In a year where there was no shortage of outstanding goaltending performances, the NHL has narrowed its Vezina Trophy candidate list to three ‘tenders — New York Rangers’ Henrik Lundqvist, Los Angeles’ Jonathan Quick and Nashville’s Pekka Rinne.
The trio of candidates ensures a first-time winner, though Lundqvist has been nominated three times prior while Rinne was a finalist in 2010-11. Quick has never been nominated for the Vezina.
As for the candidates…
He appeared in 62 games for the Rangers — winning a career-high 39 — and backstopped New York to first place in the Eastern Conference since 1993-94. “King Henrik” finished with a 1.97 goals-against average and a .930 save percentage, finishing in the top four in wins, GAA, save percentage and shutouts (eight).
The 26-year-old carried the Kings throughout the season and was instrumental in getting them the eighth and final playoff spot in the West. He played a career-high 69 games and had 35 of L.A.’s 40 wins this season, finishing with a 1.95 GAA, .929 save percentage and a stunning 10 (yeah, ten) shutouts.
His accomplishments came with almost no margin for error, as the Kings were 29th in the League in scoring at 2.29 goals per game. And while he had 34 losses in regulation, overtime or shootouts, the Kings scored two goals or fewer in 15 of them, and one goal or less in nine.
The lanky Finn was the league’s workhorse netminder this year, playing in 73 games and recording an NHL-best 43 wins. He was seventh with a .923 save percentage while facing the most shots in the League (2,153) and also had a 2.39 GAA with five shutouts.
The defenseman, who began the press conference by thanking the training staffs of the Blues and Ducks, will not play again this season, according to general manager Doug Armstrong. While a comeback this season is out of reach, Bouwmeester has not closed the door on his future.
“There’s been a lot going on,” he said. “I think that’s something I’m going to definitely have to evaluate, but to say I’ve done that, I wouldn’t say fully yet. There’s decisions I’m going to have to make. That’ll come later.”
“We talked about longer term things that may or may not happen and both feel that it’s February,” added Armstrong. “You don’t have to make long term decisions at this point. He’s going to take time and again back in with his family and get around the team and he’ll address those things as the summer progresses.”
Bouwmeester, who will turn 37 in September, is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent this summer. He was revived with defibrillator and quickly taken from Honda Center to a local hospital. He later had an implantable cardioverter defibrillator procedure to restore the normal rhythm of his heart.
“I’m at the point now where I feel pretty good,” Bouwmeester said. “That’s kind of the weird thing about this is you go from something that happened totally out of the blue and unexpected to being in the hospital for a couple of days and then now there’s some restrictions as to what I can do.”
Everything about the timing fits the soap opera narrative of “As the Maple Leaf turns …”
Toronto lost Muzzin for a month in the first game after signing him to a contract extension.
It’s also the first game following a trade deadline that mixed the good with the bad. On one hand, it turns out that keeping Tyson Barrie was wise, warts and all. On the other, GM Kyle Dubas’ critics will argue that he still didn’t do enough.
Oh yeah, the Maple Leafs follow up this potentially devastating injury with an enormous Thursday game against the Panthers in Florida.
If you want a glimpse at Toronto’s confidence level in certain players, consider how Sheldon Keefe deployed Sandin on Tuesday. Through two periods, Sandin received just 5:27 time on ice. Once it was clear Muzzin wouldn’t return, Sandin’s ice time skyrocketed to 9:34 during the third period alone.
Dicey stuff, but what’s the best approach, Zen-like, or otherwise? What’s a good mantra for the Leafs going forward?
Accepting reality of the Maple Leafs defense with Muzzin out, and considering Panthers
Despite wildly different approaches and markets, the Maple Leafs and Panthers boast notably similar strengths and weaknesses. After all, they are the only teams in the NHL who’ve scored and allowed 200+ goals so far this season.
So maybe the Maple Leafs should embrace the perception of their most prominent, healthy defenseman in Tyson Barrie, and their perceived identity as a team that needs to outscore their problems, in general?
There’s also the potential silver lining of realizing that players like Sandin and Liljegren might be further along in their respective developments than Toronto realized. Interestingly, Dubas sort of touched on this during his trade deadline presser, before Muzzin was injured.
” … We need to see how our own guys develop,” Dubas said, via Pension Plan Puppets’ transcript. “In a perfect world your own guys develop and quell your concerns you have about the roster and that people on the outside may have about them as well.”
Both Sandin and Liljegren carry pedigree as first-rounders, and have produced some offenseat the AHL level. Perhaps they can bring almost as much to the table as they risk taking away with mistakes?
Obstacles, and gauntlets thrown down on top Maple Leafs
When you dig deep on the Maple Leafs’ numbers, you get a more complicated look at their hit-and-miss defense. Either way, they need better goaltending going forward — even if that leads to awkward choices.
If patterns continue, there will only be more twists and turns for the Maple Leafs. Maybe they can end up better after facing all of these challenges, but either way, it doesn’t look easy, and might not always be pretty.
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) — Peter Laviolette is returning to the bench after being selected as the coach of the United States men’s national team competing at the world hockey championships in May.
The move was announced by USA Hockey on Wednesday, and comes seven weeks after Laviolette was fired by the Nashville Predators.
Laviolette ranks 16th in NHL wins with 637 covering four teams over 18 seasons, including the 2006 Stanley Cup champion Carolina Hurricanes. He also coached the New York Islanders and Philadelphia Flyers.
From Massachusetts, the 55-year-old Laviolette also has extensive experience representing the U.S. as a coach and player on the international stage.
The tournament being held in Switzerland will mark the fourth time Laviolette has coached the U.S. at the world championships, and first since 2014, when the Americans lost to Czech Republic in the quarterfinals in Belarus. He was also U.S. coach in 2004, when the team won a bronze medal, and ’05.
Laviolette also coached the national team to an eighth-place finish at the 2006 Olympics.
As a player, Laviolette was a two-time Olympian in representing the U.S. in 1988 and 1994, when he served as team captain.
”Peter is a terrific coach and someone who has had success wherever he’s been,” said USA Hockey’s John Vanbiesbrouck. ”We’re thrilled to have him back as head coach of our men’s national team.”
Team USA’s roster will begin being stocked once the NHL’s regular season concludes during the first weekend in April. The Americans have been limited to winning just six bronze medals since a silver-medal finish in 1950.
The world championships are scheduled to run from May 8 to 24.