With training camp around the corner, should the Coyotes look at a new backup Goaltender?
The Phoenix Coyotes built their team on having a strong defensive group and at the heart of that group are our Goaltenders. Over the 2011-2012 season, Mike Smith proved himself to be an elite goaltender, posting a 0.93 save percentage through the regular season and leading the Phoenix Coyotes to the Western Conference Finals. Not bad for someone who hadn’t won more than 14 games in a previous season, right? After the Coyotes lost Ilya Bryzgalov in the summer of 2011, many fans thought that the team wasn’t going to make it to the post season and nobody would’ve guessed that the Phoenix Coyotes were going to make it to the Conference Finals. But with one year left on Mike Smith’s contract, perhaps we should begin to worry again.
Having posted an outstanding performance this past season things are looking good for the thirty year old Smith and it looks like he will be looking at getting a multi-year contract with a well-deserved paycheck. While his loyalties to Dave Tippet may be strong, that might not be enough to keep him in the desert much longer, especially if his asking price is as high as it could be. If Mike Smith were to leave the Coyote organization, how would he be replaced? Would we try test the players on the free agent market, or would we look to build on the list of prospects under our contract? Looking from inside the organization, some fear might strike in the eyes of fans. Teams such as the St. Louis Blues use their backup goaltender position to train potential replacement goalies but over the past three years, that position has belonged to a thirty two year old by the name of Jason Labarbera. Is now the time to look at our options?
Jason Labarbera is the thirty two year old backup goaltender with a career save percentage of 0.907. He is much closer to the end of his career than any of the other goalies fighting for the seat behind Mike Smith, and has shown little improvement over three seasons with the Coyotes. Last season he started in fifteen games and posted a record of 3-9-3. While the roster hasn’t been posted yet, it appears that Jason Labarbera will be the backup goal tender for the Coyotes club four years running. This doesn’t sit right with me; Labarbera is a nice person and clearly clicks with the other players but perhaps the coaching staff should consider looking at Curtis McElhinney.
Curtis McElhinney is in his prime at the age of twenty nine. Two games of experience this previous season, Curtis turned away 36 of 38 shots on net. Despite only being limited to two games this season, He did display something worth noting. McElhinney reminds me of Pekka Rinne, showing immense speed despite his 6’2’’ stature and having one wicked glove hand. His performance this year in the Portland Pirates, the AHL affiliate of the Phoenix Coyotes, left him with a record of 9-11-0 and a 0.91 save percentage. In fifty one starts in the NHL, McElhinney posts a 19-26-6 record and a .899 save percentage. While he hasn’t had much success in his NHL career, he has never been taken under the wing of Sean Burke, the goaltender coach that many fans thank for Mike Smith’s outstanding season. Given the chance, McElhinney might be able to surprise everyone.
The backup goaltender is an important position to fill, but I see no reason for the Coyotes to acquire another one, especially considering the list of prospective goalies under contract. Louis Domingue, Mike Lee, Justin Pogge, Marc Cheverie and Mark Visentin are all on contract with the Coyotes. Many of them are young prospects that could soon be ready to take the next step and with a little more time, any one of them could be our next starter. They may even prove something this summer and be given a chance to prove themselves this upcoming season and before you know it, they could prove themselves as the next Tuuka Rusk, Corey Schneider or Brian Elliot and give Mike Smith a run for his money.
Please note that this is the first post that I am publishing and that I appreciate constructive criticism.