Top NHL unrestricted free agents: Goaltenders

Josh Harding (Michael Martin/Getty Images)

The National Hockey League’s entry draft may be rich this summer, but come July 1, the unrestricted free agent market isn’t nearly as fecund. Over the next week or so we’ll take a look at the market, and make some predictions on who might end up where.

Here is how the market stacks up:

1. Devan Dubnyk

Age on July 1: 29
2014-15 team: Arizona Coyotes/Minnesota Wild
2014-15 cap hit: $800,000
2014-15 numbers: 36-14-4; 2.07 GAA; .929 SV%; 3,328 minutes played

His market: Dubnyk is that late blooming goalie who found his game at age 28 — just in time for unrestricted free agency. His re-birth in Minnesota last year, coupled with his age, make him the most attractive UFA goalie on the market this summer. It seemed a no-brainer that Dubnyk and the Wild would come together on a new deal, but it’s complicated. The Wild have to deal with Backstrom ($3.4-million AAV), and also have Darcy Kuemper ($1.25-million AAV). GM Chuck Fletcher really wants to keep Kuemper, but more so, needs to fit Dubnyk under his cap. If Dubnyk isn’t signed up by the draft, do the Wild deal his negotiating rights for a conditional draft pick?
Update: Dubnyk has reportedly signed a six-year, $25 million extension with the Wild.

Best fits: Minnesota, then Calgary, St. Louis, San Jose, Dallas
Update: Dubnyk has reportedly agreed to a six-year deal worth $25 million with the Wild.

2. Antti Niemi

Age on July 1: 31
2014-15 team: San Jose Sharks
2014-15 cap hit: $3.8 million
2014-15 numbers: 31-23-7; 2.59 GAA; .914 AV%; 3,588 minutes played

His market: Niemi will scare off some GMs. He turns 32 in August and his game isn’t getting any stronger, with save percentages of .913 and .914 the past two seasons. UFAs typically get at least three-year deals, and aging goalies with big contracts can be murder on a team’s cap hit the moment they stop playing like a genuine No. 1. But Niemi is more goaltender than a number of clubs have at the moment and he won’t cost you draft picks and contracts — just money and cap space. A team like Dallas or St. Louis might overpay on a two-year term, but how many UFAs sign two-year deals?

Best fits: Dallas, St. Louis
Update: Niemi’s rights were traded to the Dallas Stars on June 27.

3. Karri Ramo

Age on July 1: 29
2014-15 team: Calgary Flames
2014-15 cap hit: $2.75 million
2014-15 numbers: 15-9-3; 2.60 GAA; .912 SV%; 1,732 minutes played

His market: Ramo is like Dubnyk, in that he emerged late, but with a much smaller sample size. Jonas Hiller was the better goalie all year long in Calgary, until Ramo took the starting job away from Hiller in Round 2 of the playoffs. Does that equate to paying Ramo as a legit No. 1, and giving him 60-plus starts in 2015-16? Or, does he turn back into what Ramo has been since first coming to the NHL nine years ago: a tweener, not able to be a No. 1, but better than your career backup? He makes some spectacular saves and is a true battler, but Ramo’s style is messy — he’s all over the crease, the opposite of economical in today’s world of big, cardboard-cutout goalies. Most goalie coaches would be squeamish.

Best fits: Buffalo, San Jose, Arizona

4. Michal Neuvirth

Age on July 1: 27
2014-15 team: Buffalo Sabres/New York Islanders
2014-15 cap hit: $2.5 million
2014-15 numbers: 7-20-4; 2.98 GAA; .914 SV%; 1,850 minutes played

His market: Neuvirth is a career backup, with only one NHL season of more than 38 appearances. His cap hit prevents teams from bringing him in as a strict No. 2, but his game does not warrant making him your starter. Neuvirth fits best with a young, inexpensive starter, like a Joni Ortio in Calgary, or Alex Stalock in San Jose. Or maybe behind Mike Smith in Arizona, where Smith’s 2014-15 season has GM Don Maloney nervous. Neuvirth is one of the better backups in the game, but a backup nonetheless. The question for the Islanders is, can they afford to let Neuvirth go and hang their hat on Kevin Poulin as a backup? It’s likely time for that to happen.

Best fits: San Jose, Arizona, Calgary

5. Josh Harding

Age on July 1: 31
2014-15 team: Minnesota Wild
2014-15 cap hit: $1.9 million
2014-15 numbers: 18-7-3; 1.65 GAA; .933 SV%; 1,668 minutes played

His market: Look at Harding’s numbers from last year. They’re awesome, but his value is always mitigated by the fact that — at age 31 — he has never played more than 34 games in a single season. That is mostly due to his battles with multiple sclerosis. Like Neuvirth, Harding comes to market as an elite backup, but in the cap system that’s a position where teams are trying to save money, not spend it. And we’ll be honest, it’s very difficult to spend UFA dollars on a goalie who may need a month to deal with health issues. There might be outstanding value here, for a GM willing to invest in a guy with considerable skills, who knows adversity and how to overcome it.

Best fits: Buffalo, San Jose

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