Now that was a beautiful goal.
The Calgary Flames put all their eggs (goaltending-wise) in the Mike Smith basket last season, and that worked out better than most expected … yet they still failed to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
That thought has to gnaw at all but the most optimistic people involved with the Flames. At least, it should, as for all the bold changes “riverboat gambler” GM Brad Treliving made, they’re rolling with the same goalies behind Smith in 2018-19.
As a reminder, the rotation of David Rittich, Jon Gillies, and Eddie Lack absolutely flopped last season, with Rittich’s less-than-ideal .904 save percentage representing the high water mark behind the often-dazzling Smith.
One of the criticisms of the Smith acquisition revolved around his injury history, and when that issue reared its head last season, the Flames really took on water. Players don’t exactly become sturdier as they age, so it would be foolish for Calgary just to “hope for the best” with the 36-year-old netminder, especially since Smith is one of many towering NHL goalies who be tall enough to serve as an NBA small forward. That big frame doesn’t exactly lend itself to longevity.
It’s also not as if Smith’s enjoyed a low-impact stroll to 36; this isn’t the equivalent to, say, Tim Thomas not really logging those big NHL reps until he was 31.
Since joining the then-Phoenix Coyotes in 2011-12, Smith’s played the seventh-most games (367), and tellingly, faced the second-largest volume of shots (11,256, only trailing Henrik Lundqvist). Smith could be a Zdeno Chara-level fitness freak, and he’d still be jarringly susceptible to additional injuries.
So, there are enough red flags to make you worry.
Yet, while the Flames decided to cross their fingers that they’d settle upon an in-house solution (barring a desperate training camp phone call to, say, Steve Mason?), they aren’t sticking their hands in the sand about the fine line they need to walk with their grizzled veteran of a goalie.
“The wear and tear, remember, isn’t just the shots, it’s getting ready, getting the gear on. You hear people say: ‘Oh, he wasn’t very busy tonight. Only 26 shots’ … well, he’s mentally preparing on every shot,” Treliving said, via George Johnson of the Flames website. “There might’ve been 12 blocks and 20 misses. So he’s still preparing for 58. How many up-and-downs is that? It can take a toll.
“We’ve got a plan but a lot of it is predicated on Mike. But it’s a balancing act. He wants to get his work in but there’s a time once the season is up and going where discretion is the better part of valour.”
Treliving brings up an important point even beyond all of the “ups-and-downs,” as goalies need to focus and track the puck all game long. When Braden Holtby discussed fatigue during that hiccup during the 2017-18 regular season, his emphasis was as much on the mental rigors of the game as the physical challenges.
“Physically, I actually feel way better this year than last,” Holtby said. “If you’re fatigued physically, that’s on you. That’s not on anything else. But mentally, it does catch up.”
Holtby (who recently turned 29) and Andrei Vasilevskiy (now 24) both acknowledged being tired last season, and they’re far younger than Smith, so it’s positive to see Treliving discuss taking an approach with Smith that would echo the way MLB teams obsessively protect the arms of their pitchers.
Of course, it’s one thing to say all of the right things in mid-September, but what about if the Flames need those critical points in March, particularly if Smith is once again lapping his backups?
It’s also worth asking if Bill Peters – a coach who must be agonizingly anxious to finally clinch a playoff berth – would be willing to look big picture and give his big goalie needed rest. That would be a concern with any coach, yet especially one who admitted to handling things poorly with Eddie Lack, and whose goalies floundered in Carolina.
(There’s no guarantee that Peters is at fault for faulty Hurricanes goaltending, or to what degree he might be to blame. Still, he was a common denominator as Carolina struggled in that area.)
Even for those of us who thought they erred in trading away underrated defenseman Dougie Hamilton, the Flames look like a fascinatingly dangerous team on paper.
On the other hand, they looked just as formidable heading into last season, only to fall well short of expectations, even with a mostly spry Smith. For a team that clearly holds some pretty lofty ambitions, it’s awfully scary to risk so much on the health and freshness of their 36-year-old goalie.
At least they don’t seem totally oblivious to the risks they’re taking.
Let’s get the business part out of the way first. An extension with the San Jose Sharks isn’t on Erik Karlsson’s mind just yet. As he was formally introduced on Wednesday afternoon, he donned the team’s jersey for the first time after a few days of waiting for immigration issue to be sorted and packing for the biggest move of his life.
“I realized I have a pretty big closet, I have a lot of things to bring,” joked Karlsson, who’s in the final year of his contract. “I didn’t think I had enough, but I think I have more than enough.”
While the Karlssons will keep their house in Ottawa, what happens in the next year is still up in the air. There was an expectation that an extension would be announced not long after the trade from the Senators was finalized — like Max Pacioretty. But not so fast noted The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun, who pointed out that per the Collective Bargaining Agreement, an eight-year contract cannot be signed just yet, if Karlsson and his wife do decide they want to stay.
Break out your handy CBA and turn to page 285 and you’ll read this:
“An SPC with a term of greater than seven (7) years, provided, however, that a Club may sign a Player to an SPC with a term of up to eight (8) years if that Player was on such Club’s Reserve List as of and since the most recent Trade Deadline. With respect to potential Unrestricted Free Agents only, the ability to re-sign a Player to an SPC of eight (8) years expires when the Player becomes an Unrestricted Free Agent. With respect to a Player who becomes a Group 2 Restricted Free Agent, a Club may sign such Player to an SPC with a term of up to eight (8) years provided such Player was on such Club’s Reserve List and/or Restricted Free Agent List as of and since the most recent Trade Deadline.”
LeBrun added that the Sharks were aware of this rule when they made the trade.
Since we have five months before that situation can be resolved, the focus can be on the ice and Karlsson practiced with his teammates for the first time on Wednesday. General manager Doug Wilson added the “difference-maker” he so badly sought over the summer and his upgraded offensive arsenal can dig in for a Western Conference fight with the likes of the Vegas Golden Knights, Nashville Predators and Winnipeg Jets.
Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer wasn’t sure when he’d try to get Karlsson into one of the team’s final five preseason games. The next little while is about getting him settled into a new city, familiar with his new teammates and up-to-speed on the team’s systems.
“I don’t think Erik has to adapt at all,” DeBoer said. “He just has to do what he does. He’s one of the best players on the planet. We just need him to do what he’s done for his whole career… We play up-tempo, we play aggressive. We play the way he plays. He’s going to fit right in.”
“It’s definitely going to be a change,” Karlsson said. “I like to see challenges and I think it will be a fun challenge, not only for me but this whole team. They’ve been a successful team for a number of years. They were extremely good last year and I’m extremely excited to be part of a good organization and good hockey club right from the start. I’ll do everything I can to fit in as good as I possibly can and being able to play the best hockey I know I can do.”
Karlsson skated with Marc-Edouard Vlasic while Brent Burns was paired with Justin Braun. That’s a very, very strong top-four to throw out on the ice every night, and there’s still two weeks to experiment with different pairings.
(At one point, DeBoer put Karlsson out with Burns and Joe Pavelski during a three-on-three drill. Good luck slowing that trio down.)
The different dimensions of Karlsson’s game that he’s bringing to San Jose will give DeBoer plenty of options when he looks to deploy his new defenseman.
“What I love about Erik’s game, everybody looks at the offense, but he’s an exceptional defensive player, too,” said DeBoer. “So, I think we can use him in every situation. There’s very few players in the world that I would term that you can use in the last minute of games when you’re up, or you’re down, to shut down the other team’s best players to create offense when you’re from behind, and he’s one of those guys. He has those types of tools. We’re going to use him in a lot of different ways.”
Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at email@example.com.
• Up top, that’s the new All-Star Game logo with this season’s rendition in San Jose.
• The NHL is going to be patient if it wants to reap the rewards that a China partnership could produce. (The Hockey News)
• U.S. gambling monster lurks under the NHL’s bed. (Winnipeg Free Press)
• Here’s an oxymoron: The NHL’s most underrated superstar. (The Hockey Writers)
• Here are the most overpaid players heading into the 2018-19 season. (Daily Hive)
• Every team’s biggest issue heading into the new season. (CBS Sports)
• Vegas remains the NHL’s hottest ticket. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
• China both a market for growth and a pipeline for players. (The Athletic)
• When pro athletes are accused of abuse, how often does punishment follow? (The Tennessean)
Max Domi didn’t take long to make an impact with the Montreal Canadiens, but it might earn him a suspension for when the games actually start to matter.
Domi was ejected from tonight’s 5-2 exhibition loss to the Florida Panthers after landing what many call a sucker-punch on defenseman Aaron Ekblad. As you can see, Ekblad fell and was bloodied by the blow, and did not return to the contest.
The best news is that, so far, it sounds like Ekblad is OK. Being bloodied by such an exchange would already be a concern, but that was especially worrisome since the 22-year-old has a history of concussion issues.
Panthers coach Bob Boughner said that team doctors determined that Ekblad didn’t suffer a concussion or a broken nose, according to The Athletic‘s Arpon Basu. Now, it’s worth noting that sometimes concussion symptoms don’t truly surface until after the adrenaline wears off, so there’s a chance that an additional update about Ekblad could be less positive. Either way, it’s positive that the early word is optimistic.
Whether you think it’s a fair course or not, Ekblad’s relative health could be good news for Domi and the Canadiens, as the Department of Player Safety factors injuries into possible suspension decisions.
Domi, 23, received a one-game suspension back in March 2016 for instigating this fight with Ryan Garbutt:
Whether he’s suspended or not, this isn’t a great start for Domi, although some Habs fans will be happy to see Tie’s son assert himself. So there’s that.
In case you’re wondering, Alex Galchenyuk is making a positive first impression with the Arizona Coyotes, including scoring two goals in a recent exhibition. The hits just keep coming for Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin, but at least they aren’t in the literal form of Domi’s fists.
Did you note that these two teams are division rivals? They’ll take on each other four times in 2018-19, so we’ll see if Luongo’s warning holds up.
“Bit of a gutless play,” Luongo said, via TSN’s John Lu. ” … We definitely won’t forget about it.”
The Panthers will have a chance to forget about it, or at least let the anger simmer down, as the two teams don’t meet in the regular season until a Dec. 28 contest in Florida.