GLENDALE, Ariz. — When Mike Smith finally returned to the net on Saturday in Edmonton after a three-month rehabilitation from abdominal surgery, Coyotes general manager Don Maloney made a resolution.
“I don’t want to be in this position again next year,” Maloney said. “Not only did our goaltending situation hurt our team even though Louis Domingue played well, it hurt our minor-league team in Springfield. You need good goaltending when you have a young AHL team like we do and our goaltending there was only average because of the injuries we had here.”
The loss of Smith for 12-plus weeks and the loss of backup Anders Lindback to season-ending Achilles surgery fast-tracked the careers of goaltenders throughout the Coyotes organization who weren’t supposed to be placed on those fast tracks.
In a perfect world, Domingue would have spent the season as the starting goaltender in Springfield with Niklas Treutle or Marek Langhamer serving as the backup and the other playing with the Coyotes’ ECHL affiliate in Rapid City, South Dakota. Instead, Domingue jumped into a workhorse NHL starter while Treutle has played 30 games in Springfield and had one very forgettable start in the NHL.
Domingue’s play actually kept the Coyotes in the playoff hunt through most of January, but Springfield has the worst record in the AHL’s Eastern Conference and Maloney knows that must be addressed.
“Young players need to learn in a winning environment so that situation isn’t doing anybody any favors.” he said. “We need better goaltending.
“Louis’ play certainly helps in the respect that the last few years we have had a No. 1 guy but we have been scrambling for a No. 2 every summer. We haven’t had success in a couple of our drafts with goalies; some of the players haven’t worked out so we’re constantly looking for the 3, 4 and 5 guys in our system.”
The most glaring mistake the Coyotes made was drafting Mark Visentin in the first round (27th overall) of the 2010 NHL Draft. Visentin injured his ankle three days into training camp with the Coyotes last season, and when rehab failed to produce results, he opted for season-ending surgery in December. But the Coyotes’ decision not to tender him a qualifying offer this summer was due to more than the injury; he simply hadn’t played well or progressed in two stints in the AHL.
Drafting Mike Lee in the third round (91st overall) in 2009, or Joel Gistedt in the second round (36th overall) in 2007 didn’t pan out either, and the Coyotes gave up on 2007 sixth-round pick Scott Darling, who is now the Chicago Blackhawks’ backup.
There is hope that 2015 third-round pick (76th overall) Adin Hill can be part of the Coyotes’ future, but Maloney is determined to address the position further this offseason.
“We have to look at what we do next year with Springfield and the depth in our organization,” he said. “We have to draft better prospects and continue to find help.”
For the time being, the Coyotes are at least content with their NHL situation. Coach Dave Tippett reaffirmed Wednesday that Smith will be his No. 1 goalie moving forward and Domingue has an excellent chance at earning the backup role next season. The two will share time over the final 13 games of this season, affording Domingue the chance to show he can also thrive in a backup role where a major challenge is staying sharp when playing time doesn’t come regularly.
“I’m curious to see how Louis responds to not playing every night,” Maloney said. “It’s going to be an equitable balance of time for the rest of this season but can he come off bench after sitting and still give us an A-game?”
“This is absolutely a test to see if he can succeed in a backup role. We know Louis can be really good. I think he’ll be even better if doesn’t have to carry the load like he has the last three months.”
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