For an NHL franchise, finding the long-term goaltender to support your team for years to come can be tough. With only 10 to 15 elite, reliable netminders in the league at any time, those without their own reputable backstop can often find it's the one shortfall that keeps their team from reaching the next level.
Some teams can do without it. Some can find that a rotation will work as a short-term solution. Some will dig through their prospects group to locate a reasonable candidate. But most will turn to the ultra-competitive race every July for the few star goalies who are hitting the market that offseason.
This summer, there are even more teams than usual searching for that elusive veteran goaltender. We've picked out seven teams for this article—these are the ones who truly have no goaltender under contract for next season and no one to fill their spot—but there are a number of other franchises who still aren't satisfied with their current option, whether he's under contract for three more years or not.
The free agent pickings in terms of goalies are also especially thin.
Experienced stars Ilya Bryzgalov and Tomas Vokoun will most certainly be highly sought after players, but the ranks of goaltenders besides them that seem trustworthy enough to receive a starting job are few to none. In all respect, would you still trust someone like Brian Boucher, Jose Theodore, Jean-Sebastien Giguere or Marty Turco with your favorite team's lead goalie slot? Or would you trust unproven players such as Peter Budaj, Mike Smith, Curtis McElhinney or Ray Emery? Frankly, we sure wouldn't!
Even with the next-to-nothing pool of available goalies, the demand is still high. Which teams need a netminder for their 2011-2012 season the most? We take a look at seven in particular who need to be bidding early and high.
Despite their run to the Eastern Conference Finals this season, one that was led by goaltending itself, Tampa Bay will be back to looking this summer for that one missing link—the goalie—that always holds their star-studded offense back.
Dwayne Roloson, acquired from the New York Islanders mid-season, turned out to be a savior, going 18-12-4 with a .912 save percentage and 2.56 goals-against average (GAA) during the regular season. Roloson stepped it up another notch in the playoffs, leading Tampa Bay to their first two playoff series wins since the lockout. As of Wednesday, the 41-year-old veteran was 9-5-0 with a .925 save percentage and 2.51 GAA in the postseason.
Roloson was brought in to replace the disappointing duo of Mike Smith and Dan Ellis. Smith, 29, also has an expiring contract this summer; Ellis, who had been brought in last offseason to replace another reject, Antero Niittymaki, was eventually traded to Anaheim. For the 2008-09 season, a ridiculous five different players saw ice time in goal for the Bolts. Smith had the most appearances of them all—with just 41.
General Manager Steve Yzerman, who made great impressions and brilliant moves throughout his first calendar year, will be faced with his second summer (out of two) with "find a goaltender" as the top priority.
The aforementioned Tomas Vokoun is also a current Florida Panther. Nevertheless, they're not going to be leading candidates to sign him like most other teams are; only this time, it's because they don't really want him.
Even with star status, Vokoun has struggled for the Panthers, who haven't made the playoffs since 2001 and have watched Vokoun be part of those non-postseason teams since 2007. When counting overtime losses as actual losses, Vokoun hasn't even come within a few games of having a winning record in any of those four seasons.
This past year, he actually ranked second in the NHL in regulation losses, highlighting his pathetic 22-28-5 record.
As the Panthers hope to continue their roster makeover towards younger players, 34-year-old Vokoun probably won't be part of that plan. They will have 33-year-old Scott Clemmenson for at least one more season, but he's already well past his prime and has never had a full-season starting role in his career.
Clemmenson also fell to just 8-11-7 this year.
Young goaltenders are typically tough to find on the market and are just not there this summer, so the Panthers may have to turn to their prospect system. The only problem is they did not have a single AHL goalie with a winning record or a GAA under 2.98 this year.
Is it rough times for Florida goaltenders? Well, it would be, if there were any.
The most discussed goaltender shortage of any NHL team belongs to the Philadelphia Flyers. They have tried to solve the issue by quantity instead of quality this year, and may have to resort to that tactic again.
The Flyers rotated through an odd crew of 34-year-old experienced but inconsistent Brian Boucher, one-hit-wonder Michael Leighton and young, unreliable Sergei Bobrovsky (it's simply amazing to think that he was once a Calder Trophy candidate).
The crew split up the playoffs with seven, three, and one start respectively, and a combined six goalie switches in 11 games. Not one of the three were able to come very close to breaking under a 3.00 GAA.
The regular season story was much of the same, as was the entire 2009-10 year, where Leighton didn't come into the picture until the playoffs and crazy character Ray Emery was in the mix instead of Bobrovsky.
The problems continue this summer as Philadelphia will look for a big-name starter despite only having an estimated $400,000 of cap space. They won't find any answers with the AHL Adirondack Phantoms, either, as the Phantoms saw top goalie Johan Backlund limp through a weak season, going 10-19-3 with a .890 save percentage.
The Devils looked to succeed with two oldies—seasoned great Martin Brodeur, 39, and lifetime backup Johan Hedburg, 38—in between the pipes. To put it simply, they didn't.
Future Hall of Fame netminder Brodeur had injury problems, unfathomable losing skids, finished with a 23-26-3 record and an uncharacteristic .903 save percentage. He's under contract for one more season, but with rumors of retirement, Brodeur could very likely have played his last game.
On the other hand, Hedburg was slightly better, going 15-12-2 with a .912 mark. He was, however, the catalyst for the creation and also the downfall of the Devils remarkable spring winning streak.
As with many of the teams we mention here, New Jersey will find no solutions for their goalie issue at the AHL level, as the Albany Devils failed to produce a winning goalie or even one with a respectable set of statistics. The Devils will be forced to join the extremely overcrowded bidding race for Vokoun and Bryzgalov and hope for the best.
If the Coyotes can manage to hold on to Ilya Bryzgalov long enough to settle on a new, long-term contract, they'll be in fine shape, and be receiving the curses of a bunch of other teams mentioned in here. If not, the empty roster spot will become a budding catastrophe.
Even with a playoff collapse in a sweep by the Detroit Red Wings tainting his season, Bryzgalov remained one of the solid NHL goalies this winter with 36-20-10 record, .921 save percentage, 2.46 GAA and seven shutouts (fourth in the league). The 30-year-old improved on his reputation brought on by a 42-20-6 campaign the previous year.
Nonetheless, Bryzgalov will hit the market as his $4.25 million per year contract expires this summer. Backup Jason LaBarbara, who was mediocre at 7-6-3 this season, is also likely leaving the desert.
The Coyotes should already be discussing a new deal with Bryzgalov in order to try to find a last-minute, fantastic solution to a growing concern. If they can't get him inked, there won't be too many other options for Phoenix to turn to.
The Nikolai Khabibulin era in Edmonton is officially dead.
The 38-year-old had a mind-boggingly horrific 10-32-4 record to go along with a .890 save percentage and 3.40 GAA in 47 games this season. A performance likely making some TV viewers watching his attempted saves wonder if they had accidentally turned it to slow motion.
Even with two more years remaining of an insanely high $3.75 million per season contract, a buyout is in the works and a departure from the game of hockey is even more likely for the used-up netminder.
The Oilers will now turn in the direction of 25-year-old Devan Dubnyk or 27-year-old Jeff Deslauriers. The sight of both in the net in Edmonton makes us immediately imagine another last-place finish in Alberta, but the free agent market certainly isn't offering many other options.
Dubnyk goes into the summer with a 16-23-10 NHL record in two partial seasons, in addition to a .907 save percentage and 3.00 GAA. Deslauriers, who spent most of this season with the AHL's Oklahoma City Barons, entered the offseason with a 20-31-4 career big-league record as well as a .901 save percentage and 3.24 GAA. He was slightly better than that with the Barons this past campaign, going 17-13-4 with a .906 save percentage.
No matter which candidate takes the starting job on opening day, we realize Edmonton doesn't exactly fit the title of this article; they do at least have some possibilities for next year's goalie. But would you be quite thrilled with either of these youngsters? We didn't think so.
A dismal 2010-2011 season in the mile high city may linger into next winter unless the Avalanche's goalie shortage can be quickly addressed. Craig Anderson is already gone, Brian Elliot was a disaster from the start, and Peter Budaj is about to depart, too, though he won't be missed much.
Assuming they don't want to try Jason Bacashihua as a full-time NHL starter, we're not quite sure who they ought to look for.
Budaj, now 28, has looked continually less and less promising since a successful beginning to his career in the early post-lockout seasons. His stock fell again this past season as he finished 15-21-4 with an .895 percentage and 3.20 average.
2009-10 hero Craig Anderson dropped from 38-25-7 with a .917 save percentage in 71 games played during the season before last to 13-15-3 with an .897 save percentage in 33 appearances this past season before being shipped to Ottawa.
With Anderson's exchange, Elliot, quickly proved to be terrible, much like his position colleagues, in just a month, going 2-8-1 with a ghastly 3.83 GAA.
The Avalanche will be left without anyone once July 1 comes around, though that might not be the worst thing considering their options to re-sign. Even the previously noted Bacashihua, who was 23-16-3 during the regular season with the AHL's Lake Erie Monsters, is a UFA.
If they're satisfied with, say, Ray Emery for next season, then so be it.
If they're not, then, well, they better get satisfied pretty soon.