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NHL Power Rankings: Pressure-packed goalie edition

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For all the change surrounding the sport’s most pressure-packed position, the old puck truism still holds — there are times hockey could simply be called “goaltending.”

The perception around how to draft, deploy and pay goalies has undergone a fairly radical transformation in the past decade or so. The 70-game workhorses are essentially a thing of the past, replaced by batterymates who share the load. Twenty years ago, goalie was the one position little guys could still play. Today, we’ve got five-foot-nothing guys terrorizing tenders on the attack, but the barrier for entry for masked men has become, “You must be at least six feet tall to play this position.” (We see and love you, Juuse Saros).

While the odd hefty contract still gets tossed a goalie’s way, the accepted logic these days is, unless you’re sure you’ve got the modern-day Marty Brodeur in your midst, don’t sink too much money into the position because, let’s be real, nobody really knows how these guys are going to perform from one year to the next, anyway.

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Still, through all that, the fact remains nothing can goose a team’s confidence like great crease play, just as nothing can cause 20 guys to simultaneously stare down at their skates in despair like too many squeakers through the pads.

If you look at the past three NHL Drafts, you’d be inclined to believe the pendulum is swinging back ever so slightly in terms of how teams value goalies. Consider that from 2011 through 2018, no goalies were selected higher than 19th overall. In each of the past three drafts, however, a tender was taken by pick No. 15. And the 2021 draft was the first since the 2006 event to see two goalies go in the top 20 (Sebastian Cossa to Detroit at 15, Jesper Wallstedt to Minnesota at No. 20).

And, hey, the guy with the best save percentage in the league right now — Toronto’s Jack Campbell — was taken 11th overall, higher than every active goalie save Carey Price and Marc-Andre Fleury. Of course, it only took him 10 years and three organizations to prove his worth as a top-flight starter.

Okay, I guess we really don’t know anything about this position beyond, if you find a guy who’s excelling there, ride it out and don’t ask questions. You can bet that’s the approach of numerous teams near the top of this week’s power rankings.

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1. Carolina Hurricanes (12-2-0)
Is anybody happier with their off-season goalie shopping? Frederik Andersen is in the early Vezina conversation and fellow off-season UFA acquisition Antti Raanta looks capable of being his backup — when he’s actually healthy, of course.

2. Florida Panthers (11-2-3)
Bob is back! I guess Sergei Bobrovsky just had to collect $23.5 million in actual salary the past two years in Florida before turning it on. The 33-year-old Russian has sparkling numbers this year and is being pushed by one of those recent high draft picks, American Spencer Knight.

3. Tampa Bay Lightning (8-3-3)
Andrei Vasilevskiy, surely the best-goalie belt holder right now, has allowed one goal in regulation time in five of his past seven outings. In the other two games, he completely fell apart and allowed two. The Bolts would love to get better play from backup Brian Elliott to spell ‘Vasy’ more frequently.

4. Washington Capitals (10-2-5)
Can Ilya Samsonov — who earned his second shutout in four games on Wednesday night — finally grab the bull by the horns? In all likelihood, he and Vitek Vanecek will go back and forth until it’s time to pick a playoff starter.

5. Edmonton Oilers (11-4-0)
No matter what they get from Mikko Koskinen and presently injured Mike Smith, you have to think Edmonton will be kicking goaltending tires ahead of the trade deadline.

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6. Toronto Maple Leafs (11-5-1)
Welcome to the weirdest factoid of the season: The top three goalies in goals-against average (Campbell, Andersen and James Reimer) either play for the Leafs or played for the Leafs. The question in Toronto is whether backup Petr Mrazek can get and stay healthy, thus lightening the load on Campbell.

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7. New York Rangers (10-3-3)
If you’re a Blueshirts backer, you’re surely getting ideas about Igor Shesterkin just grabbing the torch from ‘The King,’ Henrik Lundqvist, and providing New York with top-notch tending for the next decade. Alexandar Georgiev, though, has scuffled this season.

8. Anaheim Ducks (10-4-3)
You know the deal for John Gibson, who’s in the running to be Team USA’s Olympic starter: When healthy, like he is this year, he’s among the best there is.

9. Winnipeg Jets (9-3-3)
Speaking of Team USA, Connor Hellebuyck started slow out of the gate, but has been money in the bank in his past five outings. And pad-slaps to Eric Comrie, who rode the waiver wire around the league the past multiple seasons but has established himself as a great No. 2 in Winnipeg.

10. Minnesota Wild (10-5-0)
Minnesota’s quality start is decidedly not goalie driven. Cam Talbot and Kaapo Kahkonen have combined to provide the third-worst five-on-five save percentage in the league (.911).

11. Colorado Avalanche (7-5-1)
The Avs ponied up to bring in Darcy Kuemper in the off-season and he’s been… perfectly fine. Realistically, the team would just like to see the oft-injured goalie make it through the season without any major dings.

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12. Calgary Flames (8-3-5)
Jacob Markstrom has been a monster in Year 2 with the Flames and Dan Vladar is looking like a great summer pickup.

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13. Philadelphia Flyers (8-4-2)
Carter Hart’s play has placed him firmly back in the conversation to represent Canada at the Olympics. Much more surprising than that, Martin Jones — who has not posted a save percentage above .900 since 2017-18 — has started out with a .931 mark in four outings.

14. Boston Bruins (8-5-0)
You knew the post-Tuukka Rask era was going to be a period of adjustment. Linus Ullmark, signed as a UFA in the summer, has been pretty flat, but youngster Jeremy Swayman has taken the reins of late and looked very solid.

15. Vegas Golden Knights (9-7-0)
Robin Lehner is looking more like himself after a slow start, as for the first time in a while, there’s a clear goalie hierarchy in the desert. Nobody has faced more rubber this year than Lehner, who’s seen 444 shots.

16. Columbus Blue Jackets (8-5-0)
It’s been a tale of two months. Elvis Merzlikins and Joonas Korpisalo combined to supply the fourth-best October five-on-five save percentage, but they’ve dipped all the way to 31st in November.

17. Nashville Predators (9-6-1)
While Preds fans surely poured one out for retired franchise legend Pekka Rinne, Juuse Saros has soared in his first season as the unquestioned No. 1.

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18. New Jersey Devils (7-4-3)
It’s a small four-game sample size, but Mackenzie Blackwood has looked great since returning from a heel injury. The 24-year-old is another guy in the mix for Canada’s crease. Jonathan Bernier, meanwhile, continues to spend his early-30s being a serviceable backup.

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19. St. Louis Blues (8-5-2)
Jordan Binnington has been okay in the Blues crease, but he’s likely a little overworked. That should change now that Ville Husso has returned from the COVID-19 list.

20. Los Angeles Kings (8-6-2)
America’s last Olympic goalie (at least when NHLers went) looks like he wants to be there eight years later, too. Jonathan Quick, at age 35, is having a throwback season, posting a .940 save percentage, while Calvin Petersen has had some ups and downs.

21. San Jose Sharks (8-6-1)
You know what Reimer’s save percentage in 16 games over two stops in San Jose is? Try .940. I guess this guy belongs in Northern California.

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22. Detroit Red Wings (8-8-2)
Summer addition Alex Nedeljkovic has settled in, registering a .921 save percentage in his past seven games.

23. New York Islanders (5-6-2)
Ilya Sorokin has been spectacular carrying the water for a team that — after a 13-game roadie — will finally play its first home game on Saturday. And now that Semyon Varlamov is back from injury, the Isles should have one of the best tandems back up and running soon.

24. Buffalo Sabres (7-6-2)
Craig Anderson’s injury halted a nice run for him, but plucky Dustin Tokarski is still plugging along with a shiny .921 mark.

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25. Pittsburgh Penguins (5-6-4)
It’s been a grind this year in Pittsburgh, but Tristan Jarry has done his part with a .917 save percentage. The club could use a little more out of backup Casey DeSmith.

26. Dallas Stars (6-6-2)
Braden Holtby started hot, cooled and now he’s hurt. The time is now for 22-year-old Jake Oettinger to step up.

27. Chicago Blackhawks (5-9-2)
Marc-Andre Fleury had a really rough start in Chicago, but last year’s Vezina Trophy winner is putting it together with three straight wins and a .931 save percentage.

28. Ottawa Senators (4-10-1)
Matt Murray may be signed long-term, but Filip Gustavsson has to be the long-term hope for Sens fans. He’s shown flashes he can be the man.

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29. Vancouver Canucks (5-10-2)
Things are sliding off the rails in B.C. and while Thatcher Demko and Jaroslav Halak have made more than their share of high-danger saves, the goalies can’t escape blame here.

30. Montreal Canadiens (4-12-2)
It’s already a lost year in Montreal, so — with Carey Price and Jake Allen both currently out — maybe now is the time to get prospect Cayden Primeau a string of big-league starts.

31. Seattle Kraken (4-11-1)
Remember when it seemed like goaltending would be a strength for this new squad? Seattle’s .863 five-on-five save percentage is the worst mark in the league and last year’s Vezina finalist, Philipp Grubauer, has an .877 save percentage overall.

32. Arizona Coyotes (2-13-1)
It’s not a lot to put your arms around, but Scott Wedgewood has looked sharp in four games since coming over from New Jersey on waivers.





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MLB Remains Undecided On A Monumental Rule Change

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(Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images)

 

MLB has decided to try the automated strike zone during minor league play.

In fact, they have been trying it for a while and they have liked the results.

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However, they remain undecided to implement it in Major League Baseball for the 2024 season, according to MLB insider Bob Nightengale.

“There still has been no decision about whether there will be an automated strike zone in MLB in 2024, Rob Manfred says,” he tweeted.

The fact that there has been no decision yet doesn’t mean the situation can’t change in the upcoming days or weeks.

For now, all we know is that the automated zone won’t be used in 2023.

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However, 2024 might be a different story.

There are conflicting reports about MLB umpires’ success rate in 2022 and recent seasons, but with Twitter and other tech resources becoming more widespread, their failures become more evident by the day.

 

Social Media Has Exposed Umpires

Social media usually exposes a lot of MLB umpires, and while there are some of them who can be considered excellent at what they do (for example, Pat Hoberg called a game with no mistakes in the World Series), it seems like they make too many blunders and botch lots of calls that can ultimately change the outcome of a game.

In an effort to make the game more fair, the league could be willing to introduce the “robo umpires” in the not so distant future.

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Could it be in 2024?

Maybe, but there is nothing official yet.

Manfred had said in June that there could be two options for the automated zone to work in MLB: the first one would have the robo-umpires serve as an automated system, calling pitches and communicating balls and strikes to human umpires with an earpiece; and a second alternative would have robo umpires as a review and replay system of balls and strikes that lets skippers challenge calls.

We will have to wait to know if the technology will be used in 2024 or in the future.

The post MLB Remains Undecided On A Monumental Rule Change appeared first on The Cold Wire.

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MLB Insider Applauds The Josh Bell Fit In Cleveland

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The Cleveland Guardians, not known for spending too much on free agents, made their move on Tuesday afternoon.

The MLB Winter Meetings set the scene for a lot of surprising moves in recent hours, and the Guardians certainly made one with their addition of first baseman/designated hitter Josh Bell.

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Bell is going to Cleveland for the next two seasons and $33 million.

He has the ability to opt out after the 2023 campaign if he wants.

MLB insider Buster Olney praised the signing and said he was a player the Guardians clearly needed.

“Josh Bell is a great fit for the Guardians. They needed a thumper in the middle of their order, and yes, a switch-hitter, a Cleveland lineup tradition,” he tweeted.

Bell is not particularly good with the glove, but as long as he can mash, it probably won’t matter.

 

Bell Can Provide Some Power

He had a strong season between the Washington Nationals and the San Diego Padres, hitting .266/.362/.422 with 17 home runs and a 123 wRC+, or 23 percent better than the league-average batter.

He also hit 29 doubles and three triples, so while he won’t win a Home Run Derby, he is more than capable of providing some much-needed thump to the Guardians’ lineup.

The move for Bell also gives them flexibility to send Josh Naylor to the DH spot, or have him alternate first base and the DH with Bell.

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With Bell, Andres Gimenez, Jose Ramirez, Amed Rosario, Steven Kwan, and Oscar Gonzalez, the Guardians lineup is starting to take shape.

If they can land a top hitting catcher, they could be hard to stop in the AL Central.

They still have several months of offseason left to achieve that objective.

They are putting together a talented team for 2023.

The post MLB Insider Applauds The Josh Bell Fit In Cleveland appeared first on The Cold Wire.

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Homan defeats Wrana to start run at WFG Masters

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OAKVILLE, Ont. — Ottawa’s Team Rachel Homan picked up where they left off in the Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling series.

After winning the HearingLife Tour Challenge in October, Team Homan kicked off their run in the WFG Masters with an 8-6 win over Team Isabella Wranå from Sweden in Draw 3 Tuesday at Sixteen Mile Sports Complex.

Tied 5-5 after five, Homan grabbed the lead for good with a three-ender in the sixth.

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Wranå was limited to just a single in the seventh and Homan didn’t have to throw her last in the eighth end as Wranā was unable to get shot rock.

The HearingLife Tour Challenge victory was Homan’s record-extending 12th Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling women’s title.

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Elsewhere, Winnipeg’s Team Chelsea Carey stole one point in the eighth end to beat Sweden’s Team Anna Hasselborg 5-4.

Team Michele Jäggi took two in the eighth end for the 6-5 win over Team Silvana Tirinzoni in a Swiss derby and South Korea’s Team Eun-Ji Gim downed Team Casey Scheidegger of Lethbridge, Alta., 9-3.

UP NEXT

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The WFG Masters continues with Draw 4 at 6:30 p.m. ET.

Broadcast coverage begins Thursday at 11:30 a.m. ET / 8:30 a.m. PT on Sportsnet and Sportsnet NOW (Canada).

NOTES

The WFG Masters is the third event of the 2022-23 Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling season featuring 16 of the top men’s teams and 16 of the top women’s teams from around the world. … Round-robin play runs through to Friday as teams play four games against opponents outside of their pools. … The top eight teams overall advance to Saturday afternoon’s quarterfinals. The semifinals are set for Saturday evening with both finals on tap for Sunday.

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