Whenever a goalie jumps onto the scene, there’s at least a thought given to the idea that his success might have something to do with his system. In the case of former Phoenix Coyotes goalie Ilya Bryzgalov, that idea seemed half-decent until you realize that the ‘Yotes defense wasn’t as stout as it appeared. Bryzgalov helped the team to a sixth seed stance even though Phoenix allowed 32.6 shots per regular season game, the third highest total in the NHL.*
As much as the Coyotes semi-renaissance amid ownership struggles has to do with the coaching of Dave Tippett, it’s not a coincidence that the upswing happened once the team found its best goalie since Nikolai Khabibulin was a young Russian holding out for more money. With just so-so backup Jason LaBarbera locked up for the near future, the scary question is: what will the cash-strapped Coyotes do about their goaltending situation?
Phoenix GM Don Maloney explained his “three-pronged strategy” for replacing Bryzgalov to the Arizona Republic.
– Acquiring a top young player via trade: “There’s three or four in other organizations that may be available in a trade that would cost a good asset but may potentially solidify your goaltending for a long time; that’s one obvious way to look at it.”
Young goalies who could conceivably be in play include Vancouver’s Cory Schneider, Los Angeles backup Jonathan Bernier and maybe even Philly goalie Sergei Bobrovsky if things get really weird. The problem with those options is that they haven’t proven they can carry the No. 1 workload, which was less of a question with Breezy, who won two first round series in his time as a great Anaheim Ducks’ No. 2.
– Signing an unrestricted free agent: “There’s two or three players in that grouping that we like. We think in our system with (goaltending coach) Sean Burke would be good fits for us.”
The most obvious answer – one that AZ Republic writer Jim Gintonio also notes – is Tomas Vokoun. He’s been a stats blogger’s darling for putting up consistently great save percentage stats while he wallowed in obscurity in Sunrise, Florida. He could be the kind of guy who could maintain or even improve upon their netminding, although he’s aging and will likely come at a hefty price.
– Bringing in an experienced goaltender: “I’ve had a couple conversations (this week) regarding some very good established goaltenders on other clubs that for financial reasons they might be looking to make some changes.”
This is an interesting option, though it’s tough to tell who Maloney might be thinking of. Unless Bryzgalov’s asking price was truly as exorbitant as the Coyotes claim, it’s hard to imagine the franchise being too comfortable paying Miikka Kiprusoff (random example) $5.83 million per year.
While Phoenix’s goalie scenario still seems murky, it does seem like they have options. The key will be to find the right guy at the right price, but perhaps most importantly add better players around that netminder. The Detroit Red Wings embarrassed the Coyotes in the first round this year, and while many blamed Bryzgalov, it was obvious that the talent disparity was severe.
We’ll keep you informed about the Coyotes maneuverings for a netminder during what could be an interesting summer at the position.
* – The Boston Bruins allowed the second highest total (32.7) while the Carolina Hurricanes allowed the most (33.2). The fact that Tim Thomas regularly cleaned up Boston’s mistakes in the regular season as well makes his Vezina Trophy nomination (and save percentage record) that much more impressive.