Philipp Grubauer

Getty

Hurricanes should explore goalie trade market with Darling failing

4 Comments

You can throw stats out there to explain how Scott Darling has been a disappointment for the Carolina Hurricanes.

The hulking goalie sports an atrocious .892 save percentage and a mediocre 9-13-6 record so far as the Hurricanes’ starter, with Cam Ward shining by comparison (yet still not good enough). There are lowlights aplenty.

The Raleigh News & Observer’s Luke DeCock provides a harsh one-liner that really sells the letdown, though: “He’s not even Eddie Lack.”

Ouch.

Looking deeper at the numbers, it’s tough to let Darling off the hook.

The Hurricanes aren’t really allowing a problematic number of high-danger chances, and they continue to hog the puck in the ways that made people so excited about them in the first place (first in Corsi For percentage, via Natural Stat Trick).

DeCock asks a fair question: will GM and team legend Ron Francis get another shot to identify a better goalie after whiffing once again?

In the case of Lack, it was at least not a ruinous contract. Darling’s $4.15 million cap hit runs through the 2020-21 season, so of course Bill Peters and others are doing what they can to throw their support around the big netminder.

But maybe DeCock and others are onto something when it comes to the 2017-18 season.

Proactive approach might be best

Cam Ward’s latest ill-advised contract ($3.3M cap hit) dissolves after this campaign. With that in mind, the Hurricanes will either promote a goalie from their system or search the free agent market for a backup.

Instead of waiting for that latter option, what if the Hurricanes traded for someone who might be able to help them now?

One can apply similar thoughts to the Chicago Blackhawks living without Corey Crawford.

The Hurricanes could aim for someone with some skins on the wall as at least partial starters, if they think they can rejuvenate Jaroslav Halak or Petr Mrazek. If they’d rather aim for potential, there are interesting backups hoping to climb in Aaron Dell and Philipp Grubauer.

There’s a chance that Darling might eventually turn his career around. The Hurricanes would be foolish to just assume that such a rebound will happen, though. They might need to cut their losses and make Darling an overpaid backup at some point, as fans must already be getting impatient with this “if only we had a solid goalie” song and dance.

Soul searching

Finding a solution might mean asking some tough questions.

Are there systemic issues here? Do the Hurricanes need to hire a different goalie coach, or add to their staff? What went wrong in evaluating Darling?

Looking at Darling’s career on hockeydb, it’s clear that he was never really a workhorse, whether that was due to his own shortcomings earlier on or teams never really giving him a shot. Darling never played more than 26 regular-season games in the AHL, though he played well when he did, even in the playoffs. In fact, his career-high was 42 regular-season games with the USHL’s Indiana Ice in 2007-08.

Such factoids make Darling’s success story quite inspiring, but you wonder if the Hurricanes were guilty of too much wishful thinking. Yes, Darling was good (.915 save percentage in 29 appearances in 2015-16) to great (.936 in 14 games in 2014-15, .924 in 32 games last season) with the Chicago Blackhawks. Still, he was dismissed frequently during his career, only getting picked in the sixth round (153rd overall) in 2007 by the then-Phoenix Coyotes.

Draft stature doesn’t mean everything, especially with goalies. Henrik Lundqvist went in the seventh round. Plenty of first-rounders don’t pan out.

***

The bottom line is that it’s tough to prognosticate how a goalie will react to a new environment, particularly when they’re going from backup to starter. The Hurricanes would be wise to explore their options in case Darling’s struggles are the rule rather than exception.

Why not get the ball rolling (puck dropping?) on a solution sooner rather than later?

For all we know, the Hurricanes might end up with two effective goalies if they try that approach; Darling might benefit from real competition rather than having a lame duck backup in Ward. They’d gladly take one instead of the far-too-common zero they’ve been dealing with for far too long.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

What should Blackhawks do without Corey Crawford?

5 Comments

Look, it’s quite possible that Corey Crawford will be back this season for the Chicago Blackhawks.

As of this moment, there are more questions than answers, with semantic arguments bubbling up about whether he’s dealing with concussion issues, vertigo, or what. Either way, it’s an unfortunate situation.

Let’s say the very bad happens and the Blackhawks won’t get their crucial goalie back as they try to claw their way into a playoff spot in the competitive Central Division. What should GM Stan Bowman do?

Here are a few scenarios.

Stay put

We can debate where Crawford ranks among the NHL’s best goalies (is he a top-five guy, top 10, elite?), but it’s fair to say that he’s had one of the toughest gigs. It’s a good thing that he produced a fantastic .929 save percentage this season, because Chicago’s defense isn’t what it once was. They’re tied for the eighth-most shots allowed per game (32.6) and are in the top 10 in most high-danger chances allowed (via Natural Stat Trick).

Jeff Glass is a great story, and he’s provided very acceptable backup-level work alongside Anton Forsberg (Glass’s save percentage is .910, Forsberg’s at .911).

That’s heartening, but the bottom line is that the Blackhawks rank at the bottom of the Central with this mix of Crawford’s great goaltending and respectable work from Glass/Forsberg. They may only sink with Glass and Forsberg, and that’s assuming that those two don’t fall apart altogether.

The more uncomfortable question is: maybe they should just “Take the L” and regroup for next season? As is, it’s tough to imagine the Blackhawks making the playoffs, or making any noise if they do make it.

If they would rather not punt this season, then a trade would be the best option to explore.

Go after an obvious guy

The Detroit Red Wings want to move Petr Mrazek. If Crawford goes on IR, Chicago might not even need Detroit to retain much/any of Mrazek’s $4M, possibly making the asking price more reasonable.

It’s been a while since we’ve seen the best of Mrazek (2015-16), but he’s only made 13 appearances in 2017-18, as the Red Wings still haven’t gotten the whole “rebuild” memo yet. Or at least they haven’t read it.

Mrazek would stand as a “high-risk, high-reward” acquisition. You could probably put Buffalo Sabres starter Robin Lehner under that heading, assuming Buffalo would let him go. Logically, you’d think Lehner would be more costly, considering his sneaky-strong individual stats.

TSN’s Frank Seravalli notes that San Jose Sharks backup Aaron Dell might draw some trade interest, with some looking at him as the next backup who might take the next step to become a starter. Chicago could provide Dell with quite the audition in that regard.

The road less traveled

Actually, Dell stands as a template for the type of guys who the Blackhawks might want to at least inquire about: backups who might not be long for their current teams.

Philipp Grubauer is one name that stands out. With a solid .916 save percentage this season and a sparkling .922 mark for his career (81 regular-season games), Grubauer’s excelled when given chances. The problem is that he plays on the same team as Braden Holtby, which means that those chances seldom come.

Grubauer is a pending RFA, and he’s likely to be too expensive for the Washington Capitals after this season. Maybe the Blackhawks can make it worth Washington’s while to acknowledge that likelihood, and get something for him rather than letting him go for less later?

The Blue Jackets still have Joonas Korpisalo through 2018-19, with his contract expiring at the same time as that of Sergei Bobrovsky, so a conversation about “Korpi” likely wouldn’t last too long. Still, why not ask?

One other off-the-beaten path consideration would be Antti Raanta.

The Blackhawks and Coyotes aren’t shy about making moves together, and Raanta’s debut season hasn’t gone as planned in Arizona. The Coyotes might not have necessarily soured on Raanta, but if they decide to go in a different direction in net in the future, maybe it would be worth moving him?

Chicago obviously has experience with Raanta, so that could make it a more comfortable transition as a “rental,” too.

***

Look, the Blackhawks struggled with Crawford in the lineup, playing at an outstanding level. There’s no guarantee that landing a goalie would make the difference, even if that netminder generated great work and didn’t cost a ton in a trade.

On the other hand, this Blackhawks core isn’t getting any younger, while the Central is loaded with teams that have bright futures.

For all we know, this might be one of this team’s last, best shots. GM Stan Bowman needs to turn over every stone to try to find an answer, whether that ends up coming down to making a big move or accepting the painful status quo.

Personally, I’d rotate between grumbling and crying.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Rangers win backup goalie duel against Capitals

2 Comments

Look on the bright side, Washington Capitals fans: usually you end up without any standings points when your team gets shut out for two straight games.

The Capitals grabbed a “charity point” (it seems harsh to call it a “loser point” here) in a 1-0 shootout loss to the New York Rangers on Wednesday, as the Blueshirts kept their recent roll going at Madison Square Garden.

It ended up being a duel of backup goalies, as both Ondrej Pavelec (30 saves) and Philipp Grubauer (37 saves) both maintained shutouts through regulation and overtime. The Rangers ended up getting the better of Grubauer in the shootout, so they won.

(Pavelec has been on quite the run himself, lately.)

There were plenty of close calls, with John Carlson maybe losing the most sleep tonight:

Ouch.

The holiday break didn’t reignite the Capitals’ scoring ways, as they were also blanked by the Vegas Golden Knights as well on Dec. 23. They’ve lost three straight games, although two of those losses came beyond regulation. Washington is grinding out enough points to stay in the picture, yet they must feel frustrated.

The Rangers are getting it done, too, with a 4-1-1 mark in their last six games. Grabbing this victory while also giving Henrik Lundqvist some rare rest has to be a very nice plus going forward.

(Note: Chris Kreider left the game somewhat mysteriously with an upper-body injury. More might be known tomorrow.)

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

WATCH LIVE: Capitals – Rangers on Wednesday Night Rivalry

Getty Images
1 Comment

WATCH LIVE 8 PM ET

PROJECTED LINES

New York Rangers

Forwards
Rick NashMika ZibanejadMats Zuccarello
Michael GrabnerKevin HayesJ.T. Miller
Chris KreiderDavid DesharnaisJimmy Vesey
Paul CareyBoo NievesPavel Buchnevich

Defense
Ryan McDonaghNick Holden
Brendan SmithKevin Shattenkirk
Brady SkjeiMarc Staal

Starting Goalie: Ondrej Pavelec

[NHL on NBCSN Wednesday Night Rivalry: Rangers host Capitals]

Washington Capitals

Forwards
Alex OvechkinNicklas BackstromTom Wilson
Jakub VranaEvgeny KuznetsovT.J. Oshie
Andre BurakovskyLars EllerBrett Connolly
Devante Smith-PellyJay BeagleAlex Chiasson

Defense
Christian Djoss – John Carlson
Dmitri Orlov – Matt Niskanen
Brooks OrpikMadison Bowey

Starting Goalie: Philipp Grubauer

The top 15 saves of 2017 (PHT Year in Review)

NBC
5 Comments

(Pro Hockey Talk is taking a look back at the year in hockey. We’ll be presenting you with the best goals, saves, moments, players and much more as we bring you the best of 2017.)

There might not be anything more satisfying in hockey than seeing a highway robbery in progress between the pipes.

The late flash of the leather, the desperation save off the paddle of the stick or the elusive two-pad stack. They are all things of beauty and should be cherished as such.

So as we get ready to ring in the New Year, PHT looks back at some of the best thieveries in the past 12 months.

15. The Kontinental Hockey League can be a treasure trove of great highlights that not everyone gets to see on a regular basis. This save by SKA Saint Petersburg’s Mikko Koskinen is no exception. Simply outstanding.

14. How often does a save of the year candidate come around for a goalie? What about two in the same game? Garrett Sparks of the Toronto Marlies accomplished this rare feat.

13. The stanchion can sometimes be the goalies worst enemy. Sometimes enemies must be conquered. Joseph Woll did just that for Boston College.

 

12. Talk about timely. University of British Columbia Thunderbirds goalie Derek Dun’s save was not only spectacular in nature, it also sent his team to the playoffs.

 

11. Perhaps the best save at the World Championships this past year, Philipp Grubauer got the tip of his stick on the puck to make an outrageous save on Kaspars Daugavins.

10. Dominik Hasek retired several years ago now, but some of his magic still lives on in the NHL. Jonathan Quick did his best Hasek impression with this kick save.

9. The goalie stick isn’t very wide in relation to the size of an NHL net, but there are still where it plays a pivotal role in stopping a puck from crossing the goal line, as seen here by Matt Murray.

8. Sometimes pucks take a weird deflection off the boards. Sometimes they result in the flukiest of goals. Goalies are often caught out of position, but as Pekka Rinne will now demonstrate, it’s not all lost:

7. Two-pad stack alert. Thank you, Martin Jones.

6. Robin Lehner dislocated his entire body to stone Bryan Rust.

5. Carey Price in overtime, what a sight to behold.

4. Jonathan Bernier on Damon Severson. If you’re Severson, you can’t even be mad, right?

3. Poor Henrik Zetterberg. A wide open net and surely a goal, but then…

2. Deke… open net… no goal. Devan Dubnyk does the unthinkable against Gustav Nyquist, who probably still can’t sleep.

1. We don’t all agree with John Tortorella at the best of times, but when he called this the best save of the year, he wasn’t lying. This is simply majestic from Bob, so smooth. No sketch, to borrow a term from skateboarding.

Previously:

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck