2010 Offseason: Goaltender Roulette

By now we’ve all seen the lists of free agent goaltenders looking for a new contract/team on July 1.

For those that haven’t, here is the top 10 list according to Puck Daddy on Yahoo! Sports in an article posted on Tuesday:

1. Evgeni Nabokov
2. Chris Mason
3. Marty Turco
4. Jose Theodore
5. Dan Ellis (signed with Montreal)
6. Antero Nittymaki
7. Marty Biron
8. Michael Leighton (re-signed with Philadelphia)
9. Johan Hedberg
10. Patrick Lalime

For a single free agency period, this list is unusually heavy on experienced NHL starters that still have some years left in their NHL career.

In addition, there are a few names being thrown around that while are under contract, might change sweaters as well. Tim Thomas is the big one, since he won the Vezina trophy just 377 days ago and is no longer holding down the starting job for his club, losing it to a younger, cheaper, and if we’re being brutally honest, better, goalie.

The name Christobal Huet rings a bell as well, but he has less credentials and a more expensive, albeit shorter, contract, so we’ll say he’s in the inflatable raft next to Thomas’s dingy.

To make things more relative to this website, some may have heard Jonathan Quick’s name floated around this arena as well. It’s odd to think that the aforementioned scenarios with Thomas and Huet could be possible for a netminder aged 24 and coming off a 39 win season, but an argument could be made that the younger (21) Jonathan Bernier may be better and may be ready to take the reins in Los Angeles. This assumption is perhaps what caused the various ‘Quick for Scott Hartnell’ (with some variations) rumors around the time of the NHL draft last Friday.

Let’s take a look at which teams might be looking to add some help at the goalie position, either with a starter or a backup:

San Jose

The Sharks informed perennial 70 game starter Evgeni Nabokov that his services would no longer be needed. Yet the only other netminder on the roster with NHL experience is Thomas Greiss, who was the starter for the German National team in the Olympics, but has only started 13 games in the NHL.

One would have to assume they’ll be looking for some veteran help between the pipes this offseason, presumably for the starting role. Even if Greiss is going to be the starter one day, I don’t think he is ready to step in as the starter for a team that has contended for the Presidents Trophy for the last few seasons.

Dallas

The other big name in the free agent goalie class of 2010, Marty Turco, has been a part of trade/free agency discussion since the Stars acquired Kari Lehtonen before this season’s trade deadline. It seems that Dallas figures Lehtonen to be their guy for the not too distant future, but his injury history should be concerning enough for them to look to grab a competent backup.

The team’s current payroll is under $44 million, so they can afford to grab someone pretty decent, although after missing the playoffs next year, in determining how much to spend on a backup or a 1b at best, the question is- how much do they think they’ll be in the hunt in 2010-11?

Nashville

At 6’5″, Pekka Rinne is surprisingly agile and incredibly athletic. Next year will only be his 3rd full season in the NHL, but he will also be 28 in November. He was truly one of the most underrated netminders in the league last season, and I would not be shocked to see him mentioned in the Vezina conversation in the very near future.

He has, however, never played a full season as the starter; and actually has been a part of a platoon for the majority of the last two seasons. Look for the Preds to acquire a reliable back up to ensure not to overwork Rinne.

Boston

Tuuka Rask took over as the starter for the Bruins late in the season, and continued through the playoffs and did not disappoint. He is the goalie for the future in Boston, and the future is now.

Tim Thomas is locked up for three more seasons at $5 million / year. That’s a lot to pay for a back-up, and with his experience, some team may be able to use him as a starter.

If the Bruins can move Thomas, and they are trying, they may look to bring in another back-up, ideally a much cheaper one. If this occurs, chances are that they could acquire such a #2 in the very trade that ships Thomas out.

Buffalo

Ryan Miller won the Vezina. Patrick Lalime is a free agent. If he needs, they’ll need a backup that doesn’t make people ask, ‘Ryan, why can’t you play 82 games?

Ottawa

The goaltending situation in Canada’s capital has been among the worst in the league over the past few seasons. Only the Kings and the Flyers come to mind as potentially worse.

That’s why the Senators grabbed Pascale Leclaire from Columbus last season, trying to find a reliable starter. But Leclaire struggled with consistency and injury.

Brian Elliot took over for a brief period and shined, but with the breadth of available backstops in this year’s crop, the Sens could seize the opportunity to grab an experienced goalie for a very reasonable price.

NY Islanders

The Islanders only have two goaltenders under contract for next season and typically that is one shy. Rick DiPietro continues to ride out the league’s longest contract ever while injuring parts of his body that only geriatric doctors usually attend to, so the plan really does have some merit.

If it is deemed, for some completely naive reason, that DiPietro will be healthy for the 2010-11 season, they the Isles may stick with the status quo. It might come as no surprise that they pick up someone capable of playing 20-40 games, since the only other netminder under contract is Dwayne Roloson, who will turn 41 this season.

Tampa Bay

Speaking of goaltending issues, the Lightning are no exception. The starting job last year was a veritable tug-o-war between Mike Smith and Antero Niittymaki, and the latter, if you’ve been paying attention, is one of the aforementioned free agents.

If they let Niittmaki walk, then Tampa could be in the market to sign a reliable veteran in goal.

Washington

Goaltending has to be the issue that critics of the Capitals suggest needs to be sewn up first. OK second, after some responsible defenders. Goaltending hasn’t been that bad in our nation’s capital, but it hasn’t been that good either, and with the kind of world-class forward talent the Caps boast, some consistent goaltending could easily be what they need to get to that next step.


Predictions:

Based purely on semi-educated guessing and nothing more, here are my predictions for which goaltenders will see a change of scenery starting tomorrow and where that will be:

  • Evgeni Nabokov – WASHINGTON

I initially had Turco signing with the Capitals, as I think he may have more left in the tank that Nabokov, but with the Russian core on the squad, this just seems too logical, though Nabby didn’t exactly shine with his comrades in Vancouver.

  • Chris Mason – TAMPA BAY

Mason stepped up in a big way at the end of 2009 in leading the Blues to a playoff berth. He still has a lot to prove, however, and he would again be competing for a starting spot, which could bring out the best in Mason.

  • Marty Turco – SAN JOSE

Turco’s resume is fairly similar to Nabokov’s, which could suggest that this move doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. His salary could be slightly less than what Nabby’s was, and other than financially, Turco could simply bring a more vocal presence to the San Jose locker room. Turco likes to be involved in moving the puck from the back-end and letting his voice be heard, and perhaps this type of change in personality from the San Jose netminder could be oddly just what the doctor ordered.

He could be the missing piece that leads the oft-underachieving Sharks to a Stanley Cup; or he could do what Nabokov did every year in the playoffs with the rest of the teal squad: come up short.

  • Jose Theodore – NASHVILLE

Theodore shows flashes of starter caliber each season- and last season was more than just a flash. But first rounds of the last two playoffs have seen Theo replaced by Semyon Varlamov both times, which could likely mean that he is not able to handle the pressure of leading the way anymore.

If he was brought in under the premise of a reliable backup, he could be among the league’s best in that category.

  • Antero Niittymaki – DALLAS

Niittymaki could prove to be the steal of the free agency pool this summer, as he has shown that he is capable of earning a starting position, the problem is simply that there aren’t too many starting positions available right now.

Joining the Stars could be mutually beneficial, as Kari Lehtonen hasn’t played a full season since 2006-07, and while competent, hasn’t been spectacular even when healthy. Niittymaki could be an inexpensive 1b option.

  • Marty Biron – ATLANTA

Youngster Ondrej Pavelec’s play was part of the reason the Thrashers shipped Lehtonen to Dallas, and he would probably still edge Biron for the starting job to start the season, but Biron could challenge. If nothing else, he would provide competent backup goaltending and probably still see 30 games or so, this is all speculating that the Moose doesn’t resign with a team whose fans do like him.

  • Johan Hedberg – OTTAWA

Hedberg could be a cheap and reliable veteran option to help out the situation in Ottawa. He could also become the next Manny Legace and get moved to 2 or 3 teams in the next 12 months.

  • Patrick Lalime – CALGARY

Only the Maytag repairman is more lonely that Mikka Kipprusoff’s backup, that doesn’t mean it is not a necessary slot to fill. Somebody has to do it, and Vesa Toskala is a free agent. Which brings us to:

  • Vesa Toskala – NY Islanders

Year after year, they know that they just have to have three goaltenders. And two will lose the starting job to Dwayne Roloson either through injury or flatout being outplayed. I’ll let you decide which is which.
Not going anywhere:

All those goalies under contract. Why would any team take on a $5 million contract when the can negotiate a more attractive salary with the netminder of their choosing?

And Jonathan Quick isn’t being traded, not yet anyway.

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