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Tag:Jimmy Howard
Posted on: September 28, 2011 1:48 pm
Edited on: September 28, 2011 4:15 pm
 

Central Division Preview: 'Hawks, Wings battle on

By Brian Stubits

Enjoy this while you can, there's no telling what the Central will look like next season.

One of the premier rivalries in the sport is the Blackhawks vs. the Red Wings. The only two Original Six teams in the West, they have long been fierce combatants. In recent years the Blackhawks have awoken from the doldrums, making this a great series once again.

But this could be it, especially if Detroit has its way. Realignment is coming to the NHL, that much is guaranteed after Atlanta moved to Winnipeg. The Red Wings organization has made it no secret it wants to move East, rivalry with Chicago be damned. Columbus and Nashville would both welcome a move East as well. Something's gotta give, and it will be the Central Division.

It's too bad. Because this year the division is set up to be about more than just these two powers.

Nashville is always sneaky good. People seem to sleep on the Predators every season, but you know they will be there. They are looking to build off the first postseason series win in franchise history with their three Stars in contract seasons. St. Louis seems to think its Blues are ready to make a leap, so long as they can stay healthy. That was a challenge last season. And Columbus? Well there is at least optimism for the first time in a while and some buzz around the team after the addition of Jeff Carter and James Wisniewski to join Rick Nash.

But as many strides as those teams have and are taking, in the end it will likely still be about the two powerhouses. That's because the Blackhawks are back. They suffered a little last year after winning the Stanley Cup as they had to shed a lot of salary. That meant jettisoning a good chunk of the team that won the Cup. But the core remained together and the team found its groove in the end, pushing the Canucks to the brink in the first round. But after an offseason of reinforcing the roster, Chicago figures to be in the thick until the end.

And Detroit? The Red Wings are ... well they're just the Wings. It's hard to imagine them not being good. Although this year they don't seem to be as loaded as usual, those are some pretty lofty standards. They will still be a threat not only for the division title but in the Western Conference, they can flat out score. That much we know.

So if this is it as division rivals, it should be fun.

Central Division (in predicted order of finish)

PenguinsChicago Blackhawks: Ah, it's nice to be out of salary cap hell, isn't it Chicago? After having to do major salary shedding, the Blackhawks still come out with a cast of characters that includes the names Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, Patrick Sharp and newcomer Andrew Brunette. Throw in Dan Carcillo and Jamal Mayers to give the team some nastiness power and the forwards are well-rounded.

On defense they will miss Brian Campbell, just not his salary. Sure, he is overpaid, but that doesn't mean he didn't bring anything to the table for the 'Hawks. But the defensive corps is still solid, led by Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Niklas Hjalmarsson. Expectations are very high in Chicago once again.

Strenghts: It's tough to find a better pair of linemates than Toews and Kane. They are both still stepping into their primes, so they have a lot more to show. Those two are also part of the reason why the power play should once again be successful. Last season the unit ranked fourth in the NHL with the man up, led by Sharp's 12 goals on the power play.

They figure to be better at killing penalties thanks to the additions of Mayers, Steve Montador and Sean O'Donnell, an area where Chicago struggled last season.

Weaknesses: Depth at center is a major concern at this point. The team has been experimenting during camp with Patrick Kane, of all players, manning the center position. Maybe it's an indictment on the centers on the roster. Perhaps it's an indication of Patrick Sharp's health (or lack thereof). Whatever the reason, it's slightly concerning.

I would also be a little worried about the backup goaltender situation behind Corey Crawford. Alexander Salak is going to have the job and he might be more than adequate in the role, we just don't know much about him at the NHL level where he has little experience.

PenguinsDetroit Red Wings: The Wings are remarkably consistent as they have made the playoffs in each of the past 20 seasons. They also stay consistent in their roster, retaining a lot of their players over time. Case in point, this year's forward group. The Wings will trot out mostly all the same forwards as a year ago for when they finished second in the NHL in scoring.

But the defensive corps received quite a shakeup after last season's 2.89 goals against average, the retirement of Brian Rafalski and loss of Ruslan Salei.

In net they have Jimmy Howard with Ty Conklin backing him up. You have to wonder how much confidence Ken Holland and Mike Babcock have in their starter Howard, though, after the team had a failed pursuit of Tomas Vokoun.

Strengths: As mentioned, the Red Wings can score, almost all of them. Last season there were 13 players that recorded double digits in goals scored, led by Johan Franzen's 28. There is certainly loads of experience in Detroit, too. These guys aren't in their first rodeos. That especially includes defensive stalwart Nicklas Lidstrom, who put of retirement for another year on the ice.

Having the leadership that players like Lidstrom can provide certainly doesn't hurt. Also, you might have heard this Babcock fellow on their bench isn't so bad.

Weaknesses: Defense, defense, defense. That is the major concern/question mark here. They revamped the D, bringing in Mike Commodore and Ian White through free agency. Young defenseman Jonathan Ericsson received a pretty lucrative new deal, so he will be expected to improve.

In the defensive vein, the goaltending will also need to get better. Of course, that goes hand in hand with the defense, but Howard has room to improve. Playing for the Wings, his record was solid -- a nice 37-17-5 mark -- but the goals against average of 2.79 (36th out of 47 eligible goalies) and save percentage of .908 (33rd best) aren't worth writing home about.

PenguinsNashville Predators: Hope is high in Smashville coming off the best showing in franchise history, making it to conference semifinals. The Predators have more or less become the NHL's version of a Moneyball team, continuing to cultivate home-grown talent and win on the cheap.

The team is led by the high-profile trio of goalie Pekka Rinne (Vezina finalist) and defensemen Shea Weber (Norris finalist) and Ryan Suter, who are all going into contract seasons. It will be interesting to see how that plays out for each of them. For some players, it's a major distraction, for others it brings out the best playing for a new deal.

If there's anything we've learned about the Predators in recent years it's not to count them out, at least as long as Barry Trotz is on the bench. Maybe this will be the year he finally wins the Jack Adams as the best coach?

Strengths: The Preds have one of the best defenses in all of hockey. That's due to a multitude of reasons stretching from Trotz's system and philosophy to the outstanding personnel on the blue line -- which might get stronger with the addition of heralded prospect Ryan Ellis -- and the elite goaltending of Rinne. All in all, it led to the team posting the third-lowest GAA a season ago.

The farm system is also a strength, it usually is for Nashville. In addition to Ellis, they have forward Craig Smith, who drew rave reviews by scoring six goals in two games in the team's rookie tournament games.

Weaknesses: You would love to have somebody who is the clear-cut scorer on the team. Unfortunately, the Preds just don't score a lot, period, forget about one player. Only two players (Sergei Kostitsyn and Patric Hornqvist) topped the 20-goal mark with Kostitsyn pacing the team with 23. Perhaps a healthy Mike Fisher can help with that, at least that's the hope.

As you'd expect with low offensive numbers, the power play placed in the bottom five of the entire league a season ago. The leading power-play scorer was Martin Erat last season with seven.

PenguinsSt. Louis Blues: After coming out of the gate firing 9-1-2 last season, the Blues slowed down as the season wore along, eventually missing the playoffs by 10 points partly because the team dealt with a rash of injuries. Despite that finish, there is positive momentum going in St. Louis and the ownership sees it. That's why they left the young core of the team pretty much untouched this offseason, just electing to bring in a couple of savvy veterans in Jamie Langenbrunner and Jason Arnott to make an impact.

You can see the potential here, especially with another year under their belts. It will be interesting to see how they fare over a full season with Chris Stewert, who they acquired midseason from Colorado last year. After getting the forward, the Blues' offense saw a big uptick in scoring, eventually finishing 10th in the league.

Defensively they came in just below the median at 18th in the league. The Blues should be in the playoff picture all season long.

Strengths: There is a good amount of individual talent here, starting with Stewart and new captain David Backes. In all, they had six players last season score 20 goals or more and one of them, Andy McDonald, reached that plateau in just 58 games. With the abundance of talented and skilled skaters this is a team with plenty of speed up and down the lineup.

You also have to like the young defensive corps that has two stars in the making with Alex Pietrangelo and Kevin Shattenkirk, who each had 43 points from the back end a season ago.

Weaknesses: We weren't entirely sure where to put goaltending in this equation since Jaroslav Halak had some struggles in his first season as a No. 1 goaltender. However he showed what he's capable of when he was with the Canadiens. But based on his just average numbers of a season ago and the unsure situation behind him (Ben Bishop vs. Brian Elliott), we'll put this as our best guess.

Another area where the Blues are lacking is in the physicality department. You wonder where exactly the toughness will come from.

PenguinsColumbus Blue Jackets: What is that coming from Columbus? Is that hope? Why yes, I think it is. GM Scott Howson was active this summer by bringing in Wisniewski and Carter along with Vinny Prospal and Radek Martinek on the blue line. In addition to signing new players, Howson was also busy in signing his current players to long-term deals, specifically R.J. Umberger and Fedor Tyutin.

Yes, the Jackets are spending money, that's not the problem. What is is the matter of how bang for the buck they are getting. To put it in perspective, the Jackets currently have a higher payroll than the Boston Bruins. The hope is that it translates into success, and a few more fans at the turnstiles as Columbus was 27th in the league in attendance last season.

Strenghts: They have struggled to score recently, but that should be done with, or at least minimized. They have a true No. 1 center now in Carter, which should only further help Nash show he is one of the best players people don't talk about in the NHL. The power play, perhaps Columbus' biggest bug-a-boo in recent seasons, should be significantly better now that they have a quarterback for the unit in Wisniewski (when he's back from suspension) and two very capable scorers up front. It had to get better from last year's 29th-ranked unit.

Weaknesses: Did somebody say goaltending? This is one area where the Blue Jackets didn't do a whole lot of upgrading. Instead, they elected to give the starting reins back to Steve Mason and signing the inexperienced Mark Dekanich to be his backup. Since winning the Calder as the league's top rookie, Mason has struggled. Last season he had a 3.01 goals against average and .901 save percentage. That's a big reason why the Jackets were 26th in scoring in the league.

And while Wisniewski helps, there still isn't much scoring threat from the blue line. Tyutin led Columbus in scoring among defensemen with just 27 points.

NHL season preview schedule
Wed., Sept. 21: Step-back players Tues., Sept. 27: Atlantic Division
Thur., Sept. 22: Breakout players Wed., Sept. 28: Central Division
Fri., Sept. 23: Southeast Division Thur. Sept. 29: Northeast Division
Mon., Sept. 26: Pacific Division Fri., Sept. 30: Northwest Division

Photo: Getty Images

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: September 21, 2011 10:42 pm
Edited on: September 21, 2011 10:45 pm
 

Malkin looks strong in return



By: Adam Gretz


PITTSBURGH -- Playing for the first time since tearing his ACL last January, Penguins forward Evgeni Malkin returned to the lineup on Wednesday night during Pittsburgh's preseason opener and looked to be the best player on the ice every single time he stepped on it.

Malkin, who missed the last half of the 2010-11 season, and all of the playoffs, scored a goal and added an assist in the Penguins' 3-2 win against the Detroit Red Wings. More than the actual numbers, Malkin just simply appeared to be on another level than everybody else, which has to be a positive sign for the Penguins seeing as how Sidney Crosby's availability is still unknown at this point as he continues to recover from a concussion.

With Malkin and Crosby out of the lineup last season the Penguins offense dropped significantly in the second half of the season, and was pretty much nonexistent in the playoffs when they lost to the Tampa Bay Lightning in seven games in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals. Until Crosby returns, Malkin is going to have to be the go-to-guy offensively for the Penguins, something he's proven to be more than capable of in the past (think back to the 2007-08 season when Crosby missed over 20 games with an ankle injury, and how Malkin pretty much became one of the two or three best players in the league).

Of course, it's important to keep everything in its proper perspective and remember that this was simply the first game of the preseason against what was, outside of Pavel Datsyuk -- who was by far Detroit's best player on the night -- and a handful of other regulars, the Red Wings minor leaguers. Still, Malkin was the type of force at both ends of the ice that he was during the 2008-09 season when he won the Art Ross and Conn Smythe Trophies, creating turnovers on the forecheck and dangling his way through the Red Wings defense.  

After recording an assist on the Penguins first goal, which was scored by Chris Kunitz, Malkin picked up his first goal of the preseason when he blew past Red Wings defenseman Garnet Exelby (video above) and bounced a shot in off of goaltender Jimmy Howard.

Howard had a rough night in the crease for the Wings as all three of three of the goals that he surrendered seemed to bounce off of him on their way into the net. Red Wings head coach Mike Babcock was especially upset with the third goal he allowed, a power play tally from Matt Niskanen, which trickled through Howard after he initially appeared to make the stop.

The Penguins seemed to tilt the ice on Detroit a bit in the second period, outshooting them by a 14-7 margin.

"We had tons of chances," said Babcock "I thought they had a few more shots go in the net. I thought we had lots of opportunities tonight. They had a better second period and I thought Malkin was real good, but they scored one on the power play, which I didn't like. Shouldn't have went in."

Howard played the first two periods, stopping 17 of the 20 shots he faced.

After Malkin, the second best player on the ice was clearly Datsyuk as he picked up an assist on both Detroit goals, including a nifty saucer pass to set up Jiri Hudler for the Red Wings' second goal of the game.

"He made some things happen tonight," said Babcock regarding Datsyuk's play. "Just like Malkin, they were better than anybody else tonight, so they're fun guys to watch."

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.

Posted on: September 6, 2011 9:44 pm
 

Why Tomas Vokoun chose Capitals over Red Wings

VokounBy: Adam Gretz

It's not often that you hear about a player turning down a contract offer from the Detroit Red Wings because another team gives him a better opportunity to win the Stanley Cup.

It usually works the other way around, seeing as how the Red Wings have appeared in five of the past 14 Stanley Cup Finals, winning four of them.

For example: Prior to the 2008-09 season Marian Hossa, who had been on the losing end  of the Stanley Cup Final the previous season as a member of the Pittsburgh Penguins (against the Red Wings), turned down more lucrative offers in free agency to sign a one-year deal with Detroit because that was the team he felt gave him the best chance to win. As it turned out, his decision didn't work out for him that season (the Red Wings ended up losing to the Penguins) and Hossa would have to wait another year to eventually get his ring as a member of the Chicago Blackhawks.

Earlier this offseason former Panthers goalie Tomas Vokoun signed a one-year, $1.5 million deal with the Washington Capitals, which seems like an incredible value for Washington since the 35-year-old Vokoun has been one of the better goalies in the league in recent years.

On Tuesday, he spoke with Tarik El-Bashir of the Washington Post and confirmed that he had turned down an offer from the Red Wings because he felt the Capitals roster this season is closer to winning the cup, as well as family considerations (he said it would be easier for his family to visit Washington than Detroit, while the Capitals have an easier travel schedule).

Of all the reasons given, the opinion that Washington is closer to a Cup certainly stands out.

From the Post:
“Looking at Washington’s lineup compared to Detroit, they are comparable teams,” Vokoun said. “But Detroit in last 10 years won three times Stanley Cup. And Washington never won it. But that’s a lot better challenge for me and the team, to be able to do something special.”

He later added: “My belief is this team has a better chance to win than Detroit does. And they showed a lot more interest, so that was the key for me, too.”
Vokoun didn't specifically address it, but it might also be worth pointing out that the starting job may have been easier to obtain in Washington (where Michal Neuvirth was the returning starter) than it would have been in Detroit (Jimmy Howard). Both teams are likely to be at the top of their respective conferences when the regular season ends, so it all comes down to the playoffs.

On paper the Capitals seemingly have everything a team would need to not only contend for the Cup, but also win it. They can score, they have one of the best offensive-defenseman in the NHL (Mike Green) and added some nice role players this offseason with Joel Ward and Troy Brouwer, to go along with Vokoun, a legitimate No. 1 goaltender in recent years. But it seems like we've been saying that for a couple of years now, and the playoff record is what it is. They've won their division in each of the past four seasons, finishing as the top seed in the Eastern Conference two years in a row, but have managed to get out of the first round only twice over that stretch, and never beyond the second round.

They should be close to winning it, and perhaps Vokoun is one of the missing pieces to getting them there.

Photo: Getty Images

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.

Posted on: July 12, 2011 11:42 am
Edited on: July 12, 2011 2:29 pm
 

Daily Skate: NHL wins beer fight, Bryzgalov ready

By Brian Stubits

BEER LEAGUE: The NHL received some great news early on Tuesday when word came down that the league's sponsorship deal with Molson Coors to make it the official beer of the NHL for a reported $375 million would stand. The contention regarded Labatt's relationship with the NHL, with Labatt's saying it already had the rights to the Canadian teams. In the end, it's a huge win for the league, which had a lot of money to be won in the deal.

UP TO THE TASK: Will there be a more scrutinized goaltender next season than Ilya Bryzgalov? The Flyers reconstructed their roster partly to get Bryzgalov on the roster and minding the net so the pressure will be heavy in that regard. Plus, it's Philadelphia and the city hasn't had the Stanley Cup since 1975. The pressure can be a burden. But Bryzgalov is ready to handle the heat. "I want to be the guy who can carry this team," Bryzgalov said yesterday in a conference call. The spotlight's on.

WINGING IT: Yesterday, colleague Adam Gretz told you about the very limited options the Red Wings have in net to back up Jimmy Howard. Detroit GM Ken Holland is working through the issue, too, signing Joey MacDonald yesterday to a two-way deal and now stating his desire to get in touch with Chris Osgood about another season in Hockeytown. If it's not Osgood, Holland also would be interested in talking to former Wing Ty Conklin.

HOWDY SCOTT: With every passing day, fans get more and more access to the inner workings of the sports world. The latest is the outreach from Columbus Blue Jackets GM Scott Howson, who recently joined Twitter (@GMScottHowson) and started blogging -- joining Washington Capitals owner Ted Leonsis in that department. Howson is surprisingly open in things he posts, not being as secretive as one might expect. In his most recent blog entry, he recounts the past few weeks of numerous transactions both for the Jackets and the NHL as a whole.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @cbssportsnhl and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: July 11, 2011 2:02 pm
Edited on: July 11, 2011 3:56 pm
 

Detroit's options limited for backup goaltender

ChrisOsgood

By Adam Gretz

The Red Wings went into the workday Monday with  only one goaltender under contract for the upcoming season -- returning starter Jimmy Howard, who is signed through next year at a cap hit of $2.25 million. By Monday afternoon the club had reached a two-year, two-way contract with backup Joey MacDonald, with the possibility remaining that veteran Chris Osgood could be returning to the mix as well.

MacDonald's deal will pay him an average annual salary of $550,000 if he plays in the NHL, and $105,000 if he plays in the minor leagues, according to Helene St. James of the Detroit Free Press. General manager Ken Holland said, via St. James, that MacDonald is likely to open the season as the Red Wings' No. 3 goalie and that the team is still looking to add another veteran to backup Howard.

Speculation has naturally turned to Osgood, a 17-year veteran who has had two different stints wearing the winged wheel, in large part because other veteran free agents have already landed in other spots, including Tomas Vokoun in Washington and Jose Theodore in Florida. Other than Osgood, the remaining unrestricted free agent options include Pascal Leclaire, Ty Conklin (who has spent time with the Red Wings in the past and has been mentioned as a possibility this offseason), Patrick Lalime, Marty Turco and Ray Emery. In all honesty, that's pretty interchangeable group.

Osgood, who turns 39 in November, was limited to 11 games last season because of injury and has appeared in just 34 games over the past two seasons, recording a .892 save percentage.

The potential Howard-Osgood-MacDonald trio isn't the greatest collection of goaltenders across the league, but goaltending hasn't really been the backbone of the franchise in the cap era. Instead, the Red Wings have loaded up on their forwards and defense and made smaller investments between the pipes.

Over the past three years, Detroit has been in the bottom-five in terms of the percentage of its payroll that's been invested in goalies (fifth lowest in 2008-09, third lowest in 2009-10 and fifth lowest in 2009-10) and currently has the smallest commitment for 2011-12.

Regardless of who the team signs to play behind Howard this season, its investment in goaltending isn't likely to be a significant one.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @cbssportsnhl and @agretz on Twitter.

Posted on: March 1, 2011 3:23 am
Edited on: March 1, 2011 3:38 am
 

Morning faceoff 3-1-11: Deadline afterglow

The unbridled fervor that was the 2011 trading deadline -- maybe we’re overstating that a bit -- is over. There were 35 players moved via 16 trades on Monday, sort of a letdown that some of us saw coming since so much movement occurred several days earlier. As our CBSSpors.com hockey writer Wes Goldstein points out, there were 21 deals involving 43 players and 17 draft picks in the first 27 days of February -- the most active month since the lockout.

But here’s a rundown of Monday’s transactions

PENNER BACK TO SOCAL:  The major deal of the day saw Dustin Penner, who came up the ranks with the Anaheim Ducks and helped lead them to a title in 2007, move from the Edmonton Oilers to the Los Angeles Kings. The Oilers, in turn, received minor league defenseman Colten Teubert, a first-round pick this summer and a conditional third-round pick in 2012, which could become a second-round selection if the Kings break through and win their first Stanley Cup in team history. As Helene Elliott of the Los Angeles Times reports, the deal came to pass after the Kings were told Dallas Stars center Brad Richards was not available. The upside on Penner is that he has a year left on his deal, meaning he’s not your average rental.

CAPS MAKES MOVES, BUT NOT IN NET: The Washington Capitals made two separate trades before the deadline, dealing for defenseman Dennis Wideman (Florida Panthers) and center Jason Arnott (New Jeresey Devils.) But GM George McPhee didn’t add a veteran goalie. It was another indication that the club is happy to go with their oft-injured young duo Semyon Varlamov and Michal Neuvirth. This stance didn’t sit too well with columnist/author John Feinstein in December and while Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom are each plodding through a horrid season in the scoring column, goaltending tends to be the Achilles for so many teams come playoff time. (Including controversies in net for the Caps the last two postseasons.) McPhee also told reporters that defenseman Mike Green would be out “a couple of weeks and maybe a little longer.”

FOX, TURNER IN FRAY:  FOX and Turner are apparently checking out the possibility of bidding for the NHL television rights package, The Sports Business Journal reports this week. (Second item here.) That would make four networks -- including current rightsholder Comcast (NBC/Versus) and ESPN -- in the hunt for the league’s domestic TV rights, which are set to expire at season’s end. FOX could potentially put the NHL on its FX cable channel, while Turner may bring games to truTV, the channel formerly known as Court TV. 

OH YEAH, THERE WERE GAMES: The Chicago Blackhawks, looking to avoid becoming only the second team over the last 70 years to win the Stanley Cup only to miss the playoff the following season, won their fifth consecutive game with a 4-2 decision over the Minnesota Wild on Monday. The win moves the ‘Hawks up to fifth place in the tight Western Conference standings, where fourth-place (Phoenix Coyotes) and 11th-place (Anaheim Ducks) are separated by just five points entering play Tuesday. Monday’s action also featured goalie Jimmy Howard, who signed a two-year extension with Detroit Red Wings on Monday. The first four goals scored in the game went into his net, but Drew Miller scored twice as the Wings tallied seven unanswered goals for a 7-4 win. Penner didn't make it in time for the game, but is expected to join the team in L.A. on Tuesday. 


 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com