How much faith are the Los Angeles Kings willing to place in Peter Budaj?
The 34-year-old journeyman is a third-string goalie on a decent NHL team, but thanks to a pair of early-season groin injuries, he’s been thrust into a No. 1 role.
Yes, Budaj grabbed a pair of extra-time wins in relief for the Kings this weekend, over Dallas and Vancouver, but his save percentage was a shaky .889.
So with his No. 1 Jonathan Quick (IR, three months) and No. 2 Jeff Zatkoff (IR) on the shelf, does GM Dean Lombardi trust his possession-hungry club to keep pace in the Pacific Division with the AHL tandem of Budaj and 24-year-old Jack Campbell?
“Thank God, I’m still healthy and can perform. [Last year], I didn’t have anything, and right now I’m the guy who’s going to play most of the games. It’s a huge blessing. It just shows you can never quit,” Budaj told the Los Angeles Times.
“This is awesome and I’m really thankful.”
Cool redemption story, but if the Budaj Band-Aid starts to tear, what then?
Sure, other teams have been hit with early-onset goalie questions, but unlike Arizona, Carolina, Calgary or Toronto, L.A. is not a rebuilding club. The Kings can ill afford to have poor netminding cost them a playoff spot.
Los Angeles has just $1.02 million in salary cap space, so a trade would require some financial finagling on Lombardi’s part.
With that in mind, here are seven options worth at least a tire kick.
The 29-year-old veteran has proven he can carry an NHL workload and is not too far removed from his career year of 2014-15, when he went 22-16-8 and posted a .920 save percentage.
Pavelec’s $3.9 million cap hit — not the least bit cheap for a guy plying his trade in the American Hockey League — is not the only stumbling block here. Embracing their youth movement from the net out, the Jets are rolling with a big-league tandem of Connor Hellebuyck and Michael Hutchinson.
Neither of those youngsters has seized the No. 1 role, and the Jets rank 26th in goals allowed (3.8 per game). Winnipeg GM Kevin Cheveldayoff, whom we believe would rather be in the wild card than the lottery, could recall Pavelec if the kids can’t keep puck out.
Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman suggested Bernier — who was drafted by the Kings 11th overall in 2006 — as a potential target, citing L.A. goaltending coach Bill Ranford’s fondness for the former Maple Leaf.
Bernier was decent in his one start, stopping 42 of 45 pucks in a loss to the Penguins, and the Ducks do need to shed salary, but trades between bitter rivals seldom occur.
Florida is one of a few NHL teams paying for enviable goaltending depth. Hence, the Panthers have Berra and his cap-friendly cap hit ($1.45 million) buried in Springfield.
Stuck behind Roberto Luongo and James Reimer on the depth chart, this one makes a ton of sense. Berra is an unrestricted free agent at season’s end, and his trade value should be strong. He’s posted a .976 save percentage in the early going at the AHL level and was solid as a backup man in Colorado for two seasons.
Mason is the name that pops up more frequently in Philadelphia trade rumours because his cap hit ($4.1 million) is much more cumbersome than Michal Neuvirth’s ($1.65 million), but both are 28-year-old 1B types in the final year of expiring deals.
Neither has proven better than Budaj in this young season, however. Mason has a .882 save percentage through three starts; Neuvirth has a .854 save percentage in two starts. And to insure against their own injuries, the playoff-hopeful Flyers need both.
With the broken hand of Stanley Cup champion Matt Murray healing well (he practised with the Penguins Monday), Condon, 26, becomes a bit more expendable in Pittsburgh.
Condon’s cap hit ($575,000) is right, he’s a UFA next summer, and his 21 wins and .903 save percentage with Montreal last season hint at upside. Hey, he’s eight years younger than Budaj and could still be on the incline.
Some have suggested Marc-Andre Fleury as a target for the Kings. I’m not buying it. Fleury gets paid $5.75 million per season through 2018-19, and the Kings are confident in Quick being their No. 1. They don’t need to bring in another top dog.
The Islanders are carrying three NHL goaltenders. They are, in depth chart order, Jaroslav Halak ($4.5 million cap hit), Thomas Greiss ($1.5 million) and Jean-Francois Berube ($675,000). Nice insurance against injury, but it may be overkill.
Greiss (UFA) and Berube (RFA) are on expiring contracts, and the hunch here is that GM Garth Snow ultimately wants to keep the younger Berube, 25, with the organization.
Halak was fabulous at the World Cup, but he and Greiss deliver similar results at different pay rates. Lombardi should target Greiss, though the No. 2’s stock increased with his excellence last spring, when he backstopped the Isles to their first playoff series win in 23 years.