Phoenix adds new wrinkle to the NHL goaltending debate

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Tonight in Toronto, it’s the tale of two vastly different goaltending situations.

The Leafs will start rookie Ben Scrivens in goal. He’ll get the nod over third-year pro Jonas Gustavsson, who was originally tabbed to be the starting netminder after sophomore sensation James Reimer got hurt.

The Coyotes, meanwhile, will counter with Mike Smith, a six-year veteran on his third NHL club. He’ll be backed up by Jason LaBarbera, a 31-year-old journeyman.

The two teams are at opposite ends of the goaltending spectrum stylistically…and statistically.

Toronto has the fourth-worst GAA (3.41). Both Scrivens and Gustavsson have save percentages below .900.

Phoenix has the NHL’s 10th-lowest GAA (2.47). Both goalies have solid save percentages — Smith: .931, LaBarbera: .900.

“[Nobody’s] been more important to the club so far this season than Smith,” writes CBC.ca. “Since allowing six goals in the season opener, the netminder’s goals-against average is 1.88.”

Smith’s ascension to a top-flight, No. 1 netminder is the latest in the ongoing debate of how NHL teams should approach the goaltending position. There’s no shortage of opinion on how to do it. Some say find a proven veteran and lock him up long-term. Others suggest grooming a less-expensive (and less-proven) youngster. Some say spend big while others preach frugality. Some say declare a clear-cut No. 1, others opt for the platoon system.

Thing is, Smith’s situation in Phoenix doesn’t really fit into any of those. When the Coyotes signed him to a two-year, $4-million deal back in July he was a run-of-the-mill 29-year-old goalie with marginal starting experience. (At $2 million per, he was being paid exactly like that — either a cheap starter, or a pricey backup.)

The thought was at best he’s a decent 1b to someone else’s 1a; at worst he’s one of the league’s better backups. Many assumed he’d be Phoenix’s starter, but they also assumed Phoenix would have the worst goaltending duo in the league.

Whoops.

Now granted, some of Smith’s success this year is due to Phoenix’s defensive style of play. But looking around the NHL right now — yes, Toronto included — there are more than a few clubs that could probably use Smith at $2 million per:

— The team he left, Tampa Bay, had to yank Dwayne Roloson again last night.

— Columbus’s goaltending woes are well documented.

— New Jersey is still on the lookout for 39-year-old Martin Brodeur’s heir apparent. (And if Smith wasn’t the heir apparent, he could’ve been a useful stopgap considering Brodeur’s backup, Johan Hedberg, is 38.)

It’s still early in the year and hey, Smith’s never played more than 42 games in a single season — this could still go pear-shaped. But for now, Phoenix has added yet another viable option as to how NHL teams should approach the goaltending position.

I’m just not sure how to describe it.

Trade: Penguins spend big to get bigger, get Reaves from Blues

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Pittsburgh Penguins GM Jim Rutherford said he wanted to add some snarl to protect stars such as Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. You won’t find many – if any – forces more intimidating than Ryan Reaves.

That’s who the Penguins reportedly acquired in a trade from the St. Louis Blues, who suddenly became very busy toward the end of the 2017 NHL Draft’s first round on Friday.

MORE: Blues acquire Brayden Schenn for Jori Lehtera, picks

TSN’s Pierre LeBrun confirmed that Reaves is headed to Pittsburgh, yet word hasn’t surfaced about other details of the move, including what is going the Blues’ way.

Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reports that Pittsburgh’s first-rounder, the 31st pick of 2017, is part of the package.

More to follow.

Trade: Flyers send Schenn to Blues, take on Lehtera’s contract

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Flyers GM Ron Hextall made a big splash at the end of the draft’s first round on Friday night, sending forward Brayden Schenn to St. Louis in exchange for Jori Lehtera, the 27th overall pick and a conditional first-round pick in 2018.

Schenn, 25, is coming off two pretty productive years with the Flyers, in which he scored 26 and 25 goals. He just wrapped the first of a four-year, $20.5 million deal — one that carries a $5.125M cap hit.

It’s a big get for the Blues, who now boast Schenn, Vladimir Tarasenko, Jaden Schwartz, Robby Fabbri, Paul Stastny and Alex Steen at forward.

That hit is largely why Lehtera is on his way to Philly. Coming off a “bad” season in which he struggled with injury and healthy scratches, there was speculation he’d be made available at the expansion draft — which he was — and when he wasn’t selected by Vegas, the likelihood of a trade was high.

Lehtera makes $4.7 million annually, through 2019.

With the 27th overall selection, the Flyers took Sault Ste. Marie center Morgan Frost. Frost finished fourth on the Greyhounds in scoring this year and had a strong playoff, with five goals and 11 points in 11 games. It was the second center Philly scored in the first round, having previously selected Nolan Patrick with the No. 2 overall selection.

And here are the conditions around that ’18 pick:

 

 

Vilardi falls down draft board, but thrilled to join Kings

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CHICAGO — If Gabriel Vilardi was disappointed after falling down the draft board, he sure hid it well.

The 17-year-old center looked and sounded positively ecstatic to be joining the Los Angeles Kings, who got him 11th overall Friday at United Center.

“There’s no words to describe it,” said Vilardi. “It’s just joy. All your life you work so hard for this, and then to hear your name called, it’s just an amazing feeling. Having your family there, it’s even better.”

That said, the consensus was that he’d be drafted a fair bit sooner. At the Stanley Cup Final, he was one of four top prospects that the NHL trotted out for reporters. The other three were Nico Hischier, Nolan Patrick, and Casey Mittelstadt, the first, second, and eighth picks, respectively.

If there’s a knock on Vilardi, it’s his skating. To really thrive in the NHL, it’ll need to get better. That’s why he’s off to Minnesota this summer to work with power-skating coach Barry Karn.

“I know what I need to work on,” he said. “I got a plan in place.”

Vilardi just won the Memorial Cup with the Windsor Spitfires. Now he’ll be joining a team that’s won two Stanley Cups in the last six years with the likes of Anze Kopitar, Jeff Carter, and Drew Doughty.

“I watch Kopitar a lot,” Vilardi said. “I really like the way he plays. I think some of his attributes are similar to mine. He’s so smart with the puck. He’s tough to knock off the puck. I can’t wait to go there, meet him and take whatever I can from him and apply it to my own game.”

Related: Gabriel Vilardi deserves your attention

McPhee, Golden Knights begin process of stockpiling talent

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The Vegas Golden Knights used the expansion draft this past week to stockpile draft picks in exchange for not selecting certain players. General manager George McPhee’s haul helped the team collect 12 draft picks for this year, including three of the top-15 picks in the first-round (No. 6 overall, No. 13 overall and No. 15 overall).

McPhee ended up keeping all three of his first-round picks and followed through on his commitment of drafting their way to success.

With those picks the Golden Knights selected a pair of centers, Cody Glass from the WHL’s Portland Winterhawks at No. 6, and Nick Suzuki from the Owen Sound Attack at No. 13.

From there, they began to build up their blue line by taking Swedish blue-liner Erik Brannstrom with the 15th overall pick.

With that collection of assets it was reasonable to imagine that McPhee might try to package some of them together to move up from their own pick at No. 6 overall, perhaps even to make a run at Nico Hischier or Nolan Patrick with one of the top-two picks.

McPhee made it sound like Glass was one of their primary targets and even suggested they had a deal in place (involving one of their second-round picks) to make a move for him if needed.

He did not need to.

When asked about the comparisons Glass drew to Winnipeg Jets forward Mark Scheifele, McPhee said it was a fair comparison.

In the end, keeping all three first-round picks is probably the best-case scenario for Vegas when it comes to building an organization from the ground up. Luck was not on their side in the draft lottery and they didn’t get an opportunity to get one of the elite prospects, and as tempting as it might have been to make a bold move up for one this is a team that is literally starting from scratch. It needs talent all over the ice and a lot of times the best way to find success in the draft is by giving yourself as many opportunities as possible.

McPhee certainly did that for Vegas in their first ever draft.