Ranking the Best Options for NHL Teams in Need of a Goaltender This Offseason

Carol Schram@pool88Featured ColumnistMay 15, 2013

Ranking the Best Options for NHL Teams in Need of a Goaltender This Offseason

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    Now that 14 teams have failed to advance to the 2013 Stanley Cup playoffs and another eight have been eliminated in Round 1, it's time to play armchair general manager.

    Which teams would do better with different goaltending next season? And who are the top stoppers who will be available?

    There's a solid crop of unrestricted free agents—young and old—as well as the usual smattering of top talents who have worn out their welcomes. To make things even more interesting, this summer we'll see more teams exercise their "compliance buyouts" under the new collective bargaining agreement, which allows them to cut ties with players whose salaries no longer fit comfortably under next year's new, lower cap.

    Every team's ideal goaltender will depend on its individual situation. Some will prefer pedigree while others pay for potential. Budgets will factor in as well.

    Here are 10 good goalies who could lead the conversation this summer. All salary information is from capgeek.com and all stats from nhl.com.

    Feel free to add your thoughts in the comments section about which players you'd like to see on which teams and which goalies might get shut out this summer. It's a bumper crop for backstoppers.

10. Marc-Andre Fleury

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    2012-13 Team: Pittsburgh Penguins

    Age: 28

    Contract Status: two years remaining (2012-13 salary: $5.75 million)

    2012-13 Stats: 33 GP, 23-8-0-1, 2.39 GAA, .916 save percentage

    Anybody in the market for a 28-year-old Stanley Cup-winning goalie? After turning to Tomas Vokoun in Game 5 of their first-round series against the New York Islanders and continuing with Vokoun against the Ottawa Senators, it looks like Marc-Andre Fleury's time might be up with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

    Fleury has never recorded a regular-season goals against below 2.30, but many would argue that's due in part to the style of the team he plays for. Even in their cup-winning playoff of 2009, his goals against was 2.61 and his save percentage a relatively average .908.

    We saw Fleury melt down in the playoffs against Philadelphia last year, but we've also seen him make the big save when it matters. At just 28, he should have many good years left. Will the Penguins deal him this summer—or use their amnesty buyout on the last two years of his contract? Plenty of other goaltending options will be available.

9. Ilya Bryzgalov

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    2012-13 Team: Philadelphia Flyers

    Age: 32

    Contract Status: seven years remaining (2012-13 salary: $6.5 million)

    2012-13 Stats: 40 GP, 19-17-3-1, 2.79 GAA, .900 save percentage

    Two years into his nine-year deal with the Philadelphia Flyers, things are not going well for Ilya Bryzgalov. The Flyers have missed the playoffs and Bryz continues his war, per Yahoo! Sports, with the Philadelphia media.

    The Flyers acquired Steve Mason at the 2013 trade deadline, leading to speculation that Bryzgalov could be the target of an amnesty buyout this summer, according to The Hockey News. With a $5.667 million cap hit on the books for the next seven seasons, Bryzgalov's not a very attractive goaltending option under his current deal. If the Flyers buy him out, look for teams to circle in hopes of offering a more hospitable environment for the quirky netminder.

8. Niklas Backstrom

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    2012-13 Team: Minnesota Wild

    Age: 35

    Contract Status: unrestricted free agent (2012-13 salary: $6 million)

    2012-13 Stats: 42 GP, 24-15-3-2, 2.43 GAA, .917 save percentage

    Niklas Backstrom didn't play one minute of playoffs this year after being sidelined with an injury during the warm-up for the Minnesota Wild's Game 1. He was, however, a key part of bringing the Wild to the dance in the first place.

    After the Wild were eliminated, it was revealed, per Michael Russo of the Star Tribune, that Backstrom suffered from a sports hernia and will need surgery in the offseason.

    Backstrom shouldered a big load in the regular season and did it well. He played in 42 out of 48 regular-season games and tied for the league lead in wins with Henrik Lundqvist and Antti Niemi.

    Will he re-sign with the Wild, or will another NHL team take a chance on the reliable but injury-prone Finnish veteran?

7. Roberto Luongo (or Cory Schneider?)

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    2012-13 Team: Vancouver Canucks

    Age: 34

    Contract Status: nine years remaining (2012-13 salary: $6.714 million)

    2012-13 Stats: 20 GP, 9-6-3-2, 2.56 GAA, .907 save percentage

    Last summer, almost all the goaltending gossip centered around Roberto Luongo. This summer, many more capable keepers will be crowding the marketplace.

    If Luongo's big contract and no-trade clause were an impediment to moving him last year, the situation has only gotten worse for the Canucks. The imminent drop in the salary cap means the Canucks are at their cap limit for next season, with just 17 players signed.

    Via the National Post, GM Mike Gillis has said that it's "unlikely" Luongo will be with Vancouver next season. At this point, the only way the goalie might become marketable again is to use the amnesty buyout and grant him a fresh start with a new deal in a different city.

    Though it's unlikely under the current regime, if big management changes unfold in Vancouver, it may still be possible that Luongo stays and Cory Schneider is moved instead. Schneider does not have the albatross of the long contract around his neck and could draw real value on the trade market.

    However it shakes down, by next fall, the Canucks *should* have only one starter.

6. Ray Emery

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    2012-13 Team: Chicago Blackhawks

    Age: 30

    Contract Status: unrestricted free agent (2012-13 salary: $1.15 million)

    2012-13 Stats: 21 GP, 17-1-0-3, 1.94 GAA, .922 save percentage

    After having almost lost his spot in the NHL, Ray Emery has moved back into the spotlight after a stellar year with the Chicago Blackhawks.

    During the 'Hawks' great year, Emery shared duties with Corey Crawford, shouldering nearly half the load and putting up the NHL's third-best goals-against average along the way.

    Emery has been sidelined with a lower-body injury since the late stages of the regular season but is close to being game-ready as the Hawks prepare to begin Round 2.

    After signing as a free agent with Chicago in 2011-12 for just $600,000, the Hawks nearly doubled his salary to bring him back. He should command a healthy raise next year whether he stays in Chicago or moves to another team.

5. Jake Allen (or Brian Elliott...or Jaroslav Halak)

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    2012-13 Team: St. Louis Blues

    Age: 22

    Contract Status: restricted free agent (2012-13 salary: $787,500)

    2012-13 Stats: 15 GP, 9-4-0-1, 2.46 GAA, .905 save percentage

    Despite having two No. 1 goalies in Brian Elliott and Jaroslav Halak, at times Jake Allen took over in the crease for the St. Louis Blues this year—at first due to injury, but later due to his strong play.

    Halak and Elliott remain under contract to the Blues for next season, so something has to give. Allen is a young restricted free agent who could be dealt or signed to an offer sheet by another team. Elliott and Halak each have one year left on their deals—Elliott at $1.9 million and Halak at $4.5 million.

    The crease should be a little less crowded at the Scottrade Center when 2013-14 gets under way.

4. Jonathan Bernier

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    2012-13 Team: Los Angeles Kings

    Age: 24

    Contract Status: restricted free agent (2012-13 salary: $1.525 million)

    2012-13 Stats: 14 GP, 9-3-1-1, 1.88 GAA, .922 save percentage

    After the Los Angeles Kings won the Stanley Cup in 2012, backup goalie Jonathan Bernier made it clear that he wasn't content to back up Jonathan Quick on a very good team. He wanted a starting role of his own.

    Bernier wasn't moved and put up more strong numbers in a rather mediocre 2012-13 Kings season. He finished the year second in goals against and 11th in save percentage among all NHL backstoppers.

    As a restricted free agent, Bernier's in line for a serious raise from his current $1.525 million salary and could be a valuable trade commodity. He may well find himself in a starting role for a different team next season.

3. Ryan Miller

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    2012-13 Team: Buffalo Sabres

    Age: 32

    Contract Status: one year remaining at $6.25 million

    2012-13 Stats: 40 GP, 17-17-5, 2.81 GAA, .915 save percentage

    For years, Ryan Miller has been considered one of the NHL's top goaltenders. With the wholesale changes under way in Buffalo, it's possible that the Sabres' franchise player could be available this summer. With just one year left on his contract, the price might not be particularly steep. He'd be attractive to a team that thinks it's one goaltender away from a deep Stanley Cup run.

    According to CapGeek.com, Miller can submit a list of eight teams that he won't accept a trade to. His wife is Hollywood actress Noureen DeWulf, so a move closer to the West Coast could have its appeal.

2. Mike Smith

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    2012-13 Team: Phoenix Coyotes

    Age: 31

    Contract Status: unrestricted free agent (2012-13 salary: $2 million)

    2012-13 Stats: 34 GP, 15-12-5-5, 2.58 GAA, .910 save percentage

    The Phoenix Coyotes scored a bargain when they rode Mike Smith and his $2 million salary all the way to the Western Conference Final in 2012.

    This year, the planets didn't align quite so neatly. Still, at age 31 Smith proved himself to be a clutch goalie in that playoff run with Phoenix, as well as in three appearances during the 2010-11 playoffs with Tampa Bay. At the end of round-robin play at this year's World Championships, he's leading all goaltenders in save percentage and his name is now being whispered as a potential Team Canada candidate for the Olympics next year in Sochi.

    Smith's an unrestricted free agent who won't cost a ton of money but will provide solid goaltending no matter where he signs.

1. Sergei Bobrovsky

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    2012-13 Team: Columbus Blue Jackets

    Age: 24

    Contract Status: restricted free agent (2012-13 salary: $900,000)

    2012-13 Stats: 38 GP, 21-11-6-4, 2.00 GAA, .932 save percentage

    When the Philadelphia Flyers traded away Sergei Bobrovsky, they had no idea that in just one year, he would blossom into one of the best goaltenders in the league.

    With the Columbus Blue Jackets, "Bob" placed second in NHL save percentage and fifth in goals-against average, bringing the Jackets tantalizingly close to a playoff berth and earning himself a Vezina Trophy nomination along the way.

    Bobrovsky is a restricted free agent whose base salary was just $900,000 last year—his cap hit was $1.75 million. He is probably the brightest young goaltending prospect in the NHL right now, and as such, he should get paid this summer.

    Will the Blue Jackets reward him with a fat contract or will we see a contentious negotiation or another team swooping in with a big offer sheet? In the economic climate of the new CBA, anything's possible.

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