To put it simply, it’s really important to have good goaltending. This certainly isn’t anything groundbreaking, but in order to be successful in the NHL, you have to keep the puck out of your net. It’s pretty uncommon that teams find their true ace goaltender on the free agent market, but this year boasts a class of pretty decent goalies for teams looking to upgrade in net. Aside from those guys, a couple of goaltenders on contending teams may become casualties of their team’s cap crunch this summer. Whether it’s through free agency or trade, there are a lot of goalies that could be changing teams next season.
After the jump, I’ll break down the crop of free agent goalies, some guys who could be trade bait, and the teams who should really consider making an upgrade in net.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
Antti Niemi is probably the biggest name on the market right now. Well, if he isn’t, he was the highest paid of any goalie set to hit the UFA market last season. San Jose’s goalie situation is a little fuzzy, so its difficult to say whether Niemi, the former Stanley Cup champion, will be back with the Sharks next season. If you type Antti Niemi’s name into google and click on news, you’ll immediately see a bunch of links that say: TEAM X SHOULD SIGN ANTTI NIEMI. So San Jose is going to have quite a bit of competition to keep this guy around next season, if they want him.
Niemi was paid $4.0 million last season, and judging by how many teams there are that’ll be calling about him, he’s set for a bigger pay day come July. He didn’t have a great season last year, putting up a 0.914 save percentage and a 2.59 goals against average, but he has the pedigree of a proven winner. His goals saved above average was, well, pretty below average at -0.43. None of these stats are perfect at assessing goalies, but goals saved above average does a pretty nice job at equalizing goalies across the board. The Sharks were a below average team last season in terms of team save percentage despite being an above average team in terms of possession and scoring chances. His peripheral stats this year were around his career average this year, but he’s been better in the past. When teams are selecting him to be their goaltender of the future, they’re hoping for him to be as good as he was in 2012-13 when he finished third in Vezina voting.
Viktor Fasth had a really bad season last year with the Oilers. Let’s be honest, his ugly season wasn’t completely his fault, because he played for the Oilers — a goaltender graveyard. Fasth has played 63 games in the NHL, 30 with the Ducks, and 33 with the Oilers. So half with a good team and half with a bad team. His splits are hilarious. With the Oilers, he’s put up a combined 0.894 save percentage and a 3.26 goals against average, but with the Ducks, he had a 0.915 save percentage and a 2.32 goals against average. His career high in goals saved above average is a modest 6.22 (he only played 25 games, which is why the number isn’t too big) and that came in his rookie season in 2012-13. Last year, though, he was fourth worst in the league with 17.87 goals saved above average. For reference, Ben Scrivens was even worse.
I wouldn’t bother judging Fasth on his performance with the Oilers. He was pretty good in limited showings with the Ducks before being shipped to the Edmonton, and I’ve watched enough Oilers games to know their goalies are on an island by themselves. Still, Fasth certainly hasn’t proved he can be the number one guy in the NHL yet. He’s a decent option as a backup, but I wouldn’t bank on him being any more than a a below average starting goalie in the NHL. Like I said, it’s difficult to judge goalies who play on terrible teams, but I doubt Fasth will make more than he did on his last contract, which paid him $3.4 million per year.
Karri Ramo might be the odd man out in Calgary as the Flames have Jonas Hiller and Joni Ortio signed next season. Ramo made $2.9 million last season for the Flames in what was a pretty solid season. Regardless, Hiller is the better of the two goalies, and Ortio will come much cheaper, so I really, really doubt Ramo re-signs in Calgary. Ramo’s 0.912 save percentage and 2.60 goals against average last season was the best of his career, and represents a pretty big upgrade from his career average. His -2.28 goals against average, though, was well below league average. Like Fasth, he’s never been the true number one guy before in his career, but last season was the closest he’s ever been.
It doesn’t hurt Ramo that the Flames really overachieved last season. Calgary finished towards the bottom of the league in possession and scoring chance stats, but still managed to make it to the second round of the playoffs. The rhetoric surrounding the team suggests the team was the benefactor of really good, clutch goaltending, but that wasn’t really it. The Flames were below average in terms of even strength team save percentage, so associating Ramo’s performance with the Flames’ surge isn’t really fair. Regardless, he had a pretty good year last year and he would make a nice backup. If a team makes him their main guy, though, they would be taking a huge risk that would more than likely end up back firing on them.
Michal Neuvirth was pretty solid last year despite playing for a team that was trying to lose games. His 0.918 save percentage in 27 games with the Sabres is right around his career average, while his 3.22 goals saved above average was the second best of his career. As we all know, the Sabres were awful last season, so Neuvirth putting up similar numbers with them that he did when he was with the Capitals is pretty impressive. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a team take a flyer and bring him in to be their starting goalie. Jhonas Enroth didn’t fare quite as well as Neuvirth did, as he put up a 0.903 save percentage and a pretty ugly -14.42 goals saved above average last season. He was traded to Dallas and didn’t fare much better, as he put up a 0.906 save percentage in 13 games. His career numbers aren’t overly impressive, and he’s never been the main guy in his career, so it’s unlikely he’s brought in by anybody this summer as anything other than a backup, or a 1B.
Devan Dubnyk is the most interesting, so I saved him for last. Just a year ago, it looked like Dubnyk’s career was over. He had been let go by the Oilers, it didn’t work in Nashville, and he was finding work in the AHL, but a mid-season trade from the Coyotes to the Wild completely resurrected his career. Not only did he turn around his career, he turned around Minnesota’s season, resulting in him being named a Vezina Trophy finalist. He finished towards the top of the league with a 1.78 goals against average, a 0.936 save percentage, and 22.82 goals saved above average. Honestly, if not for Carey Price’s Hall of Fame season, he would be the frontrunner for the Vezina, and you could make an argument for the Hart.
Obviously his numbers this year are well above his career averages, but he’s actually had some success in the past, so it isn’t like he completely came out of nowhere. Like I said before, Edmonton is a goalie graveyard. Playing for them is like pitching for the Colorado Rockies. Despite that, he had a good year for the Oilers back in the lockout shortened 2012-13 season, putting up a solid 0.920 save percentage and a then career high 9.70 goals saved above average. Dubnyk could be in line for a pretty hefty payday, and the team doing it wouldn’t be out of line. The guy has pedigree, he just finally found the place to put it together. If I had to venture a guess, though, I would say he stays in Minnesota.
ON THE TRADING BLOCK
I mentioned Ben Bishop in my last article about the teams who were going to have to make tough decisions due to the cap crunch. Tampa was one of those teams largely because they’re pressed right up against the cap and Steven Stamkos is set to become a UFA in just over a year. To further compound issues, Victor Hedman becomes a UFA just one year after Stamkos, so Tampa is going to need to free up some space if they want to keep them around. Bishop has two years left on a deal that pays him $5.95 million. He’s been one of the better goalies in the league for the past couple seasons, posting a 0.920 save percentage in 134 games with the Lightning in that time. He may become available because the Lightning have a couple of promising – and cheap – prospects in Andrei Vasilevski and Kristers Gudlevskis waiting around for their chance to start. The Lightning could probably get a nice, hefty return for Bishop, and open up some cap space all in one swing, but trading a proven goalie is a pretty big risk to say the least.
Corey Crawford has been an interesting case throughout his career with the Blackhawks. He’s kind of the Chris Osgood of right now. He’s pretty good, he gets the job done on a really good team, but he seems to be under appreciated. Throughout his career, he’s posted a 0.917 save percentage, which is largely because of the team he’s played on, because he’s never had more than 12 goals saved above average in a season despite playing at least 57 games in four seasons, and 30 in the lockout year. He’s signed at $6.5 million for five more years and like the Lightning, the Hawks have a cheaper guy in Scott Darling who looks like he can carry the load. The Hawks are in a horrific cap bind right now, so shedding Crawford’s big contract might be necessary.
Another guy I wouldn’t be surprised to see on the block is Jimmy Howard. He’s signed for four more years at $5.292 million, but Detroit could save some money by rolling with Petr Mrazek, who may actually already be the superior goalie. Howard has a modest 0.916 save percentage for his career, but he’s been around -5 goals saved above average in each of the past two seasons. Mrazek, on the other hand, stole the starting job from Howard in Detroit’s first round series with the Lightning, and he may not be giving it back.
Everyone seems to think Cam Talbot is a surefire bet to be traded from the New York Rangers. He’s only played 57 games in his career, but he’s put up some really nice numbers, as he boasts a career 0.931 save percentage. He does play for the Rangers though, who have been towards the top of the league in possession and scoring chance percentages over that time. His career 12.9 goals saved above average is solid, but it suggests he’s likely the benefactor of playing on a good team. Regardless, he did a dandy job coming in this year when Henrik Lundqvist went down with an injury. He only costs $1.45 million, so it may be in the Rangers’ best interest to keep him, but he becomes as a UFA at the end of next season so they may not be able to keep him around for long even if they want to.
TEAMS WHO NEED GOALIES
There seem to be a bunch of pretty good goalies available, but there don’t seem to be that many teams who need them. The teams who do need goaltending, though, really, really, really need it. The Oilers are the top of that list, largely because they had the worst team save percentage last year at even strength, and winning Connor McDavid bumps them a little higher on the “win now” scale. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Oilers explore the trade route because all of the options on the free agent market are somewhat enigmatic and none of them, aside from Dubnyk and Niemi, have ever really been a true starting guy. If they can’t find a deal that works, though, I expect the, to roll with a combination of Ben Scrivens and somebody like Ramo or Neuvirth as an attempt at striking gold, as they’ve been doing the last little while.
The Stars are another team who desperately need help in net. They tried last year when they traded for Enroth, but it wasn’t good enough. They currently have Kari Lehtonen signed for three more years at $5.9 million, so I doubt they would want to dig too deep in their pockets for a 1B, unless they move on from Lehtonen. Personally, I think that’s unlikely. I assume they’ll roll with Lehtonen and improve their defence before taking drastic measures to improve in net. The Islanders weren’t terrible in net last year, but they could be a lot better. They have Jaroslav Halak signed for another three years, but I imagine they want a solid, reliable backup to go along with him. This would be perfect, as the market seems to be loaded with those types of guys. They’ve made an investment with Halak, and I doubt they back away from it. Aside from that, Minnesota and San jose could be in the market for starters, but that hinges on whether they’re able to lock down the guys they had this season.
A few other teams, like Buffalo, Arizona, and Carolina, all need help in net, but judging by the fact they’re in the rebuilding phase, I don’t imagine they’re in a rush to find goalies who can help them win any games. Running through the list of teams, it seems that most teams are set in net, or they’re paying somebody enough money that they likely won’t want to add anymore expenditure to their goaltending situation. Generally speaking, the only teams who don’t appear to have at least one good option in net are those teams who are tanking for high picks, so it doubtful they’ll be in the market for improvements for anything more than a nice, reliable backup. It could be a tough market for UFA goalies this summer.
Stats courtesy of Hockey Reference.