Five teams that should call about Jimmy Howard

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For the third year in a row the Detroit Red Wings are going to miss the Stanley Cup Playoffs and that means with the NHL trade deadline fast approaching they should be looking to sell off all of their pending unrestricted free agents to the highest bidder.

As well as any other veterans they can get a decent haul for, especially if it cleans up what is still a very messy salary cap situation.

They have no shortage of potential players to sell this season with Gustav Nyquist, Thomas Vanek, Niklas Kronwall, and starting goalie Jimmy Howard all playing on expiring contracts.

The intriguing name here is Howard because he could, in theory, be the biggest game-changer for a contender out of this entire group.

Despite playing behind what has been one of the league’s worst teams this season, he has consistently performed at a pretty high level among the league’s goalies. Out of the 22 goalies that have appeared in at least 30 games this season his overall .916 save percentage is the sixth-best mark in the NHL, while his .930 mark at even-strength is the second best behind only Toronto Maple Leafs netminder Frederik Andersen.

That is good. That is really good.

The Detroit Free Press reported on Monday that because the Red Wings don’t have a young goalie ready anywhere in the system they might have an interest in attempting to re-sign Howard, or trading him and then attempting to re-sign him in the offseason as a free agent. The latter sounds like a decent strategy but rarely, if ever, works out that way. There’s also this unpleasant reality: Howard is turning 35 in a few weeks, is probably nearing the end of his career, and the Red Wings on their current trajectory as a rebuilding team probably will not be in a position to contend with him on his next contract.

A trade and turning the page over to a new chapter in net is probably the most sensible strategy, even if it means going outside the organization. It is not like the duo of Howard and Jonathan Bernier for another season is going to be the difference between making and missing the playoffs a year from now.

There are a handful of teams around the NHL that should be interested in trying to complete such a move.

Let’s look at them.

1. San Jose Sharks

This is the obvious no-brainer team.

The Sharks are as complete as any team in the NHL at forward and defense but still have a black hole that risks sabotaging their entire season in net. The duo of Martin Jones and Aaron Dell has produced the second-worst save percentage in the NHL this season and going into the playoffs with that is a huge risk.

Joe Thornton doesn’t have much hockey left in the NHL. Erik Karlsson can be an unrestricted free agent after this season. The window is wide open right now for this team to try and win it all, something they could absolutely do as long as their goaltending doesn’t ruin them.

“Hoping” that Jones returns to his normal form shouldn’t be the strategy this season.

There is no long-term commitment with Howard beyond this season and gives them a chance to strike when everything is right there in front of them.

[Related: PHT Power Rankings: Sharks are one player away]

2. Calgary Flames

Like the Sharks the Flames are a team that has the look of a potential champion … as long as the goaltending holds up.

The Mike Smith experience has not gone well this season and has resulted in David Rittich, a 26-year-old with just a little more than 50 NHL games on his resume, starting to get the bulk of the playing time. To be fair, Rittich has played well and been a huge factor in the Flames’ rise to the top of the Western Conference standings. But given how small of a sample size we are dealing with here are the Flames 100 percent confident going into the postseason with him as “the guy?”

If nothing else Howard would be a good insurance plan in case Rittich falters, because I don’t know how much I would trust Smith to save the day if that happens given the way he has played this season.

3. Carolina Hurricanes

This is a real long shot and it would go against everything the Hurricanes have done in recent years where they have always kept the big picture in mind when constructing their roster.

Howard, as a pending free agent, probably doesn’t fit in the big picture outlook so it’s probably not going to happen.

But it never hurts to check it out. Or suggest it.

This is a team with a new owner that wants to win right now, a team that hasn’t made the playoffs since 2009, and a team that has crawled back into contention and is right there in the Eastern Conference race. They are in it. They are very much in it and can get even closer with a win against the Buffalo Sabres on Thursday night. They have a lot of good pieces that could get them closer this season, especially after adding Nino Niederreiter from the Minnesota Wild. The one thing they are lacking is still consistency in net. Curtis McElhinney has been really good this season when he has played, and that has definitely helped. Howard, especially with the way he has played this season, would only help even more. Given how good the Hurricanes are at keeping pucks away from their goalies (fewest shots allowed per game in the NHL this season, once again one of the league’s best teams in that area) a goalie like Howard could be a significant addition if they decided to go in that direction.

I still don’t think they will, but it is an intriguing thought.

[Related: Niederreiter leading ‘Canes playoff surge]

4. Columbus Blue Jackets

Yes, the Columbus Blue Jackets already have one free-agent-to-be goalie on their roster, and there remains the possibility that they move him before the trade deadline. The Athletic‘s Aaron Portzline pointed out earlier this week that if they do it would most likely require another move to fill that vacant spot in net and Howard was a name that he mentioned as a possibility to keep in mind.

It does not do anything to solve the goaltending problem after this season, but the Blue Jackets are still a potential playoff team this season and there is one very important thing to keep in mind — Howard has been significantly better than Sergei Bobrovsky this season.

It would require a lot of moving parts, it would not fix anything after this season, but it might actually help them this season.

5. Colorado Avalanche

There are a lot of reasons the Colorado Avalanche have faded from their fast start.

They have zero depth after their top-three at forward. Their defense is not great. They are also getting lousy goaltending from Semyon Varlamov and Philipp Grubauer. The first two problems are going to take some time to fix, and there is not one trade that can remedy that this season.

There is one trade that can help fix it the latter problem, especially with additional draft picks to trade this season. Normally I wouldn’t want to see a team with Colorado’s record go all in as being a buyer, but because of the West playoff field being what it is they are still very much in it. With decent goaltending and the three forwards they have at the top of the lineup they could be a headache for somebody in the first round if everything clicks at the same time. A goalie like Howard might help them get there.

Related: What is eating the Colorado Avalanche?

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.

Maple Leafs bolster back end, trade for Muzzin

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They needed a defenseman, and they wasted little time in getting their man.

The Toronto Maple Leafs made a move to bolster their defensive core, acquiring Jake Muzzin from the Los Angeles Kings on Monday.

The move sent prospect left wing Carl Grundstrom, the rights to defenseman Sean Durzi and Toronto’s first-round draft pick in the 2019 NHL Draft out to the west coast.

The trade immediately makes Toronto’s defense better, for the rest of this season and next, too, as Muzzin has one year left on a deal that’s paying him an annual average value of $4 million.

Toronto has all the offense in the world and a goaltender in Frederik Andersen who will be in the Vezina conversation this year. Muzzin brings with him a wealth of playoff experience — 50 games — including a Stanley Cup win in 2014 and a player that can play big minutes in every situation on the ice.

And he will fit right in alongside Morgan Rielly, which in turn will allow the Leafs to move Ron Hainsey down to the third pairing to work with young d-man Travis Dermott in a mentor role while still providing a solid third pairing (where Hainsey belongs).

TSN’s Darren Dreger said both Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas and Kings GM Rob Blake had been discussing the deal for a couple weeks.

“I just thought it was a great fit for us,” Dubas said. “When he joined Los Angeles coming out of junior [in 2010], they were kind of at the same stage we’re in now, so he has that experience of seeing a team mature from being a team that wanted to contend to contending and ultimately winning, and he was a big part of their championship team in 2014.

“He’s going to be here for at least the next year and a half and two runs at the spring.”

Muzzin shared in the excitement.

“I was a little shocked to get the phone call,” he said. “You hear rumblings and rumors and stuff like that, and you just continue on your way until it actually happens.

“I was just thinking about it. Just playing them, how we got beat [4-1 and 5-1 this season], I was like, ‘Damn.’ And now I’m part of that team, so I’m real excited for the opportunity.”

For Los Angeles, they receive two top prospects in Grundstrom and Durzi, shed salary and, most importantly, get younger. The days of the Kings being Stanley Cup contenders are over with and the view ahead now has to be on the future and dismantling Jurassic Park.

Grundstrom, 21, was a second-round pick in 2016 and played with Frolunda of the Swedish Elite League last season. In 42 games with the Toronto Marlies of the American Hockey League this season, Grundstrom has 13 goals and 29 points.

Durzi, 20, was taken in the second round in 2018 after not being selected in 2017. He is unsigned. Durzi has split time with the Owen Sound Attack and the Guelph Storm in the Ontario hockey league this season. He has eight goals and 28 points in 26 games.

The immediate reaction is that the Leafs won this trade. It’s a fair point, given they bolstered their blue line with a quality player. But don’t write off the Kings, who grabbed two quality prospects, including one in Grundstrom who could turn into a legit NHL player. These are two teams going in opposite directions, As far as the Kings adding to their stable of prospects and grabbing a first-round pick, they did what they set out to do (even if they didn’t get the roster player they wanted).

“We feel this trade was necessary for the future of the organization,” Blake said in a statement from the team. “Moving Jake was not easy as he has been a key player for us and a significant part of our most historic and memorable achievements. We are grateful for his contributions to the Kings and we wish him the best of luck in the future.”

The Kings are still right up against the cap, with $77.5 million devoted to their current lineup. This only appears to be the start for Los Angeles, however. Dropping cap space, trading some of the older pieces and snatching up prospects and draft picks is on the only direction the Kings need to head in.

Credit to Dubas, too, for getting in before the rest of the pack. Muzzin was reportedly on several teams’ shopping lists, including fellow Cup contenders in the Winnipeg Jets. The plucky, young GM isn’t afraid to throw his weight around.

Figuring out how to get all these contract’s under next year’s cap should be fun.


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

Kadri hat trick extends Capitals losing streak to seven games

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The Washington Capitals gambled on this one.

With one game remaining prior to the all-star break and their mandated week off, the Caps were looking to end their six-game losing streak and head into the mini-holiday on a winning high.

Alex Ovechkin, who could have chosen to sit this one out and serve his one-game suspension for missing the NHL All-Star Game, decided to play. The team decided to go back with Braden Holtby, 24 hours after he coughed up seven goals in a 7-6 overtime loss to the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday.

Neither choice paid off, thanks in no small part to Toronto Maple Leafs forward Nazem Kadri in a 5-3 win for the host Leafs.

You see, Kadri didn’t seem all that interested in allowing the Caps to end their streak against an equally struggling Leafs team. Sure, the Leafs didn’t have the six-game losing streak entering Wednesday, but both teams each only had three wins in their past 10.

His hat trick (and four-point night) sealed Washington’s fate.

Ovechkin tried to do his part.

He scored in the game, his fourth goal in the past two nights after his 23rd hat trick on Tuesday, to put the Caps ahead 2-1 in the second period. The goal was historic as it was the Great 8’s 1,179th NHL point, tying him for first among Russia-born players with fellow legend Sergei Fedorov.

Nicklas Backstrom gave the Caps a 1-0 lead on the power play in the first, a goal that was answered by Kadri’s first of the game.

Ovi’s goal regained the lead in the second, but two goals 3:08 apart gave the Leafs their first lead of the night.

The go-ahead goal was of particular importance, given that it was Auston Matthew who fired it home, ending a seven-game goalless drought. It was just his second goal in 14 games.

Kadri rattled off his second and third of the game in the third to give the Leads a 5-2 lead before Matt Niskanen made it 5-3.

Frederik Andersen had another solid game, stopping 41 shots.

The Leafs moved three points up on the idle Boston Bruins for second place in the Atlantic Division.

Washington, despite all the losing, sits second in the Metropolitan, three points back of the leading New York Islanders.


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

WATCH LIVE: Capitals – Maple Leafs on NBCSN

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with the Wednesday Night Hockey matchup between the Washington Capitals and Toronto Maple Leafs. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Yes, every team hopes to enter the All-Star break on a high note, but the Capitals rank among those with the most incentive to churn out another win.

They’ve lost six consecutive games, and since it looks like Alex Ovechkin‘s playing on Wednesday (thus meaning he’s suspended for a game on Feb. 1), falling to the Maple Leafs would really make for a dour way to begin a little hockey vacation.

With the Bruins and Canadiens not all that far behind the Maple Leafs for second place in the Atlantic, don’t expect Toronto to take it easy on Wednesday. Considering all of these factors, it should be fascinating to watch these two teams duke it out.

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 6:30 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

What: Washington Capitals at Toronto Maple Leafs
Where: Scotiabank Arena
When: Wednesday, Jan. 23, 6:30 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: You can watch the Capitals – Maple Leafs stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

CAPITALS

Alex Ovechkin — Nicklas BackstromT.J. Oshie
Jakub VranaEvgeny KuznetsovTom Wilson
Dmitrij JaskinLars EllerBrett Connolly
Chandler StephensonTravis BoydAndre Burakovsky

Dmitry OrlovJohn Carlson
Michal KempnyMatt Niskanen
Brooks OrpikJonas Siegenthaler

Starting goalie: Braden Holtby

MAPLE LEAFS

Patrick MarleauAuston MatthewsMitch Marner
Zach HymanJohn TavaresKasperi Kapanen
Connor BrownNazem KadriWilliam Nylander
Par LindholmFrederik Gauthier — Trevor Moore

Morgan RiellyRon Hainsey
Travis DermottNikita Zaitsev
Martin MarincinIgor Ozhiganov

Starting goalie: Frederik Andersen

Gord Miller (play-by-play), Brian Boucher (analyst) and Ray Ferraro (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) will have the call.

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.

Tavares on ’emotional roller coaster’ decision to sign with Leafs

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with the Wednesday Night Hockey matchup between the Washington Capitals and Toronto Maple Leafs. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Things can change over time, especially when it comes to star players, but as of Wednesday, it sure feels like John Tavares‘ return home to the Toronto Maple Leafs – and, thus, his decision to leave the New York Islanders – is working about as well at it could for everyone involved.

From an individual standpoint, Tavares is thriving in Toronto. He’s already scored 30 goals in his debut season with the Buds, and it isn’t even February yet.

The Maple Leafs are already faring quite well. While they’re way behind the Lightning – which, frankly, everyone else is – they’ve looked like a dynamic team. They’ve done so even with Auston Matthews and Frederik Andersen missing time with injuries, and the protracted contract negotiations involving William Nylander. There are reasons to dream of big and better things, even if Tavares’ bedsheets are no longer adorned with Maple Leafs logos.

(As far as we know?)

Refreshingly, things have been splendid for the Islanders under Barry Trotz. Tuesday ended a five-game winning streak, and they’ve been red-hot in general lately. They’re still on top of the Metropolitan Division, an outcome even the organization likely didn’t expect if you shot Lou Lamoriello with truth serum.

So, with the Maple Leafs hosting the Washington Capitals on Wednesday, it’s a great time for Tavares to look back at that decision, as he did in an interview with NBCSN’s Ed Olczyk. Enjoy that clip above, if for nothing else than to soak in the excited atmosphere in Toronto, and get another look at Tavares’ sweet childhood setup, which mixed Maple Leafs and “Star Wars” in a splendid way.

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 6:30 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

Gord Miller (play-by-play), Brian Boucher (analyst) and Ray Ferraro (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) will have the call.

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.