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.
Finland is coming in the 4th ranked country by the IIHF.
A silver medal last Olympics & a silver & 2 bronze in the last 4 World Championships has the Finnish team seriously thinking medals here too & they certainly are capable of the feat.
In goal, they might have the strongest duo in the tourney with Kirpusoff & Backstrom. Whoever they pick for the 3rd goalie is also very likely going to be a decent pick for the 3 spot, whether its Nittymaki, Rask or new up & comer Antti Niemi.
On defense, they have a capable unit. Although it might be their weakness overall, its still not too shabby with the likes of Timonen, Salo & Pitkanen patrolling the line. But it is a more offensively skilled than neccesarily defensively skilled unit.
Up front this team has some offensive skill, but if Teemu Selanne cant go, it will be offensively challenged in comparison to the other top tier countries. The Koivu brothers & Olli Jokinen will be expected to fill in as secondary scoring to the Finnish Flash.
Miika Kiprusoff- CALGARY FLAMES (NHL) Kipper has come out & said he wont go if he isnt the starter. Since then he has done pretty much everything he can to justify him being the starter. Finland will quite likely give him the spot. But if he falters even slightly, they will not hesitate to jump to Niklas.
Niklas Backstrom- MINNESOTA WILD (NHL) Could be the starter if Kiprusoff falters even slightly. Most deserving of a number 1 spot, but will probably play back up so that the Finns can keep Kipper happy.
Tuuka Rask- BOSDTON BRUINS (NHL) Has been a top prospect for awhile & has played very well this year, Tuuka will probably be the 3rd goalie, although he has some competition lurking around in the form of Nittymaki & Niemi. But I think hes just been more consistent & consistently good out of the 3, so he'll get the nod.
Kimmo Timonen- PHILADELPHIA FLYERS (NHL) Leads in every offensive category for Finnish defenders. Will be on the top unit & top PP unit. Will also be expected to play considerable SH time.
Sami Salo- VANCOUVER CANUCKS (NHL) Although hes having a quiet year offensively so far, the potential for what he can do on the PP gives Sami a lock on this team. Maybe anchoring the 2nd unit & the other option on the 1st PP unit.
Joni Pitkanen- CAROLINA HURRICANES (NHL) Has been a decent set up man this year, but defensively is struggling greatly. Expect to see in even strength & PP situations.
Sami Lepisto- PHOENIX COYOTES (NHL) Will very likely round out the 3rd unit & get some PP ice time.
Toni Lydman- BUFFALO SABRES (NHL) He'll get some game action, whether its just as a 3rd unit piece, or if he gets any SH & PP time is still up in the air.
Lasse Kukkonen- OMSK AVANGARD (KHL) The best of the bunch overseas has probably been Kukkonen, so he will probably beat out part time NHLer Salmela & SEL PP star Puistola for the final spot.
Ossi Vaananen- MINSK DYNAMO (KHL) A former NHL defenseman who has had a resurgence in Russia this season. Not going to be relied on offensively, he will be able to work solely on being a shutdown dman.
Teemu Selanne- ANAHEIM DUCKS (NHL) Assuming he is back in time to play, Teemu is a lock. He will be their top offensive weapon & will be relied on heavily in PP situations. If he cant go, the Finns are going to notable struggle offensively, even with the other NHL level players they have.
Saku Koivu- ANAHEIM DUCKS (NHL) He might not be an offensive dynamo anymore, but he still has a touch. he'll get top 2 line minutes for sure & some PP time on the top unit perhaps.
Mikko Koivu- MINNESOTA WILD (NHL) An offensive weapon who is also a strong checker, Mikko will be out there probably the most of all the forwards as he can play in all situations.
Olli Jokinen- CALGARY FLAMES (NHL) An underperforming year offensively right now, Olli is still looked at as one of the countries top offensive weapons. Expect lots of PP time & top 2 lines time.
Niklas Hagman- TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS (NHL) A strong offensive year from Niklas will get him a look as a top 2 line forward. He has done the role of checker before, so if needed he can fill in there too.
Antti Mietinen- MINNESOTA WILD (NHL) A recent offensive struggle has perhaps triggered some concerns for a guy the Finns probably had penciled into their top 2 lines. Regardless, he will still be here, even if its as a 3rd liner.
Tuomo Ruutu- CAROLINA HURRICANES (NHL) Having a relatively good year offensively, they will look at Tumo as a probable top 2 line player.
Jarkko Ruutu- OTTAWA SENATORS (NHL) A tough checker who has some offensive skills. Jarkko will be a 2 way player on the 3rd line that they will rely on to aggitate the other teams top players.
Jussi Jokinen- CAROLINA HURRICANES (NHL) A reasonable offensive year & a penchant for shootout goals, Jussi will come in as a 3rd line type player who will be relied on heavily if a game is headed to the dreaded shootout.
Jere Lehtinen- DALLAS STARS (NHL) Getting a bit older, but still has a decent grasp on the defensive side of the game. A checking role is his for sure.
Valtteri Filppula- DETROIT RED WINGS (NHL) If he is unable to go, this spot will go to his teammate Leino. If he is able to go, expect him to be out there potentially in all situations.
Niko Kapanen- KAZAN AK-BARS (KHL) In Russia he has developed into a decent checking forward. Will probably get a role like that here.
Petteri Nokelainen- ANAHEIM DUCKS (NHL) Will be there solely for his defensive game & not much more.
maybe- Antti Niemi, Antero Nittymaki, Anssi Salmela, Ville Koistinen, Pasi Puistola, Ville Leino, Jarkko Immonen, Jukka Voutilainen, Tuomas Pihlman, Ville Peltonen, Hannes Hyvonen.
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