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Sabres make solid bet on Carter Hutton

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In many cases, a free agent addition goes from sensible to senseless once you learn about the price. The truth might be the opposite with Carter Hutton and the Buffalo Sabres.

When rumors circulated about the Sabres’ interest, it seemed like there’d be some serious risk of Buffalo buying too high. After all, Hutton’s fantastic final season in St. Louis (17-7-3 with a fabulous .931 save percentage) far exceeds his overall work as a respectable NHL backup.

It turns out that the Sabres essentially paid him like one, rather than making a huge gamble that he’d be a franchise No. 1. Hutton’s three-year contract is worth $8.25 million, or $2.75M per season.

That’s not bad at all. If Hutton can be an above-average presence in net for Buffalo, this could end up being a steal.

Credit the Sabres for taking advantage of the situation, with at least one report indicating that Hutton might have left considerable money on the table to get a better opportunity with Buffalo. Take a look at Hutton’s comparables and you’ll see that he’s cheaper than Jonathan Bernier and Thomas Greiss while being only a bit more expensive than Mike Condon and Anton Khudobin.

It’s probable that Hutton’s 2017-18 work will end up being unsustainable, yet he generated a reasonably large body of work for a No. 2. Over 138 games played and 114 starts, Hutton’s career save percentage is .915. There’s quite a bit to like here.

Now, this doesn’t mean there is no risk involved.

For one thing, just about every goalie is tough to predict, so we might as well acknowledge that.

Hutton also hasn’t been a go-to guy. He went undrafted and thus had to battle for starts even at lower levels. There’s a risk that fatigue would get to him if Buffalo uses him as a workhorse.

There’s also the team in front of him. One could reasonably argue that his numbers have been amplified, at least at times, by playing for the Predators and especially the Blues. (Nashville was struggling during a portion of his stay.) Will his stats plummet if Buffalo struggles in its own end, as the Sabres have for a discouragingly long period of time?

The journeyman netminder also isn’t young. Hutton is 32, so if the aging curve hits hard, it could hurt.

So, yeah, there are some potential stumbling blocks.

Still, that price really makes this a deft signing by GM Jason Botterill. This could work out nicely if this ends up being a 1a/1b platoon situation. If Hutton’s closer to his 2017-18 self and ends up being a workhorse, it would be one of the best boons of the day.

You rarely know with goalies, but all things considered, the Sabres handled this situation extremely well.

Next up: will they hit the right buttons with Ryan O'Reilly? Chances are, we’ll need to wait until after midnight for that answer.

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.

Analyzing the Blackhawks’ goaltending options

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There are lot of reasons the Chicago Blackhawks run of nine consecutive postseason appearances came to a sudden end during the 2017-18 season.

Those reasons included, but were not limited to, the fact Jonathan Toews has started to slow down offensively (don’t deny it, it’s happening) with several other core players joining him.

Marian Hossa‘s career came to an abrupt end.

The front office badly whiffed on the trade that saw them send Artemi Panarin to Columbus for a Brandon Saad reunion.

But the biggest issue was probably the fact starting goalie Corey Crawford was limited to just 27 games and none of the five — yes, five! — goalies they used in an effort to replace him where able to provide the team with anything close to adequate NHL goaltending.

The numbers speak for themselves: With Crawford in the lineup the Blackhawk were 16-9-2, a record that would have put them at a 103-point pace over 82 games. Crawford’s .929 save percentage, which was among the best in the NHL, was a significant part of that.

Without him in the lineup they were just 17-30-8, a record that would have put them on a 65-point pace over 82 games. In other words, one of the worst teams in the league. The combined .902 save percentage from Anton Forsberg, Jean-Francois Berube, Jeff Glass, Collin Deila, and emergency fill-in Scott Foster (to be fair, he did stop all seven shots he faced!) contributed significantly to those struggles.

On Wednesday, Berube was traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Obviously the return of a healthy Crawford will be significant factor in whether or not the Blackhawks are able to rebound in 2018-19.

The problem: Nobody really knows anything about where Crawford is in his recovery from what the team will only refer to as an “upper-body injury.” Prior to the NHL draft this past week the Blackhawks offered an update on Crawford which really wasn’t much of an update at all.

Here is general manager Stan Bowman in a conference call with reporters, via the Chicago Sun Times:

“What I said at the end of the year is still the case now. We expect Corey to be back,” Bowman said during a pre-NHL draft conference call with media. “We don’t have any reason to think that’s not going to happen.”

“All the players are preparing for next season. Corey is in that same preparation mode. … Nothing has changed.”

Bowman all said the Blackhawks expect him to be available for the start of training camp in a couple of months. Until Crawford is back on the ice and actually taking shots in the Blackhawks’ net the entire situation will remain a mystery. And even when — if? — that does happen the Blackhawks should still probably be in the market for some sort of capable backup or insurance policy, because the quintet of players they used this past season was obviously not good enough.

[Related: PHT Power Rankings: The top-20 NHL Free Agents]

The question, of course, is where they go to find that insurance policy.

Scott Powers of the Athletic reported this week that the Blackhawks have reached out to Jonathan Bernier, Carter Hutton and Cam Ward, while TSN’s Pierre LeBrun mentioned that Ward could be a “strong” possibility to land in Chicago on July 1.

Jay Zawaski of 670 The Score also reported that a deal may already be in the works.

The concern there if you’re a Blackhawks fan is that Ward hasn’t been very good for the better part of the past six years.

Another way of putting it is that Ward has been one of the least productive goalies in the NHL.

Just consider that since the start of the 2012-13 season there have been 59 goalies that have appeared in at least 100 games in the NHL.

Cam Ward’s .906 save percentage during that stretch ties him for the worst mark in the league with Mike Condon, Anders Nilsson, and Ben Scrivens.

His .913 save percentage in even-strength situations again puts him in a tie for the worst mark along with Condon.

On one hand, the argument could be made that Ward has spent almost all of that time playing behind a team that hasn’t had much success and that joining the Blackhawks might help him. But for the past few years the Hurricanes have been one of the NHL’s best teams when it comes to suppressing shots against (the Blackhawks in recent years have become only mediocre in that area) and hasn’t had to face an extremely heavy work load. There is a strong argument to be made that goaltending is one of the biggest reasons the team has not had more success on the ice, with Ward being the primary goaltender for most of that run. He also is 34 years old and turns 35 in February, which isn’t exactly a prime age for goalies — especially ones that do not have a track record of consistently strong play.

The other potential free agent options are far more appealing.

On Wednesday, our Joey Alfieri argued that Robin Lehner, who was not extended a qualifying offer by the Buffalo Sabres, would make a lot of sense for the Detroit Red Wings. I would argue that he would probably be an ideal fit in Chicago. He is coming off of a down year in Buffalo — who wasn’t? — but had a lot of success in the two years prior while playing behind what has been a mostly dreadful team. He is not a star by any means but he might have the most upside of any of the free agents available.

Bernier is also an intriguing option because you know exactly what you’re going to get, and in a perfect world it is exactly what the Blackhawks might need — a solid, capable backup that can fill in for an extended period of time if Crawford’s situation remains what it is.

Among the same 59 goalie sampling mentioned above with Ward, Bernier finds himself sitting 30th and 25th in save percentage and even-strength save percentage out of that group. In other words, he is not going to steal you many games, but he probably will not lose you many games, either.

Even that would be a massive upgrade over what the Blackhawks were using in net a season ago. It would also be a far more intriguing option than a soon-to-be 35-year-old Cam Ward.

More NHL Free Agency:
• Ilya Kovalchuk, Kings agree to terms on three-year deal
• John Carlson gets $64 million payday as Capitals lock up defenseman

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: Taking care of business

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When you look on the schedule and see contenders facing teams that are already thinking of the draft and of summer vacations, it’s tempting to pencil in a “W.” That’s not always how things shake out, but in Friday’s case, the three of four matchups that seemed obvious ended up going as expected. Hence, those teams took care of business.

(The Stars vs. the Ducks was the exception, as both teams are in playoff position.)

Let’s review Friday in the NHL:

Old, new, and the usual

  • Still-very-young Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Seth Jones scored two goals to help Columbus take care of business against Detroit. Read all about that CBJ win, and their general upward trend, in this post.
  • Matt Cullen, 41, continues to look quite spry lately. For one thing, he scored a gorgeous goal for his 10th of the season, which was also his fifth goal in 10 games:

Not long after, Cullen seemed like he might score off of a nice Charlie Coyle feed, but was robbed. Perhaps that makes it “OK” that his assist came on an empty-netter, then?

  • Then there were the usual suspects. Jamie Benn collected a goal and an assist while Tyler Seguin collected two helpers as Dallas found a way to gut out a tough regulation win against Anaheim. Meanwhile, Eric Staal scored the game-winner to help Minnesota eventually beat Vancouver 5-2 in a game that was closer than that until the final minute. Staal already has 37 goals this season.

35

It was quite a showing from goalies in losing efforts, and 35 came up on three occasions.

Ryan Miller made 35 saves for the Anaheim Ducks, including stopping all 32 of the Stars’ shots at even-strength. Dallas went 2-for-2 on the power play to beat Miller and the Ducks, however. Mike Condon stopped 35 of 37 shots on goal as well, including a chance that left Johnny Gaudreau shaking his head and muttering to himself.

Anders Nilsson didn’t have quite the same game as the others, including not making 35 saves. He did face 35 shots, however, stopping 31 of them. As you can see in that GIF in the section with Matt Cullen, some of those were high-difficulty shots, too.

Factoids

Ryan Getzlaf couldn’t grind out a win or even a charity point for the Ducks, but he’s been outstanding lately. He scored a nice goal, giving him 12(!) points in his last five games and 50 in 44 contests this season. This actually broke a four-game multi-point streak.

Maybe the NHL should create an assist trophy? If so, would it be named after Adam Oates, Wayne Gretzky, or someone else?

Some numbers behind the widely-shared belief that the Blue Jackets have two dangerous scoring defensemen in Seth Jones and Zach Werenski:

Nice stat from that Min win:

Scores

Blue Jackets 3, Red Wings 2
Flames 2, Senators 1
Stars 2, Ducks 1
Wild 5, Canucks 2

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 Buzzer: Grabner’s hat trick helps Rangers rout ‘Canes; Pavelski hits milestone

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Player Of The Night. Michael Grabner, New York Rangers.

The New York Rangers had a miserable start to the season with losses seven of their first eight games.

Since then? They have been on a roll and after their 5-1 win over the Carolina Hurricanes on Friday night they are now 13-5-0 in their past 18 games and have won 11 out of 14.

Friday’s game was probably not as lopsided as the 5-1 final score would indicate (it was 2-1 until there were three minutes remaining in regulation) but Michael Grabner helped turn it into a blowout with a pair of empty net goals. Those two empty net goals, along with the goal he scored in the second period (officially the game-winner), gave him his fifth career hat trick.

Grabner was a surprise star for the Rangers a year ago by scoring 27 goals and he is off to an even better start this season with 13 goals in his first 26 games.

He has been an outstanding find for the Rangers.

Highlight Of The Night.

There are few players in the NHL that can rip it the way Patrik Laine can. He demonstrated that on Friday night with this power play goal in the Winnipeg Jets’ win over the Vegas Golden Knights.

Save Of The Night.

There was not much goaltending or defense in the Ottawa Senators’ 6-5 win over the New York Islanders, but Mike Condon needed to make one huge save on Jordan Eberle just before the buzzer to help preserve the win for the Senators to finally snap their seven-game losing streak.

Factoid Of The Night.

Joe Pavelski has been one of the best goal-scorers in the NHL for a few years now. On Friday night he hit a personal milestone by scoring his 300th career goal, making him one of just three active American-born players to reach that mark. Phil Kessel and Zach Parise being the other two.

Scores

Pittsburgh Penguins 4, Buffalo Sabres 0

Ottawa Senators 6, New York Islanders 5

New York Rangers 5, Carolina Hurricanes 1

Columbus Blue Jackets 4, Anaheim Ducks 2

San Jose Sharks 2, Florida Panthers 1

Los Angeles Kings 4, St. Louis Blues 1

Winnipeg Jets 7, Vegas Golden Knights 4

New Jersey Devils 2, Colorado Avalanche 1

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.

Charlie Lindgren’s play allowing Carey Price extra time to recover

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If the Montreal Canadiens were getting ready for a playoff game Tuesday night, then we would be seeing Carey Price back in goal.

But the combination of Price being the franchise goalie, the calendar saying it’s only Nov. 14 and the play of Charlie Lindgren has meant that the netminder will be able to take his time to recover from an injury suffered during warmups on Nov. 2. He’s missed the last five games, but the Habs won four of those five.

Price said on Tuesday that he’s taking a few days off during his recovery because he felt as if he wasn’t progressing like he should have been. He added that the original plan was for him to return Thursday, but now his timeframe for a return is up in the air. The lower-body injury, he stressed, is not related to the MCL sprain in his right knee that kept him out for most of the 2015-16 season.

“It’s been a little bit longer than expected. I kind of expected it to be in the two-week range,” Price said.

As added insurance, and with Al Montoya also injured, the Canadiens claimed Antti Niemi on waivers from the Florida Panthers.

Lindgren has helped the Canadiens win three of his four starts while posting a .974 even strength save percentage. It’s the reverse of two years ago when Montreal’s season went down with Price’s injury. The trio of Mike Condon, Dustin Tokarski and Ben Scrivens couldn’t right the ship. If the 23-year-old Minnesota native is the real deal, he’ll not only keep the team afloat, he’ll also provide head coach Claude Julien with some confidence in his backup allowing Price to get plenty of rest in the second half of the season.

“I just want to make sure that I’m 100 percent and do my job to the best of my ability when I come back,” Price said. “I’m just going to make sure that I take my time with it and it won’t be very long.”

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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.