PHT’s Pressing Olympic Questions: Will goaltending cost Canada?

9 Comments

There is always going to be second-guessing when it comes to Canada’s roster at the Sochi Olympics. So far, without a single game played, the question marks and doubts surrounding the goalies of the defending gold medalists are abundant.

The three tasked with tending the Canadian net: Roberto Luongo, believed to be the incumbent for the starter’s job after his gold medal victory in Vancouver four years ago, Carey Price of the Montreal Canadiens and Mike Smith of the Phoenix Coyotes.

None of them have been particularly impressive since the roster was announced on Jan. 7, which has prompted debate about who gets the starting duties. It’s believed the top choices are Luongo and Price, with Smith slotting into the No. 3 role. Luongo has allowed 26 goals in his last nine starts, but 14 goals in his last four. Price has given up 32 goals in 13 games, including a span in which he allowed four or more goals on five consecutive occasions. He’s playing well of late, with three straight wins, one shutout and three goals-allowed in his last three games. Smith has given up 33 goals in 14 games, but has also played better since the start of February, allowing five goals in his last four games, which includes a shutout.

The greatest concern appears to be Luongo.

“I don’t know. Obviously, we haven’t won, so it’s tough from that side of things,” Luongo said recently about the state of his game, as his Vancouver Canucks lost seven straight prior to the Olympic break.

Luongo has also dealt with two injuries – a groin ailment suffered prior to the holiday break and an ankle injury after a collision with the Kings’ Dustin Brown early three days before the Olympic announcement.

Last week, Canadian head coach Mike Babcock told Sportsnet he’ll split the goalie duties in the first two games of the competition, while the goalie who starts in the third game will probably be the starter for the remainder of the tournament. Babcock, the returning coach for Canada’s team, didn’t divulge any details on who his initial starter will be in the opening game, although he has an idea. Four years ago, Babcock started Martin Brodeur, but after a round-robin concluding loss to the U.S., the bench boss switched over to Luongo in the medal round. His decision proved successful.

It seems impossible that Babcock would base his decisions on the public comments of NHL players over the course of the last month. But 10 days after Canada’s roster announcement, Montreal Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban, also on the Canadian squad, made a ringing endorsement for his NHL teammate Price.

“I know he’s my teammate and everything, but I’m hard pressed to find another goalie that’s better than him right now in the world,” said Subban.

As we can see, the debate involves many opinions, beyond just that of fans and pundits. Doubtful any of it will influence Babcock and his coaching staff. But there’s no denying that the individual performances of Luongo, Price and Smith over the last month have raised questions from the external sources about whether Canada can repeat as gold medal champions, and whether goaltending will help or hinder that team’s quest.

Recent comments from Babcock would suggest that Luongo will be his guy to start the tournament. He also gave Luongo a vote of confidence, too. Past history, like the 2010 Games and not the month of January, might have something to do with that.

“I’m not concerned,” Babcock said, as per TSN.

“I just think he’s a really good goalie. I’ve been with him a number of times and he’s always found a way to deliver. So I’m not concerned, no.”

Follow @CamTucker_Metro

Stars give Lindell two-year extension

Getty
Leave a comment

More news out of Dallas, where the Stars have signed defenseman Esa Lindell to a two-year, $4.4-million contract extension.

From the release:

Lindell, 23, posted 18 points (6-12=18) in 73 games played for Dallas during the 2016-17 regular season, his first full season in the NHL. He finished second on the team by averaging 21:52 of time on ice per game and his +8 plus/minus rating finished third. Additionally, he finished second on the team with 119 blocked shots and tied for fifth with 93 hits.

The Stars still have a couple of restricted free agents on the back end. Both Patrik Nemeth and Jamie Oleksiak are arbitration-eligible. Lindell was not.

Earlier today, it was reported that the Stars were buying out goalie Antti Niemi.

Dallas also signed forward Mark McNeill to a one-year, two-way contract extension. The 24-year-old was acquired from Chicago in the Johnny Oduya trade on Feb. 28.

Lightning extend Gourde — two years, $2 million

Getty
Leave a comment

Yanni Gourde has cashed in on an impressive 20-game cameo with Tampa Bay this season.

Gourde signed a two-year, $2 million extension on Monday, the Bolts announced. The deal came after the 25-year-old scored six goals and eight points in 20 games, while averaging 15:22 TOI per night.

Undrafted out of the Quebec League, Gourde has been a terrific AHL player since catching on with the Tampa Bay organization a few years ago.

He was instrumental in Syracuse’s run to the Calder Cup final this year — scoring 27 points in 22 games — and, given his new deal is of the one-way variety, seems primed to spend next year with the Lightning.

“It’s an unbelievable feeling to sign that kind of a deal knowing where I’ve come from,” Gourde said, per NHL.com. “It’s the organization that trusted me very early in my career, and I thank them for that.”

Carolina’s strategy of flipping picks for players ‘just didn’t pan out’

Getty
Leave a comment

In late May, the ‘Canes looked like a team primed to trade some draft picks.

GM Ron Francis kicked off proceedings by sending one of his 11 picks — a third-rounder — to Chicago for goalie Scott Darling. Shortly thereafter, Francis said his club had “the open for business sign out there,”suggesting he was ready to wheel and deal.

But said wheeling and dealing never occurred.

“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t hoping to take a few less picks,” Francis said after he selected nine players at the draft, per ‘Canes Country. “We’d had a lot of discussions about trying to move picks for players, but it just didn’t pan out the way we had hoped.”

Prior to landing in Chicago, it was obvious the goal for Francis and head coach Bill Peters was to add pieces that’d help get the ‘Canes back into the playoffs for the first time since 2009. The team has shown steady improvement over the last three years — going from 30 to 35 to 36 wins — and had a nice late push before ultimately falling short this season.

“I think we have specific needs, very specific needs,” Peters said at Carolina’s end-of-year media availability. “So as a coach I’m going to give very specific names.”

As many clubs experienced at the draft, trades weren’t easy to orchestrate. It was a stark contrast to the flurry of action that proceeded the event — Jonathan Drouin to Montreal, Jordan Eberle to the Islanders, huge shakeups in both Arizona and Chicago.

The perceived weakness of said draft could’ve played a role in the lack of movement. It’s also worth noting that Francis did use one of his picks, a fifth-rounder, for Vegas to select Connor Brickley at the expansion draft.

And, to be clear, this doesn’t mean Carolina still can’t add players. Free agency opens on Saturday. But draft weekend certainly feels like an opportunity missed, given this year’s UFA market doesn’t project to be very strong.

Report: Stars to buy out Antti Niemi

Getty
1 Comment

The Antti Niemi era in Dallas is mercifully over.

Per Mike Heika of the Dallas Morning News, the Stars will place Niemi on waivers for the purposes of buying out the final year of his contract. The buyout will result in a $1.5 million cap hit in 2017-18 and 2018-19.

Niemi, 33, joined the Stars in 2015 with the hope he’d form an effective tandem with Kari Lehtonen.

But the experiment was a dismal failure. In 85 games over two seasons, Niemi registered a .900 save percentage, and the Stars responded last month by signing Ben Bishop to a six-year contract worth almost $30 million.

GM Jim Nill had hoped that one of Niemi or Lehtonen could be traded in the wake of the Bishop signing.

Lehtonen, 33, is still under contract for another year at a cap hit of $5.9 million. He had a .902 save percentage last season, higher than Niemi’s .892.