When it comes to the NHL trade deadline, most of the deals we’ll see will be for forwards and defencemen. We’ll see rentals moved. We’ll see top-six players added up front, and gritty players to the depths of rosters. There are a couple top-four defencemen who could be had — two of which have already been dealt — as well as a number of bottom-pair or No. 7 players.
There are many possibilities, both big and small.
But what about the goalie market?
It’s the position that can bring the most panic to a fan base if there’s even a short stretch of instability. Subpar goaltending can sink your playoff hopes even if every other part of your team is clicking. And yet, it may be the most difficult to address, certainly in-season.
The goalie trade market is the least defined of all the positions. While we’ve had three goalie trades in the past month, we’re talking about three guys unlikely to see much action: Alex Stalock, Michael McNiven and Carter Hutton. And the more impactful goalies moved over the past two years haven’t exactly brought back home-run returns to the seller.
In September 2020, Jake Allen was traded to Montreal for a third-rounder and two sevenths. At the 2020 deadline, Robin Lehner was sent to Vegas for Malcolm Subban, a prospect and a second-round pick. And just a couple of weeks before that deadline, the Leafs picked up Jack Campbell (and Kyle Clifford) for Trevor Moore and a couple of third-rounders. And, of course, last off-season, Marc-Andre Fleury was salary-dumped to Chicago for a middling prospect. His salary, and Vegas’ inability to retain any of it, certainly affected that return.
Heck, even Alex Nedeljkovic, a 25-year-old at the time coming off a Calder finalist season, returned only Jonathan Bernier and a third-rounder to Carolina.
With the exception of the Darcy Kuemper trade to Colorado last summer – where the starter-desperate contender gave up Conor Timmins and a first-round pick – we wouldn’t call this a seller’s market.
The other dynamic here is that, if you want to find a value goalie to play the role of backup or work in tandem with another on the roster, you probably have a better chance of doing that in the off-season. Rather than the trade market, the game of goalie musical chairs generally happens through free agency. Why, just last summer we saw Frederik Andersen take a pay cut to $4.5 million on a two-year deal with Carolina. The Bruins replaced Tuukka Rask with Linus Ullmark through free agency — and then homegrown Jeremy Swayman turned out to be the guy anyway.
If you can wait until the summer to address your situation in net, you probably do. A number of the names listed below will be available to sign in July. On top of that, Campbell and Kuemper are both slated to be UFAs, along with Fleury if he continues his career. All of them could be No. 1 solutions for someone. But you’ll be hard-pressed to find many available options who tick that box right now.
There are certainly teams with questions in net. Minnesota, Edmonton, Toronto, Vegas and Washington immediately come to mind as potential destinations for the top available goalies. But how realistic is it to really improve through this year’s trade market and what is the price to do so? There may not be a heck of a lot to choose from that would make worried fans sleep better at night — and paying the same prices we’ve seen for other positional players is risky.
Two weeks from the deadline, with goalie worries escalating in these markets, here is a tiered look at the goalies who may be available in the right scenario.
TOP CANDIDATE TO MOVE
Marc-Andre Fleury, Chicago Blackhawks
Long thought a certainty to be moved by the deadline, doubt did begin to sprout around his availability. Though Fleury has a partial no-move clause, the Hawks have reportedly assured Fleury they won’t send him anywhere he doesn’t want to go. “I’m not sure he’ll want to go anywhere unless it is a serious contender,” Elliotte Friedman said.
As to which teams could be interested in Fleury, the Washington Capitals were the first one to pop up earlier in the season, though his past as a Penguin seemed to make that unlikely.
“I am not convinced that Fleury would be comfortable doing it,” Friedman said on The Jeff Marek Show in January. “He’s still very much a Penguin and I think sometimes we underestimate how much passion there is in these rivalries.”
The Edmonton Oilers are another team that could look to address its netminding situation, but they don’t stand out among the top Cup contenders and may not qualify for Fleury’s list.
Toronto? Concerns in that net aren’t going away. Erik Kallgren’s first two starts quelled the fan panic for a couple days (every game is an overreaction in these parts), but Saturday’s loss has them bubbling again. Toronto is thought to be looking to add on the blue line and at forward instead. GM Kyle Dubas shot down suggestions he was wading into the goalie market two weeks ago and acknowledged his desire to focus on the blue line. Since then, though, there were a few more bad starts and Jack Campbell was pushed to the sidelines with a rib injury.
Vegas was the latest addition to the goalie pool, as Robin Lehner is out with a knee injury that has an uncertain timeline to it for now. Laurent Brossoit and Logan Thompson have not picked up the slack enough in his stead. The idea of a Vegas return for Fleury was floated, and then shot down. How that reunion would work after his unceremonious trade is anyone’s guess. Still — on paper at least it makes some sense.
Golden Knights coach Peter DeBoer finally boiled over this week and aired some frustration with his current netminding duo — and Vegas is now ninth in the West by points percentage.
“We just didn’t get in front of enough pucks,” DeBoer said after a 7-3 loss to Winnipeg. “It’s pretty simple. I’m not a goaltending expert, but you’ve got to get in front of a couple.”
Minnesota has also struggled for the past few weeks and their goaltending has become a sore spot — Cam Talbot has allowed four goals or more in seven of his past 10 starts. The Athletic’s Michael Russo reported Saturday that the Wild have inquired about Chicago’s goalie and that Fleury may be open to signing off on a trade.
Will Fleury go? Maybe the question should be: does he see any of these suitors as legitimate Cup contenders and will they meet Chicago’s asking price of a first-rounder, or do they have to come down some?
Scout’s Analysis: “Has ability to steal games. Playoffs do not intimidate him. Best available goalie. Proven winner. Vezina Trophy winner, Stanley Cup champion.” – Jason Bukala
UNLIKELY, BUT BIG MOVE POTENTIAL
Semyon Varlamov, New York Islanders
There are probably more reasons for the Isles to keep Varlamov than to move him. A playoff push is out of reach this season, but it was a strange one for the team that included some unique challenges. This, after back-to-back Round 3 playoff appearances. Throw 2021-22 out and the Islanders could return to something close to that form in 2022-23. Even with Ilya Sorokin confidently taking over for the (likely) longer-term fit here, having the security of two capable goalies for one more season could be valuable.
GM Lou Lamoriello recently acknowledged that some individual performances haven’t been up to expectation this season, but also told The Athletic’s Kevin Kurz he has “a real strong belief in this core.”
As discussed above, the goalie market isn’t a particularly well-defined one either. The Isles would have to get something in return for Varlamov that notably improves them in some way going forward and it’s not obvious the in-season trade market could bring it.
Still, we wonder if the conditions could ever be right. Sure, having two goalies is nice, but if Sorokin stays on track, Varlamov would seem likely to walk as a UFA in 2023. If the right return could be found from a motivated buyer – and that’s key to any deal – the Islanders may find a better value through free agency than spending $5 million against the cap for a 1B/backup again next season.
If Fleury doesn’t want to change teams, Varlamov would become the best potentially available at the position. And although Fleury would be a rental, Varlamov is signed for another season, inflating his value. Does this encourage any potential buyer to spend up, or is the market for the higher-end goalies just not going to be ripe enough?
John Gibson, Anaheim Ducks
It feels like Gibson has been orbiting the trade rumour well for a few years, but always from a distance. Same thing now. Are the Ducks likely to trade him? Probably not. Even if you want to count them out in 2022, the Ducks are putting their rebuild pieces in place and could be in position to see more meaningful progression soon. The last thing you’d want is to leave a weakness in net now, and there is no clear or immediate replacement for Gibson in the organization.
Gibson’s numbers suffered the past two years as the Ducks sagged, and he was recovering to some degree this year. Since the All-Star break, however, he’s been pretty awful: allowing four goals or more in nine of 12 starts. Probably just a blip, though not the most inspiring thing if you’re trying to settle your goalie position through trade.
Of course, if you’re trying to get Gibson, his past few outings don’t carry too much weight because this would be a long-term investment. Gibson makes $6.4 million against the cap through 2026-27 and, at 28 years old, should have a few good years left. That increases the cost of acquisition and will likely be a bridge too far.
It’s still worth noting Gibson here because a) Anaheim is set up to potentially be the deadline’s most interesting team and b) they have reportedly been careful in committing term to any of their pending UFAs, wanting lots of flexibility moving forward. Gibson’s is the longest-term deal on the books.
James Reimer, San Jose Sharks
At 33 years old, Reimer is one of those goalies who absolutely could find a hot-streak moment and run with it. A slightly above-average goalie for the past couple of years, Reimer has been pretty good for the Sharks this season but with a few hiccups. His .916 save percentage is the best it’s been since 2016-17 and his 8.13 goals saved above average via Hockey Reference is 15th in the league. At $2.25 million, he’s a great value as well, and signed for another season at that rate.
There’s an argument to be made that Reimer is the best potential value available on the goalie trade market.
The Sharks are out of it this season, but not giving up on the near future, signing rather than trading Tomas Hertl. That would seem to indicate they want to push on, and perhaps Reimer is more valuable to them to keep. On the one hand, Reimer is almost guaranteed to bring value again next season and could still be dealt as a rental in 2023. On the other, if the Sharks can get a slightly better return selling him now, they might be able to find an affordable replacement through free agency.
Reimer was week-to-week with a lower-body injury, and that was making it unclear what his status might be. But he returned this week with a couple good performances in losses to Florida and Los Angeles.
Scout’s Analysis: “Only 33. Seems like he’s been around forever. His game has been solid. Does he have mindset to win in playoffs?”
Anton Forsberg, Ottawa Senators
Pierre Dorion has a decision to make here. Forsberg, 29, is on an expiring contract and could make for a good bet by a contender in this uncertain goalie market. He has a .918 save percentage in 31 games, is 13th in the league by GSAA — with those numbers you could even think about putting him into a playoff game and not see it as a huge risk.
He’s also brought some stability to the position for Ottawa and they may want to re-sign him to try it again next season. However, given his NHL experience prior to this season has been sparse and spotty, it might be wiser to sell high right now (not that he’d bring an oustanding return).
Alexandar Georgiev, New York Rangers
It hasn’t been the best season for Georgiev, who is well, well out of the goalie picture for the Rangers. His save percentage has slipped a little more every season since his 10-game 2017-18 debut, though it’s worth noting he’s in a tougher situation now than perhaps ever before.
Georgiev once had promise to be at least a tandem option, if not a starter, in the right situation. He at least deserved the shot. In New York, Igor Shesterkin was always the plan, and he’s arrived with a season so good he could win the Hart Trophy. So after Georgiev was building his resumé for a few years, he’s now used almost exclusively in back-to-back situations and has no chance of settling in to a routine.
This isn’t a situation where the Rangers will get a big return, and maybe not even a particularly notable one. Would a late-round pick or two do it? Georgiev will be an unhappy RFA this summer and seems replaceable for the Rangers. And while, sure, they might see value in keeping the backup for playoff insurance, this is a team that will be done if anything happens to Shesterkin. If it comes to that, will Georgiev be able to take this team any further than Keith Kinkaid?
So why trade for him? An acquiring team would be getting a 26-year-old with a chip on his shoulder and a controllable contract for at least another season. He used to have more promise than he does now and if given a fresh opportunity, maybe there’s still potential to capture.
Scout’s Analysis: “In need of a fresh start. He looks like he has lost his focus and confidence. A risky trade deadline pickup if team is looking for a goalie to come in and make saves now. Needs to be rebuilt.”
Jaroslav Halak, Vancouver Canucks
Halak was supposed to be that safety net to keep Thatcher Demko rested this season. But as the Canucks have needed to lean on Demko to pull them back from a rough start, Halak’s role has been diminished. Rather than being a 1B, Halak is on track to play fewer games than in any full season he’s had since 2013-14 — and when he has gotten a start, Halak hasn’t earned himself more of them. His GSAA of minus-6.82 ranks 55th out of 70 NHL goalies.
“Jaroslav Halak established himself as one of the best 1B options in the National Hockey League over the past 5-6 years, maybe even a little longer,” goalie guru and NHL.com writer Kevin Woodley told Halford & Brough. “But there’s a very fine line between 1B and every-two-weeks-backup. And he’s never had to be that guy.”https://halford-brough-in-the-morning.simplecast.com/episodes/hour-1-the-canucks-didnt-lean-on-demko?t=27m20s
Halak has complete control of the situation with a full no-move clause.
Scout’s Analysis: “He looks checked out. Everything about his game is off right now. Team trading for him must be in desperate situation.”
Karel Vejmelka, Arizona Coyotes
A fifth-round pick of Nashville’s in 2015, the 25-year-old Vejmelka left the Czech League to come play in North America for the first time this season and has been one of the few good stories in Arizona. It’s not that he’s set up to be an obvious saviour somewhere — his .905 save percentage and minus-3.58 GSAA aren’t stand out — but he does face a difficult workload with the Coyotes.
Vejmelka is lining up to be an RFA this summer and though he shouldn’t cost too much to keep around, the Coyotes may look at him and see a player they can turn into a pick or prospect who wasn’t even in the plans before. Or, they see him as a cheap, capable goalie to move forward with and worth more than what might be offered in trade.
HAIL MARY OPTIONS
Joonas Korpisalo, Columbus Blue Jackets
It has been another struggle this season for Korpisalo. He had been out of the lineup since the end of January before returning on March 10 — and has a .775 save percentage in the three March games he’s played. He has an .878 save percentage on the season and well on track to finish below .900 for the fourth time in the past five seasons. But, as a pending UFA, the Blue Jackets could seek to trade him for … anything.
Is Korpisalo even a backup you’d prefer to spend an asset on? That’s the question anyone is asking themselves and, perhaps, he’d be added to be a third-string “safety net” somewhere instead. There is not a lot of upside here anymore, and it’s not even obvious that Korpisalo would be an upgrade in a lot of situations.
Scout’s Analysis: “Buyer beware. He has been trending negatively for an extended period of time. Poor performances outweigh his good nights.”
Craig Anderson, Buffalo Sabres
Anderson has been a nice story for the Sabres this season and has been the ideal fit for “veteran presence” on a young team. In 19 games he has a .903 save percentage, so he won’t be coming in to take over a No. 1 job for a playoff team, but he is excellent support and you could do much worse in a pinch.
The Sabres won’t be able to return much for the 40-year-old rental, so they may instead decide to run him back at age 41.
Thomas Greiss, Detroit Red Wings
Long an underrated goalie, Greiss is on an expiring contract and not playing at his best this season. Sometimes veterans just hit a wall and experience a fall off they don’t recover from. You have to wonder if that’s where the 36-year-old is now.
In Detroit last season, Greiss posted a .912 save percentage and a plus-3.36 goals saved above average. This season he’s at .887 and minus-13.53 — Greiss’ worst season of his career.
Greiss would be an insurance pickup for someone who only sees playoff game action if something goes wrong. At most, you bet on him as a backup and hope a better defence than Detroit’s help him perform better. He’ll come right off the books again in the summer.
Scout’s Analysis: “Back nine of his career. A backup more than a starter.”
Martin Jones, Philadelphia Flyers
Not since 2017-18 has Jones finished a season with a .900 save percentage or better, currently sitting right at .902. At this point, we know exactly what he is.
Add Jones’ name to the list as another backup option who may instead be better fit as a No. 3 emergency for a contender. His $2-million salary comes off the books again this summer, so this is strictly a short-term thing. There is almost no game-changing potential here, though. It’s more a question if the Flyers will be able to find a taker for the 32-year-old, and if his past four games (all allowing three goals or less) are enough to encourage anyone to think of him as a backup improvement. The Flyers would take any sort of asset for him.
Scout’s Analysis: “What version of Martin Jones do you get on a nightly basis? Risky acquisition.”
Since returning from his AHL stint, Knight has played three games with a .946 save percentage.
Mackenzie Blackwood, New Jersey Devils
While the Devils are well out of the playoffs, it’s believed they want to try and address their goalie situation by trying to add someone for next season and, possibly, beyond. That would leave Blackwood on the outs and a possible trade candidate, though a buying team would also be thinking beyond this season.
Blackwood has been out of the lineup to injury since January and that followed a late start to the season due to injury. When he has played this season, he hasn’t been close to looking like the young, high-upside future No. 1 he was before the pandemic seasons. Blackwood had back-to-back years with above-.915 save percentages, but was at .902 last season and .894 this. By GSAA, his minus-9.32 this season ranks 59th of 70 goalies.