Discussing the need for goalie coaches in the post-lockout years

goaliecoaches.jpgAs much as the sport (and the position) has evolved – just look at the way the equipment went from skimpy pads to netminders resembling “The Michelin Man” – some things never change. Even if their relative value within an NHL franchise and on the free agent market may ebb and flow, goalie performances still make or break just about every NHL team.

So it makes sense, then, to hire a bright and skillful goalie coach to get inside their often murky heads. NHL.com had a nice story about the rise of goalie coaches from just a few only a decade or two ago to an every team standard now. While the story emphasizes the importance of learning the intricacies of a position that is now much more challenging and technical thanks to the increased speed of the game, a good relationship between a goalie and his coach ultimately comes down to human factors like trust.

Goalie coaches have drawn comparison to quarterback coaches in football because they handle a small, specialized group of players — in the NHL, that’s usually just the two goaltenders carried by most teams. With such a close relationship, success boils down to a matter of trust between player and coach.

“There has to be trust,” Dunham said. “Trust in the goalie to trust his goalie coach. The goalie coach has to understand what the goalie is going through during the ups and the downs of a season. The goalie has to feel that the goalie coach understands where he is coming from and what he is trying to do.”

Francois Allaire, regarded as one of the best goalie coaches in the world, couldn’t agree more about the importance of trust in the goalie-coach relationship.

“Trust is important, just like in every relationship,” he told NHL.com. “The goalie has to trust the system you bring in practice and he has to trust it’s going to work in the game.”

(It’s great to see random goalie names from the 90s like Dunham’s pop up out of nowhere, isn’t it?)

The funny thing is that I was waiting through the first few paragraphs of this story thinking “Why hasn’t Francois Allaire been mentioned?” He seemed to have the Midas Touch with goalies as the guy for the Anaheim Ducks, churning out winners like J.S. Giguere, Ilya Bryzgalov and most recently Jonas Hiller.

That being said, Allaire could be the source of a “chicken or the egg” argument if the goalies on the Toronto Maple Leafs struggle this season. After all, Allaire spent his time in an organization that employed the likes of Scott Niedermayer and Chris Pronger. Some might say that a goalie’s best friend is his coach, but I’d say that an even better ally comes in the form of a huge, gap-toothed defenseman who will make the opposition pay.

Nonetheless, sports require a much more academic approach than ever before, so it’s great to know that every NHL team invests in a goalie coach. Perhaps we’ll find more sophisticated ways of measuring their aptitude beyond wins and save percentages some day, too.

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    Red Wings’ Mike Green to have neck surgery, ending his season

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    Mike Green‘s neck has done him few favors this season, and now it’s done his season in.

    The All-Star defenseman will undergo cervical spine surgery and will miss the remainder of the 2017-18, the Detroit Red Wings announced on Thursday, right before the puck dropped for their game against the Washington Capitals.

    Red Wings fans will recall, and likely bemoan, an earlier neck injury that prevented Green from getting dealt at the trade deadline earlier this season.

    Green, 32, was hurt in a Feb. 15 matchup with the Tampa Bay Lightning and missed seven games, returning on March 2 against the Winnipeg Jets. On Wednesday, he aggravated the same injury in practice.

    Green has eight goals and 33 points in 66 games played.

    Per Helene St. James of the Detroit Free Press:

    The procedure is scheduled for April 5 at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City and will be performed by Dr. Frank Cammisa. A minimum two months of recovery time is expected.

    It will be interesting to see what happens with Green this summer. The aging d-man is headed to free agency this summer and what he will command is up in the air. That number, whatever it is, likely took a blow thanks to this latest revelation on Thursday.

    Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

    WATCH LIVE: Washington Capitals at Detroit Red Wings

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    Washington Capitals

    Alex Ovechkin / Nicklas Backstrom / Tom Wilson

    Andre Burakovsky / Lars Eller / T.J. Oshie

    Brett Connolly / Travis Boyd / Jakub Vrana

    Chandler Stephenson / Jay Beagle / Devante Smith-Pelly

    Dmitry Orlov / Matt Niskanen

    Michal Kempny / John Carlson

    Christian Djoos / Brooks Orpik

    Starting goalie: Philipp Grubauer

    [Capitals – Red Wings preview]

    Detroit Red Wings

    Tyler Bertuzzi / Henrik Zetterberg / Gustav Nyquist

    Darren Helm / Dylan Larkin / Anthony Mantha

    Justin Abdelkader / Frans Nielsen / Andreas Athanasiou

    Evgeny Svechnikov / Luke Glendening / Martin Frk

    Niklas Kronwall / Mike Green

    Jonathan Ericsson / Trevor Daley

    Danny DeKeyser / Nick Jensen

    Starting goalie: Jimmy Howard

    One reason for Dallas Stars’ struggles? Shaky drafting

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    The narrative is becoming almost as much of a trope as the Capitals suffering playoff heartbreak or the Hurricanes not even getting to the postseason. Year after year, the Dallas Stars “win” the off-season, yet they frustrate as much as they titillate when the pucks drop.

    For years, mediocre-to-putrid goaltending has been tabbed as the culprit. There’s no denying that there have been disappointments in that area, especially since they keep spending big bucks hoping to cure those ills.

    [Once again, Stars’ hope hinge on Kari Lehtonen.]

    Checking all the boxes

    The thing with success in the NHL is that there is no “magic bullet.”

    Sure, the Penguins lucked out in being putrid at the right times to land Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and other key players with lottery picks. Even so, they’ve also unearthed some gems later in drafts (Kris Letang, Jake Guentzel) and made shrewd trades (Phil Kessel is the gift that keeps giving). They’ve also had a keen eye when it comes to who to keep or not keep in free agency, generally speaking.

    In other words, the best teams may stumble here or there, but they’re generally good-to-great in just about every area.

    The Stars hit a grand slam in the Tyler Seguin trade, made a shrewd signing in Alex Radulov, and enjoyed some nice wins in other moves. You can nitpick the style elements of bringing back Ken Hitchcock, but there are pluses to adding the Hall of Famer’s beautiful hockey mind.

    Beyond goaltending, the Stars’ struggles in drafting and/or developing players really seems to be holding them back.

    Not feeling the draft

    Now, that’s not to say that they never find nice players on draft weekend. After all, they unearthed Jamie Benn in the fifth round (129th overall) in 2007 and poached John Klingberg with a fifth-rounder, too (131st pick in 2010).

    Still, first-round picks have not been friendly to this franchise. When they’ve managed to make contact, they’ve managed some base hits, but no real homers. (Sorry, Radek Faksa.)

    The Athletic’s James Gordon (sub required) ranked the Stars at 28th of 30 NHL teams who’ve drafted from 2011-15, furthering the point:

    Imagine how great the Stars would be — what with Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn and Alexander Radulov — had they managed to get another core piece or two with one of their many mid-first and second-round picks. Instead, they’ve nabbed mostly role players who don’t move the needle much.

    Actually, it’s quite staggering just how far back the Stars’ struggles with first-rounders really goes. Ignoring 2017 first-rounder Miro Heiskanen (third overall) and 2016 first-rounder Riley Tufte (25th) as they’re particularly early in their development curves, take a look at the Stars’ run of first-rounders:

    2015: Denis Gurianov, 12th overall, 1 NHL game
    2014: Julius Honka, 14th, 53 GP
    2013: Valeri Nichushkin, 10th, 166 GP; Jason Dickinson, 29th, 35 GP
    2012: Radek Faksa, 13th, 196 GP
    2011: Jamie Oleksiak, 14th, 179 GP
    2010: Jack Campbell, 11th, 6 GP
    2009: Scott Glennie, 8th, 1 GP
    2008: No first
    2007: No first
    2006: Ivan Vishnevskiy, 27th, 5 GP
    2005: Matt Niskanen, 28th, 792 GP

    Yikes. Even if Gurianov and Honka come along, that group leaves … a lot to be desired. (And those struggles go back past 2014 and beyond, honestly.)

    Blame scouting, development, or both, but the Stars aren’t supplementing high-end talent with the depth that often separates great from merely good.

    This isn’t a call for perfection, either. Even a team with some high-profile whiffs can also get big breaks. Sure, the Boston Bruins passed on Mathew Barzal three times, but they also got steals in Charlie McAvoy and David Pastrnak.



    If the Stars want to break through as more than a fringe playoff team, “winning the off-season” will need to start in late June instead of early July.

    And, hey, what better time to do that than when they’re hosting the next draft?

    James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

    NHL Playoff Push: Big bubble battles

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    On a busy Thursday in the NHL, there’s at least one big matchup in both the East and West. While there are cases where playoff teams merely need to take care of business against lottery fodder, the most fun could come in tests of might with considerable stakes.

    Western Conference

    The most intriguing contest could be Los Angeles Kings at Colorado Avalanche, a battle between the West’s two wild card teams.

    As you can see, the Avalanche currently hold the first wild-card spot, and they’re only two points behind the Wild for the Central’s third seed. The Kings could leap over the Ducks for the Pacific third seed, as Anaheim only holds one point over Los Angeles.

    The San Jose Sharks host the Vegas Golden Knights in another interesting contest, which airs on NBCSN at 10 p.m. ET as part of a doubleheader. Here’s the stream link.

    San Jose faces low odds in catching Vegas for the Pacific crown, but the Sharks are hot enough that a win tonight could strengthen such a drive. If nothing else, they hope to improve their chances of holding onto the second seed.

    With Auston Matthews likely to return tonight, the Maple Leafs visiting the Predators should be a lot of fun, even if the two teams seem fairly locked into their spots in respective playoff races.

    [The 2018 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs begin April 11 on the networks of NBC]

    Eastern Conference

    Alongside Kings – Avs, Florida Panthers at Columbus Blue Jackets is the other big game of the day.

    With two games in hand on the Devils and three on the Flyers/Blue Jackets, Florida could really climb the ranks. They do face a road-heavy haul, however, and that includes one of the toughest tests of that run tonight, when they face the red-hot Blue Jackets. Artemi Panarin is one of the driving forces of a squad riding a nine-game winning streak, and making the Metro races congested in the process.

    If Columbus wins, they would really push the idle Penguins and even the Capitals, who hope to maintain or increase their lead for the Metro title as they face the Red Wings in Detroit. You can watch those teams, and maybe see Alex Ovechkin increase his Maurice Richard Trophy lead, in an NBCSN game. Coverage begins at 7:30 p.m. ET, while you can also catch the stream here.

    There are also two “take care of business” games. The Lightning could really fatten their Atlantic title edge by beating the Islanders, while the Flyers hope to increase their margin of error over the Panthers/Blue Jackets if they can win against the Rangers.

    The rest of the night features games between teams who are either eliminated from the playoffs or hurtling toward that fate.

    If the playoffs started today

    Tampa Bay Lightning vs. New Jersey Devils
    Washington Capitals vs. Philadelphia Flyers
    Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Columbus Blue Jackets
    Boston Bruins vs. Toronto Maple Leafs

    Nashville Predators vs. Los Angeles Kings
    Vegas Golden Knights vs. Colorado Avalanche
    Winnipeg Jets vs. Minnesota Wild
    San Jose Sharks vs. Anaheim Ducks

    Noteworthy games

    Tampa Bay Lightning at New York Islanders, 7 p.m. ET
    New York Rangers at Philadelphia Flyers, 7 p.m. ET
    Florida Panthers at Columbus Blue Jackets, 7 p.m. ET
    Washington Capitals at Detroit Red Wings, 7:30 p.m. ET
    Toronto Maple Leafs at Nashville Predators, 8 p.m. ET
    Los Angeles Kings at Colorado Avalanche, 9 p.m. ET
    Vegas Golden Knights at San Jose Sharks, 10 p.m. ET

    James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.