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.

The Buzzer: Roslovic rocks Ducks; Duck-duck-goose truce?

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Three Stars

1. Jack Roslovic

Saturday almost makes you wonder if Randy Carlyle will be sadly muttering “Roslovic” in his sleep.

The young forward played a big role in the Jets humiliating the Ducks 9-3, as Roslovic generated his first hat trick while also adding an assist for four points. You could probably put some other Winnipeg players as 1B, as … you know, there were obviously a lot of goals to go around.

2. Vladimir Tarasenko

There were some other players who generated big nights, even ones who don’t play for Winnipeg. Ryan Pulock‘s a nice example, as he generated three assists to help the Islanders stay surprisingly hot.

Tarasenko’s three points came via one goal and two assists, so consider that a slight boost compared to others.

It’s been a tough season for Tarasenko – at least by his lofty standards – but the deadly sniper has been heating up. This three-point game extends his point streak to four games (three goals, three assists for six points). Tarasenko also fired five shots on goal and generated a +2 rating.

The Blues face an uphill battle to make the playoffs, although they’re improving their chances with strong recent play. This also really hurt Columbus, as the Blue Jackets’ losing streak stretched to five games.

3. Jonathan Bernier

There were some other strong goaltending performances on Saturday, but Bernier comes out ahead because a) he nabbed a shutout and b) had to make 35 saves to do so.

Bernier generated his first shutout as a member of the Red Wings, and his first victory since December. He’s not playing that much behind Jimmy Howard – and in all honesty, it’s probably better for Detroit that he struggles, at least for draft lottery purposes – but this had to be big for Bernier’s confidence.

Speaking of the Blue Jackets

While Nick Foligno believe that the Blue Jackets aren’t far from getting back on track despite losing five in a row for the first time in a long time, John Tortorella isn’t so easily convinced. He seemed pretty glum after the loss.

The Athletic’s Aaron Portzline reports that the Blue Jackets have a team meeting coming soon. There might be yelling.

Highlights

Lightning – Rangers had some great moments. Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov made great music together. Mika Zibanejad‘s pass on Kevin Hayes‘ goal was saucy, and Henrik Lundqvist sent Zibanejad with a great pass of his goalie-own. Lundqvist’s save on Ryan Callahan was gorgeous. So just enjoy the full highlights.

Video evidence of Roslovic’s rollicking night.

This is a hectic one. First, Tomas Hertl makes a nice play (it’s tempting to call him Tomas Hurdle, even if that’s a stretch), then Brent Burns makes some great moves to score the OT-winner.

Ridiculous goal by Connor McDavid, part bajillion.

Mad at silly geese

The next evolution of Carolina Hurricanes celebrations is “Duck-Duck-Goose,” and it’s wonderfully goofy.

But there are plenty of hockey people who do not approve of players go the way of the silly goose.

As you’d probably expect, Brian Burke remains displeased with the Hurricanes’ antics, deeming that “bush league.” (You can see his rant in the final 30-45 seconds of this Sportsnet video.)

There seems to be disapproval from younger onlookers, too, though:

Factoids

Scores

PHI 5, EDM 4 (OT)
NJD 3, MTL 2 (OT)
WIN 9, ANA 3
TOR 3, PIT 2
DET 2, OTT 0
FLA 3, VGK 1
NYI 4, LAK 2
STL 4, CBJ 2
TBL 3, NYR 2
DAL 3, NSH 1
CHI 4, MIN 3 (OT)
VAN 5, COL 1
SJS 3, ARI 2 (OT)

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.

The best, most jaw-dropping saves of 2018 (PHT Year in Review)

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Pro Hockey Talk is taking a look back at the year in hockey. We’ll be presenting you with the best goals, saves, moments, players and more as we remember 2018.

Goalies. They’re a hockey team’s last refuge.

They’re tasked with what seems impossible at times. Saving hard, rubber pucks flying at blistering, dangerous speeds. The pads and other equipment are only getting smaller yet these brave souls choose to stand in harm’s way.

It’s admirable, above all else.

Goalies are the most important part of a hockey team. Most of the saves they make throughout the course of a season are routine. Flick the right pad out here, throw the glove the hand there.

But some… go above and beyond the call of duty. Some saves shouldn’t be saves at all. They defy logic. Sometimes physics, too. And we’re left only to watch in amazement and marvel at the replays.

And so while we approach the end of 2018, we look back at some of the most incredible saves of the past year.

There’s no particular order for these. Many of them are equally incredible in their own right and deserve to lauded as such.

The first we will see here is Marc-Andre Fleury being, well, Marc-Andre Fleury. Claude Giroux should have scored. He didn’t because of MAF.

Some saves are not only incredible but should be given a primary assist because, without them, the chance to score would simply vanish.

Colorado Avalanche goalie Jonathan Bernier‘s paddle save on Ryan Kesler was tremendous in and of itself, and then it led to a goal by Nathan MacKinnon.

Goalies often have to make quick saves in succession.

A couple of quick shots or perhaps a shot and a save off the ensuing rebound.

Things like that.

In November, Carolina Hurricanes puck stopper Scott Darling robbed Anthony Mantha of a hat trick and then Mike Green of a game winner back to back in overtime.

November was a good month for saves that can’t be explained.

Calvin Peterson isn’t a household name (probably not even to Los Angeles Kings fans), but his save on Loui Eriksson was so dirty that he changed all that with one twist of his body and flash of his glove.

The two-pad stack is a thing of beauty.

Throughout the history of the NHL, there have been some insane variations of it all with the same ending: a jaw-dropping save and a dejected shooter.

Henrik Lundqvist appears here as the perpetrator. Evan Rodrigues is the poor victim.

David Pastrnak has a knack (get it?) for scoring goals.

He’s carving out a nice career doing so thus far.

But in the Stanley Cup Playoffs he had a sure goal snatched off the goal line by the paddle of Freddie Andersen.

Highway robbery in the worst degree.

Braden Holtby produced some magic last season, but arguably his best save of his career came in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final.

With the Caps down one game in the series and leading 3-2 in the game, Holtby came to the rescue after a bad bounce of the stanchion at T-Mobile Arena.

Alex Tuch‘s look of horror said it all.

Alex Ovechkin‘s relief did, too.

Of all the best saves this season, none was more important — and arguably better looking — than the one Holtby delivered in Game 2.

* * * * *

Of course, the NHL is only one breeding ground for great saves. There are leagues across the world that produce the same quality.

The first save was good. The second was stellar. The third was just embarrassing for the team on offense:

I’ve said it before (probably above) and I’ll say it again, paddle saves are the best saves.

Here’s a beauty from the BCHL:

Some goalies don’t get a save-of-the-year candidate in their career.

Kyle Keyser of the OHL’s Oshawa Generals got two in four days.

Paddles, man.

Paddles.

PHT’s Sean Leahy did a whole post on this save.

Again with the paddle. But holy moly, this is bananas.

No Russian translation required.

And don’t forget to watch the Top 18 saves of the season from NBC Sports.

More PHT Year in Review:
• Bloopers
Moments

Goals
Players

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

The Buzzer: Rust continues dominance; Ehlers clutch once again

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Three stars

1. Bryan Rust, Pittsburgh Penguins

On the morning of Dec. 12, Rust had just one goal to his name this season, one he scored back on Oct. 25.

As of Dec. 20, he now has nine goals. Yes, in the span of nine days, Rust has scored eight goals, including a hat trick back on the 12th, and goals in four straight games now dating back to Dec. 15.

Rust’s two goals were all the Pens needed in a 2-1 win against the Minnesota Wild. Rust is on quite the heater right now, with five goals and an assist in his current run and eight goals in his past six games.

2. Nikolaj Ehlers, Winnipeg Jets

Ehlers had scored earlier in the game, but it was his two third-period goals — a go-ahead goal to make it 4-3 and then the automatic empty-net goal to put the Jets up 5-3 — that cemented his second hat trick of the season.

Ehlers has been solid this season with 16 goals, including two hat tricks and six markers in his past five games.

He’s also been clutch. His goal last Sunday against the Tampa Bay Lightning tied the game 4-4 and forced overtime. His goals on Thursday were self-explanatory in their importance. He’s got three game-winners now this season.

3. Morgan Rielly, Toronto Maple Leafs

Sure, John Tavares and Auston Matthews each had a pair of goals — Matthews also had two assists for a four-point night — but someone has to be setting those up, right?

Well, in the case of those two, maybe not. Still, four assists in a game are nothing to scoff at and the above two get enough time in the spotlight.

The four apples matched a career-high for Rielly, who is well on his way to setting new career highs in assists and points. He has 11 goals (already a new career high) and 29 assists for 40 points this season.

He’s also on a three-game point streak.

Other notable performances:

  • Carter Hart won his second game in as many starts and is now 2-0-0 record with a 1.50 goals-against average and a .944 save percentage. Pretty, pretty good.
  • Claude Giroux put up a career-high 10 shots on goal and one of them, a second-period strike, stood up as the game winner.
  • Jonathan Bernier stopped 39 shots in a 4-1 Red Wings win against the Hurricanes
  • Cam Atkinson scored a ridiculous penalty shot (watch it below) to help the Blue Jackets past the Devils. It was his 20th goal of the season.
  • David Pastrnak had a goal and two assists in Boston’s 3-1 win against the Ducks.
  • Patrick Kane (two goals, one assist) and Alex DeBrincat (one goal, two assists) help the Blackhawks to their third win in their past five games.
  • Nate Schmidt had a goal and two assists to help Golden Knights down the Islanders 4-2
  • Jets captain Blake Wheeler had three assists and now has 42, tying Colorado’s Mikko Rantanen for the NHL lead.

Highlights of the night

This doesn’t need an introduction:

Oh my goodness is right.

The old strip and score:

Defying geometry:

Factoids

Scores

Bruins 3, Ducks 1

Maple Leafs 6, Panthers 1

Flyers 2, Predators 1

Penguins 2, Wild 1

Blue Jackets 2, Devils 1

Red Wings 4, Hurricanes 1

Blackhawks 5, Stars 2

Lightning 5, Flames 4 (SO)

Canadiens 2, Coyotes 1

Canucks 5, Blues 1

Golden Knights 4, Islanders 2

Jets 5, Sharks 3


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 host Red Wings on NBCSN

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Tuesday night’s matchup between the Detroit Red Wings and Washington Capitals with coverage beginning at 6:30 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The Capitals and especially Red Wings probably wouldn’t admit this – at least on the record – but both teams should be pretty happy about where they are right now.

For the defending Stanley Cup champions, it’s a familiar place. Through early ups and downs, the Caps have mostly shook off an expected Stanley Cup hangover, finding away to grab the Metropolitan Division lead. Also familiar: Alex Ovechkin keeps lighting the lamp, as the prolific sniper already has 22 goals (to go with 36 points) in just 29 games.

If the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs began on Tuesday, the Red Wings would be on the outside looking in. Even so, the Red Wings have 32 standings points coming into their game against the Capitals, placing them 10th in the East. That’s not half-bad when you realize that this team is very much in a rebuilding process, whether they like it (and accept it) or not.

[Speaking of which, is coach Jeff Blashill part of that future?]

Sure, the Red Wings will be underdogs in this contest. They’d already carry that role out of context, but that’s especially clear being that they’re wrapping up a back-to-back set after beating the Kings 3-1 on Monday.

Washington would be foolish to take Detroit lightly, however. The Red Wings are 4-2-1 in their last seven games, enjoying solid seasons from Dylan Larkin (29 points) and Gustav Nyquist (27).

Can the Capitals take business at home? Find out on NBCSN.

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

What: Detroit Red Wings at Washington Capitals
Where: Capital One Arena
When: Tuesday, Dec. 11, 6:30 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: You can watch the Red Wings – Capitals stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

RED WINGS

Gustav Nyquist — Dylan Larkin — Justin Abdelkader

Thomas VanekFrans NielsenAndreas Athanasiou

Tyler BertuzziLuke GlendeningMichael Rasmussen

Christoffer EhnJacob De La RoseMartin Frk

Niklas KronwallMike Green

Jonathan EricssonNick Jensen

Trevor DaleyDennis Cholowski

Starting goalie: Jonathan Bernier

CAPITALS

Alex Ovechkin — Nicklas BackstromT.J. Oshie

Jakub VranaEvgeny KuznetsovBrett Connolly

Chandler StephensonLars EllerDevante Smith-Pelly

Dmitrij JaskinNic DowdTravis Boyd

Michal KempnyJohn Carlson

Dmitry OrlovMatt Niskanen

Christian DjoosMadison Bowey

Starting goalie: Braden Holtby

John Walton (play-by-play) and AJ Mleczko (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) will have the call from Capital One Arena in Washington, D.C.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.