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.

Islanders add Terreri as goaltending development coach

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The New York Islanders made a coaching move Wednesday, naming former NHL puckstopper Chris Terreri as a goalie development coach and goalie coach for the AHL’s Bridgeport Sound Tigers.

“Chris has a vast amount of knowledge and experience, both as a player and a coach,” said Islanders general manager Garth Snow. “We’re excited for him to work with our goalies at every level, as well as assist in our scouting process and to make his mark on this crucial position.”

Terreri appeared in 406 NHL games between 1986 and 2001, spending most of his career with the New Jersey Devils.

He then transitioned into coaching, spending the last eight years working as a goalie coach with the Devils.

Related: Under pressure: Jaroslav Halak

Under pressure: Claude Giroux

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This post is part of Flyers Day on PHT…

In 2014, Claude Giroux was a finalist for the Hart Trophy.

In the three years since, Giroux has experienced a rather significant drop in overall production, hitting a low point last season and leading general manager Ron Hextall when it was all over to give a defiant vote of confidence for the Flyers captain and highest paid player.

Giroux scored only 14 goals and 58 points while playing the full 82-game schedule. If there is a positive, it’s that on the power play, he was still highly productive with 31 points, which led a Flyers team that was 14th in the league with the advantage. Those 31 power play points for Giroux accounted about 53 per cent of his offensive output.

The NHL recently released its list of top-20 centers heading into next season, and Giroux didn’t make the list.

“Frustrating,” is how Giroux described last season to reporters after the Flyers failed to make the playoffs. “When you try to do something and you can’t do it — your mind wants to do something but your body doesn’t do it, it’s frustrating.

“You’ve got to keep working on your game, get stronger, faster. I mean, I’m very excited to … have a whole summer to work out and really do what I want to do.”

That last part is key.

Giroux, who will turn 30 years old in January, struggled through a hip problem during the 2015-16 season and had surgery in the spring. The timeline for recovery from the operation was about 10 to 12 weeks, which would cut into his summer training. There was perhaps some added rush to get back considering he played for Team Canada at the World Cup ahead of the NHL regular season.

One of his notable statements prior to joining the Canadian contingent was, “I don’t feel like I have a 60-year-old hip anymore.” That should provide an indication as to how much of a struggle it was for him prior to surgery. But this year, there is no World Cup. There was no off-season surgery with a lengthy recovery. Perhaps the bounce back season Flyers fans, management and coaching staff are all hoping for will take shape for Giroux after a full summer of training.

The Flyers are expected to have some young players in their lineup, and they no longer have Brayden Schenn, who was traded to St. Louis at the draft. Nolan Patrick could have an impact on the lineup as the second overall pick, but he too is coming off an injury-plagued season in the Western Hockey League.

Adding to the pressure on Giroux is that he’s under contract for five more years — with a no-movement clause, according to CapFriendly — at a cap hit of $8.275 million.

Looking to make the leap: Travis Sanheim

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This post is part of Flyers Day on PHT…

There appears to be a competition brewing for a spot on the Flyers blue line this upcoming season and 21-year-old Travis Sanheim is keen to throw his name into the mix.

Taken 17th overall in the 2014 NHL Draft, Sanheim has seen a rise in his offensive production, capping off his junior career in 2016 with 15 goals and 68 points, averaging well over a point per game in the WHL. He made the jump full-time to the professional ranks last season and provided more optimism for a Flyers franchise that has built a solid prospect pool.

In 76 games with the AHL’s Lehigh Valley Phantoms, Sanheim reached 10 goals and 37 points, finishing second in scoring among defensemen on that team. According to numerous reports, he followed that up with a strong showing at development camp earlier this summer, too.

Now, the goal is to come to training camp next month and earn a spot on the NHL club.

From CSN Philly:

Under general manager Ron Hextall’s philosophy of earn what you get, Sanheim will have his chance. But is there room? The Flyers are at a numbers crunch on the blue line. There is expected to be two spots open, presumably for Robert Hagg and Sam Morin, both of whom acquitted themselves well during their April NHL debuts.

“It’s going to come down to camp,” Sanheim told reporters in the summer. “I feel like I’m ready. I’m going to compete for a spot and until somebody tells me differently, that’s my goal. I’m coming to make the Flyers.

“It doesn’t matter what team you’re playing on. You have to work your way up the lineup. It’s just like me this year. I had to work my way up the lineup in the AHL just to start playing more and more minutes, and getting power play time and (penalty kill) time. It’s going to be the same thing. Nobody said it was going to be easy and I was going to be slotted into the first pairing.”

The Flyers took defensemen in the first rounds of three consecutive drafts, from 2013 to 2015, with Sanheim’s selection sandwiched in the middle. In 2015, Philly took Ivan Provorov at seventh overall. At just 20 years old, the Russian blue liner wasted little time in making an impact on the NHL roster, playing in all 82 games last season, scoring six goals and 30 points.

Morin and Sanheim have each had time to develop in the minors, with the former spending the past two seasons in the AHL, which should prove beneficial to the growth in their games heading into September.

“Whenever you play in the American League you get a leg up because you’ve been playing at a higher level of competition for a full year,” Hextall said, per the Courier-Post.

“You expect those guys to come in and be a little more NHL ready than a kid that’s coming right out of junior, but the players are gonna dictate who’s on our team. We’ll see how it goes.”

Poll: Will the Flyers make the playoffs?

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This post is part of Flyers Day on PHT…

The Philadelphia Flyers missed the playoffs by seven points last season, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that their future looks bright.

Many experts believe that they have the best group of prospects in the NHL. This summer, they added Nolan Patrick to the fold by selecting him second overall in the 2017 Entry Draft. If Patrick could stay healthy, he could provide the Flyers with a nice offensive boost next season.

Philadelphia can use all the help they can get up front, as they ranked 20th in goals for in 2016-17. The most disappointing Flyer in terms of offensive production had to be Claude Giroux. The captain managed to put up a respectable 58 points in 82 games, but he only found the back of the net 14 times (his lowest total since he scored 13 goals in 48 games during the lockout shortened season in 2012-13).

They have other quality forwards on the roster. Wayne Simmonds and Jakub Voracek are still around, Travis Konecny has a year under his belt, but there are some serious question marks surrounding the supporting cast.

Brayden Schenn, who finished second on the team in goals with 25, was traded to St. Louis in the off-season. The Flyers received a package that included Jori Lehtera, who had struggles of his own last year. Lehtera, Valtteri Filppula, Matt Read and the rest of the forwards will have to step up.

On defense, they’re blessed with some talented options. Shayne Gostisbehere struggled in his second year, but still managed to put up 39 points. If he can play like he did during his rookie campaign, that will help his team tremendously.

Ivan Provorov, who played his first full season last year, was impressive. The 20-year-old had 30 points in 82 games, and he should be even better now that he’s going into his second year.

Andrew MacDonald, Radko Gudas and Brandon Manning are also expected to round out the blue line in 2017-18.

Youngsters like Samuel Morin, Travis Sanheim, Philippe Myers and Robert Hagg are all close to contributing with the big club in the near future.

Between the pipes, they went out and signed Michal Neuvirth to an extension and they added Brian Elliott in free agency. That still doesn’t give them a clear number one goalie, so it’s difficult to see envision how that’ll all work out. We’ll see where Anthony Stolarz fits into the equation.

Last season, the Capitals, Penguins, Blue Jackets grabbed the top three spots in the Metropolitan Division, while the Rangers and Maple Leafs earned the Wild Card spots. The Islanders and Lightning both finished ahead of the Flyers in the race for the final playoff spots in the East.

If the Flyers do earn s postseason berth, it’ll be interesting to see which one of those teams won’t be qualifying for playoffs.

Will Philadelphia make the playoffs? You can have your say by voting in the poll below. Also, feel free to leave your opinion in the comments section.