The 2018-19 season was the year of the tandem netminder.
The trend of having a 1A/1B situation in net opposed to a 65-game starter has been building for some time now and the merits of this strategy have been a defining aspect of the season. Two of the Vezina Trophy finalists started less than 47 games, as did both goalies in the Stanley Cup Final.
Of the 12 goalies who started at least 55 times this season, five missed the playoffs and only two got past the first round.
The value of load management is working its way into the NHL through the goaltending position. So even if you already have one of the elite netminders in the game, if you don’t have a backup capable of playing 35 games without being a liability, you should be in the goalie market this off-season.
We’ve already looked at seven teams in particular that need at least one, and maybe two, goalies before next season. But who are the goalies those teams could target? That’s our topic for today.
Here we look at a few netminders who potentially could be had, either on the free agent market or via trade.
The biggest, and most expensive, UFA goalie on the market this summer. Bobrovsky is one of the eight goalies who started more than 60 games this season and he’s done that three years in a row now. We all know what he is. Bobrovsky’s regular season track record is impeccable with two Vezina Trophies, and he finally came through with a good playoff performance. The Panthers are most closely linked with Bobrovsky, but the Islanders, Flames and Hurricanes could get in on him, too. Unlike a lot of guys on this list, Bobrovsky isn’t going somewhere to fill a tandem need – he’s going to continue to be a workhorse.
That means he’ll cost the most. Only two goalies make more than the $7.425 million Bobrovsky made on his last deal and he’ll be 31 by the time next season starts. As tandems become more important and teams look to save money anywhere they can on the roster, it’s fair to wonder how wise it is to dole out a raise and significant term for Goalie Bob. Especially with the surprise performances we saw at the position this year.
He used to be a heavy-usage starter, but injuries have been a factor and Varlamov may fit better starting 45-50 games. If you look at just this season for Varlamov you’ll see a goalie who started strong, then faded and lost Colorado’s top job to Philipp Grubauer. But if the term isn’t too long for the 31-year-old, there’s a chance he winds up as a bargain addition for a new team.
Coming off a contract that paid him $5.9 million against the cap, it’s hard to imagine any team signing him for that much with any sort of term. But although he’s been up and down at times, Varlamov does have a .917 save percentage over the past six seasons, which is tied for 14th-best in the league. And over just the past two seasons, his .926 save percentage at 5-on-5 is slightly better than Tuukka Rask and slightly behind Frederik Andersen.
If he comes to a short-term contract (three years or less) with a new team with an AAV at or even below $5 million, Varlamov could wind up being a steal.
This is going to be a fascinating contract to watch play out. His last contract with the Sabres was for $4 million, but Lehner had to take a one-year show-me deal worth $1.5 million with the Islanders and finished as a Vezina finalist. It was the best performance of his career, finishing with a .930 save percentage, and while playing behind one of the toughest defensive teams in the league helped, it’s worth pointing out that Lehner has been good elsewhere before.
He posted a .920 save percentage starting 59 games for Buffalo in 2016-17. In 2013-14, he played 36 games behind Craig Anderson in Ottawa and finished at .913. But the Sabres chose not to even qualify him last summer after a down season so throwing term and Vezina-calibre money at him now comes with high risk.
Petr Mrazek/Curtis McElhinney
We have to imagine the Hurricanes will sign at least one of these goalies to an extension and perhaps McElhinney is the one. After all, he’s turning 36 and has been a career backup so no one will be rushing to overpay him and put him in a spot where he’d see a heavier workload.
But some team may be open to taking a shot on Mrazek, who signed a one-year, $1.5-million deal with Carolina after imploding in Detroit and then Philadelphia. At one point not too long ago, Mrazek was a hot shot young netminder who looked like he may become elite at the position, and he’s still just 27 so his potential is still enticing. Still, even though much was made about his success in Carolina, it’s worth remembering he had a sub-.900 save percentage into December and really only took off in February. Injuries are a factor here too, so while Mrazek has probably earned a raise and a couple more years on his next contract, you don’t want to have to play him much more than half of your regular season games.
“We’re under the feeling that we would like to have both of them back,” Hurricanes general manager Don Waddell said after his team’s elimination. “Saying that, they both have the right to be unrestricted free agents. We will begin shortly talking to their representation, but our goal would be to bring them both back if we could.”
It’s next to impossible to pick out who the next Lehner, Binnington or Mrazek will be, but someone is going to surprise us in the crease next season. Given Talbot is just two years removed from a 73-game, .919 save percentage campaign, perhaps he could be the one?
The best place for him may be to just stay in Philadelphia, where he could backup good friend Carter Hart. But, really, as a cheap short-term option, Talbot has a decent enough track record to suspect he may be able to over-perform expectations behind a better defensive team. The reason he went to Edmonton in the first place is that he outgrew his backup position with the New York Rangers, where he played 21 and 36 games in 2013-14 and 2014-15, finishing .941 and .926 save percentages.
Just two years removed from being an NHL No. 1, Miller settled in nicely behind John Gibson in Anaheim, playing in 48 games the past two seasons and posting a .921 save percentage. He’ll turn 39 in July, so retirement is on the table and you have to remember part of the reason he went to Anaheim in the first place was a family decision and allowed his wife, actress Noureen DeWulf, to audition on short notice again. So if he left the Ducks he may not go far – and the San Jose Sharks may require a more capable backup to volatile Martin Jones.
Just as volatile as anyone else on this list, Smith is 37 and coming off one of the worst seasons of his career. It looked like he may have turned a corner in February when he started to wrestle the top job away from David Rittich, but by the time the playoffs started it again wasn’t clear who the best option was to start Game 1. The Flames chose to go with Smith, and though he posted a shutout in the opener he didn’t allow less than three goals after that.
In all likelihood, if the Flames move on from Smith, he’s going to have to be fine at least in a tandem next season. If you’re counting on Smith for 50 games, you’re probably not a playoff team at this point.
Last summer there were reports that Anderson had asked for a trade out of Ottawa, though that was never confirmed nor denied. He did, however, say in August that he was “too old for drama” and that he had no interest in going elsewhere if all that had been cleared up in Ottawa. But obviously, it’t not exactly been smooth sailing in the organization since.
Anderson is 38 years old now and heading into the final year on a contract that pays him $4.75 million. He’s clearly not going to be helping these Sens to a post-season berth or run, so as long as Ottawa can still get to the cap floor without him (they’re currently under it by about $16 million) it may just be best for the team to get a pick or prospect in return.
Anderson has historically been an up and down goalie – one good season followed by a soft one. He didn’t rebound all the way this season, but you could argue a .903 save percentage on a team that allowed a league-worst average of 35.7 shots per game would translate well to a better team. He’s cheap, low risk and you have to commit nothing to Anderson beyond next season. If he fills a need as a 1A or 1B, that’s not a bad get.
Turning 29 this summer, Allen at one point was St. Louis’s goalie of the future – Jordan Binnington before Jordan Binnington, if you will. But now that a new prospect has taken over and got all the way to the Cup Final, the Blues could consider moving him out. But to do that, St. Louis would need a capable backup to come in.
It’s worth remembering that had Ville Husso been healthy, he would have been given the first look in January instead of Binnington. Husso is still just 24, a cheap RFA, and has a pretty good track record. In 2015-16, he was named the Finnish Elite League’s top netminder after leading the league in save percentage and GAA, and then in 2017-18 he was on the AHL’s all-rookie team. This season was a terrible one for him, but again, injuries limited him to 27 games. If the Blues want to move on from Allen and his $4.35-million cap hit for another two seasons, Husso may be a fit to slide in behind Binnington.
If the Panthers do land Bobrovsky in free agency (or any other goalie to take over), their crease would be suddenly crowded with Roberto Luongo and Reimer. If Luongo doesn’t retire, there’s almost no chance they trade him because he really is a part of the community and should end his career as a Panther. Reimer is the obvious candidate to move – and if no one trades for him initially, it’s possible he gets bought out and heads to the market as a UFA.
You don’t want Reimer as your No. 1, but he’s not been bad as a tandem option. He posted .920 and .913 save percentages in his first two seasons with Florida, and in both cases played slightly more than half the games. Luongo’s injury put a heavier workload on Reimer this season until injury slowed him as well and he finished with a career-low .900 save percentage. If that’s as bad as it gets for the 31-year-old, you can do worse on a 30-game starter. And with just two years left on a contract with a $3.4-million AAV, the financial commitment isn’t too much – especially if the Panthers would retain a little of the cost.
Through his career, Quick has been much more than a tandem netminder. In seasons where he’s been healthy he’s always started at least 60 games. The issue is he does have a fairly substantial injury history, so at this point in his career it would be wise to rest him more often even if he is good to go. Quick will turn 34 years old midway through next season and injuries have interrupted two of his past three campaigns. This season marked the worst of his career, with an .888 save percentage in 46 games, but given his playoff track record there may be some team out there looking for that clutch factor in net to try and get over the hump.
Why would the Kings trade Quick? They’re really at a point where they have to start thinking about saving some money and moving to a younger core. And while Quick struggled in 2018-19, Jack Campbell was very good in 31 games, posting a .934 save percentage at 5-on-5. It’s taken the 11th-overall pick from 2010 a long time to develop, but at 27 years old and making just $675,000, Campbell may be worth moving forward with as Los Angeles transitions and figures out what they have. Cal Petersen, a 24-year-old RFA, showed well in 11 games as well though his AHL numbers weren’t stellar.
The Kings may have to keep some of Quick’s salary to make it work, though. He’s making $5.8 million against the cap for another four seasons, so there is quite a bit of risk a new team would have to take as well. But would that risk be worth it for, say, a $4-million AAV on Quick?