Trading places: New goaltenders with pressure to perform next season

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The offseason has been like a giant game of musical chairs for goaltenders around the NHL. There are midseason acquisitions who will be asked to carry the mail from the beginning of the season like Craig Anderson in Ottawa and Dwayne Roloson in Tampa Bay. There were plenty of netminders like J.S. Giguere, Brian Elliott, Mathieu Garon, Brian Boucher, Peter Budaj, and Jeff Deslauriers who found new homes in free agency that are expected to provide adequate back-up goaltending when the starters needs a break. Even Ondrej Pavelec will be trying to impress a new city and fanbase and he’s on the same team. Thank you True North.

Most importantly, there are teams who have handed the keys to the net to newcomers. Sure, there were teams that strengthened their goaltending depth, but there are a few teams that are depending on new goaltenders to carry them to success on a nightly basis next season. Their new teams’ success heavily depends on their ability to adjust to a new city, new fans, new system, and increased expectations.

Each goaltender faces a different set of circumstances that will contribute to the pressure in their new locales. Maybe the team expects to step up and be a playoff contender. Maybe their new team paid a king’s ransom to acquire them in the offseason. Maybe their new team expects the Stanley Cup and nothing less. Each will walk into a different situation—but they all face demands to succeed.

Here are five of the goaltenders who face the most pressure to perform for their new teams next season.

Ilya Bryzgalov (Philadelphia Flyers): Any discussion regarding pressure for goaltenders begins in Philadelphia with Ilya Bryzgalov. By signing the 31-year goaltender to a 9-year, $51 million deal (and other smaller decisions), the team was forced to part ways with Jeff Carter, Mike Richards, and even Kris Versteeg. The team that went to Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final two years ago and was the second best team in the Eastern Conference last season basically blew up the team to build around their new goaltender. The result: the Flyers have more new faces than Bobby Knight in a postgame press conference and there’s great anticipation for Bryzgalov between the pipes next season.

“I want to be the guy who can carry this team. I don’t know what else to say. I want to help this team win the Stanley Cup because people in Philadelphia and the organization have waited long enough.”

At least he understands the expectations in Philly. In Phoenix, a great regular season and a playoff appearance were enough for to keep most fans happy. Next season, fans will expect a great regular season, a playoff berth, and much more.

Semyon Varlamov (Colorado Avalanche): Varlamov has a completely different set of expectations than Bryzgalov—yet still faces plenty of pressure. When the Avalanche gave up both a first and second round pick for the talented former 1st round pick, they loudly stated that they expected him to be the goaltender of the future for their rebuilding team. He’ll need to prove to the fans that he was worth the huge price GM Greg Sherman paid for him at July 1st or the jokes will be coming faster than you can say Phil Kessel. If Varlamov is only an average goaltender and the Avs struggle again next season, the Avalanche could have traded away one of the top picks of next year’s draft. It’ll be Varlamov’s job to make sure that doesn’t happen.

Tomas Vokoun (Washington Capitals): The Washington Capitals have been the best regular season team in the Eastern Conference over the last two seasons—including a Presidents’ Trophy as best regular season team in the NHL. Yet in both years, the team fell apart in the postseason and only managed one series win combined. One of the big question marks surrounding the team (rightfully or wrongly) has been the absence of a veteran goaltender that could carry the Caps deep into the playoffs. Jose Theodore played all of two playoff games in 2008-09 and the rest have been started by guys under the age of 23. When Vokoun fell into Washington’s lap on July 2, he wasn’t expressly given the starting job—but it certainly sounds like it’s his to lose. Over the majority of his career in Nashville and Florida, Vokoun has proven that he’s one of the most underrated goaltenders in the NHL. If he can perform at the highest level next season with the Caps, everyone will know his name.

Mike Smith (Phoenix Coyotes): Smith may have the most thankless job ahead of him this season. One of the least known people on this list, he’ll be faced with the challenge of replacing one of the best goaltenders over the last two years (Bryzgalov) on a team that has made the playoffs in consecutive years. The consensus opinion is that without elite goaltending by Bryzgalov, Phoenix would have struggled to make the playoffs in either season. This year, fans will find out exactly how important he was to the team—and if Smith is able to fill the large void left by the new Flyers goaltender. Smith knows people will measure him against his predecessor:

“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.”

Sports cliché’s aside, Smith has the perfect outlook going into his new gig. He’ll just have to go into Phoenix and take advantage of his opportunity as the team’s starter. If Smith can recapture the spark that intrigued the Lightning enough to include him in the Brad Richards trade, the Coyotes may have a guy who could help ease the pain of losing their franchise goaltender.

Jose Theodore (Florida Panthers): The Florida Panthers have certainly made a splash this offseason as Dale Tallon has worked to transform the team from one with potential and prospects to a team with plenty of proven NHL players. As part of his rebuilding plan, he hoped to re-sign Tomas Vokoun to go with all of the new faces. When it was apparent that Vokoun was looking for more money than the Panthers were willing to offer, he quickly moved to Plan B and picked up free agent Jose Theodore. Last season, Theodore had a .916 save percentage and 2.71 goals against average for a poor Minnesota Wild team; this year, he’ll fight with Scott Clemmensen for the starter’s role. The team went out and made plenty of acquisitions this year and expects to fight for the playoffs—but if the goaltending falls apart, there’s no way their team will be able to take the next step from cellar-dweller to playoff team. Theodore’s performance will have a lot to do with the Panthers’ success next season.

Adam Larsson has become an ‘anchor’ for the Oilers

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Last summer’s Taylor Hall-for-Adam Larsson swap wasn’t popular in Edmonton, and it probably still isn’t now, but it likely stings a lot less today.

Larsson came up huge in Game 1 of their best-of-seven series against the Anaheim Ducks, as he scored a pair of goals and an assist in the 5-3 victory.

The 24-year-old’s first goal extended Edmonton’s lead to 3-1 in the third period, while his second tally gave them a 4-3 lead (it proved to be the game-winner) with under five minutes remaining in regulation.

Larsson finished Game 1 with a plus-2 rating, two shots on goal, three hits and two blocked shots in 18:47 of ice time (it’s the first time he’s played less than 21 minutes this postseason).

He now has four points in seven games during these playoffs, and he’s averaging 22:41 of ice time.

“We needed to improve our blue line and we needed to have an anchor back there and Larsson has become that,” said head coach Todd McLellan after his team’s win in Game 1, per the Edmonton Sun. “We could have kept floundering without fixing that hole and I think Peter Chiarelli and his staff did a tremendous job of addressing that issue. What he did to change the complexion of our team took a lot of courage. That’s not an easy thing to do when you are trading a player of Taylor’s caliber and popularity.”

Of course, we’ll never know if the Oilers would’ve made it this far had they not made that blockbuster deal last off-season, but it’s a good sign that Larsson has turned into a solid option for a team that was clearly lacking talent on defense.

Game 2 of the series will take place in Anaheim on Friday night at 10:30 p.m. ET. Don’t forget, you can stream the game via the NBC Sports app, which you can find right here.

Related:

Todd McLellan named finalist for 2017 Jack Adams Award

Oilers showed off their depth beyond McDavid in beating Sharks

2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs schedule for Thursday, April 27

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Last night, the Western Conference kicked off the second round of 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs, and tonight, it’ll be the Eastern Conference teams going head-to-head in a pair of great matchups.

Here’s what you need to know:

New York Rangers vs. Ottawa Senators

Time: 7:00 p.m. ET

Network: CNBC (Stream online here)

Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Washington Capitals

Time: 7:30 p.m. ET

Network: NBCSN (Stream online here)

PHT Morning Skate: The top 5 second-round matchups since 1980

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–Yesterday was the start of second-round action in the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs, so Sean McIndoe breaks down his top five second-round matchups since 1980. The most recent series on the list was the clash between the Blackhawks and Canucks in 2010, while the oldest series on the list 1988 battle between the Oilers and Flames. (The Hockey News)

–Rod Stewart was incredibly proud of his own, Liam, when he scored his first international goal for Great Britain during the Division 1 Group B World Hockey Championship. Stewart took to instagram to show just how thrilled he was about his son’s accomplishment. (Sportsnet)

–The Nashville Predators took down the St. Louis Blues, 4-3, in Game 1 of their second-round series thanks to a phenomenal effort from P.K. Subban. You can watch the highlights from Game 1 by clicking the video at the top of the page.

–Speaking of Subban, he sat down with NBC hockey analyst Pierre McGuire after last night’s win. Subban talked about overcoming St. Louis’ strong third-period push, the scary injury to Kevin Fiala and what it means to be a leader on a championship team. But on a lighter note, Subban also complimented McGuire on “getting better looking every day”. (NBC Sports)

Jarome Iginla will become an unrestricted free agent this summer. The 39-year-old still searching for his first Stanley Cup, which could be a big factor in his potential decision to hold off retirement. But here’s an interesting bit of information. Iginla, who suited up for the Bruins a couple of years ago, has reportedly purchased a $4.5 million home in the Boston area. Could he be headed back there? (WEEI.com)

–We’ve heard this story before, but it sounds like Ilya Kovalchuk is interested in coming back to the NHL. If he’s serious about returning to North America, there will be no shortage of suitors vying for his services. The Hockey News looks at some perfect landing spots for the the 34-year-old sniper. (The Hockey News)

–Unfortunately, Pierre LeBrun was let go by ESPN on Wednesday, but one of his final stories was a really good one. LeBrun mentions the possibility of some fireworks going off during the off-season thanks to the expansion draft and a lack of increase in the salary cap. LeBrun writes: “So much of it comes back to what decisions the Anaheim Ducks and Minnesota Wild make leading up to the expansion draft. The Ducks and Wild can’t protect all of their depth on defense, but there’s no way they’re just going to let the new Vegas Knights take a good blueliner for free in the expansion draft, either. I think they will either made a side deal with Vegas or simply trade whichever defenseman they can’t protect in the draft to another NHL team.” (ESPN)

Video: Getzlaf, Perry, Kesler lose cool in scuffle with Kassian, Oilers

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In the first round, Zack Kassian reminded the hockey world why he came into the league with considerable hype as a first-rounder, as he scored some big goals for the Edmonton Oilers.

Of course, there’s a reason why Kassian has 522 penalty minutes in 313 career regular-season games. He can be a nasty presence who straddles the line.

He did as much late in Game 1, getting into it with Ryan Kesler, and then things really got out of hand. Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and others were involved in “histrionics.”

(Who wants to start a Patreon to find out what Getzlaf and Andrej Sekera were saying to each other, by the way?)

It looks like the players involved were only whistled for roughing minors rather than fighting majors. This caps a tough night for Anaheim, who lost 5-3 and saw Kevin Bieksa suffer a troubling lower-body injury.