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Life after Bryzgalov: how will the Coyotes succeed in net?

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There’s not much hope among the hockey community for the Phoenix Coyotes this season. There’s a shocker. Despite back-to-back season with people all over the NHL doubting the desert dogs, the Coyotes have posted back-to-back playoff seasons. Yet still, after repeated success, most people are expecting them to fail.

Each season there are question marks surrounding the team; each season Don Maloney and Co. prove that they have the answers. But this season could be different. This season there’s a larger question mark—and the old answer between the pipes that could bail the team out is 2,000 miles away in Philadelphia. So what do the Coyotes plan on doing now that star goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov has moved onto a new contender in the Eastern Conference?

The first thing the Coyotes needed to do was bring in a goaltender they believed could lead the team. Even though there were other alternatives on July 1 (like Tomas Vokoun), Phoenix management had a certain guy in mind: Mike Smith. Coyotes GM Don Maloney spoke to ProHockeyTalk.com earlier in the summer about the problematic goaltending situation:

“We looked at a couple of different veterans that might have been there. We looked at a couple of younger goaltenders, there were a number of goaltenders available in trades, but we kept coming back to Mike Smith. His style of game – he’s a big goaltender – Sean Burke has had good success with big goaltenders. Dave Tippett had him in Dallas and liked him a lot. We think our system will help his game progress. He has all the tools to be a top goalie in this league; we just need to bring it out of him. He was really our #1 pick.”

Smith may have been management’s #1 option—but he probably wasn’t the fan’s first choice. He’s shown flashes of potential over the course of his career in Dallas and Tampa Bay. But he’s also had bouts of inconsistency that relegated him to platoon duty or even the bench.

Many forget that Bryzgalov had similar bouts with inconsistency when he was with the Anaheim Ducks. He’s shown stretches where he could carry the team and look like a legitimate #1 goaltender. Then he’d show flashes that reminded everyone why he was the back-up and a guy who eventually hit the waiver wire.

One of the big questions surrounding Bryzgalov was if he’d be able to play well for an entire 82 game season. He succeeded—but why? Was it the Coyotes team defense? Was it the system that Dave Tippett brought from Dallas that put him in a position to succeed? Perhaps, but GM Maloney has another reason for Bryzgalov’s asset to stardom in Phoenix.

“I think it was maturity,” the Coyotes general manager argued. “I think the way we treated him—to his credit he played [well], but I thought Sean Burke did a terrific job instructing him. I think the way we handled him, and I think our system is a very detailed system. Everybody knows what’s expected. I think it helped to just get a little more consistency in his game. If you look back at Bryzgalov prior to coming to us, there were periods of brilliance and then periods where you couldn’t put him in the net. We were able to get him to the point where he was consistently a top goalie.

“And that’s the same with Mike Smith. You saw it last year; he was fantastic in one playoff game. Now we just need to get about 70 of those games out of him.”

That could be easier said than done. Everyone looks for consistency between the pipes and a starter they can lean on for 70 games per season. Judging by the preseason predictions floating around, not very many people believe that Smith will be able to step into Bryzgalov’s rather large skates. If the Coyotes can’t get elite goaltending, then it will be tough for the team to compete for their third straight playoff berth.

Of all the people worrying about the Coyotes’ goaltending situation, the folks in the Coyotes’ front office don’t seem all that worried. They got their man. They have confidence in their goaltending coach because they’ve seen him do it before. Now it’s up to Smith to learn from Sean Burke and start fulfilling the vast potential that made him the main piece in a trade for Brad Richards.

If Mike Smith is the goaltender that Maloney thinks he is, the Coyotes will be set to raise eyebrows yet again. But if he can’t—well, all of the prognosticators may finally have their doubts confirmed.

Under Pressure: Tyler Johnson

TAMPA, FL - MAY 18:  Tyler Johnson #9 of the Tampa Bay Lightning skates against the Pittsburgh Penguins during the second period in Game Three of the Eastern Conference Final during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Amalie Arena on May 18, 2016 in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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This is part of Lightning day at PHT …

What a difference a year makes.

Last summer, Tyler Johnson was such a huge part of the Tampa Bay Lightning, more than a few people believed that he could ease the pain of possibly losing Steven Stamkos to free agency. He tied Stamkos for the team lead in scoring (72 points) and topped all Lightning players with 23 playoff points during their run to the 2015 Stanley Cup Final.

The 2015-16 regular season was a bumpy one for Johnson … in some ways literally.

Painful year

Health was a major obstacle for Johnson, starting with the hangover from a wrist injury he suffered during Tampa Bay’s magic run.

Even afterward, there were moments of pain. Sometimes it came down to flat-out bad luck:

Other times, there were questionable hits:

It wasn’t until late in the regular season that Johnson seemed to feel himself, as he noted to the Tampa Bay Tribune.

“I feel I’ve got the speed back, got everything I can do,” Johnson said. “I’m actually mentally there, not worried about other things …”

Big commitments

He’ll have some things to worry about in 2016-17.

The Lightning handed out a ton of money this off-season, locking up Stamkos, Victor Hedman, Alex Killorn and Andrei Vasilevskiy to lengthy deals. They still need to sort out a contract for Nikita Kucherov, a talented forward who rose while Johnson stumbled.

Fair or not, Johnson must prove that he’s a core member of the Lightning

He made a strong argument in his own favor once he was healthy, generating 17 points in 17 playoff games as the Lightning made it to within one game of another Stanley Cup Final appearance despite missing Stamkos.

Still, Johnson faces a fork in the road. Ben Bishop either needs a new deal or (most likely) a trade to a team that will make him “the guy.” Ondrej Palat likely won’t be the easiest player for Tampa Bay to re-sign, either.

Few players could gain or lose more money with one season of play than Tyler Johnson. He can prove that 2015-16 was derailed by bad luck or allow injury concerns to linger.

Millions are on the line, and those personal goals may very well help Johnson drive the Lightning to another deep run.

For all we know, he could also find himself driving out of town.

Bovada gives Canada best odds at 2016 World Cup of Hockey

SOCHI, RUSSIA - FEBRUARY 23:  (l-R) Jonathan Toews, Sidney Crosby and P.K. Subban #76 of Canada pose with the gold medals won during the Men's Ice Hockey Gold Medal match against Sweden on Day 16 of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics at Bolshoy Ice Dome on February 23, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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It’s no secret that Canada’s been on a strong run at the international level, and it’s no surprise that they’re considered the favorites heading into the 2016 World Cup of Hockey.

Seriously, just look at the B Team put together by The Hockey News’ Mike Brophy; even with the strange hook of having to go around the under-23 North American team, that group would be one of the top contenders if it existed.

The real fun is judging how Bovada’s odds fall with the other leading nations. Is Russia given too great a chance considering some recent struggles when facing the best of the best? Did that odd little under-23 team not get enough love?

Here are the odds Bovada released on Monday:

World Cup of Hockey 2016 Champion

Canada                         10/11

Russia                          9/2

Sweden                        5/1

USA                             13/2

Finland                         14/1

North America U23        16/1

Czech Republic             22/1

Team Europe                33/1

Interesting stuff.

Vegas confirms trademarks for Desert Knights, Golden Knights, Silver Knights

LAS VEGAS - MARCH 24:  A general view of the Fabulous Las Vegas sign on Las Vegas Boulevard on March 24, 2010 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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On Monday, a spokesman for the Las Vegas expansion team confirmed to NHL.com the group has trademarked a trio of potential nicknames — the Desert Knights, the Golden Knights and the Silver Knights.

The news comes on the heels of owner Bill Foley telling Yahoo “we’re kind of getting to the point where we’re almost there,” adding that he was “close” to naming the team.

More, from the Las Vegas Review-Journal:

Last week domain names were registered that might be an indicator that the NHL team scheduled to begin play in 2017 could be called the Las Vegas Desert Knights.

Last week the domains lasvegasdesertknights.com, vegasdesertknights.com and desertknightshockey.com were privately registered to Moniker Privacy Services, which is the same company that procured the domain name to NHL.com.

Earlier this summer, Foley — a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy — said Vegas can’t use a straight-up ‘Knights’ nickname in Canada, because London’s OHL franchise was also named the Knights.

There was some thought to use the Black Knights moniker, which is what the teams at West Point use. But Foley said the name wasn’t popular among the fans.

He also added that the “Nighthawks” moniker is still reserved, and could be used.

Poll: Is Kucherov’s contract situation anything to be worried about?

Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Michal Rozsival (32), of the Czech Republic, falls down on the puck in front of Tampa Bay Lightning right wing Nikita Kucherov (86), of Russia, during the second period of an NHL hockey game, Thursday, Jan. 21, 2016, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
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This post is part of Tampa Bay Lightning day at PHT…

“We continue to communicate with his representation, and we expect to have him under contract to start the season.”

That was what Tampa Bay GM Steve Yzerman told the Times back on July 27, in discussing the future of RFA forward Nikita Kucherov.

That was 33 days ago.

Since then, most — if not all — has gone silent on the Kucherov front. The 23-year-old, coming off career highs in goals (30) and points (66), remains unsigned with a bunch of key dates on the horizon.

The first few are mostly to do with the World Cup of Hockey. Kucherov will represent Russia in the tourney, with the Russians set to begin training camp on Sept. 5 — one week from now.

Their first exhibition game takes place on Sept. 8, against the Czechs, and they open tournament play on Sept. 18.

There are insurance policies in place to so unsigned RFAs can play in the World Cup, meaning Kucherov should be a go for the Russians. Other RFAs look as though they’re in a similar boat — Johnny Gaudreau and Jacob Trouba with Team North America, specifically — so it doesn’t feel like Tampa Bay needs to get Kucherov locked in ASAP.

But when?

That’s the big question.

Yzerman’s earned a reputation as a tough, unflinching negotiator. He stood firm during the Jonathan Drouin trade request saga, and remained steadfast with his contract offer to Steve Stamkos. In both instances, Yzerman “won” — Drouin rescinded his request and is now fully back in Tampa’s mix, while Stamkos eschewed going to free agency to ink a long-term deal with the Bolts.

Hence the intrigue around Kucherov.

Pundits have pointed to a pair of contracts — Filip Forsberg‘s six-year, $36 million extension and Nathan MacKinnon‘s seven-year, $44.1 million deal — as potential benchmarks for Kucherov. What we don’t know is where Yzerman is at.

We do know that Tampa Bay is in a cap crunch. Yzerman could alleviate some of the pressure by putting Ryan Callahan (hip) on LTIR to start the year, but that’s a temporary solution. Yzerman also has to be wary of the future, especially since the likes of Drouin, Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat will all need new deals next season.

So, we turn it over to you — is the Kucherov situation a concern? Or will it all get sorted out, as it so often does with Yzerman?