The goaltending position has long been a position of need for the Toronto Maple Leafs, ever since the lockout and the eventual retirement of Hall of Fame goaltenders Curtis Joseph and Ed Belfour.
After the lockout, the Leafs were never the same perennial playoff contender. You can argue part of the reason was because the team often bought their way to the playoffs, and rented or signed players to get them over the hump.
With a hard salary cap post-lockout, the Leafs have never made the playoffs since.
Contrary to popular belief, though, the Leafs old defence, back when they were making the playoffs, wasn't that much better than their defence today; some may argue it was worse.
The one huge difference between the two squads is between the pipes. Gone are "Eddie the Eagle" and "Cujo." In their place were a handful of mediocre goaltenders who, more often than not, let games slip away—rather than steal games from the opposition.
Vesa Toskala, Andrew Raycroft, Jonas Gustavsson, JS Giguere, James Reimer, Martin Gerber and Justin Pogge have all tried but failed to be the No. 1 goalie in Leafs Nation.
To make matters worse, the Leafs traded a first-round pick in order to acquire Toskala. They traded the better goaltending prospect Tuukka Rask in order to acquire Andrew Raycroft. And last season, they may have been better off re-signing Giguere and trading away Gustavsson—instead of keeping Gustavsson, and letting Giguere leave via free agency.
Here are seven goaltenders the Leafs should look into this offseason to help them make the playoffs for the first time since the lockout.
The name you probably have heard in the news for weeks now, Roberto Luongo makes the list by default. By the looks of it, the Leafs may be the only real landing spot for Luongo in the end.
Another team to not count out might be the Florida Panthers. Luongo is familiar with the team, they have cap space, and they could use a No. 1 goalie—even though they have a stud goaltending prospect in Jacob Markstrom waiting in the minors.
Would the Leafs be wise to acquire Luongo and his massive contract? Probably not.
But will he help them short-term to make the playoffs?
The answer to that question is an easy yes.
Our first free-agent goalie is Josh Harding. He's probably the best available goaltender the Leafs could target in free agency, as Martin Brodeur is likely retiring as a New Jersey Devil, and the other good veteran goalie, Tomas Vokoun, signed with the Penguins.
Harding doesn't come with a lot of starter experience, but he's one of those goalies who could be a No. 1 on a lot of NHL teams.
In Toronto, he could be the best goalie to come around since Ed Belfour.
The price tag that comes with Harding may be in the $3 million to $5 million range, so he's easily affordable for the Leafs if they manage to unload some salaries.
If the Leafs still believe that James Reimer is a bona fide No. 1 goalie, why not go out and get one of the best backups in the game?
Last season, Biron was pretty good for the Rangers—minus his last two games in which he gave up first five goals then four.
His numbers are solid as a backup. He gives the Leafs some much needed experience and has a career save percentage above .910 (.911).
He won't be the starter in Toronto, but he'll be a very good backup.
With Ilya Bryzgalov signed long-term, Sergei Bobrovsky's days as a Flyer could be numbered.
He's not what I'd like to call a No. 1 goalie, but he could be a 1A sort of goaltender, who could play 30 to 40 games a season.
He's essentially a more technically sound version of Jonas Gustavsson.
He could come to the Leafs in a small trade, but I see him coming as part of a package that could include left winger James vanRiesmdyk. JVR's name has come up numerous times in trade rumors regarding the Leafs, reported here by Darren Dreger of TSN in January.
Jonathan Bernier is another one of those really good backups who could start on half the teams in the NHL. The only reason he's not starting is obvious: His name is Jon Quick.
The Conn Smythe Trophy winner for playoff MVP, Quick showed why he's an elite goalie in the NHL. The Kings may be looking to use Bernier as a trade chip in order to fill some holes in their roster that may open with free agency.
With Dustin Penner, Jarrett Stoll, and Colin Fraser all UFAs, and Dwight King a RFA, the Kings will likely be close to the salary cap with all those guys re-signed.
Would they be wise in trading Bernier and letting one of these guys go? That remains to be seen.
At the age of 32, Dan Ellis is still a viable option for a team like the Leafs who need a veteran net presence, hoping he could put them over the top and into playoff contention.
Ellis last year had a respectable 2.72 GAA and a .911 SV%, which easily would have led the Leafs goaltenders last year.
Ellis is also familiar with the system Randy Carlyle employs, as he played 13 games with Carlyle's Ducks last year, and finished with a 2.39 GAA and a .917 SV%.
Not the best option but an option, nonetheless.
Tim Thomas currently plans on taking a year off. However, I doubt whether he will sit out the entire season.
If he plans on playing by January, he will become an unrestricted free agent July 1st and can go wherever he pleases.
If he chooses to sit out the year, he still owes the Bruins a year on his contract.
At the age of 38, he may not have much left in the tank.
To me, him taking a year off essentially tells the Bruins, "Trade me!"
Will Thomas play again this season if he's traded before the season starts? Tough to tell, but needless to say, Thomas may be the best option for the Leafs going forward.
A veteran goalie who routinely steals games away from the opposition, has a Stanley Cup winning presence and is very familiar with Brian Burke from the United States Olympic Team.
Do the Leafs take that chance?
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Thanks for reading.