I can’t say too much about the goaltending situation in Columbus that hasn’t already been said. We know change is coming. The Blue Jackets had seven different goaltenders under their control last season, and it seems likely that up to six of them could be gone before next season. Draft pick Mathieu Corbeil was not signed and will re-enter the draft. College free agent Matt Hunwick will not be re-signed. Curtis McElhinney was nothing more than a contract in the Antoine Vermette trade, but he will not be back in Columbus. Curtis Sanford has already signed in the KHL. Mark Dekanich is an unrestricted free agent and basically missed all of last season with injuries. That leaves only Allen York and the much maligned Steve Mason. Both could be back with the Blue Jackets, but not in the same spot as last year. The team finally appears ready to move on from the Mason as starter experiment. Whether this means he’ll be a back-up, traded elsewhere, waived, or playing in the AHL remains to be seen. York played everywhere last season, from the ECHL to the AHL to the NHL. Considering all his movement, he fared fairly well. I would hope to see York paired with a capable goaltender in the AHL to further aid his development.
When assessing goaltenders, statistics are very difficult. Wins and goals against average are commonly used by some, but are far too team dependent. Even save percentage can fluctuate wildly. Fortunately, people out there have done the research for me. What they have found is that a goaltenders even strength save percentage is the best indicator of individual goaltender skill. It removes the team element of shorthanded play, as well as the randomness of the powerplay. Looking at the Blue Jackets last year, they were led by Curtis Sanford and his .923 ESSV%, followed by Allen York at .917, and then Steve Mason with a .911 ESSV%. This would probably follow along with the perception of those who watched these goaltenders over the course of the season. With these numbers in mind, I took a look at the goaltending situation of every team in the NHL. Unlike most positions, there are very limited goaltending jobs available in the NHL. It creates a “musical chairs” of sorts every offseason, as players jockey for starting and back-up jobs around the league. Fortunately for the Blue Jackets this offseason, there do not appear to be many suitors for starting goaltenders. Unfortunately, only Josh Harding appears to be the only unrestricted free agent with the skill to be a solid starting goalie. Back-up goaltenders will be in demand this offseason, but there is a lengthy list of solid back-ups on the UFA market. This list includes Scott Clemmensen, Dan Ellis, Johan Hedberg, Martin Biron, Jonas Gustavsson and Al Montoya, among several others. To get an idea of how the goaltender carousel may shake out, let’s take a look around the league:
Starter: Jonas Hiller, .915 ESSV% (2 years, $4.5M)
Back-Up: Viktor Fasth/Jeff Deslauriers
Their primary back-up last season, Dan Ellis is an unrestricted free agent. He flamed out as a starter, but Ellis is a solid back-up goaltender. The soon to be 32 year old actually posted a better even strength save percentage than Hiller, at .923. 29 year old Viktor Fasth was recently signed to a one year, one way contract after a few very successful years in Sweden. Jeff Deslauriers is on a one-way contract and will fight with Fasth for the back-up job, but spent most of last season in Syracuse. If the Ducks don’t re-sign Ellis, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them pick-up someone to battle Fasth and Deslauriers for the right to sub for Hiller on his rare nights off.
Starter: Tuuka Rask, .929 ESSV% (RFA)
Back-Up: Anton Khudobin
With Tim Thomas throwing a wrench into things, the Bruins goaltending situation is interesting to say the least. Tuuka Rask has been a fantastic back-up, and was great two years ago as he stole the starting job from Thomas. The Bruins also have Khudobin on a one-way contract to back-up the yet to be re-signed Rask. Rask isn’t going anywhere, but I would not be surprised to see the Bruins dump Thomas’ $5m cap hit on another team that hopes they can get him to report. They might also bring in a veteran to compete with Khudobin, but could also choose to save the cap hit and just ride Rask.
Starter: Ryan Miller, .922 ESSV% (2 years, $6.25m)
Back-Up: Jhonas Enroth
This tandem is not likely to be split up. Miller isn’t going anywhere and Enroth is an exceptional back-up signed for cheap. As an RFA next season, I could see Enroth being moved then, but why move him before you have to? Better to get the good, cheap labour, then move him and have to pay more to get a worse back-up.
Starter: Miika Kiprusoff, .928 ESSV% (2 years, $5.8m)
Back-Up: Henrik Karlsson
Both Kipper and Karlsson are signed for next season, but former 1st rounder Leland Irving is also knocking on the door for the back-up job. Who really knows what is going on in Calgary, but if they are going for a playoff spot next season, I wouldn’t expect them to be a player in the goaltending market. If they decide to start the rebuild, Kiprusoff immediately becomes one of the top guys available.
Starter: Cam Ward, .919 ESSV% (4 years, $6.3m)
Back-Up: Brian Boucher
Cam Ward is still pretty young, very good and signed long-term. Brian Boucher is a solid back-up goalie. Another team that does not look to be a player in the goaltending market.
Starter: Corey Crawford, .915 ESSV% (2 years, $2.667m)
Back-Up: Ray Emery ($1.15m)
The Blackhawks are interesting. In addition to Crawford and Emery, they also have Alexander Salak on a one-way contract. However there was a lot of unhappiness in Chicago with the play of Crawford. I would not be shocked to see them as players in the Luongo/Schneider sweepstakes, in the running for Josh Harding, or any other upgrade that becomes available. If they do pick up someone else, I would expect Crawford to be on the move, as I highly doubt they want to carry four goaltenders on one-way contracts.
Starter: Semyon Varlamov, .923 ESSV% (2 years, $2.833m)
Back-Up: JS Giguere ($1.25m)
Varlamov and Giguere were a surprisingly good tandem last season, and with them both signed to fairly reasonable contracts, I don’t foresee the Avalanche making any changes between the pipes.
Starter: Kari Lehtonen, .926 ESSV% (1 year, $3.55m)
Back-Up: Richard Bachman (RFA)
Lehtonen is signed to starter money and played like it last season. Last year’s back-up Andrew Raycroft is an unrestricted free agent and was waived last year after losing his job to Bachman. Bachman put up an excellent .929 ESSV% in stealing the back-up role. I would expect the Stars to re-sign him to pair with Lehtonen. If they don’t completely trust Bachman, I could see them bringing in Raycroft or someone else of similar ilk to compete for a spot in training camp.
Starter: Jimmy Howard, .929 ESSV% (1 year, $2.25m)
Back-Up: Joey MacDonald
Jimmy Howard is a solid starter, but the Red Wings could be a good landing spot for a good veteran back-up. They had pending UFA Ty Conklin UFA and Joey MacDonald last season but could use an upgrade. MacDonald is on a one-way, but I don’t think the Wings would be too concerned about paying MacDonald NHL money in the AHL.
Starter: Devan Dubnyk, .927 ESSV% (RFA)
Back-Up: Nikolai Khabibulin, .913 ESSV% (1 year, $3.75m)
Dubnyk was something of a revelation last season, finally looking like someone who could be an NHL starter. Unless they buy out Khabibulin, he isn’t going anywhere. I would expect this same tandem to return next season, but would not be shocked if they bought out Khabibulin and took a run at a better partner for Dubnyk.
Starter: Jose Theodore, .928 ESSV% (1 year, $1.5m)
Back-Up: Jacob Markstrom
The pairing of Jose Theodore and Scott Clemmensen helped power the Panthers to a division title, but will likely be split up next season. Theodore will likely pair with super-prospect Jacob Markstrom, who has been biding his time in the AHL. If the Panthers decide Markstrom needs more seasoning, they could try and re-sign Clemmensen, probably the best back-up UFA on the market (.922 ESSV% last season).
Starter: Jonathan Quick, .933 ESSV% (1 year, $1.8m)
Back-Up: Jonathan Bernier, .901 ESSV% (1 year, $1.25m)
Conn Smythe winner Quick isn’t going anywhere (barring some unexpected developments in contract extension talks). Bernier has long been rumoured as a potential starter somewhere, but his numbers are far from impressive, finishing 73rd of the 88 among goaltenders who faced a shot last season in even strength save percentage. Martin Jones has torn up the AHL, providing the Kings with a solid back-up should they find a suitor for Bernier.
Starter: Niklas Backstrom, .931 ESSV% (1 year, $6m)
Back-Up: Matt Hackett, .925 ESSV%
With Backstrom entrenched and Hackett putting up good numbers in a limited showing, expect Josh Harding to be the most sought after UFA goalie this offseason. His .923 ESSV% is at a starter level, with his injury history being the only thing scaring teams away from the 27 year old. The Wild are another team that could be in the market for a veteran back-up to compete with the rookie Hackett.
Starter: Carey Price, .918 ESSV% (RFA)
Back-Up: Peter Budaj (1 year, $1.15m)
Not much to see here, as both Price and Budaj are not likely to go anywhere. I’ve heard some Price rumors, but without any top goaltending prospects, no obvious UFA candidates and Budaj as the back-up, there is no way Montreal either trades Price or declines to match an offer sheet.
Starter: Pekka Rinne, .928 ESSV% (7 years, $7m)
Rinne is entrenched as the starter but the back-up job is up for grabs. Magnus Hellberg was recently signed from Sweden, former 1st rounder Chet Pickard under contract (but a longshot as he was in the ECHL last year), and AHL starter Jeremy Smith is an RFA, but has been fantastic in the AHL. My money is on Smith, but I would not be surprised to see them take a run at someone to compete with him in camp. Mark Dekanich would be an interesting darkhorse for that spot.
New Jersey Devils
Starter: Martin Brodeur, .911 ESSV% (UFA)
Martin Brodeur was great in the playoffs, but had a sub-par regular season. Johan Hedberg was solid with a .919 ESSV%, but he is a UFA. Brodeur is the starter here until he decides he isn’t, but they probably need someone better than Keith Kincaid, Jeff Frazee, Scott Wedgewood or Maxime Clermont (all under contract) as his back-up. My bet is that they either bring back Hedberg or replace him with a similar player. However, I could see them as a darkhorse to land Harding, with a Brodeur-Harding combo for one season, then Harding taking over.
New York Islanders
Starter: Evgeni Nabokov, .917 ESSV% (1 year, $2.75m)
Back-Up: Rick Dipietro, .893 ESSV% (9 years, $4.5m)
This is a decidedly mediocre group of goaltenders, but with that much money committed, I don’t see how they can shake it up too much. Al Montoya (.901 ESSV%) is another young, interesting UFA, but he’s probably better suited to a back-up or 1B type of role. They also have Kevin Poulin and Anders Nilsson under contract. Both saw NHL action last season but will likely pair up in the AHL.
New York Rangers
Starter: Henrik Lundqvist, .933 ESSV% (2 years, $6.875m)
Lundqvist is the king and was backed up by the jovial Martin Biron (.908 ESSV%) last season, although he is a UFA. Biron could be brought back, or the Rangers could go after someone a little better, like Clemmensen.
Starter: Craig Anderson, .920 ESSV% (3 years, $3.188m)
Back-Up: Ben Bishop, .916 ESSV%
Anderson was solid in the regular season and great in the playoffs. Late season pick-up Bishop was solid enough to lock down the back-up job. Former second stringer Alex Auld was terrible last year with a .897 ESSV%, and will probably walk as a UFA. The Sens also have uber-prospect Robin Lehner tearing it up in the AHL.
Starter: Ilya Bryzgalov, .921 ESSV% (8 years, $5.667m)
Back-Up: Sergei Bobrovsky, .916 ESSV% (1 year, $1.75m)
Bryzgalov was something of a disappointment in Philadelphia this season, but it’s highly unlikely anything will be changing between the pipes. Both Bryzgalov and Bobrovsky saw a decline in their numbers from 2010-11 to 2011-12, but with the amount of money owed to them it doesn’t look like they have too many options. Bryzgalov isn’t going anywhere and Bobrovsky’s mediocre sophomore year makes it unlikely that anyone picks him up to be a starter. If they can find a taker for Bob, the Flyers could bring in a discount back-up to spot Bryzgalov. Exiting the Flyers organization is Michael Leighton, who could be a passable back-up for someone after a year spent in the AHL.
Starter: Mike Smith, .936 ESSV% (1 year, $2.0)
Back-Up: Jason Labarbara (1 year, $1.25m)
The Coyotes had some of the best goaltending in the NHL last season. With both guys under contract at reasonably numbers, it is very unlikely they will make any moves.
Starter: Marc-Andre Fleury, .915 ESSV% (3 years, $5.0m)
Back-Up: Tomas Vokoun, .927 ESSV% (2 years, $2.0m)
The Penguins already made their move, trading for former Capital Tomas Vokoun and re-signing him to a two year deal. Fleury was mediocre in the regular season and much worse than that in the playoffs. Vokoun has seen better days, but still put up numbers among the best in the league. Vokoun replaces veteran Brent Johnson (.887 ESSV%), who will hope to latch on as a back-up somewhere else as a UFA.
Starter: Antti Niemi, .926 ESSV% (3 years, $3.8m)
Back-Up: Thomas Greiss, .931 ESSV%
Greiss wrestled the back-up job from UFA Antero Nitiymaki who spent the season hurt and/or terrible in the AHL (sub .900 SV%). Niemi has taken a lot of grief for the Sharks woes this season, but he was far from the problem. If the Sharks decide to make him the scapegoat this offseason, he would be a great pick-up as a solid starter, signed to a fairly reasonable contract, still only 28 years old, with a Cup ring to boot.
Starter: Jaroslav Halak, .938 ESSV% (2 years, $3.75m)
Back-Up: Brian Elliott, .945 ESSV% (2 years, $1.8m)
The Blues are loaded in net. Halak and Elliott were the best tandem in the NHL last season. They also had the best tandem in the AHL last season, until they dealt Ben Bishop to Ottawa. Highly touted prospect Jake Allen will take over the reigns in Peoria, ensuring the Blues will likely have strong netminding for the foreseeable future.
Starter: Anders Lindback, .919 ESSV% (RFA)
Back-Up: Mathieu Garon, .909 ESSV% (1 year, $1.3m)
The Lightning were a mess in net last season. UFA Dwayne Roloson’s .897 ESSV% was among the worst in the league, while back-up Garon was also disappointing. Garon is under contract for last year and seems likely to back-up the recently acquired Lindback. Lindback has been sparsely used in Nashville the last few years, but is highly thought of. Tampa also has prospects Dustin Tokarski, Riku Helenius and Jaroslav Janus in the organization. With that many goalies, I wouldn’t expect any more moves but I would not be shocked if they dumped Garon and found a better replacement for Lindback insurance.
Starter: ?/James Reimer, .918 ESSV% (2 years, $1.8m)
Goaltending was also an issue in Toronto, but not nearly as bad as the GTA media has made it look (I was expecting much worse numbers from them when researching this piece). Reimer had a sophomore slump this season, but also missed significant time with a concussion. They have constantly been rumored as a landing spot for every goalie available, but I would not be giving up on Reimer quite yet. Jonas Gustavsson and his .904 ESSV% will leave as a UFA (and hopefully not come to Columbus). RFA Ben Scrivens had a .910 ESSV% in limited time with the Leafs, but was very good in backstopping the Toronto Marlies to the Calder Cup finals. He may get a shot to battle for an NHL job next year. Someone will be brought into Toronto for next year, whether it’s a starter (moving Reimer to back-up) or a Clemmensen-type who can spell Reimer more than Gustavsson was able to.
Starter: Roberto Luongo, .929 ESSV% (10 years, $5.333m)
Back-Up: Cory Schneider, .931 ESSV% (RFA)
The Canucks are one of the biggest players in the goalie market this season, yet are highly unlikely to bring in any goaltenders. If you are reading this, it’s a safe bet you have heard a rumour at one point or another that either Roberto Luongo or Cory Schneider will be moved this offseason. RFA Schneider will take a significant amount of money to re-sign and it would not be financially prudent to keep him and Luongo. Luongo seems more likely to move, as he looks like he has worn out his welcome in BC. However, his large contract, age and playoff failings make Schneider to more attractive trade piece. Also an RFA in Vancouver is Eddie Lack, the third best goalie prospect in the NHL per The Goalie Guild. Lack put up a sparking .925 SV% and 2.31 GAA in AHL last season, and seems primed to assume the back-up role in Vancouver.
Starter: Braden Holtby, .932 ESSV% (1 year, $638k)
Back-Up: Michal Neuvirth, .912 ESSV% (1 year, $1.15m)
Every year Washington seems to have a new starting goaltender emerge. First it was Semyon Varlamov, then Michal Neuvirth, then Tomas Vokoun was signed, now Braden Holtby looks to be the man for the Capitals. With Vokoun gone, it looks like the highly regarded pair of Holtby and Neuvirth will man the nets for the Caps. Both have the potential to be a starter, but could also be liabilities. I wouldn’t expect them to make a move, but I could see Neuvirth being moved in a trade and a reliable back-up signed to pair with Holtby.
Starter: Ondrej Pavelec, .917 ESSV% (RFA)
Ondrej Pavelec is still developing, but looks to have the tools to be a solid starter. UFA Chris Mason (.900 ESSV%) is a fine back-up, but the 36 year old’s best days are behind him. Expect the Jets to be in the market for a solid back-up to Pavelec.