What you need to know about the NHL’s summer goalie market

The flurry of signings for back-up goaltenders have the Hockey Central panel wondering about the skyrocketing value of a quality back-up goalie in today's NHL.

As always seems to be the case, it’s a buyer’s market for goaltenders in free agency. A quick review of the depth charts of the 30 NHL teams reveals almost no vacancies in the top position and precious few backup jobs available.

For those teams that do need a goaltender, finding one should be possible. For those goalies in need of a job, they may have to take less on a contract.

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There are a lot more potential starting goalies in the Metro than there are available jobs.

Two situations in particular stand out. Thomas Greiss took on the starting role for the Isles late last season and Jean-Francois Berube is a plausible backup goalie, potentially leaving Jaroslav Halak out there. Meanwhile in Pittsburgh, Marc-Andre Fleury is an established starter who was eclipsed by Matt Murray last season. Either team could potentially make a move.

Meanwhile, cap trouble in Columbus may mean that Sergei Bobrovsky’s contract becomes expendable, particularly given how well Joonas Korpisalo played last season.

Carolina is the only team that looks like it could use goaltending help next season. Daniel Altshuller is an uncertain No. 3 and the tandem of Eddie Lack and Cam Ward didn’t provide particularly good netminding last year. There’s probably an AHL starting job there and it’s worth wondering if the Canes would be interested in bringing in a No. 1, too.

Possible Metro targets: Fleury, Halak, Bobrovsky
Possible Metro openings: Carolina

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Most of the obvious positional trouble in the Atlantic comes courtesy two former starters, each now relegated to a backup role. Jonathan Bernier in Toronto is an expensive No. 2, but has just one year left on his deal. Jimmy Howard has three years left and hasn’t topped a .910 save percentage since 2013. Either could be dealt; presumably neither will be.

Boston has the only blatantly obvious job open, and while being the backup to Tuukka Rask has not traditionally been a rewarding post it’s worth noting that Rask let Jonas Gustavsson push him for time a year ago.

Tampa Bay will need a No. 3 if reports about Kristers Gudlevskis looking at work in Europe prove true, and it’s worth wondering if the Sabres are interested in bringing some experience in at the same position.

Possible Atlantic targets: Bernier, Howard
Possible Atlantic openings: Boston

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Dallas is one of the few teams looking for a starting goalie. The only problem is they have two goalies already making No. 1 money, which makes the Stars a poor fit for free agency. The logical play here seems to be to trade one of Antti Niemi or Kari Lehtonen to a team who has a pricey starter-type available, while offering whatever additional incentive is needed to close the deal.

Winnipeg has three goaltenders and it’s anyone’s guess what order they’ll play in. Looking at the rosters of St. Louis and Nashville there would seem to be a fit for an established No. 2. The Blues are probably a better bet to go out and get one. Predators general manager David Poile told his team’s official site that Mazanec deserves a shot at the backup job.

Possible Central targets: Pavelec
Possible Central openings: Dallas, St. Louis

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The message to NHL backups this season is clear: Go west, young men. Anaheim, Calgary, Edmonton and San Jose all have vacancies in the No. 2 slot, while the Coyotes don’t have an obvious internal fit for the No. 3 job on their team.

There aren’t a lot of spare goalies for trade in the division, either. Vancouver (Ryan Miller) or Arizona (Mike Smith) could presumably be persuaded to part with their expensive incumbents, but with the other goalies in the organization being so cheap there’s no internal pressure to make a deal. In fact, it’d be a surprise if there was much external pressure.

Possible Pacific targets: None
Possible Pacific openings: Anaheim, Calgary, Edmonton, San Jose

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Just by looking at NHL depth charts, we can reasonably estimate that there are one or two starting jobs available, and something in the neighborhood of five-to-six backup gigs. Both of the No. 1 positions (Dallas, maybe Carolina) that could be open would most sensibly be filled via the trade route, and would involve flipping a backup to the team on the other end of the deal.

That means there are probably a half-dozen NHL vacancies for our list of top free agents and the other players out there — and all of those vacancies are likely to be backup gigs. Most of those jobs are in the Pacific.

James Reimer should be able to pick his spot as the top goalie on the market, though he probably won’t be able to cash-in big because of his limited options. If Reimer went to Boston, he’d have a hard time unseating Rask, but if he ends up with any of the four Pacific teams we mentioned (Anaheim, Calgary, Edmonton, San Jose) he’d at least stand a shot of taking over No. 1 duties.

Chad Johnson and Jhonas Enroth should both be able to find homes as well, since they filled in capably as starters in the recent past. Al Montoya and Carter Hutton are coming off good years, while Karri Ramo isn’t, but at least he has a reasonable longer-term track record.

This is all going to make it hard for other free agents to find work. Veteran NHLers like Jonas Gustavsson, Ben Scrivens and Anders Lindback may be out of luck. So too might be top AHLers, like Jeff Zatkoff, Aaron Dell and Jeremy Smith. Of course, there’s always a chance that one or more of those players grabs a backup job on a cheap contract.

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