The Arizona Coyotes are going to be without their starting goaltender Mike Smith for 8-10 weeks while he recovers from surgery on a core muscle injury. General Manager Don Maloney has come out and said that, while they’re comfortable with back-up Anders Lindback at the moment, they’re looking for help.
“We’re looking at everything and anything,” Maloney told The Arizona Republic. “We are looking. If there’s a way to get a top-end goaltender that’s a long-term value to the franchise, we’re willing to pay up an asset for that. What I’m not going to do is pay a good asset for the next three months.”
Some names that have been suggested are Ben Scrivens, Niklas Backstrom and Anton Khudobin. Scrivens is almost 30 years old and has bounced around from the Toronto Maple Leafs to the Los Angeles Kings to the Edmonton Oilers, never really having found a home. Backstrom is 37 and hasn’t been healthy since last decade. Khudobin, 30, was recently on waivers and the Coyotes decided to pass. So not only would none of those goalies be considered “high end” but none of them would fit Maloney’s desire of “long-term value to the franchise” either.
Here’s where the Nashville Predators come in.
Recently we talked about how, when making a trade, you deal with your positions of strength. There’s no question that Nashville’s position of strength is defense. They have six sure-fire top six NHL players on their roster in Shea Weber, Roman Josi, Seth Jones, Barret Jackman, Ryan Ellis and Mattias Ekholm. It would be “easier” (again, read the article) to deal one of those guys but GM David Poile recently told Adam Vingan of the Tennessean “I have no interest in touching my defense.”
He goes onto say that other GM’s ask, of course, but doesn’t want to shuffle a group of guys that are basically locked up — together — for the next four years.
That leaves the next position of strength which is goaltending. The Preds have perennial Vezina Trophy finalist Pekka Rinne between the pipes through 2018-19 so he’s not going anywhere. Carter Hutton is a reliable back-up but isn’t an everyday starter at the NHL level and he comes off the books after this season anyway.
The best possibility for a trade actually comes from their minor league affiliate, the Milwaukee Admirals. Marek Mazanec proved he can play in the NHL when he was thrust into action due to Rinne’s injury and Hutton’s inconsistency back in 2013. After making his NHL debut, he went 5-4-1 over the next 10 games with a 2.00 goals-against average, a .932 save percentage and registered two shutouts in the month of November and was immediately named the NHL’s Rookie of the Month. He would go 3-6-3 the rest of the season before being sent back down to Milwaukee due to Rinne’s return but it’s important to remember that that was not a good year for the Predators. They would finish just three points out of a playoff spot, sure, but that was due in large part to the surprising 9-1-2 finish. It was not a good hockey team and it ended up costing Barry Trotz his job. He’s started one NHL game since, another loss but allowed just two goals.
Also, with Juuse Saros projected as the future of the crease in Music City, Mazanec becomes a piece that they’d like to keep in the fold (especially with Hutton’s contract ending after this season) but a piece that is also expendable. A franchise doesn’t need six or seven goalie prospects in the system like they do other positions. They need a starter at the NHL level, a back-up (which can be a veteran, by the way) and a starter in the AHL, generally considered to be “the heir apparent” to whatever they have with the big club. The deepest organizations have perhaps an NHL-1, an NHL-2, an AHL-1 and another prospect playing overseas. Using that guideline, Nashville currently has a gluttony of goaltenders in Rinne (NHL-1), Hutton (NHL-2), Mazenec (AHL-1a) and Saros (AHL-1b). Furthermore, if either (or both) of their 2015 draft choices in Evan Smith or Karel Vejmelka pan out in a few years, there will be a need to relieve the logjam in goal anyway.
Mazanec has a small sample size at the NHL level but is just 24 years old, has a lot of upside and is an affordable option at just $575,000 per year. Furthermore, he’s a restricted free agent come season’s end, giving his team exclusive negotiating rights (baring an offer sheet, of course). The cash-conscious Coyotes want someone who can help them weather the storm but who also has “long-term value” to them. Mazanec is that guy. The problem for the Preds is that he, alone, won’t yield the kind of top-line forward they need in return. And, if that’s the case, why make a deal at all?
PHOTO CREDIT: Sarah Fuqua