NHL training camps are closing in quickly. We’ll be rolling out our annual fantasy hockey rankings a few weeks before the regular season begins in October, but Thursday and Friday we’ll dive into a brief refresher course for both poolies and hockey fans alike about the men who are the backbone of any team on the ice and in pools: the goaltenders.
We’ll recap each and every team’s starter and back-up now that summer is almost over, along with their contract status.
Remember that thanks to realignment, the Eastern Conference is no longer broken down by the Atlantic, Northeast and Southeast divisions. Instead, it’s now down to two larger divisions called the Atlantic and the Metropolitan.
The Atlantic has the Boston Bruins, Buffalo Sabres, Detroit Red Wings, Montreal Canadiens, Ottawa Senators, Tampa Bay Lightning, Toronto Maple Leafs and Florida Panthers.
The Metropolitan has the Carolina Hurricanes, New Jersey Devils, New York Islanders, New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Washington Capitals and Columbus Blue Jackets.
The Bruins locked franchise netminder Tuukka Rask up with a lengthy eight-year, $56 million pact on July 10. The Finnish keeper had signed a one-year ‘prove it’ deal the summer prior and Rask smashed it out of the park during the shortened post-lockout campaign. With Anton Khudobin opting to sign with the Canes during free agency, backup duties will fall upon Chad Johnson, 27, (one-year, $600,000 contract) and 24-year-old (as of September 4) Niklas Svedberg (entering second year of his two-year, entry-level deal carrying a $1 million cap hit at the NHL level).
Ryan Miller will still, as far as we know today, be the No. 1 backstopper for the Sabres when the team opens its campaign on October 2 in Detroit. The 33-year old is entering the final season of his five-year, $31-plus million contract. Jhonas Enroth, 25, has been apprenticing under Miller and will, likely sooner than later, be given the chance to run with the starting gig. Enroth is playing on a new two-year contract carrying a reasonable $1.250 million cap hit. Should a Miller trade finally be consummated, rising star Matt Hackett – acquired in the Jason Pominville trade – can serve not only as the back-up to Enroth, but also as someone who will push for more starts. The 23-year-old Hackett has already played out his three-year entry-level deal and signed a one-year contract that’ll pay him $715,000 in the NHL.
In Detroit, Jimmy Howard was extended with a six-year, $31.8 million deal in mid-April. His cap hit will be just a shade under $5.3 million. The 29-year-old has posted what can only be described as stellar stats in three of his four campaigns as an NHL starter, the last of which he was without Nicklas Lidstrom in front of him and Howard still excelled. The mercurial Jonas Gustavsson, 28, a goaltender with more talent than that for which he is generally given credit thanks to health issues, will perform spot-duty in the secondary role. He’s finishing up a two-year deal which pays him $1.5 million per season.
Les Canadiens, as usual, will feature Carey Price between the pipes. The British Columbia-born 26-year-old is in the second season of a six-year, $39 million contract. Veteran Peter Budaj, set to turn 31 in mid-September, was extended by Montreal in April for another two years at $1.4 million per, which represents a few hundred thousand dollars more than he made on his last two-year contract. Solid team guy who is perfectly-suited for his role.
Craig Anderson posted ridiculously incredible numbers (1.69 GAA, .941 SV%) in his only 24 starts for the Ottawa Senators last season and another two years remain on a four-year deal which pays him an average of just under $3.2 million per season. His actual salary will be $3.5 million in these final two campaigns. He’ll be pushed hard by 22-year-old Swede Robin Lehner though, who is maturing into the sort of netminder around which many organizations would love to build.
Speaking of Lehner and the Sens, Ben Bishop was given the shot for which he has worked so hard when Bryan Murray dealt him to the Tampa Bay Lightning for Cory Conacher April 3. Bishop and Anders Lindback will go toe-to-toe for starts on a nightly basis and although this duo may lack a wealth of NHL experience, the acquisition of these men will prove to have marked a significant watershed moment in the Lightning’s history. They’re going to develop into a formidable tandem.
Ah, Toronto. We have an offering to thee, Land of Media Controversies. With Jonathan Bernier smartly plucked out of Southern California by Dave Nonis, the Leafs now possess two youthful, but starting-quality, netminders. The 25-year-old was signed to a two-year contract with a cap hit of $2.9 million. James Reimer, also 25 and who carried the mail well for this team last season, has one season left on his deal, which only costs the Leafs $1.8 million of cap space. Barring something catastrophic, poolies will likely want to secure both of these guys if Toronto’s starts are wanted because the competition should be strong amongst this duo.
Jacob Markstrom certainly hasn’t been without his developmental struggles, but the 23-year-old has all the raw tools to become a monstrous force in this league. Eventually. For now, the Swede is playing on a new two-year deal that includes a first year on a two-way contract. The second season is one-way and his cap hit will be $1.2 million. At the moment, the Panthers only have Scott Clemmensen still under contract in net. The 36-year-old veteran has one year left on his two-year, $2.4 million pact. Jose Theodore remains an unsigned unrestricted free agent.
Cam Ward is at the halfway point of his six-year, $37.8 million contract with the Carolina Hurricanes. Ward, 29, suffered a season-ending MCL sprain in March but is healthy now and raring to go. This year he’ll have the aforementioned Anton Khudobin, 27, as his understudy. The former Boston Bruins goaltender was signed to a very reasonable one-year, $800,000 deal by Jim Rutherford during free agency.
This season will mark one of transition for the New Jersey Devils, who surprised the hockey world at the draft in June by announcing the acquisition of 27-year-old Cory Schneider from the Vancouver Canucks. The legendary Martin Brodeur, who celebrated his 41st birthday in May, will be playing out the second half of a two-year contract he signed in the summer of 2012. Will it be his final NHL pact? Time will tell. But the writing is on the wall as far as Schneider being the successor for the future Hall of Famer. Schneider, incidentally, is about to begin Year Two of the three-year, $12 million contract he signed when it looked like he’d be sliding into Roberto Luongo’s role as the starting goaltender for the Vancouver Canucks. An extension with the Devils will only be a matter of time.
Rick DiPietro and the New York Islanders had been synonymous with each other for a long, long time, even with the goaltender hurt and out of the lineup so often. That page has officially been turned with his buyout though. 38-year-old Evgeni Nabokov will once again guard the twine, having signed a $3.25 million deal in early July to stay with the club for at least one more season. Kevin Poulin and Anders Nilsson, each 23, stand the best shot at the back-up job in that order as things stand now.
King Henrik remains the most proven, reliable fantasy option year in and year out and the New York Rangers will be looking to ink his contract extension as soon as possible to avoid too much of a distraction. Lundqvist, 31, is entering the final season of his six-year, $41.25 million pact and he said this week the two sides have been in discussions. Martin Biron, who recently turned 36, has one more year on his two-season contract. He takes up $1.3 million of cap space.
It wouldn’t be a hockey season in Philadelphia without some sort of interesting storyline revolving around goaltending. Ilya Bryzgalov and his humongous contract were, fairly or not, sent packing with a buyout. The Flyers now have two legitimately solid bargains between the pipes in Ray Emery, 30, and Steve Mason, 25. Emery returns to Philly with a one-year, $1.65 million deal that will prove to be one of the best deals in the league this season. Mason, starving for a fresh start after his career went off the rails in Columbus following such a promising start, will only earn $1.5 million on his one-year pact.
Questions continue to swirl about Marc-Andre Fleury’s ability to stop the puck when it counts the most (he and a sports psychologist have been working together this summer), but that just means there will never be a better time for fantasy owners to steal him in fall drafts for the regular season. The 28-year-old, who has been seeing a sports psychologist this summer to make his mental game sharper, is going to challenge for another 40-win campaign and he’ll do so with competent peripherals on a dynamic Pittsburgh Penguins squad. He’s under contract for another two years with a $5 million cap hit. 37-year-old Tomas Vokoun, who stepped in during the playoffs with some impressive performances, has another season left on the two-year, $4 million deal he signed.
Youth continues to be served between the pipes for the Washington Capitals. Braden Holtby, 23, and Michal Neuvirth, 25, will be charged with keeping out more pucks than Alex Ovechkin & Co. can fire past the opposing goaltender on any given night. Holtby is beginning his new two-year, $3.7 million contract and Neuvirth’s two-year deal also kicks in, but with a heavier $2.5 million cap hit.
Vezina winner Sergei Bobrovsky cashed in with a two-year, $11.25 million deal. Not a bad payday for the 24-year-old, coming off his entry-level contract. While duplicating his phenomenal two-month run over a full season will be difficult, the Columbus Blue Jackets are distinctly headed in the right direction as a franchise now. Curtis McElhinney, 30, was inked to a one-year, $600,000 deal and will spell Bobrovsky every so often.
Friday we’ll run down the Western Conference goaltending situation.