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Unmasked: More teams prioritize goalie development

by Kevin Woodley /

VANCOUVER -- It's been a big summer for goaltending development coaches in the NHL, with three of six vacant goalie coaching jobs filled by coaches who worked previously in development roles for other organizations and two others moving up from junior hockey.

Andrew Allen went from goaltending development coach for the Chicago Blackhawks to goalie coach of the Buffalo Sabres. Johan Hedberg made a similar move from a development role with the New Jersey Devils to an NHL job with the San Jose Sharks, and Kim Dillabaugh made the same jump from the Los Angeles Kings to the Philadelphia Flyers.

But the biggest goalie move may be in the other direction and was made by the only team that didn't reach into the development ranks to fill its NHL position. The Dallas Stars instead hired Jeff Reese, who left the Flyers last season, to be their new goalie coach at the NHL level and moved Mike Valley into a new role as director of goaltending development after five seasons as the their goalie coach.

With the move, Dallas joins a growing list of teams putting more emphasis on goalie development and sinking more resources into it.

"From a business standpoint it only makes sense to invest in an area that seems pretty darn important," Valley said.

The Stars, who previously used former NHL goaltender and coach Andy Moog as a part-time goalie coach in the American Hockey League, will now rely on Valley to work with their minor league goalies and draft picks at all levels below the League, while also weighing in on amateur and pro scouting decisions.

It's a model that was already being used by teams including the Blackhawks with Allen, the Kings with Dillabaugh, the Vancouver Canucks with Dan Cloutier and the Winnipeg Jets with Dusty Imoo, who has since moved to Los Angeles to fill Dillabaugh's old role.

If there's a link among those organizations, it's their depth in goal the past several years that usually put all four on the right side of a split between teams with goaltending and teams always looking for it.

"The value for an organization is in creating your own assets," Valley said of the development role, "And that gives you options."

With two-time Stanley Cup winner Jonathan Quick on a 10-year contract, the Kings have used that depth in trades, turning Jonathan Bernier, Ben Scrivens and Martin Jones into assets that other organizations coveted. The Canucks were able to trade Cory Schneider, Roberto Luongo and Eddie Lack, though they signed Ryan Miller as a high-priced free agent between the last two.

Chicago won the Stanley Cup with Antti Niemi in 2010; after trading him away, they moved 2003 second-round draft pick Corey Crawford into the No. 1 job while keeping their options open behind him with the addition of less-heralded goalies like Scott Darling and Antti Raanta, who was traded this summer. The Jets are now one of the NHL's deepest organizations in goal, with Michael Hutchinson taking a step into the League behind Ondrej Pavelec last season, Connor Hellebuyck following up an excellent AHL season with a strong performance at the IIHF World Championship and Eric Comrie ready to graduate from top puck-stopping prospect to pro.

"Wouldn't it be similar to the analytics world, where people see it and say, 'This can be helpful' and other teams start getting in on it?" Valley asked. "If you put this structure in place, other teams will follow."

The Stars aren't the only team putting more resources into goalie development.

Though there are still some organizations that spend less on their NHL goaltending coach than other organizations spend on their development coach, there are more and more stories of teams expanding the job description of goalie coaches at lower levels. That includes the Florida Panthers, who added scouting duties for development coach Pierre Groulx, who has also been a goalie coach for the Montreal Canadiens, Ottawa Senators and Panthers.

"It's a big topic among the goalie union," said Imoo, who played most of 15 pro seasons in Japan. "It seems to be coming around and some are taking a more proactive approach, like my full-time development role. But some are still resistant to the change, which is really strange because everybody always says it's the most important position and yet it's been very slow moving."

For the teams forging ahead, the focus is on improving how they select goalies and how they help them develop after they're drafted.

Imoo split his seasons with the Jets between scouting and helping goalies already in the system. That typically meant spending two weeks coaching in the AHL and the other two travelling to see Jets goalies playing in the ECHL, or drafted goalies playing in college or junior hockey. There was also time for scouting, a mixture of video work and in-person views.

Being able to understand the position beyond results, knowing why a goalie had success or not and how much of that was tied to team play, is valuable, especially on the scouting side. Without that, scouting reports often fall back into cliches about playing big or small, looking confident or not, with little true understanding why. Goalies get labeled as athletic when the real reason they are flying all over the ice is because they constantly put themselves in bad positions. Others are labeled calm because team structure makes their job so easy they can get away with good positioning and blocking saves that won't be good enough as a pro.

"That's the one area where you can't substitute watching a guy live," Imoo said. "You've got to watch the whole play and see how he sets up and how all of it comes about. It's easy to break down a highlight reel but it's tough to analyze beyond the basics as a goalie coach or scout when you are just seeing that goalie's touches on video."

Drafting a goalie is just the beginning of the process.

"Once you draft a guy, you need a plan," Valley said. "You can't just draft a guy, cross your fingers he is going to be in the right organization in junior and have the right goalie coach there, because when you draft a guy he is still five or six years out from even having a chance of playing in the NHL. That's how long it takes to develop these guys so there has to be a plan put in place."

Like the Stars, more NHL teams seem to be recognizing the value of having a goaltending development coach in place to manage it.

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