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NHL Awards: PHT hands out some midseason hardware

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Almost every team has hit the 41-game mark of the season, which means it’s time to look back at the first half and hand out some hardware. There’s plenty of change since we did our quarter-point awards post and these will most certainly change by the end of the regular season.

In the meantime, let’s take a look at who we think is deserving of the Hart, Norris, Vezina, Adams, Calder and Selke Trophies, along with some first-half surprises and disappointments.

SEAN LEAHY

HART TROPHY
1. Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche
2. Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay Lightning
3. Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals

No player has more points since Nov. 1 than MacKinnon. He’s taken his game to another level and is a big reason why the Avalanche are threatening for a playoff spot in the Western Conference. While Nikita Kucherov was the MVP favorite early on, MacKinnon’s play, the goaltending of Vasilevskiy has caused the Lightning forward to be leap-frogged. You also can’t forget the scoring exploits of Steven Stamkos, who could draw some votes away from Kucherov.

NORRIS TROPHY
1. Drew Doughty, Los Angeles Kings
2. Victor Hedman, Tampa Bay Lightning
3. Erik Karlsson, Ottawa Senators / John Klingberg, Dallas Stars

Doughty has the points (7 goals, 30 points), the ice time (27:10), the possession stats (53.4 Corsi, 6.38 Corsi-relative) to make his case for another one of these. Hedman is right there behind him and a strong second half could see the tide move his way. Just waiting on the outside is Karlsson, who should put up a strong argument after a “weird” first half, and Klingberg, who’s made big strides this season and leads all defensemen in scoring (6-33—39). He’s also plus-118 in shot attempts, which is a monster upgrade from his negative-25 last season.

VEZINA TROPHY
1. Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay Lightning
2. Pekka Rinne, Nashville Predators
3. Corey Crawford, Chicago Blackhawks

Hopefully Crawford comes back soon from his upper-body injury because he was having a wonderful. Vasilevskiy has not only been the Lightning MVP, he’s also been the best netminder in the league. He leads the NHL in shutouts (6) and even strength save percentage (.941).

JACK ADAMS AWARD
1. Gerard Gallant, Vegas Golden Knights
2. Jon Cooper, Tampa Bay Lightning
3. John Hynes, New Jersey Devils

Whoever ends up being a finalist with Gallant for the Adams should just skip the awards show and hit up a craps table because we all know who’s going to win this.

CALDER TROPHY
1. Brock Boeser, Vancouver Canucks
2. Charlie McAvoy, Boston Bruins
3. Mathew Barzal, New York Islanders

Remember the days when Clayton Keller was the big-time favorite? He’s slowed down a bit with only three goals since Nov. 6. During that time Boeser and Barzal have been on scoring tears, while McAvoy continues to be a rock on the Boston blue line averaging 22:53 a night alongside Zdeno Chara

SELKE TROPHY
1. Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins
2. Sean Couturier, Philadelphia Flyers
3. Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings

This is going to be Bergeron’s award to lose every season until he retires or his game finally falls off a cliff. This season he’ll have some very stiff competition from Couturier and Kopitar, who is having a fantastic bounce-back season. Bergeron is once again a possession monster (58.28 Corsi, 7.39 Corsi-relative) while continuing to produce (16 goals, 32 points). Couturier has the possession numbers (54.25 Corsi, 1.28 Corsi-relative) and has already set career highs in goals (23) and points (42)

Biggest Surprise (Team): Vegas Golden Knights
Biggest Surprise (Player): William Karlsson
Biggest Disappointment (Team): Edmonton Oilers
Biggest Disappointment (Player): Scott Darling

Second half storyline to watch: Can the surprise teams — Vegas, New Jersey, Winnipeg — maintain their success to earn playoff berths?

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SCOTT BILLECK

HART TROPHY
1. Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning
2. Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning
3. Blake Wheeler, Winnipeg Jets

Stamkos has been splendid in his return to form. Kucherov is simply the best goal scorer in the NHL and Wheeler might be the most important player to any team in the NHL with his versatility and his point production.

NORRIS TROPHY
1. Victor Hedman, Tampa Bay Lightning
2. Drew Doughty, Los Angeles Kings
3. Erik Karlsson, Ottawa Senators

Hedman’s the best defenseman in the NHL thus far this season, and it’s a runaway at this point. Doughty would probably be leading this in any other year. Karlsson is still Karlsson, and that’s had Norris written all over it before.

VEZINA TROPHY
1. Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay Lightning
2. Sergei Bobrovsky, Columbus Blue Jackets
3. Connor Hellebuyck, Winnipeg Jets

Vasilevskiy has been sensational, and while Bob has done Bob things all season, he’s just not there this year. Hellebuyck deserves recognition as one of top goalies, especially if you compare him to himself last year.

JACK ADAMS AWARD
1. Gerard Gallant, Vegas Golden Knights
2. Jon Cooper, Tampa Bay Lightning
3. Paul Maurice, Winnipeg Jets

What Gallant has gotten out of his troops in Vegas is outstanding, and barring a complete flop, he’s the clear-cut winner here. Cooper leads the best team in the NHL, but also has some remarkable talent (likely four all-stars). Maurice has turned an underachieving Jets team into one of the best in the west.

CALDER TROPHY
1. Brock Boeser, Vancouver Canucks
2. Mathew Barzal, New York Islanders
3. Clayton Keller, Arizona Coyotes

Boeser and Barzal are going to go back and forth for the title until the end of the season. This is really a 1 a. and 1 b. scenario. Keller has done well in a terrible situation on a very bad team.

SELKE TROPHY
1. Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins
2. Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings
3. Mark Scheifele, Winnipeg Jets

Two perennial contenders and then there’s Scheifele, who before his injury, was on a different level, both in terms of points and how he plays the game defensively.

Biggest Surprise (Team): Vegas Golden Knights
Biggest Surprise (Player): Brayden Schenn
Biggest Disappointment (Team): Edmonton Oilers
Biggest Disappointment (Player): Matt Duchene

Second half storyline to watch: Will the Golden Knights stay the course and sell, even with their high position in the standings, or will they be buyers at the trade deadline?

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ADAM GRETZ

HART TROPHY
1. Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning
2. Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings
3. Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche

It’s hard to ignore the guy that is running away with the scoring title, that is on pace to finish with more points than any player has had in about seven or eight years, and is doing so for the best team in the league. So Kucherov gets my mid-season pick. Anze Kopitar isn’t far behind given the minutes he is playing and how dominant he has been all over the ice, and the fact the Colorado Avalanche are even in playoff contention at this point is largely due to MacKinnon having such a breakout year.

NORRIS TROPHY
1. P.K. Subban, Nashville Predators
2. Victor Hedman, Tampa Bay Lighting
3. John Klingberg, Dallas Stars

Subban isn’t just an exciting offensive player, he has become one of the best shutdown defenders in the league. Hedman is right there with him and John Klingberg is very quietly having a stellar season in Dallas. Tough race at this point with all three being very worthy.

VEZINA TROPHY
1. Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay Lightning
2. Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers
3. Corey Crawford, Chicago Blackhawks

Vasilevskiy has been amazing and doesn’t seem to get a ton of attention. His save percentage at this point would be one of the best single season performances in league history. Lundqvist is once again masking a ton of flaws for the Rangers and deserves to be in the discussion. Crawford has been sidelined (and still is) but when he has been healthy has been outstanding. If he misses too much time he might be out of the discussion toward the end of the season, but we are talking about first half at this point, and for the first half he has been one of the best goalies in the league.

JACK ADAMS AWARD
1. Gerard Gallant, Vegas Golden Knights
2. John Stevens, Los Angeles Kings
3. Jon Cooper, Tampa Bay Lighting

How can it be anybody other than Gallant at this point? An expansion team with the second best record in the league? Yeah, it is his award at this point. The Kings look like a completely different team with largely the same roster as last season.

CALDER TROPHY
1. Brock Boeser, Vancouver Canucks
2. Mathew Barzal, New York Islander
3. Clayton Keller, Arizona Coyotes

Boeser looks like the type of core player the Canucks need to be the centerpiece of their rebuild, while Barzal could be an excellent complement to John Tavares in New York for the next eight years (assuming, of course, the Islanders can re-sign Tavares).

SELKE TROPHY
1. Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins
2. Sean Couturier, Philadelphia Flyers
3. Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings

Bergeron is the centerpiece of the NHL’s most dominant line. They don’t get scored on, he has the best possession numbers of any forward in the league. He is simply a force and the best two-way player in the league right now. Couturier has always been an outstanding defensive player and now he has the offensive numbers that will get him noticed.

Biggest Surprise (Team): Vegas Golden Knights
Biggest Surprise (Player): Nathan MacKinnon
Biggest Disappointment (Team): Edmonton Oilers
Biggest Disappointment (Player): Matt Murray

Second half storyline to watch: Will the Penguins and Blackhawks, two of the most dominant teams in the NHL over the past decade, make the playoffs?

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JAMES O’BRIEN

HART TROPHY
1. Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning
2. Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche
3. John Tavares, New York Islanders

When it comes to the Hart Trophy, I think it’s better to take the KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid) approach. You can tie yourself in knots trying to argue “best player” versus “most valuable” and overly penalize someone like Kucherov for (gasp) having good teammates. Kucherov is head-and-shoulders above everyone else right now, and if you ask me, his 27 goals seal the deal.

It was tough to leave Connor McDavid off this list, but hey, he won’t suffer from such a snub during many healthy seasons. Honestly, he’ll almost certainly finish as a finalist through 82, anyway.

NORRIS TROPHY
1. Drew Doughty, Los Angeles Kings
2. Victor Hedman, Tampa Bay Lightning
3. Erik Karlsson, Ottawa Senators

I can feel the tomatoes coming my way from Hockey Twitter right now, but this has been a rough season for Karlsson, who may still be a Martian sent to our planet to play hockey at a maximum level of efficiency.

Anyway, Doughty’s really flourishing and is an enormous part of the Kings’ transition to a modern style. He’s generating the points you’d want, is a two-way dynamo from a possession standpoint, and is checking all the boxes. That said, the field is very competitive, with John Klingberg, P.K. Subban, and Mark Giordano just a few of the guys who also deserve consideration. With Karlsson slipping – by his standards – it makes for a perplexingly deep field.

VEZINA TROPHY
1. Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay Lightning
2. Frederik Andersen, Toronto Maple Leafs
3. Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers

My goodness, a .935 save percentage is approaching golden age Tim Thomas territory (without the bunker, which seems like less of a silly investment in 2018). Vasilevskiy probably benefits from a great Lightning team, but he’s reminding the hockey world why TB opted for him instead of Ben Bishop.

The rest of the pack is really close, with Connor Hellebuyck, Pekka Rinne, and Corey Crawford all deserving consideration. One thing that stands out with Andersen is degree of difficulty; he leads the league in saves with 1,133, which is 101 more than the nearest contender (Lundqvist at 1,032). When records and save percentages are that close, I’ll go with the difficulty of an assignment.

JACK ADAMS AWARD
1. Gerard Gallant, Vegas Golden Knights
2. Jon Cooper, Tampa Bay Lightning
3. Bruce Cassidy, Boston Bruins

I’m not a huge fan of making the Jack Adams the “overachiever of the year” award, but how could you not name Gallant here, at least halfway through the season? The Golden Knights aren’t just an expansion team; they’re an expansion team that plays a modern style and, while the goaltending’s often been strong, they’ve dealt with a ton of injuries at that key position.

While he has his quirks like just about any coach, this is the year where Cooper deserves some credit for ranking among the NHL’s best. Meanwhile, Cassidy and the Bruins are (darn it) overachieving.

CALDER TROPHY
1. Brock Boeser, Vancouver Canucks
2. Mathew Barzal, New York Islanders
3. Charlie McAvoy, Boston Bruins

Who would have guessed that this rookie crop would follow up 2016-17 so well? Boeser’s a terrifying sniper making the Canucks less depressing, Barzal is an absolute sensation in Brooklyn, and McAvoy is playing the role of a veteran defenseman at age 20.

SELKE TROPHY
1. Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins
2. Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings
3. Sean Couturier, Philadelphia Flyers

Bergeron is basically a mutant at this point. Casual hockey fans still probably don’t understand how great he is. Kopitar’s resurgence has been a delight to observe. Meanwhile, Couturier’s proven that he can be a first-line center in a thunderous way.

Biggest Surprise (Team): Vegas Golden Knights
Biggest Surprise (Player): Dustin Brown
Biggest Disappointment (Team): Edmonton Oilers
Biggest Disappointment (Player): Oliver Ekman-Larsson

Second half storyline to watch: Will the Oilers and/or Canadiens make the trade deadline more interesting or remain in denial?

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JOEY ALFIERI

HART TROPHY
1. Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning
2. John Tavares, New York Islanders
3. Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers

Kucherov has been one of the most dominant forwards in the league dating back to last year.  The Lightning forward has built up a nice lead at the top of the scoring leader’s board this season and he should continue to roll in the second half of the season. Tavares, who is a pending UFA, and Giroux have both had terrific season, but their teams need to make the playoffs to be in the conversation.

NORRIS TROPHY
1. Victor Hedman, Tampa Bay Lightning
2. Drew Doughty, Los Angeles Kings
3. John Klingberg, Dallas Stars

Hedman continues to be the key cog for the Bolts on the blue line. He has less points than Klingberg and less goals than Doughty, but his all-around game has been nothing short of terrific. Hedman plays almost 26 minutes and, like other top defenders, he sees the opposition’s top players on a nightly basis. It’s his Norris trophy to lose right now.

VEZINA TROPHY
1. Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay Lightning
2. Connor Hellebuyck, Winnipeg Jets
3. Corey Crawford, Chicago Blackhawks

Yeah, I’m giving the league’s three major awards to Lightning players. Vasilevskiy’s first full season as a starting goaltender has gone incredibly well. He’s been dominant between the pipes and he’s clearly been the best goalie in the league. Hellebuyck has been a pleasant surprise and Crawford has kept the Blackhawks afloat, but they still aren’t at Vasilevskiy’s level.

JACK ADAMS AWARD
1. Gerard Gallant, Vegas Golden Knights
2. John Hynes, New Jersey Devils
3. Jon Cooper, Tampa Bay Lightning

Prior to the start of the season, nobody in the hockey world had any kind of positive expectations for Golden Knights. Not only are they in the playoff conversation, they currently lead the Pacific Division. That alone gets Gallant the award. The work Hynes has done in New Jersey is also very impressive. Cooper deserves plenty of credit for everything the Bolts have accomplished in the first half of the season. But nothing tops an expansion team leading their division at the midway point of the season.

CALDER TROPHY
1. Brock Boeser, Vancouver Canucks
2. Mathew Barzal, New York Islanders
3. Mikhail Sergachev, Tampa Bay Lightning

Boeser is rolling at a point-per-game pace, which is impressive considering he’s a rookie and he’s playing on a mediocre Canucks team. Barzal and Sergachev have both been impressive during their first full seasons in the NHL, but Boeser is clearly the leader in the clubhouse as of right now.

SELKE TROPHY
1. Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins
2. Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings
3. Sean Couturier, Philadelphia Flyers

Anyone who follows hockey knows that Bergeron is the top two-way forward in the game right now. Up until last week, Bergeron’s line hadn’t given up an even-strength goal all season. Kopitar and Couturier are both in the running, too. The Kings forward is having a terrific bounce-back year, while Couturier, who has always been a strong two-way player, has come into his own offensively.

Biggest Surprise (Team): Vegas Golden Knights (too easy). Honorable mention: New Jersey Devils.
Biggest Surprise (Player): Josh Bailey
Biggest Disappointment (Team): Ottawa Senators were a goal away from going to the Stanley Cup Final last year. They’re near the bottom of the East now.
Biggest Disappointment (Player): Jonathan Drouin

Second half storyline to watch: Can the Golden Knights make a long playoff run?

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Who are your favorites for the major awards at the midpoint of the 2017-18 NHL season?

Sharks are buying out final year of Paul Martin’s contract

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The San Jose Sharks are clearing more salary cap space for what could be a big summer.

On Friday the team announced that it is placing veteran defenseman Paul Martin on unconditional waivers for the purposes of buying out his contract.

The 36-year-old Martin was limited to just 14 games this past season. He was set to enter the final year of a four-year, $19.4 million contract that he signed in free agency prior to the start of the 2015-16 season. During his time with the Sharks he played a key role on their blue line — playing more than 20 minutes per night in his first two years with the team — and helped them reach the Stanley Cup Final in his first year with the team.

“Paul Martin has been the upmost professional on and off the ice during his three years in San Jose,” said general manager Doug Wilson in a statement released by the team. “His leadership, character and on-ice contributions have been essential to our success and in reaching the 2016 Stanley Cup Final. The impact he has had on our organization, his teammates and many of our younger players will be felt for many years to come.”

The big thing here for the Sharks is the salary cap savings for this season that a buyout brings.

According to CapFriendly the Sharks will save more than $2.8 million against the salary cap this season before taking a $1.4 million salary cap hit next season.

That savings, combined with the recent trade of veteran forward Mikkel Boedker, has already trimmed more than $6.5 million in salary off of the team’s salary cap number for the 2018-19 season. That will leave them with more than $18 million in salary cap space under the new $79.5 million ceiling, making them players for just about any unrestricted free agent (or potential trade target) that they could want.

They already considered one of the top contenders to land Ilya Kovalchuk in his return from the KHL.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Noah Dobson and his unique road to the 2018 NHL Draft

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Brian Savage calls it a “hockey candy store.” The Red Bull Academy in Salzburg, Austria features state-of-the-art facilities and the ability for young players to improve their games to a level that could pay off with a future professional career.

A young Noah Dobson and his family saw just that and made a decision to begin a unique path to the National Hockey League.

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It was during the 2015 Canada Winter Games tournament in Prince George, B.C. that Dobson came on the radar of Paul Henry, a Red Bull scout who helped put together Canada’s 1994 Olympic team. In a tournament that featured future NHL draft picks like Owen Tippett, Gabe Vilardi, Jaret Anderson-Dolan and fellow 2018 prospects like Jett Woo, Joe Veleno and Calen Addison, the 15-year-old Dobson had an impressive showing with four goals and eight points in six games.

Henry would set up a meeting that spring with the Dobson family in Summerside, Prince Edward Island and give them the sales pitch. Intrigued, they flew to Austria to meet Pierre Page, then Red Bull’s Global Sporting Director, and Savage, who served as a North American scout.

“They were very impressed and excited to agree to come to Red Bull Academy where they could do the supervised online schooling program approved by Canadian and American Universities like Harvard and others,” Page told Pro Hockey Talk recently.

Page, who coached 636 NHL games with four teams, had a vision to make Red Bull a destination for young hockey players. As soon as players arrived, they were blown away.

“When I got over there, to stay at their facilities, it was just a whole great experience playing on a different side of the world and seeing other countries at the same time playing the game you love,” says Dobson. “It’s the kind of experience that I’m going to look back at and have lots of memories from.”

Savage’s presence helped in the recruitment. The former NHLer, who played 12 seasons in the league, moved his family, including his three boys, to Salzburg to help Page get the academy going. His son Ryan also played for Red Bull.

Dobson spent the 2015-16 season in Salzburg, playing 24 games with the U-18s and 11 games with the U-20s. Like some of his teammates, he was alone in a new country, a long ways away from his family.  But the players’ schedule kept them busy, with trainings between four and six hours a day, plus schooling and access to ice any time for extra work. Savage and head coach Matt Deschamps would have the players over for some home-cooked meals and take them out for various activities, like skiing, to help deal with homesickness. 

“I think it really benefited me as a player and a person, experiencing different cultures,” says Dobson.

“[Dobson] was sold on the program and totally committed to paying the price to make this year really worth it,” Page says.

Once comfort set in, and the routine of a hockey life picked up, Dobson’s game improved. Already a good skater as a tall, right-handed shot, he impressed the Red Bull scouts during the Canada Winter Games tournament holding his own against older competition. The year in Salzburg saw improvements on both ends of the ice, thanks to the additional work he was doing after practices.

“Really what he needed was some strength and guidance on and off the ice,” says Savage, who now works with hockey tournament company 200×85. “He had a really good shot. He really had a nice total package to him and we were just there to enhance it and get him to the next step. Obviously his coaches in junior have done a great job getting him to where he is now.

“I think that year at Red Bull showed him how hard he had to work to get to where he wanted to be.”

The Acadie-Bathurst Titan would make Dobson the sixth overall pick in the 2016 Quebec Major Junior Hockey League draft. He would spend the next two seasons compiling 24 goals and 95 points over 130 games and helping deliver a Memorial Cup this past May. As the NHL Draft approaches, he’s the fifth-ranked North American skater, and isn’t expected to have a long before hearing his name called by a team.

“I think he’s going to have a great career, whether it’s a year from now, two years from now, when he gets a little bit stronger and can compete against the men. But I see him being in those top three defensemen eventually,” says Savage. “I’m sure with his work ethic and determination he’s going to continue going strong. Whatever team gets him is gonna get lucky because he’s a great kid.”

Page, who parted with Red Bull in Feb. 2016, continued to track Dobson after he left for the QMJHL and described his development as “incredible.” He has faith in the 18-year-old’s talents and knows there’s a great NHL career ahead for him.

Says Page, “I would not want to be the team who passes on him at the draft.”

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Together Again: Red Wings add Bylsma to Blashill’s staff

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The Detroit Red Wings have added a Stanley Cup-winning head coach to their staff, as they announced the hiring of Dan Bylsma as an assistant coach.

The obvious connection here is that Bylsma was part of Red Wings head coach Jeff Blashill’s staff with Team USA at the 2018 World Hockey Championship. They helped lead the U.S. to a bronze medal in the tournament.

“I know that Dan will make a great impact on our team, and we’re excited to add him to the bench,” Blashill said in a team release. “His resume speaks for itself, including the Stanley Cup championship and Jack Adams Award. I also had the unique opportunity to work with Dan at this year’s World Championship, and that experience leaves no doubt that Dan will bring innovative ideas and tremendous attention to detail to our coaching staff.”

Bylsma was out of the NHL last season after being let go by the Buffalo Sabres after the 2016-17 campaign. The 47-year-old failed to make the postseason in both seasons in Buffalo. He has a career record of 320-190-55 over eight seasons as a head coach.

This is a homecoming of sorts for Bylsma, who was born in Grand Haven, Michigan.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Time for Sabres to upgrade in goal

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Buffalo Sabres general manager Jason Botterill confirmed that the team will not give starting netminder Robin Lehner a qualifying offer, which means he’ll be a free agent on July 1st. That means there’s an opening for a new number one goalie in Buffalo.

Lehner hasn’t had much to work with since he joined the Sabres, but he’s had plenty of issues with consistency and staying healthy. Again, the inconsistency isn’t all on him because the players in front of him haven’t been good enough. Still, his tenure in Buffalo didn’t go as planned.

The Sabres have a franchise center in Jack Eichel and they’re about to land a franchise defenseman in Rasmus Dahlin, so it’s time they land a goalie that can help push them in the right direction. What are their options?

Last season, the team gave 24-year-old Linus Ullmark a look between the pipes, and he did relatively well over five games. Ullmark will likely be one of the two goaltenders in Buffalo in 2018-19.

For those hoping Botterill will dip his toe in the free-agent pool, you may be disappointed. There’s no number one goalie available this year. Top options include: Kari Lehtonen, Jaroslav Halak, Cam Ward, Jonathan Bernier and Carter Hutton.

Could one of those veterans be paired with Ullmark? Sure, but how much confidence would that give this Buffalo team. Hutton has been one of the better backup goalies in the league over the last couple of years. That would likely be the best free-agent fit for the Sabres. Management might be able to land him if they can sell the idea of him playing quite a bit more than he’s used to.

Hutton could be an option.

The only other way to land a goalie right now is by trading for one.

There’s Philipp Grubauer, who’s currently a Washington Capital. Acquiring Grubauer would cost the Sabres an asset, but he could still be worth looking into if they believe he’s capable of playing at the same level he did in the second half of the season. The 26-year-old has never played more than 35 games in a season, so making him a starter won’t come without risk. At this point though, there are no slam-dunk number one goalies available, so GM Jason Botterill will have to roll the dice on somebody.

If they want someone a little more proven, they have to think outside the box. Would they be willing to take a risk on Cam Talbot in Edmonton? There have been rumblings that he’s available. Sure, he’s coming off a down year, but he was outstanding two seasons ago. He’s scheduled to become a free agent in 2019 and the Oilers might not be willing to pay a 30-year-old netminder the type of money he may command.

Now this is a really “outside the box” kind of idea, but would the Predators be willing to move one of their goalies? Pekka Rinne, who just won the Vezina Trophy, has one year left on his contract and he struggled pretty badly in the playoffs. Juuse Saros, who’s the goalie of the future, is an RFA and he’ll be getting a raise this summer. Nashville doesn’t have to do anything with their goaltenders this year, so this is very unlikely, but it’s just something to think about.

Another veteran option could Sens netminder Craig Anderson, who is available, per TSN’s Frank Seravalli.

No matter how they do it, the Sabres have to find a way to upgrade the roster as a whole, but specifically in goal. They don’t have to find a franchise netminder like a Braden Holtby or a Carey Price, but they need to get better at that position if they’re going to come close to making the playoffs one of these days.

It’s up to Botterill to figure out how he wants to do that.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.