During Mike Smith’s tenure as the Arizona Coyotes’ starting goaltender from 2011 to 2017, the club employed a long list of backup netminders. From veterans like Jason LaBarbera to young guys like Louis Domingue, we saw a lot of goaltenders take the ice in the Valley of the Sun during the previous decade.
Many of these players outperformed Smith with the Coyotes, but were unable to grab long-term roles in Arizona due to No. 41’s mammoth contract, which prevented the franchise from keeping any other reliable goaltenders around.
The most notable of these former backups is easily Devan Dubnyk, now of the Minnesota Wild.
Dubnyk’s career was in complete shambles when he came to Phoenix in 2014 – he had endured an absolutely brutal 2013-14 campaign which saw him play NHL games for the Edmonton Oilers and Nashville Predators, and AHL games with the Montreal Canadiens’ affiliate, the Hamilton Bulldogs. Dubnyk failed to register a save percentage above .900 on any of those three stops, so he very much was a reclamation project when he signed a one-year, $800,000 contract on July 1, 2014.
Prior to his disastrous 2013-14 campaign, Dubnyk enjoyed three good seasons in Edmonton, posting save percentages of .916, .914, and .921 in 2010-11, 2011-12, and 2012-13, respectively. Then-Coyotes goaltending coach Sean Burke was known for his ability to get struggling netminders back on track, having previously done so in Arizona with Smith and his predecessor, Ilya Bryzgalov, and “Burkie” made Dubnyk his latest project.
When the 2014-15 season started, the Coyotes’ decision to bring in Dubnyk immediately paid dividends – Devan racked up a 5-1-1 record over his first seven starts with a .926 SV%. His pace slowed as the season progressed, but he still greatly outperformed Smith, who got out to a nightmarish 7-18-2 start with a brutal .885 SV% and 3.51 GAA through Jan. 14, 2015.
Dubnyk, on the other hand, owned a far better .916 SV%, 2.72 GAA, and 9-5-2 record through 19 games, but the Coyotes’ hands were tied at the time. They already were paying Smith $5.67 million a year for the next four seasons and likely wouldn’t have been able to afford to re-sign Dubnyk over the following summer. Thus, then-general manager Don Maloney chose to deal Dubnyk to the Minnesota Wild for a third-round pick on Jan. 15.
The rest, as we know, is history. Dubnyk emerged as a franchise goaltender in Minnesota – he played 39 of the team’s 40 games in 2015 after being acquired, going 27-9-2 with an unbelievable .936 SV% and 1.78 GAA. The club was below .500 at the time of the trade, but they finished the year in a playoff spot with a 46-28-8 record. Dubnyk led the team to a first-round series victory over the Central Division champion St. Louis Blues, but the team was swept by the eventual Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks in Round No. 2. His play earned him a six-year contract extension paying him $4.33 million annually.
In total, Dubnyk has played six seasons in Minnesota, recording a .918 SV%, a 2.41 GAA, and a record of 177-133-28. He finished fourth in Hart Trophy voting and third in Vezina Trophy in 2015 while also taking home the Masterton Trophy that year. He’s a three-time All-Star, and also found himself in the top-five of Vezina Trophy balloting again in 2017. Meanwhile, after the trade, Smith went 41-64-14 in 122 games for Arizona with a 2.84 GAA and .916 SV%, and was given away to the Calgary Flames for a pittance on June 17, 2017.
This one is a major ouch for the Coyotes, who, after surrendering Dubnyk, did not get consistent, quality goaltending again until Antti Raanta made his team debut three seasons later in 2017-18.
Dubnyk’s predecessor in the backup goaltender role, Thomas Greiss, also earns a spot on this list. The Coyotes’ 2013-14 No. 2 netminder, Greiss came to the Valley as a free agent, signing a one-year, $750,000 deal. By then, Smith was already entrenched as Arizona’s starter. He was less than two years removed from the magical 2012 playoff run, and was in the first season of his big six-year extension. The Smith-Arizona honeymoon was very much still in effect.
Greiss was a clear No. 2 option behind the well-compensated Smith for then-head coach Dave Tippett in 2013-14, but he was great with the Coyotes, posting a 10-8-5 record across 25 appearances (20 starts) with a SV% of .920 and a GAA of 2.29. Greiss’s numbers were as good or better than guys like Roberto Luongo, Henrik Lundqvist, Corey Crawford, Jonathan Quick and Cory Schneider that year, and were an order of magnitude better than Smith’s .915 SV% and 2.64 GAA.
The German-born netminder even received an extended look as Arizona’s starter following an injury to Smith at Madison Square Garden on March 24, 2014. Greiss started 9 of the team’s final 10 games, posting a .914 SV% and a 2.16 GAA across 555 minutes played. He allowed two goals or fewer in seven of those contests, but was only able to accrue a 3-3-3 record as the Coyotes completely fell apart and lost eight of their final nine games to miss the postseason by two points.
Greiss was due for a raise after his solid play in Arizona, and the Pittsburgh Penguins gave it to him, signing him to a one-year, $1 million contract. He was okay for them in 2014-15 as Marc-Andre Fleury’s backup, but he really found a home on Long Island when he signed a two-year, $3 million deal with the New York Islanders on July 1, 2015. With the Isles, Greiss has accrued a record of 101-60-17 in 193 career games, and he took home the Jennings Trophy last season with Robin Lehner. He’s posted seasons with save percentages of .925 or better twice with the Islanders and has emerged as one of the better netminders in the league since leaving Arizona.
The Coyotes are in good shape at the goaltender position now, but either Greiss or Dubnyk would have been nice to have around while the team struggled with backup netminders like Louis Domingue, Scott Wedgewood and Anders Lindback from 2015 to 2018.
A lifelong Phoenix resident, Louis has been following hockey since 2010, has covered the Arizona Coyotes since 2015, and has been playing hockey since 2020. So far, Louis has visited eight NHL cities, and one of his personal goals is to eventually make it to all 31 NHL arenas. For any questions or concerns, contact the writer via Twitter @LouisPannone.