Six teams who made the wrong moves in net during this off-season

22 Comments

It’s reasonable to expect NHL teams to make decisions that seem disagreeable from time to time. On occasion, they simply have more information about a given player or situation than the general public. Every now and then, they’re just flat-out wrong even if their hearts and minds are in the right place.

If there’s one area in which teams shouldn’t be given much benefit of the doubt, it’s when they make wild risks with their goalies. The goaltending position can be a very unpredictable one, but smart teams hedge their bets. Here are a few teams who simply dropped the ball this off-season.

Anaheim – Let me start this off by saying that I’m a huge fan of Jonas Hiller. The Swiss-born goalie isn’t underpaid ($4.5 million per year), but he might be underrated. Unfortunately, he’s dealing with vertigo problems that could endanger his career; the unusual malady isn’t exactly something he can “ice” or “walk off” either.

It’s a tough situation for the Ducks, especially since they’re a very budget-conscious team. All of that aside, I still cannot fathom why they wouldn’t try to bring Ray Emery just in case Hiller remains in limbo. Judging by his willingness to accept a meager training camp tryout, Emery probably would have taken a two-way contract, which would have reduced the risk of adding Emery if Hiller ended up fine. Instead, Anaheim might be forced to throw Dan Ellis to the wolves.

source: APToronto – The Maple Leafs are putting a whole lot of eggs in the James Reimer basket, aren’t they? Brian Burke warned Reimer of the dangers of being a one-hit wonder goalie, but all the motivational ploys in the world can’t change the fact that Reimer has only played 37 games in his career. It’s not the worst gamble on this list, but Burke won’t hear the end of it if Reimer falls flat.

Columbus – Read this post for all you need to know about the Blue Jackets’ blind gamble with Steve Mason, who might as well be a cautionary tale for Reimer. Columbus decided to double down on risk when they allowed experienced backup Mathieu Garon to depart via free agency in favor of Mark Dekanich, who has exactly one NHL game on his resume.

Edmonton – Obviously, the Oilers are in a pickle because they cannot get rid of Nikolai Khabibulin’s 35+ contract. Still, the Oilers decided to stand idly by and hope for the best, which means that their starting goalie battle will come down to Khabibulin vs. Devan Dubynk. Even Fox’s Celebrity Boxing matches were less depressing.

source: APFlorida – The Panthers’ situation might be the least acceptable of all because they had the most options. Going into the off-season, it made sense that they would part ways with Tomas Vokoun. Yet when you consider that the Panthers were basically dying to give away money and Vokoun needed a home, was it unreasonable for them to give the statistical darling of a netminder a hefty one-year deal? Maybe he wouldn’t have taken it, but whatever gains they made with their ridiculous free agent spending spree might be lost thanks the enormous talent gap between Vokoun and odds-on starter Jose Theodore.

Phoenix – I think Mike Smith could make a nice career for himself as an above average backup, much like Dan Ellis. The problem is that he’s the Coyotes starting goalie, which means he’ll get little goal support and less defensive help than some might expect (at least if Phoenix’s troubling 2010-11 shots allowed stats weren’t a fluke). Smith probably wouldn’t be in this situation if not for Dave Tippett, so we’ll see if the 2009-10 Jack Adams award winner is as brilliant as he seemed two seasons ago. Logic points to things getting ugly in the desert.

Two teams who could go either way

Islanders (if they trade Evgeni Nabokov) – You can kiss that “dark horse candidate” talk goodbye if the Isles hitch their hopes to Al Montoya and Rick DiPietro. That might be the same if Nabby sticks around, although that situation would be a whole lot more interesting.

Colorado – For some strange reason, I have a weird feeling that the Semyon Varlamov experiment might just work out for the Avalanche. That being said, they overpaid to get both of their goalies so that’s often a recipe for disaster.

***

Again, goalies can be an unpredictable bunch. It’s possible that one or more of these teams could find a Sergei Bobrovsky-type prospect who comes out of nowhere to save their season. That being said, I think that the Ducks, Blue Jackets, Maple Leafs, Oilers, Coyotes and Panthers will kick themselves for their decisions during this off-season. Where do you come in on these and other teams’ situations in net, though? Let us know in the comments.

Slow start pushes Marner to Maple Leafs’ fourth line

Getty
Leave a comment

The Toronto Maple Leafs were one of the pleasant surprises of the 2016-17 season. The biggest reason they were able to make the playoffs last year was because of the play of their three terrific rookies: Auston Matthews, William Nylander and Mitch Marner.

Matthews and Nylander are off to roaring starts (Matthews has eight points in five games, Nylander has five points in five games). But things haven’t gone as well for Marner, who has a four points in five games.

That’s far from a poor point total for the sophomore forward, but head coach Mike Babcock hasn’t been impressed with his overall play (for whatever it’s worth, he’s a minus-6 this season).

On Monday, Babcock tweaked his lines, which shocked the fans and media in Toronto. Marner was no longer skating on a line with Tyler Bozak and James van Riemsdyk. Instead, he was with Dominic Moore and Matt Martin on the fourth line.

“Their line wasn’t going, so tie goes to the veterans,” Babcock said, per the Toronto Sun. “(Marner) just happens to be the kid on the line, that’s it. Let’s not read too much into that. You have to have all your units going and we’re trying to do that. It was a big win in Montreal (on Saturday), but saying that, we didn’t generate a lot and they did.”

If you thought the Leafs coach was just trying to send a message for one day on Monday, guess again. Marner was right back out on the fourth line during Tuesday’s morning skate ahead of tonight’s game against Washington.

It looks like Babcock is serious about this wake up call.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

MORE FROM NHL ON NBC SPORTS:

NHL on NBCSN doubleheader: Lightning vs. Devils; Canadiens vs. Sharks

The Buzzer: Nikita Kucherov just keeps scoring goals

NHL on NBCSN doubleheader: Lightning vs. Devils; Canadiens vs. Sharks

Getty
1 Comment

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2017-18 NHL season continues with a doubleheader on Tuesday night. In the early game, the New Jersey Devils host the Tampa Bay Lightning at 7:30 p.m. ET. To watch the game online, click here

The Lightning are coming off a 3-2 win over the Detroit Red Wings on Monday night. For the sixth game in a row, Nikita Kucherov managed to find the back of the net (he actually scored twice, including the game-winner).

When injuries were piling up for the Bolts last season, the Russian winger was the guy they relied on to get the job done. This season, that hasn’t changed. The Lightning are healthier than they were a year ago, but he just keeps on rolling.

Another player who’s performed well, is goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy. The young netminder became the full-time starter when the Lightning traded Ben Bishop to the Kings last season. Although he had some ups and downs last year, he’s been terrific this season.

His individual numbers might not jump off the page (3.00 goals-against-average and a .914 save percentage), but he’s come up with a number of big saves already in 2017-18. Last night’s game against the Wings was no different.

“He’s our starter for a reason,” head coach Jon Cooper said after the win over the Wings, per the Tampa Times. “If you want to win in this league, you have to check and you need your goaltender to bail you out on occasions. And the times we haven’t been checking, Vasy has bailed us out.”

After missing the playoffs last season, many expected the Lightning to be better now. The same can not be said for the Devils, but they’ve been one of the pleasant surprises so far.

New Jersey has a 4-1-0 record and they own a plus-8 goal differential. This young team has really come together early, and it’ll be interesting to see if they’re able to keep it together.

Rookies Will Butcher and Jesper Bratt have been nothing short of fantastic in the early going. Butcher, who the Devils signed as a college free agent this summer, has eight assists in five games. Bratt has accumulated six points in five contests, which isn’t bad for a 19-year-old drafted in the sixth round.

“He’s a good player,” forward Drew Stafford said of Butcher, per NJ.com. “You guys are seeing that. Doesn’t really surprise me anymore. He’s a heck of a player, so for him to have the success that he’s had so far — granted, it’s power play — but that’s something I feel like he can ride as far as he can.”

In the late game, the San Jose Sharks host the Montreal Canadiens at 10:00 p.m. ET. To stream that game live, click here

It’s been a tough start to the year for the Canadiens, as they’ve managed to come away with one win in their first five contests.

Despite adding Jonathan Drouin this off-season and having Max Pacioretty, Alex Galchenyuk and a few others, Montreal is still the only team in the league to has played five games and scored less than 10 goals.

They scored a season-high three goals against the Maple Leafs on Saturday night, but they fell 4-3 in overtime thanks to Auston Matthews‘ game-winner.

“I think our guys are focused on what needs to be done internally, inside the dressing room, and what we’re trying to accomplish here,” Claude Julien said, per the Montreal Gazette. “I think so far they’ve done a pretty good job of that. There’s no doubt when you got some guys that are goal-scorers that haven’t scored yet … it’s a normal thing that they might be squeezing the stick a little bit. But that’s what they got to overcome and that’s what we got to try and do and improve our game as we go along here.”

Pacioretty scored a goal in the season opener against Buffalo, but he hasn’t found the back of the net since. Drouin and Galchenyuk both netted their first goals of the season on Saturday night. Three goals in five games from those three players simply isn’t enough.

This will be the first of a three-game road swing in California that never seems to treat the Canadiens well.

Things haven’t been much better for the San Jose Sharks, as they have just one win in four contests.

“It’s on us as players,” Logan Couture said, per the San Jose Mercury News. “If we’re playing well, then the lines aren’t going to change. If we’re not, then they’re going to change them around. How we play will dictate what the lineup is.

“No one’s scoring. You could say our line’s not scoring and we’re not, but no one is. As a team, we’ve got to find ways to create some more offense.”

The Sharks have scored eight goals, like Montreal, but in one less game. Kevin Labanc has three of the eight markers.

If you’re a betting person, you may want to look at the under in this one, but weird things seem to happen when east coast teams go play out west.

Enjoy the hockey!

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

MORE FROM NHL ON NBC SPORTS:

PHT Morning Skate: 5 players that are off to slow starts this season

Getty
4 Comments

–The Score looks at five players that are off to slow starts in 2017-18. Brent Burns was incredibly productive in the first half of last season, but he’s been awfully quiet so far. (The Score)

–Speaking of players that are struggling, Antoine Roussel is off to a disappointing start with Dallas. He was one of the top possession players on the Stars roster, but the results just haven’t been there. There’s still plenty of time for him to turn things around though. (defendingbigd.com)

–The Montreal Canadiens are off to a rough start this season, but Montreal Gazette columnist Jack Todd believes they have what it takes to turn it around. Carey Price can be better, Jonathan Drouin can contribute more offensively and Max Pacioretty can score more goals. (Montreal Gazette)

–A lot of Nikita Kucherov‘s success comes from being unpredictable. One thing he worked on this off-season was improving his backhander. “It’s a tough league, you have to make chances out of nothing. Look at those guys, Kane, Crosby, watch them and it’s a huge part of their game. It’s something I want to add to my game and be better at.” (Tampa Bay Times)

–Even though the NHL added concussion spotters in 2015-16, their system is far from perfect. On Friday night, Marc-Andre Fleury took a knee to the head and he was allowed to stay in the game. Fleury is now out indefinitely. It’s time for the NHL to improve this whole process. (fanragsports.com)

–The Toronto Maple Leafs are one of the rare teams that are loaded with young depth at the AHL level. They’re so deep that some are wondering if they should loan out some of their prospects to other AHL teams instead of sending them to the ECHL. (faceoffcircle.ca)

–The Nashville Predators were one of the few eight seeds that made a run to the Stanley Cup Final. Before you draw hope for your team based on the Preds’ accomplishments, you might want realize that they weren’t your typical eighth seed based on the numbers they put up last season. (ontheforecheck.com)

–Every fall, EA Sports releases a new NHL video game that gets people excited for hockey season. Operation Sports looks at ways EA can improve game play. Better passing control? More elaborate dekes? Sign us up. (operationsports.com)

Taylor Hall is known for his play on the ice, but his social media game is pretty strong, too. Just ask former teammate Jordan Eberle, who found that out the hard way after he chirped Hall on Twitter. (Sports Illustrated)

–We don’t know if Matt Duchene will ever be traded. But regardless of where he plays this season, what kind of upside does he have? Although Duchene is off to a good start, there’s a good chance his numbers will come down a little bit. (milehighhockey.com)

–NHL.com’s Dave Stubbs sat down with former defenseman Hal Gill to ask him five questions. They discussed how the game has changed, what it’s like to win the Stanley Cup and they also talked about P.K. Subban. (NHL.com)

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

MORE FROM NHL ON NBC SPORTS:

SPHL gets creative, adopts ‘pick your opponent’ playoff format

Fantasy adds and drops: Anthony Mantha is off to a good start

PHT Power Rankings: Making sense of the early standings

The Buzzer: Nikita Kucherov just keeps scoring goals

Getty
3 Comments

Player of the night. Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning

The Tampa Bay Lightning have played six games this season. Forward Nikita Kucherov has scored a goal in all of them.

He continued that goal scoring streak on Monday night in the Lightning’s 3-2 win in Detroit by scoring a pair of goals, including the game-winner to help lift them to their eighth consecutive win over the Detroit Red Wings.

With that win the Lightning now have the best record in the NHL, while Kucherov’s seven goals are the second most in the league, trailing only Alex Ovechkin (nine).

Kucherov has seen his production increase every year he has been in the NHL. He set a career-high with 40 goals a year ago and seems like he is on track to top that mark this season. Now playing in his age 24 season he should be right in the thick of his prime years in the NHL. When it comes to pure skill and offensive production there are only a handful of players in the league that can top what Kucherov is doing.

Highlight of the Night.

Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilievsky stopped 29 shots on Monday night but perhaps none were better than this pad save to rob Tomas Tatar right on the door step.

Vasilevskiy had a slow start to the season but has been outstanding in his past two games, stopping 57 out of 60 shots in the Lightning’s wins over the St. Louis Blues and Red Wings.

Factoid of the Night.

Justin Abdelkader scored on a penalty shot for the Detroit Red Wings on Monday night becoming the first Red Wings player to do that in nearly 10 years.

Ten years?! That seems like a heck of a long time between penalty shot goals for a team.

Misc.

Mike Green continued his incredible start to the season by scoring his first goal of the season for the Detroit Red Wings. He is now up to nine points in five games this season.

Steven Stamkos picked up a pair of assists in the win for the Lightning, giving him eight on the season. Once he starts scoring goals (he only has one so far) he is going to be a force. His absence a year ago was a big reason why the Lightning fell just short of the postseason. With him back healthy they now have two of the top offensive players in the league (Nikita Kucherov).

Scores

Tampa Bay Lightning 3, Detroit Red Wings 2