Michael Hutchinson

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Hurricanes, Stars get early jump on NHL goalie carousel

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When the Carolina Hurricanes traded a third-round pick to Chicago for the rights to Scott Darling, the NHL’s goaltender carousel started spinning.

After Carolina signed Darling to a $16.6 million, four-year deal, the Dallas Stars sent a fourth-round pick to Los Angeles for the rights to Ben Bishop and signed the 6-foot-7 former Lightning starter for $29.5 million over six years. Carolina and Dallas were willing to give up picks to get the jump on what Hurricanes general manager Ron Francis called an interesting offseason to shop for a goalie.

“There’s two different paths you can look at: One is certainly who’s going to be available on July 1 and what it may take to get them in terms of years and in terms of salary, and then the other option is you’re looking at who might be available in terms of teams not wanting to lose a goaltender in expansion and willing to make a trade and what it costs you to get that player,” Francis said. “When we looked at everything and studied things, we thought this was the best viable option for us.”

It looks brilliant now ahead of a goalie shuffle that expected to happen over the next several weeks leading up to the Vegas Golden Knights’ expansion draft June 21, the actual draft a few days later and the start of free agency July 1. The Golden Knights, Calgary Flames, Philadelphia Flyers and perhaps even the Winnipeg Jets and Colorado Avalanche are in the market, with Pittsburgh veteran Marc-Andre Fleury, Washington backup Philipp Grubauer and a handful of others in the mix to fill vacancies.

Fleury led the Penguins to the Eastern Conference final but could still be traded with Matt Murray entrenched as the goalie of the future, and his value has never been higher. Fleury wields power with his no-movement clause that could let him choose his destination.

Read more: Fleury could be good option for Flames … or even Flyers

Grubauer said he has no choice where he goes, but as a restricted free agent he does have some control and could be headed to Vegas. The Golden Knights will get 48 hours to negotiate with any unrestricted or restricted free agents left unprotected for the expansion draft, and the 25-year-old German had a 2.05 goals-against average and .926 save percentage in 24 games this season and is widely considered ready to be a starter.

“He’s an outstanding goalie,” Capitals starter Braden Holtby said. “What I think I’ve seen from him the last year especially, his talent is NHL talent, but a lot of guys have that. His mental game, his mental prep – every game he was in he was never out of it mentally. He was always sharp and that shows.”

Grubauer and Darling could follow the path of understudies-turned-starters blazed by Edmonton’s Cam Talbot, who has thrived since backing up Henrik Lundqvist with the Rangers, and San Jose’s Martin Jones, who took the Sharks to the Stanley Cup Final a year ago after being Jonathan Quick‘s No. 2 in Los Angeles. Much like Grubauer, the 28-year-old Darling has improved the mental side of his game as Corey Crawford‘s backup with the Blackhawks and believes he has the stuff to start.

“I’m confident because I’m excited about it and I’m going to do everything in my power to learn how to be the best starter I can be,” said Darling, who’s 6-foot-6 and had a .924 save percentage last season. “I have a good network of goalie friends that I’m going to be picking their brains and asking for help and just trying to do everything that I can do to be successful in that role.”

Current Rangers backup Antti Raanta, who has a year left on his deal at a bargain-basement $1 million salary-cap hit, has shown evidence he can be successful too and has been speculated as a Vegas option. So have Grubauer and Flyers goaltender Michal Neuvirth because of close ties to GM George McPhee and goalie coach Dave Prior.

“There’s a lot of other guys on the market too that could possibly go out there, so it’s not just me,” Grubauer said. “George drafted me, so they know what they probably get and with other guys they probably not know as much. I don’t know what they’re going to do.”

Vegas’ decisions in goal could have as much of a domino effect as Carolina getting Darling and Dallas locking up Bishop. The Flames made the playoffs with the tandem of Brian Elliott and Chad Johnson, now pending free agents, and could go young with prospect Jon Gilles, look at Fleury or move in another direction to improve on their 19th-ranked save percentage.

Winnipeg has youngsters Connor Hellebuyck and Michael Hutchinson and Colorado has Semyon Varlamov and Calvin Pickard but could shake things up in net to speed up the process of returning to playoff contention. The Flyers will likely move on from the Neuvirth-Steve Mason combo, but former goaltender and now GM Ron Hextall seems fine patching things up until one of Philadelphia’s top prospects (Carter Hart, Alex Lyon or Felix Sandstrom) is ready for the NHL.

“We do have kids coming, and I think everybody knows it,” Hextall said.

 

Related: Nill thinks Niemi or Lehtonen could be ‘intriguing’ for some teams

Is Brian Elliott a fit for Winnipeg?

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With the goalie market in full fluidity — Carolina got Scott Darling, and Dallas landed Ben Bishop — focus has turned to the clubs still in need of help between the pipes.

Like in Winnipeg, for example.

After a year in which Connor Hellebuyck, Ondrej Pavelec and Michael Hutchinson failed to provide consistent netminding, the Jets will need to add something in goal. GM Kevin Cheveldayoff said the club would “look at all the different options” for upgrading the position this summer, but two of those options — Darling and Bishop — are now off the table.

So, what about veteran Brian Elliott? From the Winnipeg Sun:

Elliott is a name that’s being tossed around as a candidate for the Jets.

He’s 32, has plenty of experience in the Central Division as both a starter and a backup and while his past season started slowly, he provided strong enough goaltending to get the Flames into the playoffs.

There’s no doubt Elliott struggled in the playoffs against the Ducks but he also helped the St. Louis Blues reach the Western Conference final the previous season.

He would also be a good mentor for Hellebuyck.

Elliott just wrapped a three-year, $7.5 million deal with a $2.5M average annual cap hit. He could, in theory, re-up with the Flames, but it’s been widely speculated his time in Calgary is done.

 

 

 

Jets have had extension talks with Cheveldayoff, none with Maurice

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After missing the playoffs for a second consecutive year, Winnipeg faces a number of questions this summer.

And many of those questions start at the top.

The future of GM Kevin Cheveldayoff and head coach Paul Maurice are chief among those queries and, during Monday’s end-of-year media availability, both individuals touched on what the future has in store.

Both are heading into the final year of their respective deals. Per the Sun, Cheveldayoff’s had discussions about an extension while Maurice has yet to open similar talks.

Cheveldayoff’s been in charge of the Jets since their relocation from Atlanta in 2011. Reviews have been mixed. There’s an obvious level of disappointment with just one playoff appearance but, at the same time, the 47-year-old has stockpiled a tremendous amount of young, promising talent, primarily through the draft.

Mark Scheifele, Patrik Laine, Nikolaj Ehlers, Jacob Trouba and Josh Morrissey have all come aboard on Cheveldayoff’s watch, and become important pieces. This year also saw the debuts of two highly touted ’15 draftees — Kyle Connor and Jack Roslovic — while Eric Comrie, regarded as the team’s potential goalie of the future, also saw his first NHL action.

Other Cheveldayoff picks like Adam Lowry, Andrew Copp and Nic Petan have also graduated to the big club.

As for Maurice, Cheveldayoff said the veteran bench boss has his “full support.”

The 50-year-old has been in charge of the Jets since taking over from Claude Noel in ’13-14 and, like Cheveldayoff, reviews have been mixed. The Jets have been one of the league’s least disciplined teams under Maurice — the Jets took 307 minor penalties this year, fourth-most — and that issue was compounded by an awful penalty kill that finished 26th in the NHL.

But Maurice has also been somewhat undone by lacklustre goaltending, a signature problem of the Cheveldayoff era. Ondrej Pavelec, Al Montoya, Michael Hutchinson and Connor Hellebuyck were Maurice’s primary options over the last four years, and none really got the job done.

Goalie nods: Leafs start McElhinney with chance to clinch playoffs

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Toronto can secure a postseason berth with a win over the Caps tonight, and some help on the out of town scoreboard.

And they’ll look to do it with Curtis McElhinney in goal.

McElhinney, who came up huge last week in relief of the injured Frederik Andersen, will get the call on Tuesday as the leafs host the Caps at the ACC. The start comes exactly one week after McElhinney stopped 25 shots in a 3-2 win over Florida, a game that kicked off the Leafs’ current four-game unbeaten streak.

Calling the Panthers game the biggest start of his career, the veteran backup did very well. But tonight is certainly a more difficult task.

The Caps come into Toronto boasting the NHL’s second-best offense and third-best power play. They’re also on the verge of clinching the Presidents’ Trophy, so plenty at stake for them as well.

Washington is going with Philipp Grubauer in goal.

(For more on Toronto’s playoff-clinching and Washington’s Presidents’ Trophy-clinching scenarios, click here).

Elsewhere…

— In a game the Leafs will be paying close attention to, the Lightning are going with Andrei Vasilevskiy in Boston. No confirmed B’s starter yet, but chances are Tuukka Rask will be in goal, as the Bruins can clinch a postseason berth with a regulation win.

Matt Murray goes for Pittsburgh, who hosts Columbus in a likely first-round playoff preview. No word yet on a Blue Jackets starter.

— No confirmed starters from Detroit and Ottawa, who played each other last night. Petr Mrazek and Craig Anderson were the goalies of record, so we could see Jimmy Howard and Mike Condon. (Update: It’s Anderson for Ottawa.)

— It’s Cam Ward versus Devan Dubnyk as the ‘Canes visit Minnesota.

— The Isles’ playoff hopes are hanging by a thread, and they’re hoping Jaroslav Halak can keep them alive in Nashville. The Preds have yet to announce a starter.

— The Jets continue to give Michael Hutchinson late season looks, and he’ll start tonight in St. Louis. Jake Allen starts for the Blues, as expected.

— It’s Mike Smith versus Antti Niemi as the Coyotes take on the Stars in Dallas.

— Like Hutchinson in Winnipeg, Devils backup Keith Kinkaid is getting more and more looks down the stretch, including tonight’s home date against the Flyers. Steve Mason goes for Philly.

Scott Darling gives Corey Crawford the night off, and gets the start in Colorado. He’ll be up against Calvin Pickard.

— Speaking of nights off, Brian Elliott gets one for Calgary as the Flames look to snap an 11-year (yes, year) losing streak in Anaheim. Chad Johnson gets the call, and no word yet on who he’ll face.

Jonathan Quick gets another start for the Kings, as he was first off the ice at this morning’s skate. Edmonton hasn’t unveiled its starter yet, but Cam Talbot literally plays every game, so….

— In San Jose, Martin Jones gets to face the visiting Canucks. He’ll be up against Richard Bachman.

Goalie nods: McElhinney ready for biggest start of his career

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Toronto has a massive game tonight as the Eastern Conference playoff battle tightens, but won’t have workhorse No. 1 netminder Frederik Andersen available.

Instead, it’ll be backup Curtis McElhinney who faces the visiting Panthers, while Andersen deals with an upper-body injury.

Calling it the biggest start of his career, McElhinney can keep the Leafs locked into the No. 3 spot in the Atlantic Division with a win, on a night when Boston — just one point back of the Leafs — is also in action, hosting Nashville.

“I don’t know if I’ve ever been in this situation, in terms of being in a playoff race,” McElhinney said. “For me it’ll be business as usual.”

There’s a significant amount of pressure on McElhinney, who hasn’t been good in March. He’s allowed 13 goals on 113 shots — a .885 save percentage — which included three on 22 in Saturday’s 5-2 loss to Buffalo, the game in which he replaced the injured Andersen.

Though Andersen’s injury isn’t believed to be serious — the Danish ‘tender hasn’t ruled out a return on Thursday in Nashville — the Leafs still must be concerned with the present. They need to get points over their next four games, lest they leave it to the end of the season.

Yes, the Leafs will play their four contests at the ACC. But those come against extremely difficult opponents: Washington, Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh and Columbus.

For Florida, James Reimer gets the start in goal. How perfect.

Elsewhere…

— As mentioned above, the other big game tonight is Nashville taking on Boston at TD Garden. Tuukka Rask starts for the B’s (more on that here), while Pekka Rinne is likely after Juuse Saros beat the Isles last night.

Connor Hellebuyck returns to the starter’s crease for Winnipeg, after Michael Hutchinson played the last two. Cory Schneider also returns to the starter’s crease, for New Jersey, after Keith Kinkaid played on Sunday.

— No word from Columbus on who’ll start for the Sabres or Jackets. Robin Lehner won last night in Florida (so it could be Anders Nilsson), and Sergei Bobrovsky played on Saturday in Philly.

Cam Ward gets the start for Carolina after Eddie Lack‘s scary injury in last night’s OT loss to Detroit. Speaking of Detroit, no word on a starter yet, but Jimmy Howard seems likely after Petr Mrazek played last night.

— It’s Craig Anderson versus Steve Mason when the Sens take on the Flyers in Philly.

Al Montoya was expected to start tonight, but suffered a lower-body injury during the morning skate. As such, Carey Price will go as the Habs host the Stars. Dallas has yet to announce its starter.

— Marquee matchup in Minnesota tonight, as Devan Dubnyk and the Wild host Braden Holtby and the Caps.

— The Oilers can clinch their first playoff berth since 2006 tonight and, unsurprisingly, they’ll go with Cam Talbot in goal. The host Kings will counter with Jonathan Quick.

John Gibson is inching closer to a return, but the Ducks feel no need to rush him back. That’s because Jonathan Bernier is playing extremely well, and will get the call tonight in Vancouver. The Canucks are going with Ryan Miller.

— The Sharks will go with Martin Jones when they host the Rangers. No word yet on a New York starter.