Mike Smith

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.

Avalanche say ankle injury ends Nikita Zadorov’s season

DENVER, CO - DECEMBER 14: Nikita Zadorov #16 of the Colorado Avalanche congratulates Matt Duchene #9 after his goal against the Philadelphia Flyers at the Pepsi Center on December 14, 2016 in Denver, Colorado.  (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
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As if the Colorado Avalanche needed another miserable element to 2016-17: Nikita Zadorov suffered a season-ending injury during the same practice that Erik Johnson returned.

Zadorov injured his ankle after being tangled up with Mikko Rantanen during a Monday practice, according to the Denver Post.

Update: The Denver Post’s Mike Chambers reports that it’s a fractured ankle. Yikes.

Zadorov, 21, is a big defenseman with the pedigree that would inspire teams to imagine better things in the future (16th pick in 2013 by Buffalo). So far, that potential hasn’t really manifested itself in production, whether you judge a player by points, plus/minus or possession numbers.

He may be able to put it together at some point – again, he’s young – so perhaps he’ll remember this as a low point before he turns things around.

At the moment, it’s just another grim part of a bleak time for the Avs.

Kings may just lean on Budaj as Quick progresses toward return

LAS VEGAS, NV - OCTOBER 08:  Goaltender Jonathan Quick #32 of the Los Angeles Kings stands on the ice during a preseason game against the Colorado Avalanche at T-Mobile Arena on October 8, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Colorado won 2-1 in overtime.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
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LA Kings Insider provided a mostly positive update about Jonathan Quick‘s gradual recovery from what’s been a season-long injury. Still, it’s difficult to get a truly concrete idea about the team’s plans.

Quick told Jon Rosen that “everything’s coming along really well,” but they didn’t give a hard date on when he may suit up again for Los Angeles.

(NHL.com and Rosen’s report remind us that the general aim is for “the first half of March.”)

The Kings were mulling over the possibility of recalling former Stars first-round pick Jack Campbell to attempt to ease the surprisingly large burden on journeyman goalie Peter Budaj, but Rosen reports that such discussions have been “tabled.”

Jeff Zatkoff has been a mixture of inactive and ineffective for the Kings, so what about getting help elsewhere for Budaj? That part’s a little fuzzy, though it’s clear that Budaj – Zatkoff is the duo for the moment.

Darryl Sutter backs that up, via Rosen:

But, according to a source, Campbell’s recall has been tabled, as it appears as though Budaj and Zatkoff will be the duo until Quick is able to return, and that no cut-off will be necessary as Quick is “on that path” towards being game-ready, according to Sutter.

None of this explicitly shuts down at least the thought of trading for goaltending help, though it doesn’t give you the impression that such a move is pressing for the Kings. They’re not laying out a deadline, whether it be a self-imposed one or the trade deadline itself.

Some of this seems a little unclear, though it currently follows the pattern of this season: it falls on Budaj, at least until Quick is back. Whenever that may be.

Trouba suspended two games for ‘high, forceful’ headshot on Stone

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Jets blueliner Jacob Trouba has been suspended two games for his headshot on Ottawa forward Mark Stone, the NHL’s Department of Player Safety announced on Monday.

“Trouba steps up and delivers a high, forceful blow that makes the head the main point of contact, on a hit where such head contact was avoidable,” the DoPS explained. “The onus here is on Trouba to deliver a full body hit through his opponent’s core. Instead, Trouba takes a poor angle of approach, picking Stone’s head.”

The incident occurred in Winnipeg’s 3-2 win over Ottawa on Sunday. Trouba was given a two-minute minor on the play, much to the displeasure of Ottawa head coach Guy Boucher.

Stone didn’t return to the game following the hit but, according to the DoPS, “suffered no apparent injury.”

Trouba will now miss tomorrow’s game in Toronto, then Winnipeg’s next game following the bye week — on Feb. 28, against Minnesota. He’s eligible to return on Mar. 3, when the Jets host the Blues.

Trouba will also forfeit $33,333.34 in salary to the Players’ Emergency Assistance Fund.

Sens extend depth blueliner Claesson — one year, $650,000

OTTAWA, ON - APRIL 5: Fredrik Claesson #49 of the Ottawa Senators skates against the Pittsburgh Penguins at Canadian Tire Centre on April 5, 2016 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images)
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Ottawa made a minor move on Monday, agreeing to terms with d-man Fredrik Claesson on a one-year extension worth $650,000.

The deal is of the one-way variety.

Claesson, 24, has appeared in 19 games for the Sens this year, scoring five points. He’s averaging just 10:27 per game but has been a more regular lineup fixture regularly, having played in five of Ottawa’s last six games.

The Swedish rearguard has also appeared in nine games for AHL Binghamton. Since coming over from SHL outfit Djurgardens in 2013, Claesson has been up and down between Bingo and Ottawa frequently, though this latest deal would suggest he’s in line for a more permanent NHL gig.