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What the Capitals’ goalie options are without Henrik Lundqvist –



Thursday brought the surprising and sad news that future Hall of Fame goalie Henrik Lundqvist will not be able to play in the forthcoming 2020-21 season due to a heart condition.

Lundqvist, 38, is sixth on the NHL’s all-time wins list and we ranked him as the No. 1 goalie of the 2010s in our decade-closing list last year. After spending 15 years with the New York Rangers organization, Lundqvist was bought out of the final season of his contract this September, and then signed a one-year, $1.5-million deal with the Washington Capitals.

In Washington, he figured to be part of a tandem with 23-year-old Ilya Samsonov, who played 26 games as a rookie, posted a .913 save percentage, but then couldn’t join the Caps in the playoff bubble after sustaining an injury. After Braden Holtby left for Vancouver via free agency, the Caps added Lundqvist to support Samsonov with a veteran they could feel confident starting.

Samsonov was always going to have the inside track on the starter’s job, but Lundqvist could have earned more playing time if he was the better performer. And, in what’s expected to be a condensed schedule, teams with the best tandems might be in a better situation to deal with it. Lundqvist was more than just a backup.

“I see it as we have a good young goalie and we have a great experienced goalie,” Caps GM Brian MacLellan said of Lundqvist’s role after the signing. “Our goal as a team and as an organization is to win games this year and compete for a championship. I would expect him to come in and compete as hard as he can. Coaches will make decisions based on how guys are playing, us winning games, and what’s best for our team.”

Now that Lundqvist is not available, the Caps are left with Samsonov and uncertainty. The free-agent pool is largely picked through, though there are still some veterans out there if experience is desired. Trading for a proven replacement will be difficult at this time, especially considering Washington has so little cap room. So what options are now on the table for the Caps, in their system or in free agency? Here’s a brief overview.


Pheonix Copley: From North Pole, Alaska, ’tis the season for Copley? He’s not a prospect at 28 years old, but he’s also not tremendously experienced in the NHL with 29 career games played, 27 of which came in 2018-19. In that season, Copley posted a .905 save percentage and 2.90 GAA. When Samsonov was ready to go in 2019-20, Copley was put on waivers and sent to the AHL, where he posted a .905 save percentage in 31 games last season.

Vitek Vanecek: He doesn’t check off the veteran box, but 24-year-old Vanecek is maybe the best internal option to replace Lundqvist. Washington’s second-round pick in 2014, Vanecek has spent the past four years in the AHL, splitting time with both Samsonov (in 2018-19) and Copley (in 2019-20). In the most recent season, Vanecek had .917 and 2.26 numbers, both better than Copley. Vanecek has yet to play in a single meaningful NHL game, though he did get a taste in this summer’s Return To Play exhibition, stopping 13 of 14 shots he faced in 20 minutes of action against the Carolina Hurricanes. If Washington doesn’t prefer another veteran signing off the remaining list of UFAs, Vanecek may be the best bet to backup Samsonov.


Craig Anderson: At 39 years old, Anderson may very well be finished in the NHL after the Senators let him go this off-season. Behind that rebuilding team, Anderson had a .902 save percentage and 3.25 GAA last season, and he posted similar numbers in the two preceding seasons as well. Could he perform better behind a better team? It is worth noting that Anderson’s .918 save percentage at 5-on-5 last season was 35th among all goalies with 700 minutes played, and better than Lundqvist, David Rittich, Marc-Andre Fleury, Frederik Andersen, Sergei Bobrovsky, among others. His .827 high-danger save percentage at 5-on-5 ranked 29th.

Ryan Miller: The 40-year-old may be the best mixture of veteran experience and on-ice performance in the UFA market. And he’s played the backup role to a younger goalie (John Gibson) in Anaheim for the past three years. Miller ended 2019-20 with a .907 save percentage and 3.10 GAA on a Ducks team that finished only five points ahead of Ottawa. His 5-on-5 save percentage (.924) and his high-danger save rate (.836) were both top 20 in the league, and better than Anderson’s. But how motivated is he to return right now, and move back to the East coast?

Cory Schneider: This one would seem unlikely because injuries have severely hampered his performance in recent seasons. He ended up playing most of his 2019-20 games in the AHL, and then his contract was bought out by the Devils in October. The 34-year-old does have plenty of experience and was once a high-end player at the position, though it’s been four years since that’s been the case. His recent injury history just might make this move too risky for the Caps.

Jimmy Howard: At 36, Howard is coming off a disastrous season behind the NHL’s worst team, finishing with a 2-23-2 record, .882 save percentage and 4.20 GAA with the Detroit Red Wings. His 5-on-5 save percentage and 5-on-5 high-danger save percentage were both 58th of 59 qualifying goalies.

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Maple Leafs avoid disaster scenario with Jason Spezza clearing waivers – Yahoo Sports



Welcome to our weekly tour of the NHL’s North Division. Fingers crossed that this column will live beyond this season. Do it, NHL. It’s best for everyone.

TORONTO, ON - JANUARY 13:  Jason Spezza #19 of the Toronto Maple Leafs skates against the Montreal Canadiens during an NHL game at Scotiabank Arena on January 13, 2021 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The Maple Leafs defeated the Canadiens 5-4 in overtime. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON – JANUARY 13: Jason Spezza #19 of the Toronto Maple Leafs skates against the Montreal Canadiens during an NHL game at Scotiabank Arena on January 13, 2021 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The Maple Leafs defeated the Canadiens 5-4 in overtime. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

When Sheldon Keefe replaced Mike Babcock as coach of the Toronto Maple leafs less than two months into the 2019-20 NHL season, many of the things he’d say after practice and games seemed to serve as a good ol’ fashioned subtweet towards the man who held the seat before him.

Expressing care and compassion for his players and going out of his way to put them in positions to create special moments they can look back on fondly when their careers are finished, Keefe’s words often belied the actions we saw from the former Maple Leafs coach, who in many ways had a distaste for sentimentality.

TORONTO, ON - JANUARY 13: Frederik Andersen #31 of the Toronto Maple Leafs guards the net with teammate Jason Spezza #19 against Jesperi Kotkaniemi #15 and Joel Armia #40 of the Montreal Canadiens during the third period at the Scotiabank Arena on January 13, 2021 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Mark Blinch/NHLI via Getty Images)TORONTO, ON - JANUARY 13: Frederik Andersen #31 of the Toronto Maple Leafs guards the net with teammate Jason Spezza #19 against Jesperi Kotkaniemi #15 and Joel Armia #40 of the Montreal Canadiens during the third period at the Scotiabank Arena on January 13, 2021 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Mark Blinch/NHLI via Getty Images)
Jason Spezza will remain with the Leafs. (Photo by Mark Blinch/NHLI via Getty Images)

No subject laid these facts bare more accurately than Jason Spezza, who Babcock chose to scratch on opening night last year, denying the veteran the opportunity to experience something special versus his former team — the visiting Ottawa Senators.

In what almost seemed like an effort to make up for the loss of that moment, Keefe started Spezza on a matinee game two days before Christmas last season, on a hunch that his four daughters would be in attendance that afternoon.

As it went, Spezza scored on that opening shift. The special moment once lost, Spezza now had for his family.

Not to paint Keefe as cold in any way, but now one year later it seems we’ve learned a little bit about why the Leafs coach made a concerted effort to make members of the organization feel a certain way — and it was not to criticize or challenge a previous regime.

He’s suggested in his media appearances this season that he believes the team he inherited was, if not broken, seriously fractured. Because of this, he believed his only option in his first weeks and months on the job was to try and improve the feeling and atmosphere around the group. If not the music blaring through the speakers while the team practiced, that at least explained Keefe’s focus on accentuating the players’ strengths, not always attacking their weaknesses.

Fast-forward to now, treading lightly has not been one of Keefe’s mandates in his first full(-ish) season at the helm.

He’s not stroking egos, instead challenging his star players to show more than what they have; he’s revealed that he’s stickler for habits and details, perhaps to the extent that Babcock was; and he’s demanding more from the team’s workouts, changing the foundation in which the club’s on-ice sessions are built around. What’s also true is that as a leading voice in the conversations around roster construction and salary cap manipulation, Keefe, and by extension the Maple Leafs, appear willing to make unpopular decisions, to get blood on their hands.

On Sunday, Spezza, the same player who Keefe and the Maple Leafs management team seemed to believe was owed something for the mistreatment he received previously, was placed on waivers three games into the season, offered up for free to any team that might have interest.

Now, Toronto’s intentions weren’t to show malice, or even to cut ties. Instead, it was a move required to maximize the flexibility on a roster being restricted by the rules governing the salary cap. But regardless of why the decision was made, the reality was that the Leafs made the decision to surrender control of what remains of Spezza’s fabulous career.

Powerless to the decisions of 30 other teams, Spezza’s only defence in preserving the life he and his family chose — which was, accepting less money to settle in his hometown — was his agent desperately working the phones, asserting that his client would simply retired if claimed by another team.

Thankfully, not a single team was convinced the agent was bluffing. Spezza went unclaimed on the open market (though it’s possible that would have happened anyway), preventing an 18-year career from ending on a waiver-wire transaction. Now he’ll be in the Leafs lineup Monday night versus the Winnipeg Jets.

Leafs fans were able to breathe a sigh of relief, and so too should the team’s braintrust.

Because the opportunity that Babcock stole from Spezza would not compare to making the decision that would prevent one the game’s most respected veterans, and a former superstar in the league, from not only exiting the game the way he should, but being blindsided by the end of his playing days.

And elsewhere up north:

Montreal: Would you include Nick Suzuki or Alexander Romanov in a trade for Pierre-Luc Dubois? As much as I believe that PLD would elevate the Canadiens, reaching that next tier may be an opportunity that only exists with Suzuki and Romanov remaining in the fold. The partnership Suzuki has created with Jonathan Drouin and Josh Anderson is so exciting, while Romanov looks like a 10-year veteran on the blue line, having exceeded 22 minutes in his debut. These two players hold the key to meeting the preseason hype. That’s worth seeing through for Marc Bergevin.

But Jesperi Kotkaniemi on the other hand….

Ottawa: How can you not be encouraged by this start? Ottawa split its first two games in 10 months — against the Maple Leafs, no less — and actually came away with a plus goal differential.

And more importantly: Tim Stutzle, y’all.

That’s an unbelievable debut goal.

Toronto: Best sign through three games for the Leafs? John Tavares is flying out there.

Winnipeg: If Patrik Laine decides that his means to earn a trade out of Winnipeg is to score the lights out, we’re in for some serious entertainment. That was special, singular stuff from the Finnish sniper — on and off the ice. It’s too bad he’s already dealing with an injury, though.

Calgary: If this were a ranking of the seven Canadian teams, I would have touched on the Flames first. Just one win through two games, but massive potential shown already with Jacob Markstrom holding things down in net.

Edmonton: It’s crazy how upgrades in net just seem to escape this team. The Oilers went big-game hunting for a goalie over the summer and ended up bringing back Mike Smith. And in their desperate attempts to bring in a third goaltender with Smith on the shelf, they have dudes flying in from Austria and California over the weekend — and are therefore subject to quarantine rules — while Aaron Dell (already in Canada) is claimed by the New Jersey Devils one day later. It’s just not breaking right for the Oil in net, an area that could be the difference in making or not making the playoffs.

Vancouver: I’d be concerned, frankly. The Canucks have seemed second-best in terms of talent in both of their matchups so far this season, having faced the Oilers and Flames to this point. J.T. Miller will help in this regard, obviously, but this team has the look of one that could be overmatched on most nights.

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Maple Leafs avoid disaster scenario with Jason Spezza clearing waivers – Yahoo Canada Sports



The Canadian Press

Confident Buccaneers defence reverts to form at right time

TAMPA, Fla. — Tom Brady’s quest for a seventh Super Bowl ring continues, thanks to a young defence that’s regained its swagger when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers needed it most. The Bucs (13-5) advanced to the NFC championship game for the first time in 18 years, with Brady outplaying Drew Brees with plenty of assistance from a rejuvenated defence that forced four turnovers in a 30-20 divisional playoff victory over the New Orleans Saints. Brady threw for two touchdowns and ran for a third, finishing scoring drives of 3, 40 and 20 yards set up by takeaways by a unit many felt would be a liability in the third meeting of the season between the NFC South rivals. “They played incredible,” said Brady, who is headed to his 14th conference title game — first in the NFC. “This team has been doing that all year at different times,” the 43-year-old quarterback added. “The defence has picked us up, some weeks the offence has been a little bit better. Special teams has been so consistent. The way the defence played (Sunday), they were spectacular.” New Orleans had won five straight over Tampa Bay, including a pair of lopsided wins this season. While the Bucs led the NFL in run defence for the second straight year, a young secondary featuring three starters in their first or second seasons seemed to regress during a stretch in which Tampa Bay dropped three of four games in November. Despite going 4-0 over the final month of the regular season and beating Washington in the NFC wild-card round, questions persisted about the pass defence heading to New Orleans, where Devin White, Sean Murphy-Bunting and Mike Edwards had interceptions and rookie Antoine Winfield Jr., forced a fumble that White scooped up to position Brady to throw a tying TD pass in the third quarter. “We’ve been fighting adversity all year … battling the naysayers and those that say we can’t do things,” Murphy-Bunting said. “I know one thing,” White, a second-year linebacker who was the fifth overall pick in the 2019 draft, added. “We might be young, but we can get after it when we’ve got our minds set to it.” Brees was limited to 134 yards and one TD passing, while Saints star receiver Michael Thomas was held without a catch. NFL touchdown leader Alvin Kamara had 105 yards from scrimmage, but failed to get into the end zone. New Orleans scored early in the third quarter to take a 20-13 lead. Four possessions the rest of the way ended fumble, punt, interception and interception. Now, it’s on to Green Bay for a matchup against Aaron Rodgers and the Packers. The Bucs will need another strong defensive performance. “It’s hard to get to this point,” Brady said. “There’s nothing guaranteed from this point forward, but we’ve got to go out there and we’re going to have to play our very best to beat one of the best teams in the league.” WHAT’S WORKING A huge part of advancing to the NFC championship game for the fourth time in franchise history was Brees turned the ball over and Brady didn’t after throwing five of his 12 interceptions against the Saints during the regular season. The Bucs have won six straight since their bye week in early December, and they’ve only turned the ball over twice during that stretch. WHAT NEEDS HELP Although Brady lauded the overall consistency of the special teams this season, New Orleans’ Deonte Harris returned a punt 54 yards to set up an early field goal. Minutes later, Harris had a 67-yarder for an apparent touchdown nullified by penalty. STOCK UP When it looked as if New Orleans might have an opportunity to take control of the game, Winfield — son of former NFL cornerback Antoine Winfield, Jr. — forced the third-quarter fumble that shifted momentum to Tampa Bay’s favour for good. “I can’t say enough about him,” coach Bruce Arians said. “To me, he’s the defensive rookie of the year.” STOCK DOWN A rare week when mistakes didn’t mar an otherwise impressive performance. INJURED Receiver Antonio Brown suffered a knee injury against the Saints. He had a MRI on Monday. KEY NUMBER One, as in one more road victory needed to become the first team to appear in a Super Bowl in its home stadium. This year’s NFL title game will be played at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida, on Feb. 7. NEXT STEPS A chilly date with the Packers in Green Bay, where the weather forecast is for temperatures in the mid-20s and snow. “You’ve just got to have some mental toughness, wear some warm clothes and be ready to go,” Brady said. “We’ll be prepared. The team that plays the best is going to win.” ___ More AP NFL: and Fred Goodall, The Associated Press

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Dell to Devils after Maple Leafs lose goalie on waivers while Spezza clears –



The Toronto Maple Leafs have lost goaltender Aaron Dell to the waiver wire.

The New Jersey Devils claimed Dell a day after the Maple Leafs put the goaltender on waivers, along with veteran forward Jason Spezza.

The 31-year-old Dell signed a one-year, $800,000 US contract with Toronto in October.

He played in 33 games with the San Jose Sharks in 2019-20, posting a 12-15-3 record.

The native of Airdrie, Alta., had a 48-34-12 record with a 2.76 goals-against average, a .908 save percentage and five shutouts over four seasons with the Sharks.

Spezza cleared waivers and can be assigned to Toronto’s taxi squad.

The Devils have been looking to add goaltending depth behind Mackenzie Blackwood after veteran Corey Crawford retired unexpectedly before the season. New Jersey claimed netminder Eric Comrie from Winnipeg last week.

Meanwhile, Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe says rookie forward Nick Robertson will miss around four weeks with an injury sustained during his NHL debut.

The 19-year-old Robertson was hit into the boards awkwardly by Ottawa’s Drake Batherson in the first period of Toronto’s 3-2 win over the Senators on Saturday.

Keefe told reporters Monday that results of Robertson’s MRI were “better than expected” and that he considers missing around a month to be “good news.”

Robertson was selected by Toronto in the second round, 53rd overall, at the 2019 NHL draft.

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