NHL free agency: Top 5 goaltenders available

Ray Emery, Evgeni Nabokov and Ilya Bryzgalov highlight this year's free-agent goalie crop. (AP)
July 4, 2013, 9:11 AM

While there aren’t many elite goalies in this year’s free agent class, many of them have championship pedigree and veteran experience.

Moreover, a lot of these goaltenders share a common theme: goaltenders slightly past their prime, looking for a shot at redemption.

None of the goalies on this list will turn a fringe team into a Stanley Cup contender, but can log heavy minutes and teams will not have to break the bank to sign any one of them.

TOP GOALTENDERS AVAILABLE

Ilya Bryzgalov

2012 salary cap hit: $5,666,667

The enigmatic goaltender outlasted his welcome in Philadelphia, as Flyers management used one of its compliance buyouts on him. Bryzgalov feuded with the Philadelphia press corps and at times was uncomfortable in Philadelphia, although one wouldn’t know it from his appearance on HBO’s 24/7. Bryzgalov sported a not-terrible .900 save percentage and 2.79 G.A.A., and the erratic 33-year-old could make a case for a starting bid elsewhere.

Possible fits: Edmonton, N.Y. Islanders

Ray Emery

2012 salary cap hit: $1,150,000

The 30-year-old goaltender is coming off a career season in which he won a Stanley Cup as the backup goaltender on the Chicago Blackhawks. Emery’s numbers were spectacular, posting a 17-1-0 record with an equally impressive 1.94 G.A.A. and .922 save percentage to match. After a resurgent season, Emery could well become another team’s starting goaltender, a role he has been more than capable of performing in years past. Although he was considered a risk earlier in his career, Emery was a consummate pro in Chicago and will probably be welcomed back with open arms.

Possible fits: Chicago, Philadelphia

Evgeni Nabokov

2012 salary cap hit: $2,750,000

Evgeni Nabokov backstopped the New York Islanders to a playoff appearance before bowing out against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Although at age 37 his best years are behind him, Nabokov recorded a stellar 23-11-7 mark with a 2.50 GAA and .910 save percentage and will certainly provide veteran experience to any team he joins. Nabokov could also be a solid backup, a role to which the Russian goaltender could easily transition at this stage of his career.

Possible fits: N.Y. Islanders, Philadelphia

Tim Thomas

2012 salary cap hit: $5,000,000

Tim Thomas is trying to return from his self-induced sabbatical. If Thomas can rediscover his 2011-12 form, he’ll be coveted by teams in need of a starting goaltender. The 39-year-old posted a 35-19-1 record with a 2.36 GAA and .920 save percentage with the Bruins two seasons ago and could be an outstanding bargain for any team that takes the risk on him. Thomas may have talked his way out of Boston, but some club would love to have him on the roster.

Possible fits: Philadelphia, N.Y. Islanders

Rick DiPietro

2012 salary cap hit: $4,500,000

DiPietro has long been maligned in the public for his long history with injuries, even longer for his 15-year, $67.5 million contract. However, the exorbitant contract is a thing of the past as the Islanders used a compliance buyout to erase the final eight years of the deal. DiPietro is a reclamation project, but at age 31 may have some stellar years yet. The former first-overall pick will probably be best utilized as a backup at this point in his career, and it will be interesting to see how many suitors he has left, if any.

Possible fits: TBD

Honourable mention:

Chris Mason

2012 salary cap hit: $1,500,000

Mason projects to be a backup at this point, and in 11 games with Winnipeg, sported a 3.73 G.A.A. The 37-year-old has been in decline for a couple of seasons, and his suitors may be limited. Mason provides veteran experience, but he may be forced to seek other avenues.

Jose Theodore

2012 salary cap hit: $1,500,000

The 2002 Hart Memorial Trophy winner is well past his prime but now presents a serviceable backup option. Theodore sported a 3.29 GAA in 15 games with Florida last season and, like many candidates on this list, will be sure to provide experience and leadership. The 36-year-old Quebec native could be ideal on a championship-calibre team, and it would present an ideal road for Theodore to go out on.

Al Montoya

2012 salary cap hit: $601,000

Although there was a time when people doubted if Al Montoya would even reach the NHL, the American native has proven to be a capable backup goaltender. The sixth-overall pick in 2004 is still 28 and will be able to provide at least a couple years of service. Although Montoya has yet to prove starter material, he did record a respectable 2.39 GAA in 2010-11 with the Islanders.

Nikolai Khabibulin

2012 salary cap hit: $3,750,000

For all intents and purposes, Khabibulin could be finished as a NHL goaltender. If he isn’t, he’s worth the risk on a one-year deal. The 40-year-old Russian goaltender made 12 starts for Edmonton and could serve as a backup, and a mentor to a team with a young, promising goaltender. However, this last stint with the Oilers may have been the end of the road for him.

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