Tag: goaltending questions

Alex Pietrangelo Barret Jackman Ryan Kesler

Don Cherry: “I don’t think Vancouver’s paying the price”


Everyone has an opinion on the early season problems in Vancouver. There are plenty of people pointing at Roberto Luongo’s slow start, while others choose to go with the vague “Cup Final hangover” theory. Don Cherry threw his tie suit hat into the ring tonight when he called out the Canucks, their whining, and overall lack of effort throughout the first month of the season. As usual, Grapes didn’t pull any punches.

The CBC hockey personality pointed to only 84 blocked shots in 10 games for Vancouver—that was the kindest observation he had for the slumping Canucks. Cherry rhetorically asked, “Why does everyone hate Vancouver?” Then he went on to point out three occasions when Vancouver players chose to complain to the on-ice officials instead of engaging their opponent.

Like fans around the league needed any more fuel for the Canucks and their diving ways.

He finished off the segment with some fireworks. “Stop whining. Start paying the price,” Cherry said. “Quit blaming the goaltenders, and you’ll start winning again.” Throw in the obligatory thumbs up and there you have it.

Even though Cherry has a larger than life persona and comes off as the crazy uncle these days, he certainly has a point in this case. The Canucks are slumping and there’s enough blame to go around to everyone. Luongo has struggled in the early going, but the entire team has struggled as well. They set an impossibly high standard last season—now we’re finding how just how important it is for every team to play to their highest potential. With the parity that exists around the league, average effort just won’t get it done.

With all of the drama surrounding the Canucks, there are plenty of question marks to be addressed on the team. Aside from goaltending, what do you think is Vancouver’s biggest problem?

Nabokov era starts in Long Island

Evgeni Nabokov, Al Montoya

Evgeni Nabokov is set to appear in his first game as a New York Islander when the Rangers travel down the Long Island Railroad tonight. Nabokov was a healthy scratch in the Islanders’ first two games of the season, but was given the back-up nod on Thursday night against the Tampa Bay Lightning. With Isles head coach Jack Capuano giving Al Montoya a night off and Rick DiPietro out (shocker) with an early season concussion, Nabokov will get a chance to show his stuff with new team.

The regular season start is the final step in a crazy path Nabokov has taken over the last 17 months. As part of the San Jose organization, he helped lead the Sharks to the Western Conference finals in 2009-10; only to fall to the eventual Stanley Cup champs in Chicago. After the season, the Sharks chose to go in a different (cheaper) direction and the Russian netminder couldn’t find any takers for his contract demands. He ended up signing a $6 million (per season) contract with SKA St. Petersburg in the KHL—only to leave after only 22 games due to “family circumstances.”

He signed with the Detroit Red Wings to serve as a backup insurance policy for Jimmy Howard. The only catch was that he had to clear re-entry waivers upon returning to the NHL. The struggling Islanders took the opportunity to claim the well-established Nabokov which threw a wrench into everyone’s plans. Nabokov wasn’t coming back to North America to play with just anyone (for $570,000)—he was coming back to play with the Red Wings. He decided that he’d rather sit out of the NHL than play for the Islanders—which means his one-year contract that he signed last season is applied to this season. Long story short, he’s Islanders property this season.

Got all that?

The best case scenario for all parties involved is for Nabokov to perform well to increase his trade value. When DiPietro is healthy (don’t laugh), the Islanders have three NHL goaltenders and only roster space for two. No one will take DiPietro’s contract that expires next decade and Montoya is starting to separate himself as the #1 option. If Nabokov can provide strong backup minutes over the first half of the season, he’d be an ideal candidate to be moved at the trade deadline to a contender that’s looking for goaltending depth. The Islanders did the exact same thing last year when they traded veteran Dwayne Roloson to the Lightning in a mid-season deal.

The first step in the plan is for Nabokov to play well tonight against the rival Rangers.

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

Coyotes Oilers Hockey

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.