Atlanta Thrashers v Washington Capitals

Greed could be good for Winnipeg Jets goalies next season

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When people imply that the Winnipeg Jets are playing with house money this season – or, in other words, that they can have a rough season on the ice but will be spared because of the mere presence in Winnipeg – they’re mostly correct. Of course, those statements cover the team at the box office and in the hearts of fans, but the actual players suiting up during games will face a season-long audition to prove to new GM Kevin Cheveldayoff that they’re a part of the club’s future.

That might be especially true when it comes to their duo of goalies: Ondrej Pavelec and Chris Mason.* They’d be facing enough pressure just by the regime change alone and their own up-and-down moments during the 2010-11 season, but the interesting thing this is that both goalies are in contract years, so next season will determine their future with the Jets and the NHL overall.

Pavelec’s pressure

Pavelec will go into the 2011-12 season as the probable No. 1 goalie, but he might face more pressure since this is his chance to prove that he has the chops to be a top guy. As you may remember, Pavelec’s season started in a scary way with his out-of-nowhere fainting spell. Amazingly, he played his best hockey shortly after that frightening episode, but his play tapered off toward the end of the season to match the Atlanta Thrashers’ own struggles.

Still, he put up a solid .914 save percentage and 2.73 GAA while going 21-23-9, the best individual numbers of his short NHL career. Pavelec definitely showed some potential during last season, but he’ll need to put together a consistently strong 2011-12 season to convince the Jets’ brass to keep him in the fold.

Mason’s place

Mason has been one of the league’s most underrated 1b/backup goalies the last few seasons, but he fell on his face pretty badly in 10-11, sporting ugly individual numbers (.892 save percentage and 3.39 GAA) with a mediocre 13-3-3 record.

The stakes are probably lower for the journeyman goalie who can grow an all-world beard, although another .892 save percentage-type year might convince many that his days of being NHL-relevant are over. It wouldn’t be surprising if Mason finds himself in another uniform next season, because his main goal is simple: secure an NHL job.

***

For what it’s worth, Mason seems confident that the duo will have a strong season in 2011-12.

Mason, who is in Winnipeg training, says fans can expect goaltending to be a strong point.

“I really think we can be a top-notch talent,” he said after skating with local NHL players at the MTS IcePlex Tuesday. “Pav’s an unbelievable talent, a good young goaltender and a great guy. I really enjoyed playing with him last year and this summer I worked a lot on my strength conditioning and I plan to try to push him.”

(snip)

“Last year (Pavelec) had a two-month stretch where, in my opinion, he was a top goaltender in the league,” Mason said. “The last half of the season was different for our whole team … we kind of fell off … but he definitely has the potential to be a great goaltender in this league.

“I’ve been around long enough to know that every year you never know what’s going to happen. I’ve played as little as 10-11 games to 60-some games. I just have to work on performing when it’s my turn.”

Ultimately, I think the dangling carrot of a contract year should propel at least one (if not both) goalies to reach their highest potential. When you consider the fact that they’ll be playing in a hockey hotbed like Winnipeg instead of a struggling market like Atlanta, it’s quite possible that the sheer excitement might help carry them on tougher nights as well. (Of course, the heightened pressure might break them down, instead.)

Either way, it’s one of the more interesting goalie duos to watch since the Jets rank as one of the few teams who haven’t determined their mid-to-long-term future in net just yet. We’ll have to see if greed is good for those goalies.

* This is assuming that David Aebischer doesn’t pull off a serious upset by stealing one of the jobs during a training camp tryout, of course.

Jackets sign d-man Murray to two-year, $5.65 million extension

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Columbus has agreed to terms with young blueliner Ryan Murray on a two-year, $5.65 million extension, the club announced on Thursday.

“Ryan Murray is a talented, smart player who has been a very steady performer on our blue line and we are extremely happy to have this deal completed,” Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen said in a statement. “Ryan has earned more ice time, showed steady improvement and contributed in all situations for us throughout the season.

“We look forward to his continued growth and development with our club.”

Murray, 22, was the second overall pick at the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, taken one spot behind Nail Yakupov. While the first few years of his career were a disappointment — Murray missed a boatload of time to various injuries — his ’15-16 campaign has been a step in the right direction.

Murray has four goals and and 17 points in 55 games this season, sitting third on the team in TOI per game (22:27).

Of those numbers, the 55 games played is perhaps the most important, as it makes Murray one of three Blue Jackets – Boone Jenner and Gregory Campbell are the others – to have played in every game this season.

Considering Murray’s previous career-high for games played in a season is 66, he’s well on his way to breaking that mark.

Originally slated to become a restricted free agent on July 1, Murray is now locked in with Columbus (at $2.825M annually) through 2018. Of all the club’s blueliners, only he, Fedor Tyutin and Jack Johnson are signed for that long.

NHL confirms ’17 Draft for Chicago, an ‘ideal setting’

CHICAGO, IL - JUNE 18:  Owner and Chairman Rocky Wirtz of the Chicago Blackhawks prepares to speak to the crowd during the Chicago Blackhawks Stanley Cup Championship Rally at Soldier Field on June 18, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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Well, it’s official — the NHL Entry Draft is coming to the Windy City for the first time.

On Thursday, the league announced that Chicago and the United Center would play hosts to the 2017 NHL Entry Draft, marking the first time in league history the ‘Hawks organization has hosted the event.

“The energy and passion Chicago has for the Blackhawks makes United Center the ideal setting for the 2017 NHL Draft,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement. “The Draft will be one of the central moments of our Centennial, and the NHL family is looking forward to bringing this signature event to Chicago for the first time.”

Though it’s still far off — heck, the 2016 draft, which will be held in Buffalo this June, hasn’t even happened yet — the ’17 draft already has a few key names attached to it.

Chief among them is WHL Brandon forward Nolan Patrick, the son of ex-NHLer Steve Patrick.

Nolan, 17, scored 56 points in 55 games for the Wheat Kings in his first full campaign, capturing the Jim Piggott Memorial Trophy as the WHL’s rookie of the year.

He’s expected to be one of the top players selected in ’17, as is Timothy Liljegren, a defenseman currently plying his trade with Rogle in the Swedish Hockey League.

Leafs and Coyotes headline Craig Button’s list of top NHL-affiliated prospects

TORONTO, ON - JANUARY 2:  William Nylander #21 of Team Sweden is stopped by Ville Husso #30 of Team Finland during a quarter-final game in the 2015 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship at the Air Canada Centre on January 2, 2015 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
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Maple Leafs and Coyotes featured prominently on Craig Button’s list of the top 50 NHL-affiliated prospects.

Button, the former Calgary GM whose current title is TSN’s Director of Scouting, has two Leafs forwards — William Nylander (1st) and Mitch Marner (6th) — and two Coyotes forwards — Dylan Strome (2nd) and Christian Dvorak (3rd) — in his top six.

Flyers defensive prospect Ivan Provorov is fourth, with Jets forward Kyle Connor fifth.

Click here to read the other 44 youngsters that made the cut.

One of them is Jimmy Vesey (8th), the Harvard scoring sensation the Predators need to sign by August, otherwise he can become a free agent.

Goalie nods: Ducks give red-hot Andersen second straight start

Corey Perry, Frederik Andersen
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Bruce Boudreau has one of those “problems you like to have” in Anaheim.

Much of his club’s recent surge is due to excellent play from both netminders — John Gibson and Frederik Andersen — but after alternating starts for the last five games, Boudreau will give Andersen his second straight nod when the Ducks take on the Jackets in Columbus.

The Danish netminder is full value for consecutive starts. Andersen made 28 saves and allowed just one goal in a win over Philadelphia last time out and has been on fire over his last six games, going a perfect 6-0-0 with a 1.67 GAA and .941 save percentage.

“We just wanted to change the rotation a little bit,” Boudreau said of tonight’s starting goalie choice, per the O.C. Register. “Gibby’s done really good against Chicago and Vancouver and Freddie’s done really good against Edmonton, Calgary. He played an outstanding game last game and I thought he deserved this game tonight.”

Anaheim is in the midst of a lengthy seven-game road swing. After tonight’s game, the Ducks take on the ‘Hawks, Oilers and Flames before wrapping the trip in Vancouver on Feb. 18.

For Columbus, Joonas Korpisalo starts in goal.

Elsewhere…

— Looks as though Jhonas Enroth gets the nod in Brooklyn with Jonathan Quick banged up. The Isles are going with Thomas Greiss, who has emerged as one of the NHL’s top backup netminders this year.

Robin Lehner goes for the Sabres in Philly tonight. Steve Mason will make his sixth straight start, and Michal Neuvirth will resume backup duties after being activated from IR.

Semyon Varlamov‘s expected to be in goal for the Avs tonight when they take on the Sens. Ottawa will go with Andrew Hammond after Craig Anderson started against Detroit last night.

— Minnesota is going back to Devan Dubnyk, tonight, who has lost nine in a row (0-8-1) with a 3.32 GAA and .881 save percentage over that time. Washington will start Braden Holtby.

Tuukka Rask versus Connor Hellebuyck as the Bruins take on the Jets.

— Dallas looks like it’ll go back to Kari Lehtonen after his strong effort in Tuesday’s win over the Wild. Chicago, unsurprisingly, is sticking with its workhorse No. 1, Corey Crawford.

— Toronto’s switching things up and going with Jonathan Bernier as its road swing continues in Edmonton. The Oilers are going with Cam Talbot, one day after sending Anders Nilsson to the minors.

Karri Ramo versus Alex Stalock tonight in San Jose.