NHL Free Agency Speculation: Backup Goaltenders for the Pittsburgh Penguins
One of the Pittsburgh Penguins' biggest needs in this year's free-agency period is a backup goaltender.
Brent Johnson, the team's backup for the last three seasons, is likely to depart the organization as an unrestricted free agent. He had a disappointing year in 2011-12, going 6-7-2 with a .883 save percentage and 3.11 GAA. However, this was likely due to ongoing injury problems and an illness.
While it seems easy enough to promote prospect Brad Thiessen, it doesn't seem as though he is entirely ready for the role. Thiessen shined against weaker opponents such as the Columbus Blue Jackets and Winnipeg Jets, but got lit up against stronger competition in the Ottawa Senators.
So, assuming Ray Shero wants to sign a more experienced insurance policy for Marc-Andre Fleury, who should he pursue?
Here are six goaltenders who may be able to give Fleury some rest, which could ensure a more refreshed starter for the next postseason.
Note: All goaltenders in this slideshow are unrestricted free agents come July 1.
Current Team: New York Rangers
2011-12 Salary: $800,000
The 34-year-old Biron has been a mainstay in the Atlantic Division in recent seasons, as he has played for the Philadelphia Flyers, New York Islanders, and now, the Rangers since leaving the Buffalo Sabres.
This is his second season with the Blueshirts. In 2010-11, he went 8-6 with a .923 save percentage and a 2.13 GAA in 17 games before losing the rest of his season to a broken collarbone.
He has played 21 games this year, going 12-6-2 with two shutouts, as well as a .904 save percentage and a 2.46 GAA.
Biron is a veteran who has some postseason experience, but he has not seen the ice in a playoff game in three years. Also, his recent injury could be too risky for a Penguins team that has struggled with health in recent years.
2011-12 Team: Florida Panthers
Current Salary: $1.5 million
Clemmensen has played in at least 30 games for the Panthers in the last two seasons. His stats have improved since he posted a 9-8-2 record in 2010 to go with a .912 save percentage and 2.91 GAA.
The 2011-12 season marked his best year yet with Florida. He went 14-6-6 in 30 games and also had a .913 save percentage and 2.57 GAA.
In the playoffs, he had a 1-2 record and put up a .920 save percentage and a 2.35 GAA.
Prior to joining the Panthers, he played for the New Jersey Devils for six seasons.
Clemmensen is a good veteran, but considering that Johnson only made $600,000 this season, Shero may not be willing to spend over the $1 million mark on a backup.
2011-12 Team: Toronto Maple Leafs
Current Salary: $1.4 million
At 27 years of age, Gustavsson would be a good option if Shero wants to get younger at the backup position rather than go for a veteran. Gustavsson is also capable of handling a solid workload, which will help if Fleury gets injured or is otherwise slumping.
The Monster has played 42 games twice in three seasons in Toronto, and this season, he went 17-17-4 with four shutouts to go with a .902 save percentage and a 2.92 GAA.
However, he has been mostly average over his career. He may have talent, but average stats won't cut it for a Penguins team trying to stay in the playoff hunt and get postseason success once again. Also, salary could be an issue, as it is with Clemmensen.
2011-12 Team: Minnesota Wild
Current Salary: $750,000
Like Gustavsson, Harding is a good option for the Penguins if they want a younger backup. In fact, there were rumors at the trade deadline that he was on the Penguins' list of desirable backups.
Harding did not play the 2010-11 season due to a knee injury, but played well in 2011-12 despite the fact that the Wild missed the playoffs. In 34 games, he had a record of 13-12-4 with two shutouts and also had a .917 save percentage and a 2.62 GAA.
His price tag, combined with his young age, makes him a still-viable option for the Pens come July 1.
2011-12 Team: New Jersey Devils
Current Salary: $1.25 million
Hedberg previously played for the Penguins from 2000 through 2003. Overall, he went 46-57-12 with seven shutouts to go with a .901 save percentage and 2.85 GAA.
This is his second season in New Jersey, and he has stepped up to the plate while Martin Brodeur has dealt with injuries. In 2011, he was 15-12-12 with three shutouts and posted a .912 save percentage and 2.38 GAA.
The 2011-12 season was even better, as he had a 17-17-2 record to go with a .918 save percentage and a 2.23 GAA.
While Hedberg can still play, he is pushing 40, and Shero may not want to bring an older backup after the 35-year-old Johnson saw his performance decline this season.
2011-12 Team: Winnipeg Jets
Current Salary: $2.1 million
Mason is in his second year with the Jets/Atlanta Thrashers and has been backing up Ondrej Pavelec. His record this season was 8-7-1 in 20 games with a .898 save percentage and a 2.59 GAA. His save percentage and GAA improved from 2011, as he had a .892 and 3.39 in the respective categories.
He also has experience as a starter, a definite asset should something happen to Fleury. In 2008-09, he helped the St. Louis Blues get back to the playoffs by going 27-21-7 with six shutouts, as well as a .916 save percentage and 2.41 GAA. He played 57 games that year.
In 2010, he had the first 30-win season of his career with a record of 30-22-8 with two shutouts, and he added a .913 save percentage and 2.53 GAA.
He also handled starting duties with the Nashville Predators in 2007 and 2008.
Mason would be a good fit for the Penguins, but this could hinge on whether he wants a starting job or if he would be OK with being a backup.