Posted on: August 30, 2011 7:10 pm
Edited on: August 30, 2011 8:51 pm
By: Adam Gretz
A couple of weeks ago we had an opportunity to speak with Steve Mason of the Columbus Blue Jackets about the rather frightening look his new mask will carry in 2011, illustrating just how unique these works of art can be. On Monday, the mask for new Phoenix Coyotes goaltender Mike Smith was revealed by the artist, David Arrigo, and it will feature, appropriately enough, the Looney Tunes character, Wile E. Coyote.
Have a look, via Arrigo's website, where you can check out multiple angles as well as his thoughts on the design.
Smith will be competing for the No. 1 job in Phoenix with Jason LaBarbera in an effort to replace Ilya Bryzgalov, and Arrigo adds that he will soon be revealing the art work for Labarbera's mask for the upcoming season, having designed it as well.
It's not the first time a Looney Tunes character has been featured on a goalie mask, as Patrick Lalime's mask always had a version of Marvin The Martian.
Photo: David Arrigo
Posted on: August 9, 2011 9:43 pm
Edited on: August 10, 2011 1:40 pm
By: Adam Gretz
The NHL will be holding its Research, Development and Orientation camp in Ontario next week, an event that helps the league test potential rule changes. They will be using 30 prospects, as well as head coaches Dan Bylsma (Pittsburgh) and Dave Tippett (Phoenix) to test the potential changes, ranging from no-touch icing, hybrid icing and no line changes for a team guilty of being offside, among many, many others.
Dan Rosen at NHL.com has a complete rundown of everything that will be tested (and there's a ton of stuff going on), as well as a schedule for each day.
A couple of the proposals that will be tested that stand out to me:
1) REMOVAL OF THE TRAPEZOID Yes. A thousand times yes. Implemented after the lockout as part of the effort to increase goal scoring across the league, it put a restriction on goaltenders leaving their crease and going into the corners to play the puck, limiting players that had spent years improving their puckhandling ability (guys like Martin Brodeur, Marty Turco, etc.). When I spoke with Phoenix's Mike Smith a couple of weeks ago, a goaltender that's regarded to be a strong puckhandler, we talked about this briefly and you can probably count him as somebody else that's probaby in favor of giving goaltenders more freedom. Limiting the movement of players on the ice (which this rule does) just seems to go against what the game is all about. And if your goaltender can't handle the puck effectively, well, he either needs to improve that aspect of his game or your team needs to find a goaltender that's capable of doing it.
2) NO ICING PERMITTED WHILE SHORTHANDED Now here's a way to potentially increase scoring, at least as far as the power play is concerned. By calling icing in shorthanded situations (you're currently allowed to ice the puck while on the penalty kill, which is the only advantage the shorthanded team has) you're going to increase the number of offensive zone faceoffs for teams on the power play, which is bad news for teams that are down a man. The dangers of defensive zone faceoffs are obvious -- the closer a team starts to the net it's trying to score on, the better chance it has of getting a shot on goal and scoring if it can win the faceoff (you can read more about the dangers of Defensive Zone Faceoffs by clicking here). And this is true in even-strength situations, let alone power play/penalty kill situations. Not a huge fan of this one as it gives teams on the power play yet another sizable advantange. Playing a man up (or two) is enough. A couple of years the NHL made it so every power play starts in the offensive zone, regardless of where the offending team gained control the puck to draw the whistle on a delayed penalty call.
3) OVERTIME VARIATIONS The current tiebreaking procedure in the NHL consists of five minutes of four-on-four sudden death overtime, followed by a shootout if the tie is not broken. The shootout has been a polarizing addition to the league, and last year the NHL took a small step toward reducing its impact by not including shootout wins as part of the tiebreaking procedure in the standings.
Another way to help reduce its impact (and the number of shootouts) is to give teams more overtime to play with, including several minutes with fewer players on the ice.
One idea that will be tested will be to switch ends, play four minutes of four-on-four hockey and then, if the tie is still not broken, switch ends again and play three minutes of three-on-three hockey. After seven minutes of four-on-four and three-on-three hockey it stands to reason that, given the amount of talent that will be on the ice and the additional room that will be out there, somebody will manage to get a goal and break the tie before a shootout is required. I like this idea quite a bit and would like to see it get some serious consideration, if for no other reason than the potential to see some of the three-on-three lineups teams like Pittsburgh, Detroit, Washington, Vancouver or Chicago could throw out there, and the type of back-and-forth hockey that would follow.
Just because these are being tested doesn't mean the rules will be changed or added to the league, it's simply a way to see them in action and take a test drive.
Photo: Getty Images
For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.
Posted on: July 21, 2011 8:54 pm
Edited on: July 22, 2011 10:24 am
By: Adam Gretz
The Phoenix Coyotes signed free agent goaltender Mike Smith to a two-year contract on the first day of free agency and will give him an opportunity to fill the void left by the trade of Ilya Bryzgalov to the Philadelphia Flyers. Those aren't small shoes to fill, as Bryzgalov was a large part of the Coyotes' success over the past two seasons.
Smith, however, is confident he can do his part and is optimistic about his opportunity having past experience with coach Dave Tippett when they were both in Dallas. Goaltenders tend to perform well in Tippett's system, and Smith is excited about the chance to once again play for him. He's also looking forward to getting a chance to work goaltender coach Sean Burke, who experienced some of the same career struggles as Smith when it came to finding a starting job.
I had a chance to spend a few minutes on the phone with the 29-year-old goaltender on Thursday night, and we discussed his decision to sign with Phoenix, his first experiences as an unrestricted free agent, favorable systems for goaltenders and our least favorite rule in the NHL.
Adam Gretz: Obviously, Mike, you have a bit of a history with Dave Tippett, your new head coach, having played for him when you both were in Dallas a few years ago. How much of that played into your decision to join the Coyotes, and how much of it was the opportunity to compete for a No. 1 job?
Mike Smith: I think the main thing was the opportunity. Saying that, knowing Tip very well from my time in Dallas, I have a lot of respect for him and like the way he coaches. Obviously, it's a defensive style and he plays a very tight system, which is very intriguing for a goaltender. I have a lot of respect for him as a person, too. Obviously, the opportunity was No. 1, but it wasn't a hard decision knowing Tip was going to be there, and having a guy like Sean Burke was a pretty big thing, too.
Gretz: You mentioned the system he plays, and that's actually something I wanted to bring up. We always talk about certain systems that are favorable to goalies, and I admit, I do this as much as anybody having never actually played the position myself. But can you give us an idea as to how much that really does help a goaltender? I mean, if you're facing 40 shots from the perimeter, I would imagine that's not as much of a grind as having to stop 20 shots from right in front of the net. But at the end of the day you still have to make the saves, regardless of how many there are or where they're coming from.
Smith: Like you said, you have to make the saves when you're called upon to make the saves; that's you're job and that's what it comes down to. 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. Goaltending is simply a position where, if you have mistakes in front of you, you're called upon to make saves. That's just part of being a goaltender in the National Hockey League.
Gretz: How much do you know about your new goaltending coach, Sean Burke? I've heard a lot of good things about him. I spoke to Adrian Aucoin last year, for example, and he raved about how much Burke helped Bryzgalov's career go to another level, and you're arriving in Phoenix around the same age and around the same point in your career as Bryzgalov did.
Smith: I don't know a whole lot about him at this point, but what I do know is that from talking to him, I know a little bit about how he's gone through the same type of things I've been through in my career. That's big, having a goalie coach that's been through similar situations. He kind of bounced around early in his career, and then ended up finding his way toward the end of his career and ended up being an outstanding goaltender for a lot of years.
I think he feels he can help me in that way, because, well, he's been there and done that. I think he has a lot of knowledge that I may not know about yet, and I'm really excited about learning from him and getting better. Just from talking to him, it excites me a lot and I'm looking forward to meeting him and getting to work with him.
Gretz: It seems like the free agent market has been kind of rough for goalies in recent years, simply because there are so few openings around the league right now, especially this offseason. For one, it's not like a team carries four or five left wings or seven defensemen; there are only two goalies on the roster and only one plays in a given game (usually, unless it's a bad night for somebody). Did you have any issues finding interested teams or finding an open spot?
Smith: I know there were a few teams interested. I'm not exactly sure which ones, but talking with my agent and going to free agency we knew we might have an opportunity to get a chance to play. It's definitely exciting that Phoenix is giving me that chance, and getting a chance to reunite with Tip and work with Sean is very exciting. It was a stressful time, obviously, and it happened pretty quick after free agency started. But the first hour or so was pretty nerve-wracking and stressful, just not knowing where you're going to be.
Obviously, it was a different situation for me this year having never been an unrestricted free agent before. Having to go through that was a different experience, but I'm very excited to be a part of the Phoenix Coyotes.
Gretz: I'm sure you've been asked this more than once since you've joined the Coyotes, but is there any extra pressure for you having to go in and replace a pretty productive player in Bryzgalov? Or do you just go in and say, forget all of that, I'm Mike Smith, I'm going to play my game and be who I am because that's why they signed me?
Smith: Yeah, absolutely. You can never look at it like that because there's always been great goaltenders on every team that you play for, so they're always going to make comparisons. The main thing is I know I'm capable of playing really well. I know 'Bryz' did some outstanding things in Phoenix and has had a great career so far and will probably continue to do so in Philly, but I'm not going there with the expectation of surpassing him.
I'm just going to go there and take it one game at a time, play up to my capability, and if I do that, good things are going to happen for me.
Gretz: You've always been regarded as a pretty good puck-handler, so I wanted to get your opinion on this as a goalie because it is, quite possibly, my least favorite rule in the NHL. The trapezoid rule. Hockey is game of flow, and I'm simply not a fan of limiting the movements of one of the players on the ice. Thoughts?
Smith: Absolutely. I feel that I've worked on this skill that I've gained throughout my whole career, and they're limiting that and taking it away from a goaltender that's able to do it. I compare it to a defenseman that's a good puck-rusher and scores a lot of points. It would be like saying a defenseman can't go below the hashmarks to score or get the puck. That's how I look at it. They're never going to do that because it would limit scoring chances.
I feel like it can actually help to put more scoring chances in the game and keep the game flowing more. There's times where you can go and stop the puck and move it. So, no, I don't like the rule, personally. I don't think the rule really does all that much because if you're a good puck-mover you're going to find a way to go out there and get the puck anyway.
Gretz: Finally, you're going to a team that has the NHL's most well-known Tweeter in Paul Bissonnette. Can we find you on Twitter or any other social media site?
Smith: (Laughs) No, no. Not yet. Talking to people in the media world, they've said I would be really good at something like that, but I haven't ventured that way yet, and I don't plan to in the near future. But you never know down the road. It might end up being something I get into. But as of right now, I'm not.
Photo: Getty Images
For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @cbssportsnhl and @agretz on Twitter.
Posted on: June 29, 2011 5:51 pm
Edited on: June 30, 2011 12:06 pm
If this were real estate, we'd call it a seller's market and Tomas Vokoun would be the blemished old house down the road that ends up looking like a palace.
That was one of the many things that resulted from the Ilya Bryzgalov-to-Philadelphia story. Vokoun was left as the clear cream of the crop for teams in search of goaltending, which figures to be a short list. Teams like Colorado, and possibly Phoenix and Edmonton will need to address their situations -- as will the Florida Panthers.
Because of his status as the best option available, Vokoun will likely command another high salary, not necessarily because his play warrants it but the market could dictate as such. In the end that will largely depend on how many teams decide to take a gander at the goaltender.
Here are this year's best goaltenders (in alphabetical order).
Brian Boucher -- Flyers: The veteran was much maligned in Philadelphia, but he was serviceable. Last season he played 34 games for the Flyers, going 18-10-4 with a .916 save percentage and 2.42 goals against average. While he doesn't figure to be a starting goaltender for any team, he certainly still has value to a team looking for a solid backup.
Ray Emery -- Ducks: Once upon a time, Emery looked to be a promising up-and-comer in the NHL with the Senators. Since then he struggled, went to the KHL then returned to Philly before finding out he had avascular necrosis which led to the removal of 13 centimeters of his right fibula. But he came back last season for the Ducks, earning a Masterton Trophy nomination, winning seven of his 10 regular-season starts before going 2-3 in the playoffs. Point is, Emery appears able to be a contributor again for a team in net.
Jean-Sebastien Giguere -- Maple Leafs: A long way removed from his Conn Smythe run in 2003, Giguere has spent the last two seasons in Toronto, no longer a starting-quality goaltender. In 33 games for the Leafs in 2010-11, he had an 11-11-4 record with a less-than stellar 2.87 GAA and .900 save percentage. Now 34, Giguere's demand won't be very high but would provide a veteran backup for some team in need.
Vokoun -- Panthers: There are varying opinions about Vokoun, some point to him playing just five playoff games in his career while others note how bad the teams in front of him in both Nashville and Florida have been. His .922 save percentage is proof he can play. Vokoun is streakier than your average goalie, capable of having a month-long run where he is unbeatable followed by a bevy of three-, four-goal games. Teams in the hunt will be those looking for a full-time starter, most likely Colorado.
Others of interest: Mike Smith (TB), Jose Theodore (MIN), Josh Harding (MIN), Johan Hedberg (NJ), Pascal Leclaire (OTT)
By Brian Stubits
Photo: Getty Images
Posted on: June 17, 2011 3:25 pm
Edited on: June 17, 2011 6:53 pm
Steven Stamkos, Teddy Purcell, Nate Thompson and Mike Smith all took some cuts in the cage and threw out the first pitch(es) before the Rays played the Red Sox. I'm trying to figure out the most amazing thing about this part of the story: Smith, who had never hit a baseball before, belted a home run into the bleachers in left.
I understand he's from Canada and all, but never hitting a baseball? That's tough in and of itself to swallow. But hitting one into the stands your first time swinging a baseball bat? Incredible.
"Dream come true," Smith said. "It felt like butter coming off the bat. I've always wanted to try that. Close my eyes and swung, and it went out. I'm pretty proud."
Rays manager Joe Maddon was pretty impressed by it. "That was well struck," he said.
Purcell didn't have as much luck when stepping to the plate. "I don't really know what I'm doing," Purcell said. "So I'm just swinging for the fences." Good luck with that swing, Teddy!
As for Stamkos, the restricted free agent everybody wants to know about, well his day was just about baseball. A shortstop growing up, Stamkos didn't look like a fish out of water, sending a couple of balls deep to the outfield. He said that he now appreciates how tough baseball is.
Of course, Smith is probably wondering what the big deal is. He did get one other taste of big-league ball. After rounding the bases for his home run trot, he was greeted with a shaving cream pie to the face.
Ah yes, the joys of the offseason.
-- Brian Stubits
Posted on: May 27, 2011 11:42 pm
Edited on: May 28, 2011 8:55 am
Hats off to the Tampa Bay Lightning.
You'd be hard pressed to find anybody before the season that saw this coming. It was clear they were getting better, and the vibe around the organization improved dramatically with the addition of Steve Yzerman to the front office, but Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals? That's exceeding expectations.
But here's the funny part. You look at this team and you don't see a group of over-achievers. It was a rapid improvement, but you don't get the sense this was a fluke. No, the Lightning are that good.
The question now becomes, will they be able to stay this good?
This offseason, Stevie Y will have his work cut out for him. For starters, there is the issue of Steven Stamkos. The budding superstar is a restricted free agent this year and you better believe there will be teams sending offer sheets his way if the two sides can't work out a deal in the next few weeks -- you have to think a deal being reached in the next two weeks is the most likely outcome. Obviously if he goes the loss is tremendous, but if he stays, the impact will be felt elsewhere as he is due a significant pay raise.
Even with the salary cap going up next season, the Bolts won't be able to keep all of their big players on the roster. Between Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis, Ryan Malone, Mattias Ohlund and Pavel Kubina, that's $30 million, or roughly half of next season's salary cap, depending on the final cap number.
In addition to Stamkos, one of the team's playoff Stars, Teddy Purcell, will also be a restricted free agent while the biggest playoff surprise of them all, Sean Bergenheim, will be unrestricted. Same goes for Simon Gagne.
With their midseason acquisition of Dwayne Roloson, the Bolts helped solve what had been a bit of a riddle for them in net. In relief of him, Mike Smith was very solid. Both of them, too, are scheduled to hit the open market as unrestricted free agents. After dealing with Stamkos, that'll be the second priority, figuring out who will be minding the net.
This season, Yzerman showed a bit of a golden touch so early in his career leading the Lightning, so we'll learn further this offseason if he's as good as gold. The Lightning still have a solid foundation, but seeing if he can lock up the franchise cornerstone and getting the players to fit the mold will be something worth watching in the coming months. The good news is the team does start the offseason with a little bit of room under the current cap.
-- Brian Stubits
Posted on: May 24, 2011 3:28 pm
Edited on: May 24, 2011 9:22 pm
Since being acquired midseason from the Islanders, Roloson has been the Lightning's No. 1 netminder. Boucher credited the 41-year-old keeper for Tampa Bay's success and explained his thinking about Mike Smith's Game 5 start.
"He was the guy that took us here and that's how I felt before last game," Boucher said of Roloson. "I felt like it was time to give him a little breather."
-- Brian Stubits
Posted on: May 21, 2011 6:19 pm
Edited on: May 21, 2011 6:40 pm
After struggling to the tune of three goals surrendered in nine shots, Lightning coach Guy Boucher pulled the graybeard in favor of Smith, who was perfect in relief.
"You can never be surprised [to get put into the game]. You always have to be ready," Smith said. "It was one of those things where every turnover that we had went into the net and it wasn't because Roli didn't play well, stuff like that just happens."
In all, Smith saved each and every one of the 21 shots the Bruins put on him, including a couple of fantastic stops in the third period.
So naturally, the question next is, Who's your starter in Game 5, coach Boucher?
"We have our No. 1 goaltender. He's taken us to this place right now. And that's the reason why we're here."
As for Smith?
"Smitty has been terrific... Whenever he was asked to play since Roloson has been there, he's been terrific. I mean, he's just been terrific."
So to clarify, who's starting Game 5 in Boston?
"We just finished this game now," Boucher said. "We're happy we just beat a terrific team and were a lot harder to play against today. And Smitty was part of it and Roloson is -- it doesn't change the status."
There you have it. Roloson, who received the largest roar of all the Lightning players in the pregame introductions, is, at this point, going to be back in net on Monday.
But the leash could be shorter.
"Whenever it's time for [Smith] to help the team and try to change the momentum around, I don't hesitate," Boucher said.
-- Brian Stubits
-- Photo: Tampa Bay's Mike Smith, courtesy of US Presswire