NBCSN’s coverage of the 2017-18 NHL season continues with Friday night action between the Nashville Predators and Minnesota Wild at 8 p.m. ET. To watch the online, click here.
Both the Predators and Wild will be getting some late Christmas presents over the next few weeks. Injuries have sidelined some of their biggest names, but now they’re getting close to full health.
For Nashville, they’ve been without defenseman Ryan Ellis all season due to off-season knee surgery. He was cleared for contact practice and could be back in their lineup sometime next week. A roster glut will mean general manager David Poile will have to lose a player to make room, and Adam Vingan of The Tennessean speculatesCody McLeod or Miikka Salomaki could find themselves the odd-man out when Ellis is ready to return.
Minnesota will get goaltender Devan Dubnyk back this weekend as they play a home-and-home with the Predators. Dubnyk missed six games with a sprained MCL, but returned Wednesday night to backup Alex Stalock even as he admitted to still experiencing some pain in the knee.
“It’s kind of been where it’s manageable,” Dubnyk said via Mike Russo of The Athletic. “There’s zero hesitation on any plays. I’ve gone through just about every motion that I’ll do and there’s no hesitation. I know the maximum amount of pain I’m going to feel if I get it and it goes away, so it’s not something I’ll be thinking about.”
Zach Parise began his road back to the NHL on Thursday night with a conditioning stint with Iowa of the AHL. After missing the entire season so far with a back injury, the veteran forward played over 15 minutes and recorded one shot on goal and one assist. He’ll continue to get back to game shape with the hope of a return with the Wild next week.
The Detroit Red Wings raised eyebrows when they protected Jimmy Howard in the expansion draft instead of Petr Mrazek, and things haven’t really turned around since then. Rumors are starting to swirl that a seemingly inevitable split might be brewing in the form of a trade.
The Athletic’s Craig Custance reports (sub required) that teams are calling the Red Wings – though not “banging down the door” – regarding Mrazek, and Custance reasonably asserts that Detroit should play him a bit more to try to raise his standing.
If you consider how much Mrazek’s reputation has slid, Custance’s opinion can really only be denied by a franchise that … is in complete denial?
Mrazek, 2012-13 to 2015-16, 94 games played (via NHL.com): 46-30-8, nine shutouts, .920 save percentage.
Mrazek, 2016-17 and 2017-18, 60 games played (also via NHL.com): 20-25-10, two shutouts, .899 save percentage.
Quite a disparity between Good/Early Mrazek and Bad/Recent Mrazek, eh?
Things get more interesting when you note that TSN’s Bob McKenzie reports that, given the right offer, the Red Wings would be willing to retain salary with Mrazek. That’s crucial with Mrazek carrying a $4M cap hit heading into restricted free agency. Custance reports that Mrazek might cost a suitor a third-round pick, although salary retention might bump the asking price to a second-rounder.
Rather than ruminating on the Red Wings’ poor handling of Mrazek/unwillingness to truly embrace a rebuild, it would be more fun to picture the most enticing or interesting destinations for the puzzling puck-stopper.
Please note that these aren’t confirmed potential destinations, this is just for entertainment purposes. For the record, the Red Wings would be foolish to let Mrazek walk for nothing, even if they don’t get quite the level of draft pick they’re reportedly hoping for.
Feel free to add in other teams that would make sense to you and/or the respective GMs.
Right now, the Penguins have approximately $670K cap space and Cap Friendly projects their trade deadline space at $3.1M, so this would likely be a retention situation.
If any team understands the value of having a Plan B in net, it’s the Penguins. Now, Tristan Jarry‘s been quite proficient (.919 save percentage), but with Pittsburgh in win-now mode for the near future, it might be worth bringing in Mrazek as insurance for Matt Murray. Both of the Pens’ runs required two goalies to shoulder the burden, after all.
There’s reason to believe that the Czech netminder could be a good stylistic fit, too, as his athleticism may come in handy for a team that can be a bit, um, leaky in the defensive end.
On the other end of the spectrum, you have Arizona.
Perhaps the Coyotes still believe in Antti Raanta, yet this season hasn’t gone well, in part because the former Rangers backup suffered some unfortunate injuries. Even if they do, the Coyotes might see some logic in getting a few months to look at Mrazek, possibly setting the stage for an ideally cheap platoon of Raanta – Mrazek?
Custance describes Mrazek as a rental, in part because of the nature of his contract. Even so, what if the Coyotes got some time with him, liked what they saw, and then simply convinced him to take less than $4M per year with an extension? Stranger things have happened, and the Coyotes could use all the help they can get.
Mrazek also tends to get love from “fancy stats” folks on occasion, and Coyotes GM John Chayka sometimes gets lumped in with such methods of thinking. So maybe he’s eyeballing Mrazek as we ponder hypothetical teams.
Wild GM Chuck Fletcher is under a lot of pressure as he’s reportedly needing a new contract, and now occasional-meal-ticket Devan Dubnyk is considered week-to-week. Money is tight in Minnesota, but even with a winning streak in mind, they likely want a little help beyond Alex Stalock.
Really, management might see some parallels between Dubnyk and Mrazek. Both goalies quietly put up nice numbers on shaky teams, only to see things fall apart. Dubnyk revitalized his career; maybe Mrazek could do that in helping Minny secure a playoff spot?
Theoretically, the Wild might just need Mrazek the most.
OK, this entry’s a little bit stranger, but hear me out.
So, what if one or two of these rebuilding/in-between franchises wants to test things out with Mrazek? Maybe the Red Wings could earn a better return in taking on Varlamov or one of those Philly goalies, even though they’re signed through 2018-19.
(In the case of Neuvirth/Elliott, their salaries might not even be much of an issue as slightly expensive backups if Detroit finally cleans house, or merely begins to clean house.)
Much like with the Coyotes, these teams would likely be most interested in deciding if Mrazek could be a part of the future. We’ve seen Flyers GM Ron Hextall take on Steve Mason in a similar situation as a reclamation project, and that worked out quite well, at least at first.
(Philly’s current winning streak would probably put such thoughts on the backburner, but still.)
Look, I had to mention the Oilers, as you can’t picture trades without at least penciling a token Peter Chiarelli groaner.
There’s at least some logic to the prospect of Edmonton nabbing Mrazek, too.
Cam Talbot‘s struggling mightily, and with his $4.167M cap hit expiring after 2018-19, he’s not necessarily guaranteed to be Edmonton’s guy any longer. Especially since Edmonton needs to make every buck count after doing the opposite for so many years.
What if Mrazek could get hot and save Edmonton’s season, or at least give Talbot time to get things together? Surely that’s worth (checks notes) way too much? Uh oh, someone take the phone away from Chia …
Mike Zibanejad led a New York Rangers comeback against the Vegas Golden Knights on Tuesday, just as head coach Alain Vigneault finds himself on the hot seat.
Down 4-2 at home to the Golden Knights, the Rangers came roaring back in the final 20 minutes with four unanswered goals. Zibanejad led the comeback with three points, including the winning goal.
He also adds to what has been a terrific start to his season. With three points tonight, he now has 13 points in as many games and has been one of the few bright spots on a Rangers team looking to climb the Eastern Conference standings.
Highlight of the night:
Nikolaj Ehlers showed off his patience and stickhandling skills with a beautiful move to the backhand on a short breakaway against Wild goalie Alex Stalock. The play that resulted in the breakaway though … not Matt Dumba‘s finest moment.
Factoid of the night:
A comeback win for the Rangers and a milestone victory for Henrik Lundqvist, who stopped 30 of 34 shots faced against the Golden Knights.
Overall, the players coming in would seem to be — on paper anyway — upgrades over what they ended up letting go.
One of the more intriguing changes is going to be in net where Raanta is going to replace Smith, the Coyotes’ starting goalie for the past six years, and get his first opportunity to be a starting goalie in the NHL.
It is an opportunity he has earned over the past three years.
During that stretch Raanta has been one of the NHL’s top backups, playing behind Corey Crawford in Chicago and then Henrik Lundqvist in New York the past two years. There even came a point this past season where Raanta played so well (coinciding with one of the worst slumps of Lundqvist’s career) that he ended up getting the bulk of the playing time for nearly a month.
Over the past three years his save percentage has put him alongside some of the NHL’s elite goalies, but he has done that primarily as a backup where a goalie can get more favorable matchups and not have to deal with a starter’s workload.
How Raanta adjusts to being the No. 1 goalie will go a long way toward determining how good the Coyotes can be this season.
Shortly after he was acquired by the Coyotes I mentioned how a decent comparable for him and the Coyotes might be the player Cam Talbot has turned out to be for the Edmonton Oilers. Talbot was coming from a nearly identical situation (very good backup to Henrik Lundqvist in New York at a similar age) and has become an above average starter.
If the Coyotes can get that level of play from Raanta it would be a nice addition, and probably an upgrade over what they were going to get from Smith — not to mention at a better price.
The question is whether or not they can get that level of play.
In looking at goalies that have followed similar career paths in recent years the results have been somewhat mixed.
I went back over the past 15 years and looked at goalies that played between between 40 and 100 games through their age 27 season (an admittedly imperfect way of identifying “backups”) and how the most successful ones did when — and if — they became starters.
Murray and Grubauer don’t really fit the mold of what we are looking for here because they are both young players that were top prospects. Murray has already taken a starting job and excelled with it, winning two Stanley Cups before his 23rd birthday.
Grubauer probably could be a starter if wasn’t playing behind one of the top-three goalies in the world.
Darling is entering into an identical situation as Raanta this season where he is getting a chance to go from successful backup to full-time starter.
But the rest of that group is exactly what we are looking for here, and the results are not exactly encouraging because other than Talbot none of them really went on to have much success as starters. Lack and Khudobin both continued Carolina’s goaltending struggles that led to them trying to find another top backup this offseason (Darling), while Ellis, Hammond, Stalock, Scrivens, and Toskala never really panned out.
The one thing that Raanta and the Coyotes have going in their favor is that he has a larger body of work to go by, having already already played in 94 games at the NHL level. A lot of the players on the aforementioned list had less than 50 games at a similar point.
We will find out if that extra playing will make a difference.
NHL reveals all 30 teams’ available, protected players for expansion draft
Also remember that McPhee can strike deals with teams to not pick certain exposed players, though such arrangement will come at a price. In addition to that note, it’s crucial to remember that younger players might not be exposed just because they weren’t protected, as some are exempt.
Remember, when you see the lists…Players on Entry Level Contracts…or ELCs as @JeffMarek calls them…don't have to be protected.
Available Carter Ashton (F) Michael Bournival (F) J.T. Brown (F) Cory Conacher (F) Erik Condra (F) Gabriel Dumont (F) Stefan Fournier (F) Byron Froese (F) Yanni Gourde (F) Mike Halmo (F) Henri Ikonen (F) Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond (F) Tye McGinn (F) Greg McKegg (F) Cedric Paquette (F) Tanner Richard (F) Joel Vermin (F) Dylan Blujus (D) Jake Dotchin (D) Jason Garrison (D) Slater Koekkoek (D) Jonathan Racine (D) Andrej Sustr (D) Matt Taormina (D) Luke Witkowski (D) Peter Budaj (G) Kristers Gudlevskis (G) Jaroslav Janus (G) Mike McKenna (G)