Jimmy Howard

Crawford, Howard, and other interesting veteran NHL free agent goalies

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Earlier this week, PHT looked at uncertain futures for veteran NHL free agent forwards. The league’s other positions face just as much, if not more, uncertainty. So let’s keep this going by tackling veteran NHL free agent goalies.

As with that forward focus, this isn’t a comprehensive list of NHL free agent goalies. This revolves around veterans, with an admittedly arbitrary cutoff of 30 years or older.

Said veteran NHL free agent goalies must also hit a sweet spot. We’re ignoring goalies who should be no-brainer signings (Robin Lehner‘s been one of the best netminders, and he’s also only 28). We’re also going to skate past goalies with dubious chances of being signed to NHL contracts.

You might think such specific parameters would mean zero veteran NHL free agent goalies. Nope, there’s a pretty interesting list. Actually, if you feel like someone prominent didn’t make the cut, do tell.

(We’ll know you are trolling if you blurt out “Robin Lehner,” by the way.)

[Players who might be considering retirement]

Corey Crawford

I was tempted to leave Crawford off of this list. The reasoning is simple enough: Crawford has plenty of name recognition, and he was actually quite good (16-20-3, but with a .917 save percentage) this season.

Ultimately, Crawford warrants a mention, though. For one thing, he’s not that far removed from injury issues that credibly threatened his career. Also, with the Blackhawks firing team president John McDonough and other signs of turmoil, there’s increased uncertainty regarding Crawford’s future with his longtime team. Crawford is 35, too, so there’s the risk of a 35+ contract likely limiting his term options.

Honestly, the Blackhawks might be justified in flinching at bringing back Crawford for a more cynical reason. If Chicago wants to blow things up, or at least institute a mini-reboot, Crawford may foil such plans by … being too good.

The 2018-19 season stands as one of just two seasons where Crawford’s Goals Saved Against Average was on the negative side. With a 9.01 mark for 2019-20, Crawford ranked ahead of the likes of Carter Hart (4.47), stellar backup Jaroslav Halak (8.83), and resurgent Cam Talbot (7.53).

It would be absurd if someone didn’t want Crawford. The NHL can be an absurd league sometimes, though.

Jimmy Howard

During the 2019 NHL trade deadline, it was a little surprising that the Red Wings didn’t trade Howard. Outsiders can only speculate if it was more about then-GM Ken Holland asking for too much, or the market being truly, totally dry.

But, either way, Howard’s market value looks much different (read: worse) after a brutal 2019-20, both for the Red Wings and for their veteran goalie. The 36-year-old suffered through a lousy .882 save percentage this season after being steady for two seasons (.909 and .910) and fantastic in 2016-17 (.927).

My guess is that someone will be interested in Howard, but it would be a surprise if he wore a Red Wings sweater in 2020-21. I’d also guess he’s slated to be a clear backup.

Mike Smith

There are goalies teams talk themselves out of (like, seemingly, Robin Lehner). Then there are goalies who gain a lot of leeway, such as Smith.

Familiarity sure seemed to help Smith land with the Oilers. It’s safe to assume that Dave Tippett fondly recalled Smith’s outstanding work during the Coyotes’ 2012 Western Conference Final run. That nostalgia didn’t lead to enough timely saves, though, as Mikko Koskinen soundly surpassed Smith (and Talbot was better in Calgary).

At 38, and with two straight below-average seasons under his belt, Smith may be teetering out of the league. Then again, he’s a big goalie, can handle the puck, and some might weigh those increasingly distant memories almost as heavily as Tippett and the Oilers did last summer.

Other NHL free agent goalies

  • I assume that 34-year-old goalies Thomas Greiss and Anton Khudobin should earn ample interest. They’ve both been fantastic, so I didn’t feel they needed a section. If interest isn’t certain though … it should be.
  • For the most part, Ryan Miller‘s future hinges on his own choices, and preference to be in the California area. Still, he’s worth mentioning, being that he’s 39 and didn’t perform as well in 2019-20.
  • Brian Elliott, 35, came through at times for the Flyers when Hart was injured. The overall picture of his season wasn’t pretty, however. It was fair to wonder about his future last offseason, and he’ll need to keep his expectations modest if he wants to stick in the NHL.
  • The curious trend of Craig Anderson flip-flopping average and elite seasons ended a while ago. It’s now been three rough seasons for the 39-year-old. Maybe someone would believe he could regain some of his past form on a more … hopeful team than the Senators?
  • Aaron Dell ranked as one of the NHL’s better backups in 2016-17 and 2017-18. Then the past two seasons happened, casting serious doubt over the 31-year-old’s future. Perhaps a team might pin that on the Sharks’ system and give Dell, say, a competitive third goalie spot?
  • Could be mostly sad emojis for 30-year-old Keith Kinkaid.

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.

Ovechkin, Carlson, Holtby provided big surprises, disappointments for Capitals

Capitals surprises disappointments Ovechkin Carlson
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With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to review where each NHL team stands at this moment until the season resumes. Here we take a look at the surprises and disappointments for the Washington Capitals.

Carlson surprises as Capitals, NHL defensemen scoring leader

John Carlson began 2019-20 on a downright dizzying scoring pace, and really only slightly cooled off down the stretch.

There were moments when Carlson topped the league in scoring outright, and the NHL named him the first star of October after a ridiculous seven-goal, 23-point output over 14 games. Carlson became the first defenseman to reach 50 points in 40 games or fewer since Paul Coffey did so in 1994-95.

It’s telling that, for all the strong offensive seasons the Capitals enjoyed, Carlson topped the team with 75 points.

Should he win the Norris Trophy? That’s a debate for another day.

To some extent, it almost feels beside the point. Carlson keeps raising the ceiling for what he can accomplish, and it’s really become a sight to behold.

Heading into the season, Carlson leading defensemen in scoring wouldn’t have been that huge of a surprise. The magnitude of his scoring dominance ranks as one of the biggest surprises for the Capitals, though. Carlson topped all blueliners by 10 points (75 to Roman Josi‘s 65), and Josi was 10 points ahead of third-ranking Victor Hedman (55).

Realizing that Carlson had about a month to tack on more points makes his accomplishments that much more astounding.

Ovechkin passes 700, in range of another Maurice Richard Trophy

Yes, yes, death, taxes, and Alex Ovechkin scoring lots of goals. I get that.

The “death” part of that is a reminder that Father Time eventually wins. With that in mind, Ovechkin tying David Pastrnak for the NHL lead with 48 goals at age 34 isn’t routine. It’s mind-blowing. Ovechkin’s .71 goals-per-game average this season represents his best rate since his matching .71 from 2008-09. When he was 23. Yeah.

Now, you can transition Ovechkin-related Capitals surprises to disappointments if you look away from the goals, all 700+ (706) of them.

A drop in playmaking explains how Ovechkin can score 48 goals and not lead the Capitals in scoring. He managed 19 assists for 67 points in 2019-20. That assist rate of .28 ranks as the second-worst of his illustrious career.

While his 2019-20 stands as a little cleaner, the points about Alex Ovechkin’s defense being shabby also ring true. Wince at this multi-season RAPM chart from Evolving Hockey, for example:

Capitals surprises disappointments Ovechkin evolving hockey

It makes you wonder: for all of Ovechkin’s gifts, might his flaws eventually outweigh what he brings to the table?

One way or another, such thoughts could lead to future surprises and disappointments for Ovechkin and the Capitals.

Holtby towers over other disappointments for Capitals

There are other positive surprises for the Capitals, including the ascent of winger Jakub Vrana.

But if there’s one issue that towers as a disappointment — one that could at times derail strengths for Capitals — it was a rough, rough season for Braden Holtby.

Holtby managed a 25-14-6 record in large part because of his team’s scoring ways. Holtby produced an ugly .897 save percentage, and Hockey Reference’s version of GSAA puts him at an ugly -16.76. For context, only Jimmy Howard (-22.12) ranked lower by that metric.

Zooming out on his entire career, I’d argue that Holtby’s probably been underrated at times. Yet, those past accomplishments might cloud future judgments for the pending UFA. He’s struggled quite a bit during the regular season for the past three years, really.

Could the Capitals produce surprises in going with younger goalie Ilya Samsonov, who was solid in 2019-20? Would Holtby leaving be a bigger disappointment, or would the Capitals be the ones suffering if they handed him an ill-advised contract? After extending Nicklas Backstrom, it was that much clearer that someone has to go eventually.

Might Holtby once again rebound in the playoffs, as he did so masterfully during that curse-breaking, Cup-winning run in 2017-18? Also … why does that run feel like it happened a decade ago?

We could see more twists and turns — so, yes, surprises and disappointments — involving Holtby and the Capitals before this is all over.

MORE ON THE CAPITALS:

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.

PHT Morning Skate: Neutral sites no longer in discussion if NHL play resumes?

Excel Energy Center instead of neutral sites for NHL play
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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 phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• ESPN’s Greg Wyshynski cites sources who say that the NHL is no longer considering using neutral sites like North Dakota to resume play. Wyshynski explains that a revised plan would involve regional NHL arenas used for the games, aligned by arenas instead of neutral sites. In this scenario, the Hurricanes’ arena would be for the Metro, Oilers for the Pacific, and Wild for Central. According to Wyshynski, there isn’t an Atlantic arena frontrunner just yet. (ESPN)

• Multiple NHL GMs discussed how they’ll be watching the remote NFL Draft closely. There’s also some interesting speculation about how the 2020 NHL Draft will look and feel. Senators GM Pierre Dorion believes that trades will still be doable, even with on-the-draft-floor moving and shaking unlikely. (The Canadian Press)

• Add Jimmy Howard to the list of NHL players who’ve made a big contribution to healthcare workers dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. Howard is donating $50K worth of N95 masks to the Detroit Medical Center. This includes multiple Red Wings helping out, as the list includes at least both Howard and Dylan Larkin. (NBC 25 News)

• In what sounds like a pitch for a sitcom, Keith, Matthew, and Brady Tkachuk are all living under one roof during the pandemic pause. That’s a lot of pesty behavior and antagonism in a small space. (KSDK)

• Breaking down the possible hiccups in the Blackhawks possibly bringing back Dustin Byfuglien. Even with those limitations in mind, a Byfuglien return would be fascinating. Especially since, if I remember correctly, Byfuglien didn’t solidify himself as a defenseman until he left Chicago. (NBC Sports Chicago)

• The Golden Knights signed Nic Roy to a two-year extension that carries a $750K AAV. Roy turned out to be a pretty nice find for the Golden Knights. Could Roy end up being even better than a solid depth player? (Golden Knights)

• Speaking of the Golden Knights, the Devils are interviewing former coach (still strange to type) Gerard Gallant for their head coaching position. Gallant would likely bring assistant Mike Kelly with him. (Sportsnet)

• Hayley Williams is instructing youth hockey players virtually — and from Russia. (WGRZ)

• A look back at the underrated career of forward Joe Mullen. (Greatest Hockey Legends)

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 is the Detroit Red Wings’ long-term outlook?

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With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to review where each NHL team stands at this moment until the season resumes. Here we take a look at the long-term outlook for the Detroit Red Wings.

Pending Free Agents

The Core

This is kind of an odd situation at the moment because the players with the longest contracts and biggest financial commitments are players that probably do not actually fit in with the long-term direction of the team.

For example, here is the list of players that are actually signed to contracts beyond this season: Dylan Larkin, Filip Zadina, Frans Nielsen, Justin Abdelkader, Darren Helm, Valtteri Filppula, Luke Glendening, Patrick Nemeth, Alex Biega, Danny DeKeyser, and Jonathan Bernier.

Out of that group, Larkin and Zadina (who is still on an entry-level contract) are the only ones that are under the age of 28.

Nemeth (who is 28) is the only other player under the age of 30.

Mantha, Bertuzzi, and perhaps Fabbri all figure to stick around for a while and are still under team control as restricted free agents this summer, but they are not technically signed yet.

All of that leaves general manager Steve Yzerman with a fairly clean slate to build from. He also has a couple of really interesting building blocks in Larkin, Mantha, and Zadina.

Larkin and Mantha may not be superstars, but they are still very good top-line players in the prime of their careers, and in Larkin’s case signed to a long-term deal. Mantha will need a new contract this summer but has blossomed into a potential 30-goal, possession driving power forward. Zadina is still a bit of a mystery, but he probably has the most potential of any young player in the organization and has flashed the ability that made him one of the most sought after goal-scoring prospects in his draft class.

Long-Term Needs

When you miss the playoffs four years in a row and are having one of the worst seasons in the modern history of the sport it is safe to say that you have a lot of needs at pretty much every position.

That is the case with the Red Wings.

More specifically, they need impact players.

They need a superstar forward they can build around and make the centerpiece of this entire thing. Maybe they will get some draft lottery luck and get the top pick, which is always a good place to start. It would also be helpful if Zadina blossomed into the top-shelf goal-scorer he was projected to be (and you should not give up on that possibility).

They also need a lot of long-term help on defense.

Moritz Seider, the No. 6 overall pick in 2019, is their best defense prospect, but he is probably a ways away from contributing as a top-pairing player.

Perhaps the biggest long-term hole in the organization though is in net. Howard and Bernier are both over the age of 31 and neither is likely to be standing in the crease for the Red Wings’ next playoff team. That goalie is also probably not in the organization right now.

Long-Term Strengths

It might just be the simple fact that they have a very successful and very good general manager that has a lot of resources to work with.

The salary cap situation is not perfect, but it is also not as bad as it looked a year or two ago. They have a couple of contracts they might like to shed (Nielsen, Abdelkader, DeKeyser) but it is nothing that is crushing them at the moment and there is some long-term flexibility there.

Along with having the best odds for the top pick in the 2020 NHL Draft, they also have 18 draft picks over the next two years, including seven in the first two rounds (two first-round picks, five second-round picks) in those classes.

That comes after making 11 selections in the 2019 class, including four in the first two rounds.

The best way to find NHL talent in the draft is to give yourself more chances at finding a player (more picks) and the Red Wings are overflowing with them. That helps increase the odds in your favor a bit.

Larkin and Mantha should also be viewed as strengths because both players are good enough and young enough to stick around in Detroit and play in meaningful games for the team. Larkin is one of the league’s fastest players, has great underlying numbers, and has become a 60-point player every year. The only thing that has stopped Mantha from being a 30-goal player the past two years has been injuries. There are a lot of positions that need to be addressed, but they have the right person in charge to do it and some pieces to work with.

More:
• Looking at the 2019-20 Detroit Red Wings
Biggest surprises and disappointments 

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.

Detroit Red Wings: This season’s biggest surprises and disappointments

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With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to review where each NHL team stands at this moment until the season resumes. Here we take a look at the surprises and disappointments for the Detroit Red Wings.

Robby Fabbri has had a nice bounceback in Detroit

It was just four years ago that Fabbri looked like he was on his way to becoming an outstanding top-six player for the St. Louis Blues. Then an unfortunate run of devastating injuries completely crushed the early part of his career and left him as the odd man out in St. Louis.

The Red Wings, in need of talent anywhere they can find it, took the low-risk gamble on trading for him earlier this season.

The early returns have been promising.

Fabbri has been one of the Red Wings’ most productive offensive players since arriving in Detroit earlier this season with 31 points (14 goals, 17 assists) in his 52 games with the team. That’s a 20-goal, 50-point pace over 82 games and a nice bounce-back for a once promising player whose development was sidetracked through no fault of his own.

Jimmy Howard‘s tough year

Howard has been a rock in the Detroit crease for parts of 14 seasons now, and just last season was one of their few bright spots. All of that is what makes his 2019-20 season so hard to watch.

In his 27 appearances this season Howard has an .882 save percentage — the worst mark in the NHL by a fairly significant margin — to go with a 2-23-2 record.

Here is the complete list of goalies that appeared in at least 25 games in a single season and won two or fewer games:

  • Jimmy Howard (2019-20 Red Wings)
  • Jeff Hackett (1992-93 San Jose Sharks)
  • Michel Dion (1983-84 Pittsburgh Penguins)
  • Wilf Cude (1930-31 Philadelphia Quakers)
  • Daniel Berthiaume (1992-93 Ottawa Senators)
  • Michel Belhumeur (1974-75 Washington Capitals)

Howard is one of the most accomplished goalies in franchise history, sitting in the top-four of games played (third), wins (third), save percentage (third) and shutouts (fourth) but not even he was immune to the struggles the rest of the team faced this season.

Another injury for Anthony Mantha

Mantha has played like a bonafide top-line power forward the past two seasons when he’s been healthy and in the lineup. The only thing that has slowed him down are the injuries that robbed him of 43 games since the start of the 2018-19 season.

It’s so disappointing because it’s probably robbed him of a couple of 30-goal seasons.

Over the past two years he has scored at 30-goal, 65-point pace while posting outstanding possessions numbers (better than 53 percent shot-attempt share) on a team that has been completely dominated at even-strength. He is an outstanding player in the prime of his career, and one that probably does not get a lot of attention due to the circumstances around him as well as the fact he has missed so much time to injury.

The continued offensive declines of Frans Nielsen and Justin Abdelkader

Age and injuries continued to add up for two of Detroit’s biggest remaining contracts, at least when it comes to their offensive production.

Nielsen and Abdelkader count nearly $10 million against the salary cap for each of the next three seasons (while Abdelkader has a fourth year remaining on his deal) and combined for just four goals (all belonging to Nielsen) and 12 total points this season. With both players having already celebrated their 33rd birthdays there is little reason to believe those downward trends offensively will rebound in the coming seasons.

You can’t really blame the players themselves because it’s certainly not for a lack of effort and they didn’t offer themselves the contracts. They can also still contribute quite a bit defensively with both being among the Red Wings’ best performing defensive forwards. The disappointment just comes from the fact that their biggest long-term investments are with players that can not really drive their offense in a meaningful way.

More:
Looking at the 2019-20 Detroit Red Wings
What is the Red Wings’ long-term outlook?

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.