NHL Free Agents 2013: Latest on Ilya Bryzgalov and Top Available Goaltenders

Benjamin Klein@BenjaminJKleinContributor IIIJuly 4, 2013

Apr 18, 2013; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Flyers goalie Ilya Bryzgalov (30) against the New Jersey Devils during the third period at the Wells Fargo Center. The Devils defeated the Flyers, 3-0. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports
Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

The market for free-agent goalies this summer isn’t very deep, but there are some notable names that will likely be signing contracts in the coming weeks.

Many NHL teams already have their starting goalies for next season, but several backup roles are definitely up for grabs. There are also some starters who could end up losing their jobs by the time the 2013-14 season actually begins, as position battles during training camps will say a lot about the upcoming year.

So, which top goalies are still available and what’s going to happen with them as the summer starts to heat up? Well, here are the latest rumors regarding the top netminders on the open market, with in-depth analysis on their situations, what they did last year and what’s to come in the future.


Will Ilya Stay in U.S.?

Ilya Bryzgalov is easily the top netminder available t this summer, as the Flyers recently decided to buy out the goalie, per the team’s official website. Bryzgalov now has the ability to sign with whichever team he likes, except for Philadelphia. He should have some options, though.

Randy Miller of USA Today reports that the New York Islanders, Florida Panthers, New Jersey Devils, Minnesota Wild and Phoenix Coyotes are all potential suitors for Bryzgalov. But what’s important to keep in mind is that Miller writes Bryzgalov could return home to the KHL.

NBC’s Pierre McGuire told Miller that Bryzgalov will have to earn a starting job and won’t just be getting one. Bryzgalov spent two seasons with the Flyers and was never very sharp. This past season, he ranked 36th in goals against average and 43rd in save percentage.

Of the five clubs that Miller mentions, the Panthers seem to be the best first. Florida used three goalies in 2012-13, and none of them cemented themselves as the clear-cut guy going forward. Jacob Markstrom got the most time, but went 8-14-1 with a 3.22 goals-against average and a .901 save percentage.


Is Thomas Coming Back?

There’s no question that Tim Thomas is one of the more interesting free agents this summer considering he sat all last season without being injured. He said he wanted to reconnect with his friends, family and faith, as Mike Brehm of USA Today recounts. Now, Thomas might be returning to the NHL.

Thomas has asked his agent, Bill Zito, to look around to see if any teams are interested in signing the free-agent netminder . Thomas used to be the goalie for the Bruins, but once he announced he would miss the entire year, Boston traded him to the Islanders. Now, he’s an unrestricted free agent.

It seems a little crazy that Thomas would be back next season, and it would be absolutely shocking if he ended up starting. There aren’t a ton of openings and teams must question his physical state. Pierre LeBrun of ESPN reports that there are three teams that might be interested:

In 2011-12, Thomas went 35-19-1 with a 2.36 goals-against average and .920 save percentage. He’s a Stanley Cup champion and a two-time Vezina Trophy winner. He used to be one of the top goalies in the NHL, but now, it’s up for debate as to what’s going to happen to him.

Best-case scenario: backup goalie with a contender.


What’s Next for Rick?

Rick DiPietro was once one of the biggest names in hockey. Not anymore. DiPietro only got to play in three games for the Islanders last season, allowing 12 goals and saving 71 of 83 shots. He was waived and sent to the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, the team's AHL affiliate, for the remainder of the season.

If you can believe it, DiPietro was somewhat worse after the demotion. He played in 18 games and finished with a 2.93 goals-against average and a .893 save percentage. That’s a lot of shots getting through. Now, DiPietro is an unrestricted free agent, as the Islanders waived him earlier in the week, per Katie Strang of ESPN New York.

DiPietro isn’t the real loser in this situation, though. The Islanders are. New York will be pay its former goalie $1.5 million each year for the next 16 years per the rules of the compliance buyout. That’s a lot of money, even if DiPietro doesn’t find a new home at some point during the summer.

Strang reports that DiPietro has been medically cleared to play, as a team cannot buy out an injured player. But will a team take a chance on a goalie who was very average in the AHL? That remains to be seen, but don’t be surprised if DiPietro signs a deal as a backup with an NHL team. If he doesn’t, he should hang up his skates.