Although the playoffs are still in full swing for the 8 remaining teams, it is never to early for the other 22 teams to take a look at who will be available come July 1st, when the Unrestricted Free Agents become available.
A situation that always raises questions in the NHL every summer is what goalies end up where. With only 2 spots open on every team, some goaltenders get left behind. Many find themselves playing in europe, while others stick around in the minors with hopes of a call up back to the big show.
This year, there are a number of goalies due to hit free agency. Leading the way is San Jose netminder Evgeny Nabakov. Only time will tell how far his team goes in the playoffs, but after a season in which he led his team to first place in the west, and finished second in the NHL in wins win an impressive 44-16-10 record, he is sure to command a similar contract to the $6,000,000 he made this season.
But Nabakov is not the only goalie available this offseason. Marty Turco, Jose Theodore, Chris Mason, Vesa Toskala, and Ray Emery will all be looking for work come July 1. Not to mention a number of cheaper, serviceable backups like Alex Auld, Johan Hedberg, Patrick Lalime, Peter Budaj, Dan Ellis, Antero Nittymaki, and former Calder trophy winner Andrew Raycroft.
So who is still in the NHL next season, and who is left looking for work elsewhere? While it seems likely that even with potential cap problems, San Jose will look to keep Nabakov, the rest may all be finding new jobs this summer.
Jose Theodore is coming off of a year of ups and downs. Although the former Vezina Trophy, and Hart Trophy winner helped backstop his team to a President’s Trophy season, he again saw his job taken over in the playoffs. Two seasons in a row he was given the job of starting in the playoffs, and two seasons in a row he got yanked. Maybe the team didnt play well in front of him, or maybe the coaches didn't show enough confidence in him, but either way, his chances at a starting job anywhere seem to be slipping after these last two seasons. Perhaps Washingtons run and gun style of play factored in to his poor statistics, but Jose Theodore wil be looking for a 1a, 1b job this offseason.
Marty Turco, the long time Dallas Star will also be looking for a new place to settle this offseason, as the organization looks to have moved in a new direction after acquiring Kari Lehtonen from the Atlanta Thrashers. After putting up some very pedestrian numbers the past two seasons, Turco will be looking for a new start, but will anyone step up to offer it to him?
After being banished from Toronto, and finishing the year in Calgary backing up Kipprusoff with 3.48 GAA and a .880 SV%, Vesa Toskala looks like his time in the NHL is coming to a close. He has not been the same since being traded from San Jose to Toronto and teams might not be willing to use a contract on him. Expect to see him in Europe next year.
Chris Mason set a career high in wins this past season with 30, with the 9th place St. Louis Blues. Mason has established himself at the starter in St. Louis, who have quality goaltending prospects in Jake Allen and Ben Bishop. Expect the Blues to keep the 34 year old Mason on a short contract.
After a hiatus from the NHL and a year in Russia, Ray Emery returned with the starting job in Philadelphia. Although an injury ended his season early, Emery proved he belonged in the NHL again, with at least a backup role, putting up solid, but not spectacular numbers. Should Philly decide to stick with him, he would be their starter again; however, he might be looking for a new home this summer. Philly is one of the teams in need of goaltending, and although Emery can be a solid starter for a team that doesn’t need to rely on their goalie to win, but they can definitely do better.
Other than these goalies I have named, a bunch of solid backups will be on the market. Alex Auld, Antero Nittymaki, Dan Ellis, Johan Hedberg, Patrick Lalime and Peter Budaj are jus a few of the quality backup goaltenders who could be on the move.
Although there are a number of options available, there aren’t a lot of teams in dire need of a goalie. Starting jobs will be hard to come by for the bigger names available, but the salaries they command might be too high for teams in need of a backup. Some teams that could possibly be in the hunt to add a goalie would be Philadelphia, if they let Emery go, or Washington if they let Theodore go. Also in the hunt for a backup, the New York Rangers could lose Alex Auld, the Thrashers could lose Johan Hedberg, and the Sabres may lose Patrick Lalime. New Jersey may also look to upgrade from Yann Danis, and Andrew Raycroft looks to have earned more than the 14 starts he got behind Roberto Luongo.
In addition to those available on the Free Agent market, the possibility of a trade seems possible for two netminders. Carey Price, the goalie who was destined to be the future of the Montreal Canadiens, looks to have lost his job to Jaroslav Halak. Still very young, Carey Price has more value to montreal as a tradeable asset than a backup goalie.
Also available, will be Boston's Tim Thomas. The cap space is just to much for the globe trotting goalie who previously found sucess in Boston. However, the young up and comer Tukka Rask is the future in Boston. The Bruins will need to dump salary, so look for Thomas' trade value to be very low.
With all the options available this summer at the goalie position, look for a fair amount of movement at the goalie position, and look for some quality goaltenders to still be free agents late in the offseason.