As the Stanley Cup final marches on, 28 other teams already have their sights set on the upcoming NHL Draft and free agent frenzy. With the draft a little over a week away, the hot stove chatter will surely pick up in the coming days as off-season activity gets ready to commence.
The 2013 off-season guarantees to be interesting. The salary cap is shrinking to $64.3 million, which will handcuff some teams and force them to make tough decisions. The free agent market is thin in talent, meaning the trade market could be lively this summer when you factor in the lower cap number.
With so little time between the raising of the Stanley Cup and July 5, it’s guaranteed to be chaotic.
Perhaps the most intriguing part of the looming off-season is the musical chairs that is expected to take place in the crease. Some high-profile goalies, most notably Roberto Luongo, are considered trade chips or maybe even buyout candidates.
The goalie market the last few years has been pretty bare, but that’s about to change.
Here’s a look at which goalies could be available this summer and which teams will be seeking help between the pipes:
Unless Vancouver Canucks general manager Mike Gillis throws a curveball, Roberto Luongo will almost certainly be traded this summer. The veteran backstop has been openly available since Cory Schneider took over the reigns as Vancouver’s top option in goal, but Gillis has yet to find a trading partner willing to meet his demands – which left Luongo in an awkward spot this season.
Despite his albatross contract, Luongo still has some talent left in the tank and can significantly improve a team with his presence in net. A change of scenery will help, too.
Now that Jonathan Quick has emerged as an elite goaltender and locked up through 2023, the Kings no longer need to keep Jonathan Bernier on the bench. The 24-year-old has the potential to be a successful starting netminder, but he won’t get that opportunity in Los Angeles. The Kings could get a nice player or prospect in return for Bernier.
The face of the Buffalo Sabres is heading into the final year of his contract, which has sparked trade rumours over the last few months. The Sabres don’t appear to be on any fast track towards Stanley Cup contention and Miller, soon to be 33, may want a chance to win now. Though he has underachieved since a banner performance in the 2010 Olympics, there’s no doubt what Miller is capable of between the pipes.
Jaroslav Halak/Brian Elliott
The 1-2 punch in St. Louis will be entering the final year of their contracts with a cloudy future. There were rumblings during the playoffs of a rift between Jaroslav Halak and the Blues’ coaching staff. Neither Halak nor Brian Elliott was reliable this season, which could result in a change.
With Viktor Fasth under contract for two more years, could the Ducks shed salary by trading Jonas Hiller? Hiller did start all seven of the Ducks’ playoff games, but Fasth is considered the starter of the future. Hiller’s $4.5-million cap hit could be spent elsewhere on the roster.
Will Ilya Bryzgalov be bought out by Philadelphia or kept for at least another year? That is the $51-million question. It may be better for both sides to simply move on, but the buyout would be extravagant for the Flyers. Bryzgalov is coming off arguably his worst NHL season, but that wouldn’t stop a team from taking a chance on him if he became a free agent.
Bryzgalov’s successor in Phoenix, Mike Smith, could be the next goalie to leave the desert for big money. Smith heads the short list of quality free agent goalies and will have many options this off-season. If Smith re-signs, he could continue to thrive in Phoenix but the in-limbo ownership situation will factor into the 31-year-old’s decision.
It will be interesting to see what kind of interest Backstrom gets in free agency. His best days are behind him, playing his best seasons with Jacques Lemaire as Minnesota’s coach, and he underwent sports hernia surgery after the playoffs. When the music stops, will Backstrom have a chair to sit in?
Backstrom’s former team may be looking for an upgrade in net, but salary cap issues may limit Minnesota’s ability to acquire a true difference-maker. They may have to settle for a cheap short-term solution, which means Backstrom could stay in the picture.
New York Islanders
The Islanders aren’t a team to splurge in free agency, but their biggest need this summer was a weakness in the playoffs. While free agent-to-be Evgeni Nabokov did a respectable job in net, a better goaltender could have helped the Islanders shock Pittsburgh in the first round. Will they bring in a big name to put a young team over the top?
Buying out Bryzgalov may not be their first option, but if they find a better option in net, why wouldn’t they pursue it? Philadelphia has been a black hole of sorts for goalies over the years. Their activity in this goalie carousel depends on their willingness to part ways with Bryzgalov.
There’s a real chance Smith cashes in on July 5, and the Coyotes likely wouldn’t be the highest bidder in that scenario. So unless Smith gives them a “hometown discount,” they’ll be looking for a new goaltending tandem.
Toronto Maple Leafs
No matter how much confidence the Leafs have in James Reimer, Toronto just won’t go away when it comes to goaltenders at the centre of trade rumors. They’ve been involved in the Luongo rumours all along, and the latest scuttlebutt came Tuesday when Nick Kypreos tweeted they are one of two “front runners” for Bernier’s services.
As the musical chairs proceed, more teams could get into the market for a new goaltender. No matter what, it promises to be a crazy, intriguing, unique summer for the men in the crease.