Sergei Bobrovsky

On the importance of goaltending

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Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards had a good quote recently about the relative struggles of his Vezina Trophy-winning goalie, Sergei Bobrovsky, compared to last season.

“He made me a good coach last year, and that’s what that one position can do,” Richards said, per the Columbus Dispatch. “If a team’s struggling, the coach isn’t very good. All of a sudden the goalie becomes good, and all of a sudden the coach seems to know what he’s doing. That’s the one position where they’re able to do that.”

With that in mind, we thought it could be interesting to list a few teams that have experienced substantial variation in their team save percentage, for bettor or for worse, from last season to this season.

Columbus (from .920 to .907) — Not surprisingly, the Jackets’ record has been negatively affected. They’re currently 5-9-0, tied for 25th in the NHL with just 10 points.

Ottawa (from .933 to .921) — Like the Jackets, the Sens haven’t been able to rely so much on goaltending in 2013-14. A .921 team save percentage is still very good, but Ottawa’s record (5-6-4) is not.

NY Rangers (from .920 to .903) — Henrik Lundqvist had a pretty awful start, but he seems to be back in form lately. And wouldn’t you know it? The Rangers are starting to win some games.

Edmonton (from .917 to .875) — Based on team save percentage, the Oilers have the worst goaltending in the NHL. Question: if Devan Dubnyk had been good to start the season, what are the chances Dallas Eakins would be forced to tell Nail Yakupov to ignore the trade rumors?

Tampa Bay (from .899 to .911) — There are, of course, teams that have seen their goaltending improve. Like the Lightning, who’ve received excellent work from Ben Bishop. At this point, Bishop is looking like a nice addition by general manager Steve Yzerman.

Montreal (from .904 to .934) — The Habs finished October with an 8-5-0 record. Carey Price finished the month with a .939 save percentage. Not a coincidence.

St. Louis (from .902 to .915) — Jaroslav Halak has been healthy and solid for the Blues. Brian Elliott has been much improved as well. And if that’s not scary enough for the rest of the league, St. Louis has found its scoring touch. Only the Sharks (3.73) are scoring more goals per game than the Blues (3.46).

Toronto (from .917 to .935) — Safe to say the Maple Leafs would be in trouble if not for their tandem of James Reimer and Jonathan Bernier. But credit general manager Dave Nonis for getting two very capable players to solidify the most important position in the game. It’s always a nice luxury to have, even if some like to focus on the “controversy” aspect.

Colorado (from .901 to .955) — Last but not least, the Avalanche currently boast the highest team save percentage in the NHL. They also have the highest points percentage, at .923. Without Semyon Varlamov and J.S. Giguere, there’s no chance they’d be 12-1-0 after 13 games. None.

Linden: Virtanen must earn his spot on Canucks roster

VANCOUVER, BC - OCTOBER 10: Jake Virtanen #18 of the Vancouver Canucks skates during the pre-game warm up prior NHL action against the Calgary Flames on October 10, 2015 at Rogers Arena in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.  (Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images)
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The Vancouver Canucks are loaded with question marks for next season.

One of them will be about what is best for the development of right winger Jake Virtanen, who will turn 20 years old next month and is coming off his first NHL campaign. He scored seven goals and 13 points in 55 games as a 19-year-old rookie. On occasion, he showed an ability to drive the net and to be a physical forward capable of crushing the opposition.

That big, physical, powerful forward that can also score is something the Canucks need. Virtanen could still evolve into that player. (On a similar note: Evander Kane trade speculation has been rampant in Vancouver in recent weeks.)

Becoming a consistent performer, showing more than just flashes of potential, has been a talking point surrounding Virtanen this summer.

He’ll be eligible to play with the Utica Comets in the AHL next season, and there is competition at the right wing in Vancouver, with numerous veteran players also listed at that position. That means a spot on the roster won’t be guaranteed for Virtanen, taken sixth overall in the 2014 NHL Draft.

“Jake is going to be a big part of this team for years. It was a stepping stone for him and I was out there (Vancouver) for a week and saw him training and he looked good to me,” Canucks’ center Bo Horvat told Ben Kuzma of The Province newspaper.

“He doesn’t have the mindset that he’s on the team. He has to work for it. It’s the consistency part of the game and you can’t take a night off like in junior. You can take some off knowing it’s a for-sure win and an easier night. There are no easy nights in the NHL. On any night, any team can surprise you.”

Last season, the Canucks kept Virtanen and Jared McCann with the big club, despite the option of sending them back to junior and not burning the first years of their respective entry-level contracts.

It was a major step for a team as it transitions to a younger roster, a younger core. It also came with an abundance of growing pains, culminating in Daniel Sedin ripping into his team after a particularly poor effort versus St. Louis in March.

After the season ended, and the Canucks finished 28th in the overall standings, head coach Willie Desjardins threw down the gauntlet, saying the team would focus once again on trying to win, and putting the onus on the youngsters to be good enough to help in that aspect.

When it comes to Virtanen, his conditioning has turned into an emphasis this summer.

“I think Jake has … a very raw and very unique skill set,” Canucks’ president Trevor Linden told TSN 1040. “He’s come a long way. Last year was an important year for him, just having him see what it takes to get to the next level.

“Jake knows he’s going to have to come to training camp this fall and earn a spot.”

Related: Since World Juniors disappointment, Virtanen has been ‘a different player’ for Canucks

NHLPA hire Bruce Meyer brings a ‘wealth of knowledge,’ says Fehr

Donald Fehr
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Bruce Meyer’s résumé of victories as a lawyer is a long and impressive one, and he has now joined the NHL Players’ Association as a senior director of collective bargaining, policy and legal, the union announced Thursday.

During his tenure of more than 25 years at the law firm Weil, Gotshal and Manges LLP, Meyer represented the NHLPA, NFLPA and NBPA.

The NHLPA said in a statement that in his new position, Meyer “will focus on a wide array of policy and legal issues.”

In working for those unions, he was involved in matters such as collective bargaining and arbitration, as per his online profile.

“Bruce will be a great addition to the NHLPA’s staff. He brings a wealth of knowledge to this new role coming from his law firm where he gained three decades’ worth of valuable experience, including effectively representing the NHLPA and other Players’ Associations as outside counsel,” said NHLPA executive director Don Fehr in a statement.

The NHLPA said Meyer will begin at his new position in mid-August.

The news of this hire comes more than a month after the league sued the NHLPA after Dennis Wideman‘s 20-game suspension for hitting linesman Don Henderson was reduced to 10 games by a neutral arbitrator.

Related: Report: NHL dismisses neutral arbitrator who reduced Wideman’s suspension

Sweet ride: Blackhawks sponsor CJ Wilson Racing’s Porsche Cayman at Road America

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CJ Wilson Racing
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Chicago Blackhawks fans, start your engines!

Yes, according to MotorSportsTalk, the Blackhawks have become the main sponsor of CJ Wilson Racing’s No. 35 car, a Porsche Cayman GT4 Clubsport, for the upcoming IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge event at Road America next month.

That’s a sweet ride.

From MotorSportsTalk:

The partnership will officially launch at the United Center on Wednesday, August 3, from 11 a.m. until 1 p.m in advance of Saturday’s race. Fans will have the opportunity to get up close to the car, meet the drivers and Blackhawks Ambassador Denis Savard, and have their picture taken.

The race takes place Aug. 6 at Road America in Wisconsin.

Third team’s the charm? Devils ink Gormley to one-year, two-way deal

<>during the first period at TD Garden on November 12, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts.
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Since being selected by the Coyotes at 13th overall in the 2010 NHL Draft, Brandon Gormley has had a difficult time breaking into the league on a full-time basis.

On Thursday, the 24-year-old Gormley joined his third NHL team, signing with the New Jersey Devils on a one-year, two-way deal worth $650,000 at the NHL level, the club announced.

Despite his draft status, Gormley has yet to play a full season in the big league, although this deal could give him an opportunity to end that. For the Devils, the deal adds more depth to the blue line in the organization and for a friendly price.

Last season, Gormley split time between the Colorado Avalanche and its farm team, the San Antonio Rampage. Despite some high expectations about where he could fit on the Avs’ blue line, he was eventually put on waivers in January.

He ended the season with one assist in 26 games with the Avalanche, and hit the open market after Colorado didn’t give him a qualifying offer.