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Under Pressure: Jimmy Howard

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“Jimmy Howard two years ago was a star for us. Last year wasn’t as good as we expect Jimmy to be.

“When you’re an athlete and you’re proud, you want to play the way you’re capable of. Sometimes when it doesn’t go your way — for whatever reason — you want to fight your way back. We need Howie to do that.”

That was Red Wings head coach Mike Babcock in July, speaking to Detroit 105.1 Sports Radio about his franchise netminder. As the quote suggests, Howard struggled in ’13-14 — the first of his six-year, $31.75 million extension — and now, the pressure’s on for the 30-year-old to discover the form that saw him net a hefty average annual salary ($5.29M, right in between Roberto Luongo and Marc-Andre Fleury in the goalie salary landscape.)

So, what went wrong for Howard last year?

Health, or lack thereof, was a problem. Howard missed 13 games with hand, knee and hip injuries and made just 51 appearances — a decent workload, but down from his 2009-10 and 2010-11 campaigns, in which he logged 63 games in consecutive years. Howard’s season also ended on a sour note health-wise; he was knocked out of Detroit’s opening-round loss to Boston with the flu, shooting down speculation he was sidelined with a concussion.

When healthy, Howard’s play didn’t exactly inspire. His .910 save percentage and 2.66 GAA ranked him 36th and 33rd among all NHL goalies, and there were stretches throughout the season where Babcock opted to use backup Jonas Gustavsson with greater frequency, including a stint in early December during which the coach called Howard’s confidence into question.

“You have to find a way to get hit and you have to find a way to get confident,” Babcock said, per the Macomb Daily. “You always find out way more about yourself during tough times, but that’s the same with everybody in any walk of life. When things are going great we’re all great people. It’s when it’s not going good it’s how we choose our attitude, how we choose our worth ethic, that makes you a good pro.

“Every good goalie in the National Hockey League has been through some ups and downs.”

The hope now, of course, is that Howard is done with the lows. He’s not that far removed from a banner ’13 campaign — during which he led the NHL in shutouts and finished sixth in Vezina voting — and Detroit hopes he can find the confidence he once had and get back into “star” form.

To hear Howard explain it, he’s ready to put last season in the rear view.

“It was just one of those years,” he said, per the Detroit News. “Statistic-wise, it wasn’t very good. I think I can be a lot better. I’ve proved in the past I’ve been a lot better. And that’s the way I want to be moving forward.”

Report: Coyotes’ Rieder is considering KHL, among other options

New York Islanders v Arizona Coyotes
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Arizona Coyotes forward Tobias Rieder has a big decision to make. The 23-year-old restricted free agent has been embroiled in contentious contract negotiations for much of the offseason, and now he’s reportedly considering his options.

According to TSN’s Bob McKenzie, those options include taking the Coyotes offer, requesting a trade, signing in the KHL, or sitting out.

Rieder had 14 goals and 23 assists in 82 games last season for Arizona. Born in Germany, he’s currently representing Team Europe in the World Cup final against Canada.

Rieder’s agent, Darren Ferris, has said his client won’t attend Coyotes training camp after the World Cup is over — unless, of course, a deal is struck.

“We’ve made them a fair offer at two years at $2.5 million a year, and they’re unwilling to do it,” Ferris recently told the Arizona Republic.

The Coyotes have reportedly offered between $2 million and $2.3 million per season on a two-year deal, so it’s not exactly a huge gulf between the two sides.

Of course, it wasn’t a huge gulf between Vladimir Sobotka and the St. Louis Blues, and look what happened there.

Shaw (boarding) to have hearing after getting tossed in Habs debut

TAMPA, FL - JUNE 02:  Andrew Shaw #65 of the Chicago Blackhawks speaks during Media Day for the 2015 NHL Stanley Cup Final at Amalie Arena on June 2, 2015 in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Didn’t take long for Andrew Shaw to do Andrew Shaw things in Montreal.

The noted agitator, acquired from Chicago at the draft, will have the NHL’s first disciplinary hearing of the season on Thursday — today, the Department of Player Safety announced that Shaw will be called to the carpet after getting tossed for boarding Washington’s Connor Hobbs last night.

Shaw was quickly challenged by Caps forward Nathan Walker following the hit, and the two squared off. Shaw was then given a five-minute boarding major, a major for fighting, a misconduct and a game misconduct.

All told, 30 PIM.

This won’t be Shaw’s first visit with the DoPS. Far from it. He was suspended for making a homophobic slur during an opening-round playoff loss to St. Louis in the spring and, prior to that:

— Avoided suspension for a high hit on Francois Beauchemin.

— Allegedly bit Victor Hedman during the ’15 Stanley Cup Final.

— Was fined $2,000 for diving.

— Avoided suspension for charging Barret Jackman.

— Avoided suspension for headbutting Brock Nelson.

And those are just the infractions since 2015.

Report: Players still undecided on how to split World Cup profits

NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 13:  Don Fehr, executive director of the National Hockey League Players Association meets with the media at the Marriott Marquis Times Square on September 13, 2012 in New York City. Joining him from left to right is Ruslan Fedotenko, Henrik Lundqvist, Zdeno Chara and Sidney Crosby.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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You’d think the NHLPA would’ve already decided how to split its share of World Cup profits among its membership.

But according to a report by TSN’s Rick Westhead, you’d be wrong:

While the accounting on the World Cup probably won’t be finished for several months – meaning the NHLPA doesn’t yet know exactly how much money there will be to split between its members – NHLPA staff and players discussed the concept of 50 per cent of the union’s share of profits being split between players in the World Cup, with the other 50 per cent being split by NHL players not in the event.

During a meeting with NHLPA divisional player representative Joe Reekie, some players on Team Russia said all World Cup profits should remain with players who are playing in the event, a source told TSN. Some players on Team Czech Republic suggested in a separate meeting that an 80/20 split (favoring players in the World Cup) should be considered, the source said.

Profits for the tournament have been pegged at around $65 million, split 50-50 between the league and the players’ association. So assuming those projections are correct, that’s around $32.5 million for the NHLPA to divvy up. Not a huge amount on a per-player basis, especially considering what the average player makes all by himself. But chances are, this is not going to be the only World Cup, so it could set a precedent for future events.

Kesler was ‘really disappointed’ with World Cup atmosphere

TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 16:  Ryan Kesler #17 of Team USA skates with the puck during practice at the World Cup of Hockey 2016 at Air Canada Centre on September 16, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
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Check it out — a Team USA player talking about disappointment at the World Cup, yet not referencing his team’s lackluster effort!

“It was weird,” American forward Ryan Kesler said of the tournament’s atmosphere, per the O.C. Register. “I thought there’d be more of a buzz in Toronto. There wasn’t … It just didn’t seem like there was a buzz.

“If you didn’t know what was going on, you wouldn’t even know teams were playing. That’s the only thing I was really disappointed with.”

The World Cup reboot was always going to have issues in this regard.

The timing of the tournament — early September, when the sports landscape is dominated by NCAA football and the NFL — almost guaranteed it would be buried. That early September start also meant even the most hardcore hockey fans still viewed the World Cup as something of an exhibition, or glorified training camp.

Creating Team North America and Team Europe initially added an extra element of hokiness. While both eventually proved worthy competitors, that didn’t happen until the tournament was underway.

And yeah, Team Europe has been a remarkable story.

But it hasn’t helped the buzz factor.

In Tuesday’s 3-1 loss to Canada in the first of the best-of-three final, Europe didn’t exactly bring in the fans. Several pundits tweeted out the alarming number of empty seats at the Air Canada Centre (see here and here), and Canadian forward Steve Stamkos addressed how the rivalry — or lack thereof — with Europe translated into a muted affair.

“It’s tough just because there’s not that natural rivalry here,” Stamkos explained, per Yahoo. “In some of the other games, we had away fans that were creating some noise.

“This was probably the team that had the least amount of support, just because of the makeup of the team in the tournament to start with.”

Attendance issues have been a theme throughout the event. Several group games started at 3 p.m. ET — on weekdays, no less — which resulted in subpar crowd numbers at the ACC. The highly-anticipated USA-Canada grudge match never came to fruition, with the Americans sputtering out as one of the tournament’s biggest disappointments.

North America’s elimination didn’t help the buzz factor, either.

In the end, all of this will probably be chalked up to a learning experience for the NHL and NHLPA, which is fair. This tournament was filled with several major unknowns coming in, and predicting how those would play out was a near impossible task.

Now, both sides know what worked and what didn’t. And they’ve got plenty of time to make some changes.