NHL Free Agency 2013: 5 Teams in Desperate Need of Goaltending

Benjamin Klein@BenjaminJKleinContributor IIIDecember 18, 2012

NHL Free Agency 2013: 5 Teams in Desperate Need of Goaltending

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    The status of a potential 2012-13 NHL season is still up in the air, and it may be time for several teams to start thinking about which upcoming free agents will able to help their franchises in 2013-14 and beyond.

    The 2013 free-agent market should have plenty of big names on it—pending they don’t sign extensions before they hit the open market—including Alexander Semin, Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf, Tim Thomas and many, many more.

    Whether a team needs a forward, defenseman or goalie for the upcoming season, it shouldn’t have an issue finding one.

    But for now, let’s focus on the players who will be saving shot after shot trying to help their team win the Stanley Cup. Teams like the New York Rangers, Los Angeles Kings and Nashville Predators are all set for the near future, but there are plenty of teams that will need to find a solid goaltender in free agency.

    Whether it is because a current goalie’s contract expires or due to a lack of talent within the franchise, these are the teams that will be emptying their pockets to ensure that their goalie is the least of their problems. 

Minnesota Wild

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    Last season in Minnesota, the Wild used Niklas Backstrom and Josh Harding frequently in net. Backstrom went 19-18-7 with a 2.43 goals-against average and a .919 save percentage while Harding went 13-12-4 with a 2.62 goals-against average and a .917 save percentage.

    The issue for the Wild is that there’s a chance that neither will be suiting up for Minnesota in 2013-14.

    Backstrom’s current four-year, $24 million deal expires after the 2012-13 season, and he will become an unrestricted free agent thereafter.

    Harding’s situation is much more serious, however, as he was recently diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, according to ESPN:

    Josh Harding didn’t feel right. The Minnesota Wild goalie became dizzy during a workout on the ice about two months ago, and he started seeing big, black dots. The neck problem he had was much more than that. Doctors diagnosed him with multiple sclerosis after a series of tests, and he’s been undergoing treatment since then for the disease.

    The report notes that Harding is trying to be ready for when the NHL lockout eventually ends, but the Wild should definitely look to have a backup plan just in case.

    Minnesota’s best option going into next season would be to try and re-sign Backstrom. He’s been great in net for the Wild over the course of his six-year career—with a 2.42 goals-against average and a .918 save percentage—and they should continue to reward him for it. 

Florida Panthers

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    The Panthers have some interesting decisions to make that will likely leave them looking to bid for a top-of-the-line goalie.

    Jose Theodore provided a boost to Florida last season—winning 22 games in the first year of a two-year deal—and the Panthers also played Scott Clemmensen often—starting 25 games in his third year with the team.

    Now whether the Panthers play any games in 2012-13 or not, it will be the last season that Theodore is under contract. Theodore saved 91.7 percent of shots last season with a 2.46 GAA, and the 36-year-old could be seeking to either stay in Florida or pursue other options.

    Whether or not Florida would want to give Theodore a contract extension remains to be seen, but if the Panthers don’t, they could turn to Clemmensen, whose contract expires after the 2013-14 season.

    The problem with Clemmensen is that he doesn’t have a great deal of NHL experience, appearing in only 152 games in nine years, and he hasn’t been that reliable in those games.

    Last season alone, Clemmensen ranked tied for 26th in save percentage among qualified goalies (via ESPN). His career save percentage is a tad bit worse, which could have the Panthers skeptical about giving him the full-time role.

    With a lack of uncertainty pertaining to both goalies in the future, don’t be surprised to hear rumors surrounding the Panthers and some of the top goalies on the market once free agency starts up.

Toronto Maple Leafs

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    The Maple Leafs decided to continue with the development of James Reimer in net last season—the second of his career—while Toronto also gave plenty of time to Jonas Gustavsson.

    Reimer could not replicate the impressive numbers he put together in his rookie season with the Maple Leafs, seeing decreases in wins (20 to 14) and save percentage (.921 to .900) as well as a big increase in  goals-against average (2.60 to 3.10).

    Reimer is only 24 years old, but his sophomore slump could be a red flag going forward. He also won’t have the opportunity to learn from Gustavsson like he has in the previous two seasons since Gustavsson signed a two-year deal with the Detroit Red Wings. Gustavsson leaves Toronto after three years, going 39-45-15 with a 2.98 goals-against average and a .900 save percentage.

    Now losing Gustavsson might not seem like the biggest loss in the world, but Toronto hasn’t really found a replacement for him, making it likely that Reimer would start nearly every game in 2012-13.

    That may be a lot of pressure coming off of a poor season that found him ranked 39th in the NHL in save percentage last season (via ESPN).

    The problem for the Maple Leafs is that they really need a 2012-13 season to happen, more than many other teams. Playing any number of games this season would give the Maple Leafs the opportunity to further evaluate Reimer and see if they need to pursue a free-agent goalie.

    If Toronto doesn’t get that opportunity, Reimer’s days as the starting goalie may be over quicker than he would’ve liked.

Phoenix Coyotes

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    The Coyotes have found the guy that can get them to the playoffs year in and year out, but they won’t have him for long. Mike Smith put Phoenix on his back and got the Coyotes to the Western Conference Finals last season—his first season with the franchise.

    Smith was one of the top goaltenders last season, going 38-18-10 with a 2.21 goals-against average—which was the seventh best in the NHL—and a .930 save percentage—which was the third best in the NHL. To say that he had a breakout year, after having minimal success previously with the Lightning, is an understatement.

    Smith’s backup, Jason LaBarbera, didn’t see much action last season and really hasn’t gotten considerable ice time in his three years in Phoenix—having just 42 starts total. He went 3-9-3 with a 2.54 goals-against average and a .912 save percentage last season.

    The issue will arise after the 2012-13 season when both netminders’ contracts expire and they hit the open market, leaving Phoenix without anyone capable of stopping shots on a regular basis.

    After such a successful first year with the Coyotes, it would make sense that they’d try to sign Smith to a contract extension. Smith is currently playing under a two-year, $4 million deal and will certainly demand more in free agency.

    At this point, Smith could end up having a lot more leverage in negotiations since he is coming off of a great year without having to prove that he can be consistent from year to year—since the chance of playing in 2012-13 continues to dwindle each day.

    It’s undetermined how much Phoenix would be willing to give Smith, but it may be in their best interest to just find a way to get a deal done with him and hope that his success from last season continues in the future.

Detroit Red Wings

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    Could there be trouble in Hockeytown?

    Jimmy Howard has been one of the leaders of the Red Wings since getting the full-time nod three seasons ago, sitting for three years beforehand. Howard has won at least 35 games in each of the last three seasons while not having lost more than 17.

    In 2011-12 alone, Howard went 35-17-4 with a 2.12 goals-against average—which was the sixth best in the NHL—and a .920 save percentage—which was tied for the 10th best in the NHL.

    Howard is currently playing—or should be playing—through the last year of his two-year, $4.5 million contract with the Red Wings, and he will become an unrestricted free agent once the offseason commences.

    Having so much success for the Red Wings in years past, we can only presume that Detroit would look to extend him.

    But the Red Wings did just give former Toronto Maple Leaf Jonas Gustavsson a two-year deal that will keep him in Detroit a year longer than Howard.

    That could mean that if Howard demands too much money or the Red Wings are unable to bring him back, Gustavsson could be the guy who starts in net for Detroit most nights. That may be scary, considering his career numbers in Toronto that were mentioned earlier.

    So what should the Red Wings do?

    If the price tag for Howard is too high, Detroit could easily seek other options on the market such as some of the names previously mentioned or a guy like Evgeni Nabokov or maybe even Tim Thomas, who will both be unrestricted free agents.

    For now, however, the focus should be on trying to lock up Howard for the next couple of years.