Sean Burke Deserves Praise for Ilya Bryzgalov and Mike Smith

Keegan McNally@Keegan_McNallyCorrespondent IIApril 4, 2012

GLENDALE, AZ - MARCH 31:  Goaltender Mike Smith #41 of the Phoenix Coyotes in action during the NHL game against the Anaheim Ducks at Jobing.com Arena on March 31, 2012 in Glendale, Arizona.  The Coyotes defeated the Ducks 4-0.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

In the 2007-08 season, the Phoenix Coyotes took a gamble on a goaltender. 

Claiming Ilya Bryzgalov off waivers from the Anaheim Ducks, most fans assumed that this pickup would provide some depth at the goaltending position. How could they not? His numbers were solid with a save percentage above 90, but in all Bryzgalov had played less than 100 games for the Ducks.

Instead of a backup, the Coyotes found their franchise goaltender and rode him to back-to-back playoff appearances in 2009-10 and 2010-11. 

They transformed a career backup into a superstar that is currently in the first year off a $51 million contract with the Philadelphia Flyers

Now Bryzgalov is a household name in the world of goaltenders and is about to embark on a playoff run for Philadelphia.

Now one is probably inclined to call this a fluke and ready to call Bryzgalov a one-hit wonder in the desert.

Here comes Mike Smith.

A legitimate No. 2 goaltender for his entire career, Smith has taken on new life in Phoenix. 

His stats before Phoenix were abysmal. In one season he only played 13 games and posted a 3-10 record and a .893 save percentage for the Tampa Bay Lightning. His first five seasons of NHL play saw him post only 11 total shutouts. 

Today Mike Smith is sitting on a three-game shutout streak, bringing his total to eight in this one season alone. His overall statistics are astounding: a 36-18-10 record, 2.25 goals against average and a .929 save percentage. 

In case you missed it, he broke the regular-season record for most shots saved in a shutout. 

In short, it turns out that Mike Smith isn't that bad of a goaltender, and trading away Ilya Bryzgalov is beginning to look like a brilliant move by the Yotes. 

But who is the mastermind behind all of this? Retired, 18-year veteran goaltender Sean Burke

Taking over for Grant Fuhr at the end of the 2008-09 season, Burke has molded two backup goaltenders into playoff-ready netminders. 

It is no surprise that the first season he took over as goaltending coach marked the first season that Phoenix made the playoffs since 2001-02. 

Bryzgalov was runner-up for a Vezina Trophy in 2009-10 and actually finished fifth in Hart Trophy voting in that year. 

For three straight seasons, Burke's starting goaltender has posted a .920 save percentage or better. 

Obviously the real credit for the molding of these two goaltenders deserves to be with the Ilya Bryzgalov and Mike Smith. They have lived up to their potential in Phoenix and have lead a team that has been in financial trouble for what seems like years. 

But outside of the rink and behind both Bryzgalov and Smith is Sean Burke. 

Something has been going right in Phoenix between the pipes for far too long for Burke not to get some credit. 


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