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Analysis: Which goalies signed with right teams

Saturday, 07.05.2014 / 8:37 PM / NHL Free Agency 2014

By Kevin Woodley - NHL.com Correspondent

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Analysis: Which goalies signed with right teams
In free agency, it's important to know whether the new goalie's style is suited to what is already in place, and if not, whether that goaltender can adapt.

VANCOUVER -- There are comparisons to be made between golfers and goalies because, like a golf swing, the finest details of movement and technique on the ice are broken down and analyzed. Like grooving a golf swing, repetition can be key to consistency for a goaltender searching for his most efficient, effective style.

Are there any comparisons to be made between signing an NHL goaltender and picking a winner on the PGA Tour? In golf, we often hear about "horses for courses," or choosing a player based on how a specific course fits his strengths and weaknesses. The same can apply to picking a goalie.

Not every team leans as heavily on its goaltending coach to help choose its personnel; many that do will get an opinion that factors in the system a team plays and how it defends. Finding a good fit between a goaltender and his team's style is important.

Just ask Jonathan Quick, whose super-aggressive style depends on being able to count on his Los Angeles Kings teammates to take away backdoor options. Or Henrik Lundqvist, who plays at the other end of the scale near the goal line, relying on the New York Rangers to take away the middle-of-the-ice looks that leave him vulnerable.

In some cases it's about making sure the defensive scheme is a fit for a specific goalie. In other cases, it can be about changing a goalie's tendencies to better fit the defensive scheme. In free agency, it's important to know whether the new goalie's style is suited to what is already in place, and if not, whether that goaltender can adapt.

For some teams those factors are secondary to the role and number of games required of a new goalie. For others, the style factor is as important. With that in mind, let's look at how six free agents fit with his new team:

Ryan Miller, Vancouver Canucks

Contract: 3 years, $18 million

Miller tops this list in part because he received the biggest salary and longest term as the only one signed to be a No. 1. But Miller's contract also comes with the most question marks.

Many of them center around his ability to work with Canucks goaltending coach Roland Melanson, whose strict mandate to play a point-to-point game within the confines of the crease seems to clash with the looser, more flowing style preferred by Miller.

Miller, who is great at reading and anticipating plays, made it clear after signing he was open to changes that would make him better, but not just because it worked for others.

"I am a little more stubborn," Miller said. "You are going to have to really explain to me why it will work for me. I am going to push back. If they are a good teacher, they are going to push back, explain why it's going to work, and we are going to have a great relationship."

There's no reason that can't be the case, but the system will play a role in any changes. Miller became an interesting case study for a goalie fitting a system last season. He was having a great season behind a bad team while with the Buffalo Sabres, when their open style led to more of the rush chances that allowed him to use his skating and play-reading ability. But he struggled after getting traded to the St. Louis Blues, where a more collapsing defensive system sometimes left him stranded atop his crease, unable to recover the space behind him or react to pucks he couldn't see or feel bouncing off bodies in front.

As Miller correctly pointed out, with new Canucks coach Willie Desjardins promising a more up-tempo style, fitting into Vancouver is about more than just meshing with Melanson.

"I'm really excited to work with Rollie Melanson and the coaching staff and getting to know the systems and getting to know what I can do as a player to fit in that system," Miller said.

Devan Dubnyk, Arizona Coyotes

Contract: 1 year, $800,000

Stop us if Dubnyk's story sounds familiar: A big goalie plays himself out of the NHL the year before signing in Arizona in an attempt to re-establish his game and reputation. It sounds a lot like Mike Smith before joining the Coyotes in 2011, and there are bound to be plenty of comparisons to how Smith turned around his career under goaltending coach Sean Burke, who teaches the same goal-line-out philosophy he learned from Benoit Allaire before revitalizing his sagging career in 1999-2000.

That deeper style of play, which is designed in part to shorten lateral movements and ensure the goalie is never out of a play, may benefit 6-foot-6 Dubnyk, who built his career-best .920 save percentage in 2012-13 by making similar simplifications under Edmonton Oilers goaltending coach Frederic Chabot. But things got off the rails early in Edmonton last season and Dubnyk never recovered, so Burke's job may also be about rebuilding confidence, something Smith praises him for as much as the change in style.

Given Burke's history, Dubnyk's size, and the fact the Coyotes already play a system that suits it, it seems like a perfect fit, one made more affordable by the season that preceded it.

Chad Johnson, New York Islanders

Contract: 2 years, $2.6 million

The Islanders built on the trade-and-sign deal for often overlooked and underrated Jaroslav Halak and continued to solidify the position by adding someone comfortable making sporadic starts. Though some goalie coaches were less certain how much of Johnson's success stemmed from playing behind well-structured defensive teams -- first the Coyotes then the Boston Bruins last season -- there is a nice balance to his game that should complement Halak and an Islanders team that has some work to do defensively.

Johnson stays mostly within his crease at three-quarter depth on end-zone chances but will come out to challenge and play with some backward flow against rush chances, a good blend that should allow him to deal with some of the more open play of the Islanders.

Justin Peters, Washington Capitals

Contract: 2 years, $1.9 million

Another team some suggested might seek a proven veteran, the Capitals locked in early on Peters and Al Montoya as the top free-agent options to play behind Braden Holtby this season. Each is familiar with the backup role and gaps between starts, though Peters played a lot of his 21 games last season in bunches and had a . 919 save percentage with the Carolina Hurricanes.

From a style standpoint, Peters and Montoya are almost opposites.

Peters spends more time playing from his knees; Montoya, who signed with the Florida Panthers, stays on his skates almost to a fault, which might seem like a more natural fit with the preferences of new Capitals goalie coach Mitch Korn. Peters, despite being an inch shorter than 6-foot-2 Montoya, has a bigger presence in the net, especially when he's down and has good footwork. But Peters does give up a lot of rebounds, something Korn will have to improve with more active hands and fewer blocking saves, or else a rebuilt Capitals defense will be busy in front of its net.

Thomas Greiss, Pittsburgh Penguins

Contract: 1 year, $1 million

From the perspective of role and opportunity, this signing makes sense for both sides. Greiss was among the better backups in the NHL statistically last season, posting a .920 save percentage with the Coyotes despite slipping a little after Smith got hurt down the stretch, and is looking for the chance to earn a bigger role in Pittsburgh.

With Marc-Andre Fleury in the final year of his seven-year contract, Greiss may finally get that opportunity with the Penguins.

From a style standpoint, the addition of Greiss would have been a lot more questionable one season earlier because he played a more aggressive game and often ended up above the top of his crease, frequently moving as a shot was taken, all elements the Penguins have worked to limit, if not totally eliminate, in Fleury's game. But Greiss quieted his game with Burke and the Coyotes last season and now plays a more contained style predominantly within the blue ice, which should help him complement rather than clash in Pittsburgh.

Anders Lindback, Dallas Stars

Contract: 1 year, $925,000

Acquired in a trade to be the future for the Tampa Bay Lightning after early success in limited action with the Nashville Predators, the big Swede may be another example of not fitting in with a system. In this case, it was the goaltending system as much as the team's style.

After being told to emulate the more active, athletic Pekka Rinne in Nashville, Lindback was asked to play a more contained style within the crease in Tampa Bay, limiting the holes that can open when his 6-foot-6 frame is moving too much. It made sense given his size, and echoes the mandate that led to success for goalies with the Canucks and Coyotes, but Lindback was never the same without some of that rhythm in his game. Look for Stars goalie coach Mike Valley to try to free the athleticism that made Lindback such a promising prospect and fit with the demands behind a Dallas defense that has asked a lot of No. 1 Kari Lehtonen the past few seasons.

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