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Ranking the Top 10 Goaltenders in the 2014 Free-Agent Class

Rob VollmanContributor IApril 5, 2014

Ranking the Top 10 Goaltenders in the 2014 Free-Agent Class

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    Jeff Roberson

    Several teams are potentially going shopping for a new goaltender this offseason; which ones will be available as free agents July 1? Ryan Miller will be highly sought after, followed by goalies like Jonas Hiller and Jaroslav Halak.

    How do they all rank?

    In the final part of a series ranking the top 10 free agents at each position, including defensemen, centers and wingers, we're using analytics to find the best available goaltenders.

    Once again, the process was to take a list of free-agent goalies from Cap Geek and then estimate each player's value using a weighted historical average of each player's goals versus threshold (GVT), a high-level one-number stat provided by Hockey Prospectus.

    From there, a number of additional analytics were leveraged, including each goalie's save percentages in a variety of situations, like even-strength, in overtime and in the postseason.

    Interpreting all this information, I have found the 10 best available free-agent goalies, along with their strengths and weaknesses and what they could be worth. Let's begin!  

10. Tim Thomas, Dallas Stars

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    J Pat Carter

    What He Brings

    Regardless of what analytics you use, no one can match Tim Thomas' numbers prior to his year off.

    Whether it's save percentage, quality start percentage, playoff performance, Vezina voting, All-Star voting or his Conn Smythe Trophy in Boston's 2011 Stanley Cup season, Thomas sits atop the pack.

    Even at age 40, that All-Star performance still has the potential to break out, even if only for short stretches. At the very least, he can provide the experience and the capable backup presence that any team with a rising star could use.

     

    Potential Weaknesses

    It hasn't been a strong season for Thomas, whose overall .907 save percentage is 44th among the 58 goalies who have played at least 20 games this year.

    If anything truly positive can be said about his season, it's his solid play in clutch situations. He has posted a .968 save percentage in overtime and .793 in the shootout—second best to Jonathan Quick.

     

    What He's Worth

    Thomas is still a quality goalie, especially in a situation where he can contribute as a veteran backup.

    Of course, that kind of role wouldn't carry a $5 million salary like he had in Boston or even the $2.5 million cap hit he carried this year in Florida and Dallas. It would be a better match to agree to a short-term deal worth about $1.5 million per season.

9. Justin Peters, Carolina Hurricanes

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    Chris O'Meara

    What He Brings

    Justin Peters uses hard work and positioning to keep the Hurricanes in the game.

    His .919 save percentage this season in a career-high 21 games is much better than Cam Ward's .896. It has also been a welcome improvement over last year's .891 in 19 games, which, in fairness, was also a season where he posted a career-high .921 save percentage for the AHL's Charlotte Checkers.

    Most of Peters' opportunities thus far have been due to injuries to the regular goalies. It could finally be time for him to take on the No. 2 position on the depth chart.

     

    Potential Weaknesses

    Consistency and rebound control could be issues, according to a scouting report at The Hockey News.

    I'm not one to judge a goalie on wins and losses, but Peters has won just 16 of 52 decisions over the past four seasons in Carolina. Part of the reason is that he has been giving up three goals in six shots in overtime this year—and stopping just two of six shots in the shootout.

     

    What He's Worth

    Injuries gave Peters the opportunity to prove that he is a legitimate NHL goalie and worth more than the near-minimum salary he's had throughout his career.

    He's a quality backup in his prime, and someone should put together an offer that's worth $1.5 million per season.

8. Jean-Sebastien Giguere, Colorado Avalanche

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    David Zalubowski

    What He Brings

    Teams that are looking for a steady and experienced veteran backup might look in Jean-Sebastien Giguere's direction this offseason.

    In his prime, he received Vezina consideration in four out of five seasons. His .918 save percentage from 2001-02 through 2007-08 was fourth to Patrick Roy, Niklas Backstrom and Roberto Luongo. Not bad!

    Giguere brings a lot of experience, as his career spans all the way back to his debut with the Hartford Whalers at age 19. He won the Conn Smythe Trophy with the Mighty Ducks in 2002-03, leading the postseason with a .945 save percentage and a 1.62 GAA. He then won the Stanley Cup with Anaheim four years later with .922 and 1.97.

    His three-season save percentage with Colorado is .914, which isn't that far below average.

     

    Potential Weaknesses

    There are clearly better goalies than Giguere out there.

    He has had only one truly strong season since 2007-08. Of the 31 goalies who have played at least his 183 games since then, Giguere's .907 is dead last.

     

    What He's Worth

    Soon to be 37, Giguere is obviously not worth the $6 million contracts of the past.

    His last two contracts over the past three seasons have ranged from $1.25 million to $1.5 million. His fine work in Colorado proves that he's worth at least that much and possibly a little more in the right situation.

7. Al Montoya, Winnipeg Jets

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    LM Otero

    What He Brings

    If you have any Jets fans in your life, then you have probably heard Montoya's name, for it is shouted in an almost pleading manner before every game.

    Montoya, the first Cuban American to play in the NHL, has a .920 save percentage in 28 games, which is far better than starter Ondrej Pavelec's .902.

    Montoya also posted a .921 save percentage in 20 games for the Islanders back in 2010-11. Of course, his save percentage in the 38 games over two seasons in between was just .894.

    He was drafted sixth overall in 2004, when he won the gold medal with the U.S. junior team. He's a highly confident goalie who is good at handling the puck and is currently out with a lower-body injury.

     

    Potential Weaknesses

    Consistency is obviously the primary concern here. Of the 49 goalies who have played at least his 86 games over the past four seasons, Montoya's .909 save percentage is 37th.

    He also has just a .904 save percentage in 197 AHL games over six seasons.

    Montoya has never played in the postseason.

     

    What He's Worth

    In five contracts over six seasons, Montoya has never earned more than $750,000 in a season.

    That's all about to change. It would not be out of line for a team to offer him a $2 million deal. 

6. Thomas Greiss, Phoenix Coyotes

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    Gene J. Puskar

    What He Brings

    With the leg injury to starter Mike Smith, German goalie Thomas Greiss has had the opportunity to showcase himself as a starting goalie. He has allowed two goals or fewer in four of those five games so far, posting a .919 save percentage.

    On the season, he has a .923 save percentage in 21 games behind workhorse Mike Smith, which is 13th in the NHL. When considering even-strength situations only, his .934 save percentage is sixth best.

    Among the 66 goalies who have played his 62 games or more since 2009-10, Greiss' .917 save percentage ranks 15th.

     

    Potential Weaknesses

    This is the first good look at Greiss as a potential No. 1 goalie.

    He wasn't impressive in this capacity with the AHL's Worcester Sharks, where he posted just a .904 save percentage in 142 games.

    Greiss has also seen only 40 minutes of postseason action.

     

    What He's Worth

    Greiss is obviously due for a big raise from his current $750,000 contract, which is actually his richest to date.

    His success as a backup in both San Jose and Phoenix should warrant the opportunity for both a larger role and a larger contract, one that is well north of $2.0 million per season.

5. Brian Elliott, St. Louis Blues

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    Gene J. Puskar

    What He Brings

    Three years ago, Brian Elliott was considered to be potentially the league's worst goalie. His .901 save percentage over the preceding three seasons was the fifth worst in the NHL.

    All of that changed after his dominant 2011-12 season when he led the NHL with a .940 save percentage and a 1.56 GAA. That was quite an improvement from .893 and 3.34 the year before!

    He consequently won the William Jennings Trophy and finished fifth in Vezina voting. This success perhaps shouldn't have been as much of a surprise from a 2005-06 Hobey Baker Award finalist with a solid .917 AHL save percentage.

    Over the last three seasons, Elliott's .926 save percentage is second to Tuukka Rask's, his 16 shutouts are second to Jonathan Quick, and his 1.87 GAA is second to none.

     

    Potential Weaknesses

    Elliott's primary weakness is rebound control, according to a Hockey's Future scouting report.

    He also has just an .898 postseason save percentage in 18 games.

     

    What He's Worth

    Elliott had a fantastic season but agreed to a surprisingly reasonable deal that carried a $1.8 million annual cap hit over two seasons.

    Quite frankly, he should be negotiating a contract that's closer to the $4.0 million mark or more.

4. Chad Johnson, Boston Bruins

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    Gary Wiepert

    What He Brings

    Chad Johnson has posted a .926 save percentage this year with the Boston Bruins, which is fifth among those with at least 20 games. It's not far behind starter Tuukka Rask's .930.

    Johnson's first big taste of success was in 2008-09 when he was named the CCHA player of the year and a Hobey Baker Award finalist.

     

    Potential Weaknesses

    How much of Johnson's success was from playing on a great team and/or getting the easier opponents? After all, his four-year AHL total is just .909.

    He had only 10 games of NHL experience going into this season, although with an incredible .929 save percentage.

     

    What He's Worth

    Johnson could be this year's steal. Four NHL contracts over five seasons, and he's never carried a cap hit above $660,000!

    He will obviously cash in this summer but probably for nowhere near his potential value.

3. Jaroslav Halak, Washington Capitals

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    Mark Zaleski

    What He Brings

    Slovakian netminder Jaroslav Halak is seventh among active goalies with a career .917 save percentage (minimum 100 games).

    He received Vezina consideration in 2009-10 and 2011-12. He won the William Jennings Trophy that second season, posting a .926 save percentage (sixth) and a 1.97 GAA (fourth).

    He is also famous for an impressive performance with Montreal in the 2009-10 postseason, when he earned a .923 save percentage while helping the Habs pull off a couple of big upsets.

     

    Potential Weaknesses

    Consistency could be an issue. His career has been up and down, and next year he's scheduled for a down one. Halak posted a .899 save percentage in last year's down season.

     

    What He's Worth

    Halak's salary has slowly increased from $2.75 million in 2010-11 to $4.5 million this season, for an average cap hit of $3.75 million over the past four years.

    Offers for him will begin at his current salary of $4.5 million but probably shouldn't stray too much higher than that.

2. Jonas Hiller, Anaheim Ducks

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    Danny Moloshok

    What He Brings

    Swiss netminder Jonas Hiller has had at least some kind of accomplishment in every season:

    • In 2007-08 he burst onto the scene with a .927 save percentage in 23 games as a 25-year-old rookie in Anaheim.
    • He led the NHL with a .943 save percentage and two shutouts in the 2008-09 playoffs after finishing seventh with a .919 save percentage in the regular season.
    • He placed fourth in save percentage in 2010-11 with .924.
    • He led the NHL with 73 games in 2011-12.
    • He was ninth in Vezina voting last year.
    • This year he was the league's third star in December.

     

    Potential Weaknesses

    Hiller's last three seasons haven't exactly been elite. His .912 save percentage ranks 20th among those with at least 100 starts.

     

    What He's Worth

    He earned $4.5 million per season over the past four years in Anaheim and could be worth up to $5.5 million, depending on the term.

1. Ryan Miller, St. Louis Blues

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    Matt Slocum

    What He Brings

    Ryan Miller is one of the league's best starting goalies.

    His .923 save percentage this year is in the top 10 among those with at least 20 starts, and his .920 save percentage over the last six years is eighth.

    His consistency is especially remarkable, with Henrik Lundqvist and Tuukka Rask being the only other two goalies to post a save percentage of .915 or better over those six seasons.

    Miller won the Vezina in 2009-10, also finishing fourth in Hart Trophy voting and winning silver as the starting goalie for Team USA in the Olympics. His big-game experience is one of his greater assets.

     

    Potential Weaknesses

    Miller is without any major weaknesses other than a weak blocker side, according to Marty Turco of Sportsnet Hockey Central.

    Essentially the only downside of signing him is that it leaves the organization with fewer dollars to build the team around him.

     

    What He's Worth

    After Lundqvist's rich $8.5 million deal that kicks in next season, Pekka Rinne and Tuukka Rask are the league's highest-paid goalies, with annual cap hits of $7 million apiece. Miller's agent is one of the few who could ask for those types of dollars and keep a straight face.

    For those who believe in investing top dollar in a franchise goaltender, there isn't any better free-agent candidate than Miller, who made $6.25 million per season for the past five years.  

     

    Note: All advanced statistics are via writer's own original research unless otherwise noted.

    Rob Vollman is author of Rob Vollman's Hockey Abstract, co-author of the annual Hockey Prospectus guides and a featured ESPN Insider writer. @robvollmanNHL.

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