going to be the odd man out, and seeing as how O'Reilly has been a healthy scratch at various points throughout this season, it's not much of a surprise that he ends up drawing the short straw.
For Phoenix it's a nice example of buying low on a talented young player that still has a bit of upside, especially when it's at a position of weakness at the NHL level.
Photo: Getty Images
Posted on: October 27, 2011 2:28 pm
Edited on: October 27, 2011 2:30 pm
By: Adam Gretz
Coyotes general manager Don Maloney offered an update on the Kyle Turris situation earlier this week, and it was basically more of what we already know and what he's already said on the matter -- if Turris wants to play this season he's going to have to play in Phoenix, and the team isn't looking to trade him.
The reported contract requests from the Turris camp have raised some eyebrows considering what he's accomplished at the NHL level, and seem to be coming from a player that would rather be wearing another uniform. Basically his way of asking for a trade. And that appears to be what's going on.
Turris' agent, Kurt Overhardt, confirmed to ESPN's Pierre LeBrun that the 22-year-old forward has indeed asked the Coyotes for a trade, while the front office remains consistent with its stance that no trade will be taking place. As Overhardt told LeBrun, "This has never been about money, we've been upfront with the club from Day 1. We've respectfully requested that the player had the opportunity to move forward in his career by having a fresh start."
Overhardt also said that he knows of several teams -- that he won't name, obviously -- that have made "significant" offers to Phoenix for Turris' services and doesn't understand why the team is taking such a hardline stance given that teams have offered "valuable assets that would benefit Phoenix."
The answer, of course, is because the team still controls him as a restricted free agent. Basically, we have two trains moving in completely different directions, and their public comments help illustrate that. Maloney is going to continue to say he's not trading him because an admission of him being on the market hurts his position if he does, in fact, want to trade him. The agent will float several offers from unnamed teams into the discussion to help generate interest in his client in the hopes that somebody comes knocking at the Coyotes' door with an offer Maloney can't refuse in an effort to get Turris the fresh start he's looking for.
Either way, time is running out for this season as Turris won't be eligible to play in the NHL during the 2011-12 campaign if he isn't signed before December 1, according to the current CBA.
Posted on: October 26, 2011 9:09 pm
Edited on: October 26, 2011 10:23 pm
By: Adam Gretz
Phoenix Coyotes forward Kyle Turris remains unsigned as a restricted free agent and still appears to be holding out for a contract that pays him somewhere in the neighborhood of $3 and $4 million per season, despite the fact he's never scored more than 11 goals or recorded more than 25 points in a single season, or established himself as any sort of player that's worth that sort of cash on the restricted free agent market. General manager Don Maloney addressed Turris' apparent demands before the season and referred to his asking price as "illogical" and insisted that he has no intention of trading him because he still believes he can be a productive player.
Maloney appeared on Fox Sports Arizona on Tuesday night and offered an update on the situation.
He still believes Turris can be a productive player and he continues to say that he has no interest in trading the 22-year-old former first-round draft pick.
Said Maloney, "It’s very simple. If he wants to play in the NHL this year, he's going to play for us. We are not going to trade him under any circumstances. I don’t care who offers us anything. We like Kyle, we think he can help us and hopefully he will come back to us. Kyle is a good player. He is going to have a great future in this game."
He also added that "we would like to get him back in the league and show us that you’re a top player and then get paid like a top player."
Just because he says he has no intention of trading him at this point doesn't mean he isn't at least considering it. What else is he supposed to say? If he comes out and publicly states that, yes, he's on the market, any leverage he has obviously goes down. And the rumors are still floating out there, anyway.
The Coyotes have shown over the past couple of months that they're willing to pay money to their young players, having locked up defenseman Keith Yandle and forward Martin Hanzal to long-term deals. They're just not willing to pay for potential when the player in question still has a lot of question marks as to how productive he's going to be in the NHL.
Photo: Getty Images
Posted on: October 23, 2011 2:40 pm
You ever notice that there seems to be 15 or 20 goalies who are described as one of the top 5 in the league? Well I'm starting to get the feeling I know of another.
In case you haven't noticed, Jonathan Quick is having himself quite a stretch in net for the Los Angeles Kings right now. He blanked the streaking Stars in a 1-0 Pacific Division battle, marking his third consecutive shutout. Going back to last Saturday's game against Philadelphia when Matt Carle beat him on the power play, that's 188:10 consecutive minutes without a goal.
If you want to make that even more impressive, the last team he was beaten with an even-strength goal? You have to go back to 13:03 of the first period against the Devils on Oct. 13. That's 286:57 straight minutes.
"Anytime a goaltender gets a shutout, everyone contributes. But you've got to give him a lot of the credit," Kings coach Terry Murray said after the win. "He's focused on the play and he's aggressive to the shots. Tonight he was again on his game, and he just followed up on the game at Phoenix and brought the same game here tonight."
It's not like we're going off again on another small-sample size judgment parade here. Quick just posted a .918 save percentage and 2.24 goals against average last season. For his career, which consists of 186 games, he has a .914 save percentage. But streaks like this will get you noticed.
Plus, it's pretty great to have him on your Fantasy team, too (#humblebrag).
When news of the David Booth to the Canucks found its way to the press box at the Verizon Center on Saturday night, the collective response was one of shock. Why on Earth would the Panthers give up Booth for Marco Sturm and Mikael Samuelsson? What was the end game for Dale Tallon?
Well, having had a little more time to digest it, I think I can at least see the rationale for Tallon. That's not to say I buy it, but I can see it.
Booth was more than sluggish to start the season. His one point in six games didn't exactly fit the profile of a player making more than $4 million per season. Considering he scored 23 goals last season and had just 40 points, the perception of him is still high considering his 31-goal season a few years back. That was also before his concussion.
So there was still some high-stock value for Booth. Any longer of a slow start and that would have gone down. But still, only Sturm and Samuelsson for Booth, Steven Reinprecht and a third-round draft pick? There has to be more.
Well, consider that obviously Sameulsson and Sturm aren't in the Panthers' long-term plans. When Tallon went on the spending spree this past summer, he signed four lines worth of NHL-caliber players to longer deals. There was no room for the Panthers to begin showing off their expansive farm system.
But with these two deals coming off the books, that's conceivably two roster spots that will be available for highly touted players like Jonathan Huberdeau and Quinton Howden to play. That could be the biggest part of all.
And for the Canucks? Well yea, the deal makes too much sense. Booth with fellow Michigander Ryan Kesler could be magic. Of course, Booth could struggle, too. It's not a completely risk-free trade, but it's close.
How to stay winless in 60 seconds
The Columbus Blue Jackets were so close they could probably taste it. Going in to the final minute against the Senators, the Jackets had the lead and seemed at least sure to get one point. That would have doubled their season total. But the real fish they were chasing was their first win.
Instead, they reminded everybody why they are the only winless team in hockey by collapsing in the final minute, giving up not one, but two goals to the Senators, including the winner with 4.7 seconds left.
"It's tough. It seems like we're not getting any bounces," Rick Nash said. "It seems like we're finding ways to lose games instead of finding ways to win games. That's the difference between good teams and bad teams right now."
The saving grace for Columbus? The team is about to get a lift. James Wisniewski will finally make his Blue Jackets debut after his eight-game suspension and Jeff Carter shouldn't be out too much longer.
Still, there is no easy treading ahead. The next seven games will come against teams above .500. At this point, they just need to get the proverbial monkey off their backs because this will only weigh on them the longer it goes.
Long season ahead
The Washington Capitals are flying sky high right now. They are off to a 7-0-0 start and D.C. is buzzing about its hockey team again. Seriously, outside of the arena before Saturday's game against the Red Wings there was a marching band which had one of the adjacent streets shut down.
After they dismantled the Wings 7-1, optimism is even higher. But that's why we have Ted Leonsis around (well that, and he kind of owns the team).
In a nutshell, here's the main message of his blog post to his Caps faithful.
It's a good moment of clarity from Leonsis, to be sure. Obviously he knows all too well about the Capitals being regular-season warriors who haven't delivered in the playoffs. But I just can't help but notice a more well-rounded and dare I say better team.
Stinking up the place
I take it he wasn't too happy with his team?
Somebody who was impressed? Maple Leafs coach Ron Wilson. Not with the Rangers, but with Tortorella's postgame showing. Here is what Wilson tweeted on Sunday.
"Impressive Torts! U just set a new presser record at 16 secs. I'm going to break that record!"
Man, I can't wait for 24/7, this is going to be good.
A start of 1-4-2 in Montreal? You know this is going to go well.
The Canadiens are just a little slow out of the gate. Part of that is injuries, so there's nothing to really blame there. But free-agent acquisition Erik Cole is yet to do one thing they brought him in for -- score a goal.
Montreal fans can be ruthless. They are serious about their hockey, obviously. So they were clamoring for a shakeup to the roster. So what do they get? Try a trade of Brock Trotter and a seventh-round pick to the Coyotes for Petteri Nokelainen and Garrett Stafford. I'm sure that's exactly what the Habs fans had in mind.
At the least, they expect playoff appearances in Montreal. So the longer the Habs wallow out of the gate, the more pressure coach Jacques Martin will feel.
Photo: Getty Images
Tags: Brian Stubits, Brock Trotter, Columbus Blue Jackets, Dallas Stars, David Booth, Detroit Red Wings, Drew Doughty, Erik Cole, Florida Panthers, Garrett Stafford, Jacques Martin, James Wisniewski, Jeff Carter, John Tortorella, Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles Kings, Marco Sturm, Mikael Samuelsson, Mike Richards, Montreal Canadiens, New York Rangers, Ottawa Senators, Petteri Nokelainen, Phoenix Coyotes, Rick Nash, Ron Wilson, Saturday Story, Steven Reinprecht, Ted Leonsis, Terry Murray, Trade Tracker, Vancouver Canucks, Washington Capitals