The last two summers have been very good for NHL goaltenders looking for work and they have gained significant ground when it comes to their salary. Antti Niemi (SJS), Ilya Bryzgalov (PHI), Pekka Rinne (NAS), Ondrej Pavelec and Jonathan Quick are the latest net minders to have found the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow and Habs’ Carey Price is only a few steps away from doing the same.
PENTICTON, BC. — As teams realize more and more that good solid goaltending is needed to get to the highest level, many of them are desperately searching for ways to improve at that position. As with any other positions, there is no magic formula to get a good goaltender. Teams either have to draft and develop them, trade for one or they must fight with other teams to sign a free agent, likely overpaying in the process.
This summer is no different as several teams are looking at ways to improve at this key position. Let’s look at a few:
CHICAGO: In spite of a pretty good season seeing Corey Crawford reach the 30 win plateau, he allowed a few questionable goals in the playoffs. Many feel like the Blackhawks are working hard on getting back to the top and a veteran goaltender could go a long way in helping them do just that.
PHILADELPHIA: Myself included, many thought that the Flyers had finally solved their goaltending issues when they signed UFA goalie Ilya Bryzgalov last summer to a long and expensive contract. Boy, were we wrong on that one! If they add at that position, it will have to be an up and comer young goalie with a reasonable salary.
TORONTO: Anyone doubting that Brian Burke is looking for a goalie must be living under a rock. The Leafs and Canucks appear to be playing a game of chicken to see who will blink first, but Mike Gillis and the Canucks are playing a dangerous game. You see, Luongo has a no trade clause and has to agree to waive it to go somewhere. The thing is most NHL teams have a “don’t want clause” about Luongo.
COLUMBUS: After a great rookie season where many fans were projecting that Steve Mason was better than Carey Price (Habs’ fans will gladly recall), he has fallen off the table since. The Blue Jackets desperately need help in net and on defense, and their best option would be to pick up a goalie as part of the Rick Nash trade.
TAMPA BAY: Dwayne Roloson becoming a free agent and not having a good season last year really complicated things for head coach Guy Boucher and GM Steve Yzerman. Yes, they have traded for Anders Lindback but will they want to hang their hat on him to take them to the playoffs? Perhaps a solid veteran to teach him the ropes might be what the doctor orders.
EDMONTON: Some feel like Devan Dubnyk is the real deal, many don’t. There is one year left to Khabibulin’s contract and he has had health issues last year. It should be interesting to see what the Oilers decide in order to solidify their defense and maybe, goaltending. The offense leaves no doubt.
FLORIDA: The Panthers were a much improved team last year and while Jose Theodore didn’t cost them games, he is not the type to steal games for them either. They are very high on young Jacob Markstrom (and rightfully so), but it’s unlikely that he’s ready for prime time yet. Could Roberto Luongo come back to the Sunshine state?
WASHINGTON: Braden Holtby has opened many people’s eyes with his playoffs’ performance last year and Michal Neuvirth has been very inconsistent. Should the Capitals decide to make a serious push this year, they may be tempted to get a solid veteran in case Holtby crashes and burns.
NEW JERSEY: There is no doubt that if Martin Brodeur signs elsewhere this summer, the Devils will be looking for a new goaltender. But due to the well documented financial problems and the uncertainty with the ownership of the franchise, it is unlikely that they would go after a big name goaltender costing a lot of money. Look for them to trade for a young guy like Bernier perhaps.
But who might be available?
There are several unrestricted free agents but few have held the title of starter for any period of time in the NHL. The most notorious would be:
- Martin Brodeur (40) $5.2M
- Antero Niittymaki (32) $2.0M
- Chris Mason (36) $1.9M
- Dan Ellis (32) $1.5M
- Alex Auld (31) $1.0M
The alternative option to get immediate help would be to acquire a goaltender through trade. The top five goaltenders that might be available, in my opinion, are:
Tim Thomas: Thomas has said that he wants to take a year off, likely tired of the negative press he drew upon himself since winning the Cup. The 38 year old still has a lot to offer if he finds his mojo back and the Bruins would gladly unload his $5M cap hit if they had the opportunity to do so.
Roberto Luongo: Since losing his starting job in the playoffs to Cory Schneider, Luongo has continued to be a pro by being a positive influence with the Canucks. The problem is that there are 10 years left on the 33 year old goaltender’s contract, and few teams will want to take such a gamble on him, assuming he accepted to waive his no trade clause to play for them.
Jonathan Bernier: Unconfirmed reports out of Los Angeles to the effect that Bernier, seeing Jonathan Quick sign a 10 year contract extension, has requested to be traded. It’s fair considering that Bernier is only 23 and he must play in order to continue developing into what many feel is a potential number one in the NHL.
Niklas Backstrom: I’m throwing his name in there as the Wild is looking at making some considerable changes. Pending UFA at the end of next season, the 34 year old Backstrom comes with a $6M cap hit. The Wild also just recently signed Josh Harding for 3 years at $1.9M per season.
Jhonas Enroth: While a long shot as there are no signs that the Sabres would trade the young goaltender, one would think that if the offer was tempting enough, they would at least consider it. With Ryan Miller as the undisputed elite starter in Buffalo, Enroth may want to get a shot at starting somewhere. That is the type of move I would expect coming from New Jersey, for example.
Up until recently, I was thinking that the Flames would have been tempted to see what Miikka Kiprusoff could fetch them on the trade market, but with the recent signatures of Dennis Wideman and Cory Sarich, it looks like Jay Feaster is still hanging on, trying to win now instead of re-bluiding.
The next few days should be very interesting as teams shift assets, create space under the cap, and decide what to do in order to ensure that goaltending won’t be an issue for them next year.