There have been goaltending rumors aplenty this season already, with the Los Angeles Kings seeing Jonathan Quick go down with a long-term injury, and the Detroit Red Wings, New York Islanders, and Winnipeg Jets all featuring multiple options in net. With the expansion draft coming up there will certainly be some shuffling, and it appears the teams involved have largely been discussed already.
However, there is a darkhorse team that could be lurking, waiting for their moment to strike in the goaltending market. The Arizona Coyotes, off to a 2-5 start this season, are almost certainly looking for their long-term solution in net. Louis Domingue hasn’t proven to be that, and Mike Smith is an often-injured netminder that cannot be counted on at this time.
GM John Chayka has shown a propensity for out-of-nowhere, eyebrow-raising transactions already thus far in his career, making a potential move even more possible. The main issue would be the Coyotes dead space on the salary cap, as with the roster burials the Coyotes have less room than what meets the naked eye.
Still, the Coyotes have a clear need and a General Manager who likes to make the big move, making anything possible. For this season, the Coyotes may not have the space to make the splash they wish.
If they do, however, one name that stands out is Islanders goaltender J.F. Berube.
Berube’s agent, Allan Walsh, recently spoke out against the Islanders three-goaltender system. Berube played well in limited action in the NHL last season, posting a 0.914 save percentage.
The Coyotes could acquire the former product of the same system that created Jonathan Quick and Martin Jones, then develop him using their in-house goalie coaching staff. The bonus of acquiring Berube this season would be seeing if he can handle a starter’s workload.
The cost of Berube would likely be somewhat significant, however, as there are plenty of teams looking to buy goaltending on the cheap, and the Islanders would rather move Halak, and his larger deal.
Berube’s low-cost contract makes him extremely appealing, especially to a team with cap troubles like the Coyotes. The Islanders do not have many needs at the moment, but there is some pressure to move a goaltender and still contend this season.
Perhaps Chayka could entice Garth Snow to make a move by offering one of his young depth forwards, giving the Islanders an option to replace their departed depth. Scouring the Coyotes roster leaves Tobias Rieder as a name that jumps to mind, as the recently disgruntled forward could move up and down in the Islanders lineup, while serving as the young piece the Islanders would want in return for Berube.
There would likely be other pieces involved in the trade, but the swap would work under the salary cap, fill holes for both teams, and move two unhappy parties to new organizations.
Another option for Chayka would be to look over to the Philadelphia Flyers, where Steve Mason is quietly becoming the Flyers’ version of Rieder or Berube. Mason has been pulled from games, benched in favor of Michael Neuvirth, and generally treated like a second fiddle goalie since his rough go against the Washington Capitals last postseason.
Mason boasts strong advanced statistics, a known trait Chayka values, and is a free agent following the season. Chayka could acquire him and see what he can do over the course of the season, again using this season as an opportunity to test out a new starter. It would be difficult for the Coyotes to carry Mason’s $4.1 million cap hit, but if he helps the club it would be worth it.
As for who would go back to Philadelphia, there are a couple of options that stand out. Both Martin Hanzal and Michael Stone will be free agents following the season, with Hanzal carrying a cap hit of $3.1 million and Stone carrying a hit of $4 million. Though both are essential pieces in the Coyotes puzzle, bringing in a franchise goalie would be more important than either piece.
While once again there would likely need to be other pieces involved, a swap of Hanzal for Mason or Stone for Mason could be a surprise move that works out for both teams. The Flyers get an additional piece to help their run while handing the job to Neuvirth, while the Coyotes get their goalie without compromising their depth in the process.
The Islanders and Flyers trades are only two examples of many options that Chayka could explore. The GM may not seem to have flexibility due to the cap situation, but with expiring contracts and young talent, he may have more options than one would think.
The Coyotes were a fun team to watch in the offseason, and they may just surprise us once again this season.