Phoenix Coyotes: Who Will Replace Ilya Bryzgalov in the Desert?
After trading the rights to disgruntled superstar goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov to the Philadelphia Flyers June 7th, the question Phoenix Coyotes fans are now asking is: Who will start in net for the Coyotes in 2011-12?
Will general manager Don Maloney go out and make a free agent splash? Or will they start looking towards the future and call up prospects?
Here is my list of the Coyotes top ten options to fill the starting goaltender position for next season.
10. Jhonas Enroth, RFA—Buffalo Sabres
Only 22 years old, Enroth has lived in the shadow of Ryan Miller for most of his young NHL career.
When Enroth did get ice time, he was solid, going 9-2-2 with a .907 save percentage this past season.
It's unlikely the Sabres will let him go so early in his career, especially because Enroth's stellar play gives the Sabres a chance to win when Lindy Ruff wants to rest Ryan Miller throughout the marathon that is the NHL regular season. At 31, Miller is not getting any younger, so the extra days off could prove to be quite useful for Miller and Sabres' chance at a Stanley Cup.
But the only way I see Enroth leaving Buffalo is if someone signs him to a ridiculously large offer sheet, like Edmonton did signing Dustin Penner to a five year $21.25 million offer sheet in 2007.
Enroth has not yet proven that he can handle the being a starting goaltender in the NHL, but from gathering what I have seen from his play and his numbers, plus the fact that he has been learning from one of the best in Ryan Miller, if he can keep his play at this level he could be the next backup goalie deserving of a starting job.
And if I recall, the last time the Coyotes traded for a gifted backup goaltender, it worked out pretty well.
9. Henrik Karlsson, RFA—Calgary Flames
Once a rarity in the NHL, young, talented Swedish goaltenders are now a hot commodity. Flames backup Henrik Karlsson is no exception. His situation is a lot like Jhonas Enroth's, but instead Karlsson is living in the shadows of Miikka Kiprusoff.
Karlsson could be a viable option for Phoenix, but he is still very unproven at the NHL level.
If the Coyotes are without any other options, Karlsson could be a good fit for the right price, as Calgary could be a little more willing to let their young backup goalie go as they have a strong pipeline of netminders in Abbotsford, such as Leland Irving, ready to play in the NHL.
Last season Karlsson went 4-5-6 in 17 games played with a 2.58 GA and a .908 save percentage.
8. Sergei Bobrovsky, Philadelphia Flyers
Although shaky at times, Bobrovsky had a pretty impressive rookie campaign in Philadelphia.
"Bob the Goalie" started off very hot but his play cooled off towards the end of the season and into the playoffs, causing the Flyers to become a goalie circus, juggling three goalies during the postseason.
Now, with Philadelphia's seemingly continuous goaltending issue fixed with the acquisition of the signing rights to Ilya Bryzgalov, the three Flyers goalies from last season will be competing for the backup position.
Bryzgalov will want top dollar (and rightly so), which will potentially put Philadelphia over the cap. As a result, GM Paul Holmgren will have to make some trades to keep Bryzgalov in the city of brotherly love.
Trade winds have swirled around sniper Jeff Carter, but they were quickly shot down by Holmgren, who said that he would like to keep their "core group." This group should include Carter, Mike Richards, Daniel Briere and Claude Giroux just to name a few. This opens the door for a possible trade for Sergei Bobrovsky.
Coming off a 28-win season, Bobrovsky should attract the most attention between him Brian Boucher and Micheal Leighton.
Phoenix would not have to give up a lot to get him, as the Flyers are just looking to clear space to sign Bryzgalov, so they could potentially get a bargain like Atlanta did last year when the traded almost nothing for Dustin Byfuglien.
If traded, Bobrovsky's play could benefit from the new scenery. Coach Dave Tippet would put Bobrovsky on a longer leash than he had in Philadelphia, and he wouldn't be under such ridicule from the fans and media if traded to the desert. Pressure can potentially be a bad thing for a young goalie (see Justin Pogge), so maybe some time out of the limelight is just what the doctor ordered for the young Russian netminders play, which would benefit the Coyotes struggling franchise (off the ice) for years to come.
7. Mark Visentin, Niagara IceDogs (OHL); Property of the Phoenix Coyotes
Barring a major trade, Mark Visentin is the future starting goaltender of the Phoenix Coyotes.
Will he be ready for next season?
Maybe as a backup, but if Phoenix was to just throw this young man into the fire at the ripe age of 19, that would be a mistake.
Young talent takes time to develop, especially young goaltenders. A prime example of this would be Conn Smythe candidate Tim Thomas, who entered the NHL as a 32-year-old rookie in 2005 and is now one win away from becoming a Stanley Cup champion.
Visentin is without any pro experience, thus, he will need some maturing in San Antonio (AHL) before he gets a shot at the NHL. The Coyotes are usually very patient with the prospects, as they allowed Kyle Turris and Mikkel Boedker to play in the AHL before allowing them to find a spot on the big league team. This philosophy should be no different for Visentin.
If the Coyotes tank early in the season, Visentin could get a shot at the NHL, but for this to happen would be a long shot.
Now, sometimes young goalies can make a difference, such as previously mentioned Flyers goalie Sergei Bobrovsky who is only 22.
Visentin's play in junior hockey has been quite good, as he lead team Canada to a World Junior silver medal and went 30-9-6 with 4 shout outs last season in Niagara.
Bottom line is that junior hockey is not pro hockey. The game is a lot faster in the NHL. But, if the Coyotes can't find a difference maker on the market, they might give this young man a shot.
6. Ty Conklin, FA—Waivers, Formerly of the St. Louis Blues
Veteran Ty Conklin has never really been given a fair shot in the NHL to prove his worth as a starting goalie in the NHL.
The well-traveled 34-year-old is now a free agent once again after being shadowed by a big name starter for what seems like the millionth time in his career. This caused the Blues to place Conklin on waivers.
If the Coyotes were to sign Conklin, he could be a quick fix until Mark Visentin is ready. Even though the veteran has not been given full reign of a starting position for a lengthy period of time during his career, he has played very well when he was needed.
If he was given the starting nod in Phoenix, he could share the playing time with Jason Labarbera, who just recently signed a two year extension with Phoenix. This could give the Coyotes a solid 1-2 goalie punch which, if both players are happy to share the time, does work quite well, as it keeps opponents off balance, gives both guys enough rest to play at their best throughout the season and keeps both guys sharp and wanting to get better, as this sharing of playing time would cause healthy competition between the two goalies.
The Montreal Canadiens worked a 1-2 goalie punch two years ago with Carey Price and Jaroslav Halak, which helped them go on a miracle playoff run to the Eastern Conference finals as an eight seed.
5. Semyon Varlamov, RFA—Washington Capitals
Just like the Philadelphia Flyers, the Washington Capitals have a three-man goalie rotation.
Toward the end of the season, Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau went with Michal Neuvirth, and with the emergence of Braden Hotlby, it looks like Seymon Varlamov is the odd man out in DC.
Even though he is a RFA, Varlamov—whose cap hit was $821,667 last season—could be a steal for Don Maloney and the Coyotes.
He has played under immense pressure in Washington, who seem to be the San Jose Sharks of the East—burning up the regular season, only to fizzle out come playoff time. Varlamov didn't see much action once Hotlby came up, which caused Washington to send him down to Hersey.
When he was given the starting nod, Varlamov played fantastic.
In 2009-10, he backstopped the Capitals to the No. 1 seed in the East, and played very well vs. Montreal in the first round of the playoffs, keeping Washington in each game and the series, only to lose in seven games.
Like Bobrovsky, Varlamov could use a change of scenery and Phoenix could be his paradise. He could play 50-60 games, gain starting experience and eventually he could flourish to reach his maximum potential and become a top goalie in the NHL.
4. Jason LaBarbera, Phoenix Coyotes
Fresh off signing a two year extension, this could now be Jason LaBarbera's job to lose.
LaBarbera took the long road to the NHL and has mostly served as a backup since he entered the league in 2000-2001 with the New York Rangers.
If GM Don Maloney doesn't want to go out and get someone to fill the void left by the departure of Bryzgalov, and with Mark Visentin too young to jump in, logically the job would be given to LaBarbera.
This could be a good thing for the Coyotes as we have seen good play from LaBarbera in the past, and Maloney could use the saved money to help fix the lack of scoring in the Coyotes lineup.
As we have seen, you don't need a big name goaltender to compete and win the Stanley Cup, as the Blackhawks won last year with then unknown Antti Niemi.
If Phoenix can get Niemi like numbers out of LaBarbera, and fix their scoring problem, they could continue to compete in the West in 2011-12.
3. Mike Smith, UFA—Tampa Bay Lightning
Both of Tampa Bay's goaltenders from last season, Dwayne Roloson and Mike Smith, are know UFAs, which could see the Lightning go out and target a big name free agent goaltender, such as Tomas Vokoun.
This could bode well for the Coyotes as it would mean that Mike Smith would be on the market. Coming over from Dallas in the Brad Richards deal, Smith was thought of to be Tampa's goalie of the future.
But poor play between Smith and Dan Ellis early this season caused Lightning GM to release Ellis, and go out and get 40-year-old veteran Dwayne Roloson from the New York Islanders.
After the acquiring Roloson, Smith didn't see many minutes, but did get a chance to play this postseason, starting in Game 5 the Eastern Conference Finals vs. Boston after a less than average performance by Rollie. Smith played fantastic even though Tampa Bay lost in double overtime.
Given the chance, Smith could be a stud for the Coyotes, and at a bargain of only $2 million per season, it also makes sense money wise. At 28, Smith is still young, but he has the experience of playing in the playoffs and is now ready to take over a starting job in the NHL.
2. Tomas Vokoun, UFA—Florida Panthers
Florida's other NHL team also has a netminder who is now without a contract.
Panthers goaltender Tomas Vokoun, who is said to be the most sought after free agent goalie this season, would be a perfect fit for any team that is in need of all-star goaltending.
The only problem that the Coyotes will have in signing Vokoun is the price tag. Vokoun will not be cheap—last year he had a cap hit of $5,700,000. Also, at 33 years of age, he is most likely looking for a long-term deal, rather than a one or two year visit. This potential long-term deal would hinder the Phoenix's pursuit of reeling in a top line scorer, but it would make Coyotes fans quickly forget about Ilya Bryzgalov.
The two-time all star is the complete package. He is a game changer, something that Bryzgalov was not during the Coyotes first round playoff series with the Detroit Red Wings. Signing Vokoun would help Phoenix steal some games and help them jump up the standings in the West.
Vokoun has carried young teams before, taking the Predators to the playoffs twice, but failing to get out of the first round both times.
After a unsuccessful stint in Florida, Vokoun is looking to rebound and start competing for a championship. He could do this in Phoenix while at the same time taking young Mark Visentin under his wing and staying out of the media circus up in Canada and the northern United States.
If Don Maloney and the Coyotes are willing to pay top dollar for a goalie, Vokoun could be their man.
1. Cory Schneider, Vancouver Canucks
After locking up Roberto Luongo for 12 years, the Vancouver Canucks now have two top caliber goaltenders and terrific trade bait in young Cory Schneider.
A well pedigreed hockey player, Schneider has payed his dues in the minors, guiding the Manitoba Moose to a Calder Cup appearance in 2009.
This season, as a backup, Schneider went 16-4-1 with .921 save percentage and a 2.28 goals against average.
Now, in the Stanley Cup Finals with the Vancouver Canucks, Schneider has played well in relief of Roberto Luongo.
Schneider is the perfect fit for Phoenix.
He is on the market for the right price. Vancouver will be looking to bolster their lineup as they could be loosing certain pieces of their team to free agency, such as Kevin Bieksa. If they do, the Coyotes could package together a deal for Schneider.
Schneider has experience of playing in pressure packed events such as the Stanley Cup Finals, and he has not rushed into the NHL. Schneider has matured his game, and is now ready to take control of a starting job in the NHL.
Under the lessons of arguably the best goalie in the world in Roberto Luongo, Schneider has learned the tricks and trades on surviving and being successful in the NHL.
If Maloney can piece together a deal for Schneider, it would give Phoenix a young and talented core group of players growing forward including Keith Yandle, Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Kyle Turris.
This group, backstopped by Schneider, could make some noise for years to come.
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