While many, and with good reason, have written Tyler Myers and Matt Duchene in on the Calder ballot already with a couple weeks of hockey still to play, the 3rd spot is possibly still debated by some.
The majority say John Tavares will get it. Some believe recently traded Atlanta Thrashers stud Niklas Bergfors can steal that spot. But the one that few are talking about, and I think is not only a serious contender, but also, a serious contender to win it, is Jim Howard.
Howard, the Detroit Red Wings barely 26 year old (aka- Calder eligible) starting goalie was on no ones radar at the start of the year, mainly because he was the undisputed back up in Detroit to long time veteran and past Stanley Cup winning goaltender Chris Osgood. But as Ozzie faultered early on, Howard stepped in and was a solid 2nd option. Since the Olympic break Howard has been the undisputed #1 in Detroit, going 12-2-1 in that time. In fact, since the start of the calendar year, Osgood only has 2 decisions (0-2-0), while Howard is 20-7-7 in that same timespan. it took till December, 3 months into the season for the Wings to realize who the real #1 was in their organization. If it took THEM that long, you can understand why sports writers and fans alike are still overlooking statistically, the 2nd or 3rd best goalie in hockey right now. Here is a guy who should be in Vezina talks by TV analysts & writers, but is barely even getting Calder mentions.
Its easy to see why Howard is overlooked by some. Statistically, he isnt the top rookie goalie....sort of. If it were not for Boston Bruins star Tuukka Rask also having a solid year, Howards dominance might seem more impressive for a rookie. But with Rask (who would also be a contender, if not for the fact he only has 40 GP) having a better GAVE & SPCT on the season, Howards 2.27 GAVE & .926 SPCT (both in the top 5 in the NHL) doesnt seem as spectacular to some. But it really is spectacular, and someone needs to start taking notice.
He is in the top 5 in the two most notable categories for goalie in the entire NHL. He is 10th in Wins, despite starting the year as the back up. He currently is riding a 6 game winning streak, and hasnt lost in regulation time since March 9th, despite playing in every game in that time. With a .918 SPCT, and a 2.23 GAVE in the month of March, for a team fighting for their playoff lives, his play has been nothing short of incredible.
Even while having more wins than Jose Theodore, the starting goalie for the #1 team in hockey, and Cristobal Huet, the #1 goalie for the Blackhawks 3rd in the NHL & topcs in teh Wings division, Howard seems to fly under the radar to everyone. He had far superior stats to Tim Thomas and even Jonathan Quick going into the Olympics, yet didnt get the call from Team USA. The guy just seems to get no respect. Even the Red Wings, who kept riding Osgood early in the season, despite Howard constantly having better stats in the limited games he was getting, overlooked him. I suspect, sports writers will do the same when voting for the Calder too.
There is only 2 goalies with a better GAVE than him who have played more than 40 games. There is only 2 goalies with a better SPCT than him who have played more than 40 games.
If you take out Hart contender, Ryan Miller from the equation, theres only 1 goalie in each of those categories. Miikka Kiprusoff in GAVE, Tomas Vokoun in SPCT. Jim Howard should be considered for the Vezina trophy. Let alone the Calder. But he wont, because the writers dont have a familiarity with him yet that they do with statistically inferior stars like Nabokov, Lundqvist, Bryzgalov, Brodeur or Luongo. All who have "good" stats, but not amazing stats. All who have inferior stats to Howard.
When you consider that Matt Duchene, the NHL rookie scoring leader has only 53 pts & 23 goals on the season. Stats that put him 62nd in points, and 50th in Goals amongst forwards, is a lock on the Calder ballots, Howard should be too. Howard is more dominant in his position than Duchene has been at his. More of a case can be made for Tyler Myers than Duchene. He is afterall in the top 10 in defenseman points, goals and top 20 in +/-. But he still, statistically is not dominating his position as much as Howard is his.
Against the 9 teams statistically ahead of the Wings currently in the league, Howard has 13-2-4 record. He has 13 wins against the top 9 teams in the league. He has beat all of them but 2, Washington and New Jersey. He also didnt get the chance to face Washington or NJ. So he has beaten all the teams above the Wings currently that he has had the chance to face. Probably not going to be a Vezina finalist, and possibly not even a Calder finalist. HOW??
There is a realistic chance Jim Howard wont be a finalist for the Calder, let alone the winner when the awards are handed out in Las Vegas in June. The NHL poster child for this years rookie crop, and NEW YORK team based kid wonder John Tavares will probably be hand picked by the NHL to be the other finalist just because. All that Howard has achieved this year will be ignored by the NHL writers most likely, and if its not, the NHL likely will ignore it anyways.
Jim Howard should be a Vezina finalist, and the Calder winner. At the end of the day, he most likely wont even be a finalist for either award. Whether the NHL writers or the NHL itself is to blame for this remains to be seen.
At 5th in the IIHF rankings the U.S. team the 2010 Olympics will see, is coming in with hopes of a medal. The hopes for any medal contention will fall solely on the shoulders of Ryan Miller. Tim Thomas might be the Vezina trophy winner, but Miller is far & away the better goalie. The battle for number 3 is one that I wont be surprised if I get wrong. Its in my opinion a 4 horse race. Early in the season Craig Anderson looked like a lock. Lately Jonathan Quick seems like the odds on favorite, but few have considered Ty Conklin & Jim Howard, both who have had exceptional seasons as well. Theres even the small (although highly unlikely) potential of Robert Esche, one of the top goalies in the KHL this season being on their radar, but I think he will be snubbed for a North American playing goalie.
The team on defense is young, but not as young as it would have been had Tyler Myers been eligible to play for it. The 18 yr old stud defenseman, American born, opted to play for Canada in the junior championships & thus is not eligible for the U.S. team.
Forwards are a good mix of young, old, speedy & skilled. With young studs like Parise, Stastny, Kane & Ryan, they wont have to worry about scoring. Guys like Kesler, Rolston & Langebrunner will be able to play solid defensive games and contribute a bit offensively.
Overall, the U.S. squad is one of the more rounded ones they have had in awhile. Chances for a medal are decent.
Ryan Miller- BUFFALO SABRES (NHL) The undisputed best goalie in the U.S. right now. Leads in GGA, SPCT, SO & 1 win out of 1st in wins. He is the starter without hesitation.
Tim Thomas- BOSTON BRUINS (NHL) Solely based on his performance last season Tim will be here as the back up. Realistically, hes had an average season & there is likely more deserving players, but a Norris trophy winner last year gets him a partial pass on an average season so far.
Jim Howard- DETROIT RED WINGS (NHL) I am picking him solely because in the last few weeks hes had amazing stats, hes been a starter now & hes managed to climb from the bottom of my prospective goalies list to almost the top in a matter of weeks. Best of the bunch over the past while & has been the backbone of a resurgence of the Wings lately. This is by far a lock though, especially if Burkie had his choices made prior to the start of December for his goalies.
Erik Johnson- ST LOUIS BLUES (NHL) The probable 1st unit PP QB for USA, Erik will be a probable top pair starter.
Alex Goligoski- PITTSBURGH PENGUINS (NHL) Although hes cooled off a touch this last couple weeks, he is still having a sound defensive game as well & clearly has an offensive flair as well which makes his capable in all situations.
Matt Carle- PHILADELPHIA FLYERS (NHL) Maybe its Chris Pronger who has had something to do with it, but Matt Carle is set to possibly have the best season of his short career already.
Ryan Suter- NASHVILLE PREDATORS (NHL) The Preds are climbing the standings right now & you can put a large chunk of that on their defense core, including Suter. With 7 pts & a +8 in their last 8 games, he has cemented what was already a probable spot before then.
Ryan Whitney- ANAHEIM DUCKS (NHL) His strong offensive game will be his ticket onto the team. If they dont feel the need for his offense, he might not be here though. Defensively there are better options.
Andy Greene- NEW JERSEY DEVILS (NHL) Who had Andy Greene even on their short list at the start of the year? Probably no one, including me. But injuries in NJ (including Paul Martin who might replace him depending on his return status) has seen Greenes stock rise dramatically & right now, I would have to question leaving a dman with 3 GWG & 4 PP goals off your roster. That +8 rating likely doesnt hurt his chances either.
Brian Rafalski- DETROIT RED WINGS (NHL) One of the most experienced dmen the U.S. has. Brian will be here not just on his past championship & major international tourney experience, but on the fact hes had a decent year again at both ends of the ice.
Zach Parise- NEW JERSEY DEVILS (NHL) The top goals, assists & points scorer for the U.S. last year, Zach has returned to that same form this year, leading the American offensive charge again. He will be expected to carry the load offensively.
Paul Stastny- COLORADO AVALANCHE (NHL) The Avs are fighting for a division title early in this season, and much of that is because of Paul Stastny & his offensive contributions. USA will hope for the same contributions in Vancouver.
Patrick Kane- CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS (NHL) His off season issues have not seemed to have damaged his game much. Patrick is again having a solid year offensively. A pt per game pace & a likely top line spot & lots of PP time will make him dangerous.
Ryan Kesler- VANCOUVER CANUCKS (NHL) A Selke trophy finalist last season, Ryan has perhaps even improved on that performance this season. Offensively he has picked his game up a notch, maybe even two.
Jamie Langenbrunner- NEW JERSEY DEVILS (NHL) Has lots of offensive talent, but is also an exceptional defensive minded forward who will probably get lots of time in all situations.
Ryan Malone- TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING (NHL) A literal resurgence for Ryan Malone this year has placed him on this team. He is struggling a bit lately, but his early season efforts have him safely on the team. The American staff is just hoping he gets that touch back by February.
Bobby Ryan- ANAHEIM DUCKS (NHL) If this tourney was a year later I think he would be on the top line. Since its now however, he'll do quite fine as their 2nd unit winger.
Phil Kessel- TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS (NHL) The Leafs have come on strong since Kessel returned from an injury. His pt per game avg has him on the team, even if the National teams GM didnt have a club team connection to him in Toronto.
Tim Connolly- BUFFALO SABRES (NHL) Will fill a 3rd line scoring role. Could be moved to a 2nd line spot if others falter.
RJ Umberger- COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS (NHL) Long as he can get along with sure thing Ryan Kesler, RJ Umberger should do well in a checking role & still bring offensive skills to the position.
Dustin Brown- LOS ANGELES KINGS (NHL) A good offensive player, it will be a defensive role the American staff will probably put on him here though. Expect him as a 3rd liner.
Jason Blake- TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS (NHL) Playing for the National teams GM will get him on the team. Brian Burke will put Jason here for no other reason but to hopefully give his player a boost of confidence for the rest of the NHL season. He has the stats to justify it as well.
Brian Rolston- NEW JERSEY DEVILS (NHL) my first roster at the end of Oct, he wasnt even on my "outside chance" list. Mid Nov list still not on it. Finally at the end of Nov I placed him at the bottom of my "outside chance" list. If I am wrong about him being here I wont be shocked. His surge has been only recently & maybe its too late to get recognized. But his stats & experience make me consider him an option & if he keeps it up thru till decision day, maybe Burkie scratches out whoever he has here & puts him in instead.
maybe- Craig Anderson, Jonathan Quick, Brooks Orpik, Zach Bogosian, Jack Johnson, Keith Tkachuk, Dustin Byfuglien, David Booth, Jason Pominville, Kyle Okposo.
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