Coyotes goalie Connor Ingram played his final game of the season on March 26, stopping 29 shots in a 4-3 shootout loss at Colorado. That capped a run of 17 games in the new year in which he stopped 591 of 641 shots on goal for a .922 save percentage. The league average this season was .904.
After adjusting to a new environment, a new role, new personnel and new coaching, Ingram proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that he is an NHL goalie — an emergence that was predicted by knowledgeable analysts in the business.
What’s next is anybody’s guess.
Ingram did not play over the final three weeks of the season (a stretch of eight games) while the Coyotes gave prospect Ivan Prosvetov a good long look to see if he was ready to assume backup goalie duties. Ingram watched those games from the press box in visiting arenas or from the Devil Deck at Mullett Arena, at one point quipping, “Yep, I’m still here” when I ran into him on my way to another interview.
“It was super weird,” he said of the situation. “It’s the business side of things where we don’t have anything to do with it or have any say in it so you just kind of play the hand you’re dealt and try to keep a good attitude and stay positive and just roll with it.”
Ingram understood what the Coyotes were doing because everyone communicated those goals.
“They were good,” he said of the management and coaching staff. “They were open and honest about what was going on and what would happen. They handled it well. It’s a hard situation for everybody involved; for me, Vej [Karel Vejmelka], Schwabby [goalie coach Corey] Schwab, André [Tourigny]. I don’t think anybody really saw it coming. It’s not anybody’s first choice, but it happens. We handled it well and professionally and did the best we could with it.”
It’s hard to argue that anything was resolved in Prosvetov’s audition. After three promising starts in March, he did not play well in April, allowing 23 goals on 129 shots (.833 save percentage). He has the only negative goals saved above expected total of the Coyotes’ three goalies. He did not prove that he is ready for NHL action on a consistent basis.
“Ivan has shown two different sides. He has shown an elite side, and then there’s this fluctuation where he hasn’t been as good,” GM Bill Armstrong said. “He’s got to work on that. It’s been a great opportunity for us to see him at this level here instead of waiting until next year.”
While Vejmelka is signed for two more seasons at a reasonable $2.725 million cap hit, both Ingram and Prosvetov will be restricted free agents with arbitration rights this summer, and neither will be waivers exempt. That means that if the Coyotes were to waive one of them after training camp in order to send them to Tucson, they could be claimed.
The concern for the Coyotes is that Prosvetov would be claimed by a team that saw potential in him, but any team claiming him would have to keep him on its NHL roster. Again, it’s hard to know the minds of every team’s pro scouting staff, but it’s hard to argue that Prosvetov has created that sort of market for himself.
On the other hand, the issue with Ingram may be his arbitration rights. While his qualifying offer would be just $787,500 per PuckPedia, his performance this season would earn him a substantial raise over that number; one that the penny-pinching Coyotes may not be willing to pay when they can insert Prosvetov instead at a lower cost.
“I think his arbitration case is quite clear,” PuckPedia founder Hart Levine said. “Through almost identical career games when he signed, he’s got slightly better numbers than [Calgary’s Dan] Vladar who signed for $2.2 million. Vladar’s was two RFA with arbitration years and Ingram’s arbitration would be one of those years so it looks straightforward that he’s a touch above like $2.25 million. There are some other comps that also put him in that range, too.
“The issue with the qualifying offer for Arizona is if they qualify him he can file for arbitration and then he’d be awarded $2.25 million. Arizona would not be able to walk away. They’d be stuck with it.”
Other sources think that Ingram’s award could be less (maybe $1.5 million), but if the Coyotes do decide to walk away from Ingram, it’s hard to figure out why they signed him in the first place. Had they gone with Jon Gillies (or another option) at backup, they might have lost more games and been in better position to draft Connor Bedard or Adam Fantilli.
That said, Carter Hutton’s struggles the season before had a demoralizing effect on the team and even the coaching staff. Bringing Ingram in might have been a Bill Armstrong concession to both, much like bringing in Scott Wedgewood the season before. Having two goaltenders who at least give you a chance to win games is an important ingredient in building a culture of competing. When your goalie does not give you a chance to win, even the best players might lose some of that compete level.
There are several options available now.The Coyotes could trade Vejmelka at the draft if there is a good market for him. That would allow them to re-sign Ingram. If they keep Vejmelka and opt to keep Prosvetov as the NHL backup, you would think they’d have to at least get something in return for Ingram’s negotiating rights (which may be tough if other teams know they have no intention of signing him). Or they could re-sign Ingram and take the nominal risk of waiving Prosvetov, who looks like he still needs more development time. That would tie up about $5 million in goaltending, however.
All of this maneuvering has left the good natured Ingram in a state of limbo. Again.
“It’s been talked about for sure, but I can’t really say what’s going to happen because I don’t think anybody really knows,” Ingram said. “I’d love to come back. Whether that’s an option or not is still waiting to be seen.
“I really enjoyed my time here. I got an opportunity to play, which is big as a goalie. It was a good start and it’s a good way to get your foot in the door. It took me a little bit to get my feet wet there at the start of the year. I struggled, but after Christmas, I just kind of settled in and the more you get to play, the easier it gets. My starts got more regular so it’s easier to get into a bit of a rhythm.
“Even if I don’t end up back here, I’ll always have a soft spot for them for giving me an opportunity and a start somewhere. I’ll always cherish my time here.”
128 Bear bullet points
The offseason provides an opportunity for the coaching staff to self-evaluate. I asked Coyotes coach André Tourigny where he planned to focus that evaluation. He took a deep breath.
“Oof,” Tourigny said at Coyotes break-up day from their training facility near the Ice Den Scottsdale on Friday. “There’s plenty there. There’s two pages of that on my desk. Right now, I have 128 [bullet] points. That gives you an idea of the stuff.
“It goes from our structure to the way we play in the neutral zone and should we have a little bit more of a shooting mentality or will we keep the same philosophy? Some people are sensitive and they’re offended when they get second-guessed. I’m the reverse. I’m second-guessing everything and I want to make sure we’re not leaving any stone unturned; we’re not taking anything for granted. We need to be critical of ourselves first, and make sure we know what we’re talking about and we act with conviction because we did our own work and we revisited everything we think can be improved or can be a weakness.”
Coyotes World Championship participants
Last month, Hockey Canada named Shane Doan as an assistant GM for the IIHF World Championship in Finland and Latvia from May 12-28. On Friday, several more Coyotes were selected to join Doan.
André Tourigny will be Canada’s head coach. Forwards Lawson Crouse and Jack McBain will represent Canada. Defenseman JJ Moser will represent Switzerland. Karel Vejmelka (Czechia) and Matias Maccelli (Finland) are still question marks.
Tourigny said he will spend a few days in Detroit with the Hockey Canada coaching staff, talking personnel and building systems before heading across the Atlantic on May 2.
“It will be fantastic to play at a high-end tournament and to have a chance to compete for a championship and medal for my country,” he said. “I’m extremely honored and proud.”
BA’s bucket list
Following exit meetings with players on Friday, GM Bill Armstrong has a busy schedule this offseason.
“In this day and age, you get a lot of player feedback from the guys. How is the organization behind the scenes? What do you like? What don’t you like? What can we improve? Then you move into the coaches meetings and we start going through the evaluations of the players, the systems, we start working on that. And then you get to the point where you take that and go to the pro scouts.
“Our pro scouts are out watching some of the players we want to acquire for next year; some of the pieces that we can add in to become better. And then that comes down to free agency on that side, just in making the team better, and also you get in the mix of the amateur scouting.”
At some point soon, the draft will consume Armstrong; a former scout and scouting director.
“You have to worry about the draft, but you also hire people to worry about the draft,” he said. “You’ve got to jump in there and have some interaction, but the other side is driving the pro scouts and getting that set up so we can look at acquiring people not only through waivers next year, but we’ve got to scout the American [Hockey] League.
“Is there anybody coming out that could add into our group? And then you’ve got the games in the NHL, the pressure games in the playoffs where there could be free agents that can add in to our club. We want to see those guys under pressure so you’ve got to keep your pro staff alive along with your average amateur staff and kind of have that double focus down the stretch, but make no mistake about, it’s on the amateur side for the most part.”
Coyotes leadership leap
In my 10 questions story that followed the season finale, I touched on why this offseason might be different from the past two, noting that Armstrong may have to make some concessions to his loyal core by adding some existing players who can help the team win.
Here’s another thing to consider. When Armstrong brought a handful of veterans in each of the past two offseasons, the idea was to surround the core with character-rich veterans who could guide them to NHL adulthood and teach them how to lead.
The emergence of players such as Clayton Keller, Lawson Crouse and Christian Fischer in leadership roles may negate some of the need for that element this offseason.
“Losing [Andrew] Ladd and [Jay] Beagle and [Anton] Stralman and [Antoine Roussel]; losing all those guys who played around 1,000 games, won Stanley Cups, had been part of contender teams and they were really good pros, I did not know how our young core of leadership would be to carry on,” Tourigny said. “I was scared to death of it and honestly, they impressed me all year long. I was blown away how they took care of the room, how they took care of tough situations.
“I was saying when we were riding the wave, everything’s good and that will be fine. But when the boat will rock a little bit, how will it be and they’ve been second to none. They were unbelievable.”
Coyotes wedding/baby plans
Coyotes forward Lawson Crouse is getting married this summer while defenseman Josh Brown is having a baby.
Crouse has credited his fiancée, Claire Stewart, with much of the planning for that event while the Coyotes have endured a grueling schedule, but Stewart said Crouse has been more involved than he let on.
“She’s been the one on the Zoom calls,” Crouse said. “I jumped on my first one the other day, the food and beverage meeting. That was a good one to be on.”
Crouse and Stewart will be married on July 20 at the Harding Waterfront Estate in Oakville, Ontario.
“Groomzilla couldn’t get permits for the fireworks he wanted so he might not show up,” Stewart quipped.
Coyotes injury update
I can’t remember the last time that the Coyotes escaped the season without at least one player requiring an offseason surgical procedure, but that was the case this year.
“We got through on a healthy note,” Armstrong said. “We’re good to go.”
As expected on Friday, the Coyotes assigned goaltender Ivan Prosvetov, defensemen Victor Söderström and Michael Kesselring, and forwards Jan Jeník and Miloš Kelemen to the Tucson Roadrunners. Tucson plays its final game of the regular season at home against San José on Saturday. The AHL playoffs will begin on Wednesday.
Top photo of Connor Ingram via Getty Images
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