Posted on: November 17, 2011 5:37 pm
Edited on: November 17, 2011 5:48 pm
By: Adam Gretz
So far, the Phoenix Coyotes attempt to replace Ilya Bryzgalov with Mike Smith has been a success. Smith has played extremely well in the early part of the season and the Coyotes continue to win hockey games despite losing Bryzgalov over the summer, trading his rights to the Flyers before he was eligible to hit unrestricted free agency.
The obvious questions coming into the season were how well the Coyotes would be able to adjust without Bryzgalov, seeing as how he's been one of the better goaltenders in the league over the past few seasons, and whether or not Smith would be up to the task of replacing him.
On Thursday night the Coyotes will be getting their first look at Bryzgalov from the other side when they travel to Philadelphia, and a couple of veteran defensemen, Derek Morris and Adrian Aucoin, had some pretty strong words regarding their former teammate.
Said Morris in a pre-game discussion with Coyotes broadcaster Todd Walsh, via Broad Street Hockey, "First of all we have to throw a lot of pucks at Bryz. He's known for letting in bad goals, you know, so I think our mindset is going to be get the puck down behind the net and hopefully he comes out and plays a few because he doesn't like to do that. We have to put some pressure on Bryz. We've gotta make it a tough night, we gotta have guys in front, we've gotta be banging away at rebounds. He gets frustrated that way."
Morris also added that he's "glad" that Bryzgalov is gone because Smith has fit in with the team better and made them closer, while there was "some animosity" at times between he and the rest of the team.
Added Aucoin, when asked if there was, in fact, animosity in the locker room, "Absolutely. I honestly haven't met almost any hockey player that's really a bad person. I think he was different as a player, obviously he was a great player, more as a person. Sometimes he just did things that aren't very typical of hockey players or teammates, but he's a good goalie."
It should be expected for the Coyotes to have strong praise for their new teammate, and one that's playing extremely well with a .933 save percentage, seventh best in the NHL, in his13 starts. But to have such harsh words for Bryzgalov, and for Morris to go as far as to say he's glad he's gone is certainly interesting. If nothing else he found a way to get some extra excitement and something else to watch for in a random interconference game in the middle of November.
Bryzgalov definitely has a strong personality and is a bit "out there" at times. Take, for example, his post-game meltdown following a 9-8 loss to the Winnipeg Jets earlier this season when he talked about how he was "terrible" and "lost in the woods."
Photo: Getty Images
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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: September 28, 2011 9:20 pm
Edited on: September 28, 2011 9:26 pm
By: Adam Gretz
It remains to be seen whether or not Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, the No. 1 overall pick in the June draft, will spend the entire season with the Edmonton Oilers or eventually be sent back to the Western Hockey League to play with the Red Deer Rebels.
Based on his preseason performance to this point it's going to be awfully difficult for Edmonton to not give him an opportunity to prove he belongs at the NHL level on a full-time basis.
During Edmonton's 3-2 win over Phoenix on Tuesday night he had a hand in every Oilers goal, scoring his first of the preseason and adding an assist on a pair of Taylor Hall goals, pushing his team-leading (preseason) point total to six in four games.
A few thoughts and observations on his performance to date:
1) In the four games that Nugent-Hopkins has appeared in the Oilers have scored 10 goals as a team -- and he has had a hand in six of them, scoring one and assisting on five. He has also developed what appears to be nice chemistry with Hall, the Oilers' No. 1 overall pick from a season ago, recording an assist on every goal that Hall has scored in the preseason.
No other player on the team has more than three assists, while some of the ones Nugent-Hopkins has been credited with have been rather impressive, including this helper on a goal scored by Jordan Eberle last week against the Vancouver Canucks.
2) You're probably saying those numbers are nice, but it's still just the preseason and preseason numbers can be pretty worthless. And you wouldn't be entirely wrong. After all, a lot of these games feature rosters that are loaded with minor leaguers and pluggers that will be riding the bus in the AHL and ECHL in a couple of weeks. That highlight reel assist to Eberle against the Canucks that is mentioned above, for example, came on a power play with players like Aaron Volpatti and Nolan Baumgartner on the ice against him, with Manny Legace -- since released by the Canucks -- in the crease. Who you play against matters, and he's probably going to be facing a much higher level of competition during the regular season when the games actually mean something in the standings.
That said, his best game of the preseason came on Tuesday night against Phoenix, against a lineup that was pretty close to what the Coyotes will be running out there on a nightly basis. Mike Smith played the entire game in goal, while his points came with players like Shane Doan, Keith Yandle, Derek Morris and Daymond Langkow on the ice against him, so he's just not padding his preseason numbers against guys that won't be in the NHL this season. His best game, offensively, came on the night where he played against what was probably the toughest competition he's seen yet. And that's impressive.
3) There are still some legitimate questions that need to be asked about whether or not he's ready for a full season of NHL action. His size will be talked about quite a bit (and while he would be one of the smallest players in the NHL, he wouldn't be the smallest), as well as the added responsibilities that come with being a top center in the NHL, including defensive play and having to win faceoffs, which will include some growing pains, but the potential offensive upside might be too much for an Edmonton team that finished 27th in scoring last season to pass up.
As I pointed out last month it would seem be a mild upset if he's not on the Oilers roster this season, at least based on recent forwards that have been taken No. 1 overall. Going back to 1997 the only forward taken in the top spot to not appear in the NHL in his draft year was Alex Ovechkin, and that was because his draft year happened to be the lost season that was the NHL lockout.
Posted on: September 26, 2011 5:15 pm
Edited on: September 27, 2011 9:54 am
By: Adam Gretz
The San Jose Sharks have comfortably controlled the Pacific Division the past four seasons, winning it each year by an average margin of about 11 points.
Regular season success hasn't been much of an issue for the Sharks, reaching the 100-point mark six of the past seven seasons. The issue has always been whether or not they can avoid what seemed to be an annual early exit from the playoffs. They've done some work to help break their negative postseason reputation the past two years, reaching the conference finals each year before ultimately losing to Chicago and Vancouver respectively.
Will this be the year they finally break through and win the Conference? Will they be able to continue their dominance within the division, or did their four divisional rivals do enough to catch up this summer?
The Pacific was the only division in the NHL last season to produce four playoff teams, as Anaheim, Phoenix and Los Angeles joined the Sharks in the postseason. The Ducks boast the NHL's reigning MVP in Corey Perry, while the Los Angeles Kings made what was perhaps the biggest addition in the Western Conference by acquiring Mike Richards in an offseason blockbuster trade with the Philadelphia Flyers.
Pacific Division (In order of predicted finish)
San Jose Sharks: The Sharks avoided disaster in the second round of the playoffs last season by escaping with a Game 7 win over the Detroit Red Wings after watching a 3-0 series lead slip away, advancing to the Conference Finals for the second year in a row where they lost to the Canucks in five games. General manager Doug Wilson made a few significant changes to his roster this summer by sacrificing a bit of offense (Devin Setoguchi) to get a defensive upgrade in Brent Burns, while also sending Dany Heatley, a player that is coming his worst goal-scoring season since his rookie year, to Minnesota for Martin Havlat.
Strengths: Even after trading Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi the Sharks still have two outstanding lines with Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Martin Havlat, Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture. Boyle, Burns, Marc Eduard Vlasic and Douglas Murray is a strong top-four on the blue line that combines offensive ability (Boyle and Burns) and strong defensive play (Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Douglas Murray, who also happens to be one of the biggest hitters in the league). They have an outstanding power play that should still be a force even with the loss of Heatley and his 11 power play goals from a year ago. Burns (eight power play goals a year ago) gives them another weapon on the point to go along with Boyle.
Weaknesses: The third and fourth lines aren't great, and the injury questions surrounding goaltenders Antti Niemi and Antero Niittymaki should be a concern early in the season, but should go away once Niemi returns to the lineup, and may be as early as the season opener. Penalty kill was a major problem last season -- can the addition of Michal Handzus make a difference?
Los Angeles Kings: The Kings haven't advanced beyond the first round of the Western Conference playoffs in over a decade, and have only won one playoff series since reaching the Stanley Cup Finals all the way back in 1993. This roster, on paper, looks to be their best chance for postseason success -- assuming they finally work out something with unsigned defenseman Drew Doughty. For years we've been waiting for the Kings to make a big move given their tradable assets and cap space, and they finally pulled off the blockbuster trade this summer by acquiring Mike Richards from the Philadelphia Flyers.
Strengths: If you believe championship teams are built down the middle, then the Los Angeles Kings should have a great foundation. Already having Anze Kopitar on the roster, the Kings added Richards, one of the best two-way centers in the NHL, back in June in exchange for Wayne Simmonds, Brayden Schenn and a draft pick. Combine those two with Jarret Stoll, and the Kings top-three centers should be able to match up with just about any team in the Western Conference. Thanks to steady stay-at-home defensemen like Rob Scuderi and Willie Mitchell the Kings had one of the top penalty killing units in the league last season.
On the wings Dustin Penner, Dustin Brown, Justin Williams and Simon Gagne help create what should be an improved offense over the one that finished 25th in goals scored last season.
Weaknesses: As of this moment the biggest weakness for the Kings might be the fact that their best defenseman, Drew Doughty, remains unsigned as a restricted free agent, and with each passing day we're one day closer to him missing games that actually count in the standings. The power play needs to improve, finishing just 21st in the NHL last season.
Anaheim Ducks: Without looking it up, do you know which player led all NHL defensemen in scoring last season? Nicklas Lidstrom? Shea Weber? Maybe Dan Boyle? Try again. It was Anaheim's Lubomir Visnovsky, giving the Ducks the NHL's top-scoring defenseman as well as the leading goal-scorer (Corey Perry, the only player to hit the 50-goal mark).
Strengths: Corey Perry. Ryan Getzlaf. Bobby Ryan. Teemu Selanne. Those four players combined for nearly 60 percent of Anaheim's goals in 2010-11, and that was with one of them, Getzlaf, missing 15 games. Perry, who finished as the NHL's leading goal-scorer and won his first MVP award, probably isn't going to score 50 goals again, and Selanne is a year older (but still productive) but this is still an excellent quartet of forwards.
Weaknesses: Which forwards after the four mentioned above can provide offense?
Jonas Hiller is an excellent goaltender when he's in the lineup, but how much will his battle with vertigo impact him this season? If he has to miss any extended time the options behind him (Dan Ellis is currently the backup) aren't really all that promising.
The defense can certainly provide some offense with Lubomir Visnovsky, who is coming off a career year with 68 points, and Cam Fowler having a very promising rookie season -- from an offensive perspective -- with 10 goals and 30 assists, but questions remain as to how good they can be in their own zone.
Dallas Stars: There are disappointing ways to finish a season, and then there's what the Dallas Stars did to close out the 2010-11 season, losing nine of their final 14 games to miss the playoffs -- the only team in the division to do so -- by just one point. All they had to do on the final day of the regular season was beat the Minnesota Wild, a team that had completely gone in the tank and won just seven of its final 22 games. The Stars lost, 5-3, allowing the Chicago Blackhawks to clinch the No. 8 spot.
Strengths: Some very good forwards with players like Louii Eriksson and Jamie Benn leading the way, and Mike Ribiero still gives them a No. 1 center in the absence of Brad Richards who signed a huge deal with the New York Rangers in free agency. Based on his play after coming over in a mid-season trade with the Pittsburgh Penguins, Alex Goligoski looks like he could be on the verge of a breakout season.
Weaknesses: Losing Brad Richards to free agency is a big blow, even with Mike Ribiero -- who trailed Richards by just six points last season -- still on the roster. No disrespect to Steve Ott, who is a fine all-around player, but a 1-2 punch of Richards and Ribiero down the middle is more dangerous than Ribiero-Ott from an offensive perspective.
Mediocre special teams a year ago with the Power Play finishing middle of the pack and the penalty kill in the bottom seven.
Phoenix Coyotes: Yes, the Coyotes are still here, and yes, they're looking to make the playoffs for a third consecutive season after having been eliminated by Detroit in each of the past two seasons. They locked up one of their most important players to a long-term contract extension by signing Keith Yandle to a five-year deal this summer, but also said goodbye to another key player in goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov.
Strengths: Dave Tippett has done a masterful job the past two seasons with the Coyotes taking a team in a financial mess with little star power to speak of and helping to get them to the playoffs each year with a disciplined, defensive style that the players have bought in to. Keith Yandle is one of the best up-and-coming defenseman in the NHL,
Weaknesses:Replacing Bryzgalov with Mike Smith and Jason LaBarbera seems like a significant drop in talent. The one thing Phoenix does have going for it here is that it has a tight defensive system and some excellent two-way players, while Smith has past experience playing in Tippett's system. Still, will that be enough to overcome the loss of Bryzgalov? The Coyotes don't have a true big-time goal-scorer on the roster, but did manage to have 11 different players score at least 10 goals last season. Three of those players (Lee Stempniak, Eric Belanger and Scottie Upshall) are gone, and another, Kyle Turris, is holding out with some absurd contract demands.
Photo: Getty Images
Posted on: September 8, 2011 5:21 pm
Edited on: September 8, 2011 5:34 pm
By: Adam Gretz
David Arrigo is an artist that specializes in creating works of art in the form of goalie masks for various players around the NHL.
A couple of weeks ago we showed you the one he designed for new Phoenix Coyotes goaltender Mike Smith, which featured the Looney Tunes character the Wile E. Coyote.
On Thursday he unveiled his latest creation which is to help mark the 20th anniversary of the Seattle-based band Pearl Jam. The mask isn't for any specific NHL player, but actually his own brother, who he says is a huge fan of the band, which will be playing in Toronto this week. A movie, Pearl Jam Twenty, will make its debut at the Toronto International Film Festival on Saturday.
Pictured to the right is a quick look at the mask, via Arrigo's blog, where you can check out many more angles.
If you like hockey, and you enjoy the artwork that accompanies the sport in the form of goalie masks, you should visit Arrigo's web site and become a fan of his work on Facebook.
Posted on: September 8, 2011 2:51 pm
Here's the team's press release:
Cheverie is a well-regarded prospect, but he was stuck in the Panthers organization behind arguably the NHL's top goalie prospect, Jacob Markstrom. Of course, the Coyotes have to replace the departed Ilya Bryzgalov and to do so they brought in Mike Smith to join Jason LaBarbera. While Cheverie isn't likely to factor in the NHL this season, it's worth the flyer for Phoenix that he develops into a player who can take over down the line.
The price for the prospect is Bernhardt, a player who has shown scoring ability but has struggled to stay on the ice. He played a full 72-game schedule back in 2008-09 with Prince Albert of the WHL and he showed what he's capable of, scoring 35 goals with 57 assists.
Photo: Getty Images
Posted on: September 5, 2011 1:44 pm
Edited on: September 5, 2011 1:47 pm
By: Adam Gretz
Tampa Bay Lightning forward Steven Stamkos has scored 96 goals over the past two seasons, and is already one of the most dangerous offensive players in the NHL at the age of 21. Earlier this offseason his production over the first three seasons of his career resulted in a brand new five-year, $37.5 million contract with the Lightning.
The fame that comes with being one of the top players in the league, as well as the brand new pay check, hasn't stopped him from spending his summer playing in a "beer league" baseball league in his hometown of Markhem, Ontario, where Stamkos buys uniforms, bats and picks up the post-game bar tabs.
Dave Feschuk of the Toronto Star checked out a game this past week, and the reviews of Stamkos' baseball skills are almost as glowing as the ones usually reserved for his ability on the ice.
From the Star:
For the 21-year-old Stamkos, who played on three provincial championship baseball teams for the Markham Mariners from about age 11 to 13, the grand old game has long been a passion.
Whatever talents he may have had -- or still has -- for baseball, hockey fans, and especially Tampa Bay fans, have to be happy he started following the path he's currently on. Feschuk also points out that NHL players have to get written consent from their team to take part in certain offseason activities, including baseball, and that consent is usually given.Stamkos, who plays left field, is apparently hitting .608 on the season and clubbed a three-run homer the night Feschuk attended.
Some other notable hockey-baseball connections: You may have heard a thing or two (in every single game he played) about Chris Drury's appearance in the Little League World Series, while it's pretty common for hockey players that share a city with a big league baseball team to take their hacks in the batting cage. A couple of years ago Penguins captian Sidney Crosby knocked one out of PNC Park in Pittsburgh, while new Phoenix Coyotes goaltender Mike Smith managed to do the same back in June.
(H/T The Big Lead, via PHT)