Goaltending has been an up and down for the entirety of the year. Connor Ingram has shown to be an effective and reliable number one, but it’s his off nights, that make it hard for the Arizona Coyotes to ride the momentum.
Karel Vejmelka and Ingram split time evenly last season. This year, Ingram has emerged as a sure-fire number one between the pipes. In the long run, Ingram will probably be the team’s starter should they earn a playoff berth.
Case-in-point is presented by Vejmelka’s last two games, as well as his season as a whole. Six goals against in back-to-back nights against Florida and Tampa Bay, adding to his last six starts for the Coyotes, allowing at least four goals a game, as well as his season record of 6-1 in 20 games with a 3.47 GAA and a .897 SV%.
Riding with Ingram as the season winds down, and you see more and more consistently good contention, only causes him to burn out and spiral into the neverending slump that could seriously derail what the Coyotes have cooking this season. So, what are the options for Vejmelka, and what are the options for the club. The way I see it, three are very apparent.
The first may be in Matthew Villalta, rostered with the minor league club, the Tucson Roadrunners. Villalta has built a serious tenure in the minors, but as of his last three seasons, he has been trending up regarding performance and the numbers he is posting. Villalta has bolstered a sub 3.00 Goals Against Average since the 2021-22 season, when he posted a 2.98 GAA with a .903 save percentage in 46 games. Last season, 2022-23, Villalta was called upon less by his then team, the Ontario Reign, but still posted a sub 3.00 GAA, finishing the year with a 2.68 GAA and a .910 SV%. His numbers have continued to get better, as so far this season, in seven more games for the Roadrunners, he sits with a sub 2.50 GAA and a .916 SV%, with a 19-9-1 record.
Doing as such, may compromise Tucson’s success, and harm the organization as a whole if Villalta isn’t ready, or has a similar statline in the NHL to that of Vejmelka.
The Coyotes have their replacement in Villalta but still need to drop Vejmelka off the roster to make room.
Waiving him isn’t an option that is viable. He is a solid goaltender for a team that is rebuilding, and waiving him shorts the Coyotes on return options that can be used to continue to build for the future. If anything, secondly, flip him for a second or third-round pick, a guy that can still make an NHL roster but not a high return for a team in the midst of rebuilding.
The third option, less popular among fans and maybe among the organization as a whole, is to stick with Vejmelka. Have a goaltending coach lock in on his weaknesses and work to strengthen them before they become critical. Trading Vejmelka for picks and hoping to hit the free agent market for a goaltender is a scarce option that presents old and already tried resolutions.
The Coyotes wrap up the first half of their season on Saturday with a road tilt against the Carolina Hurricanes.
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