Goalie could be the most in-demand position on the NHL free-agent market.
Plenty of teams will be looking for upgrades between the pipes, and there are three top-tier free agents at the position in Jacob Markstrom, Braden Holtby and Robin Lehner.
Of the three, Markstrom has the best chance to remain with his current team, as he has made it known he would like to stay with the Vancouver Canucks. Holtby could be pushed out by a younger goalie and cap restrictions in Washington, while Lehner is a rental with the Vegas Golden Knights.
Predictions for Top Free-Agent Goalies
A return to Vancouver would benefit Markstrom and the Canucks.
Markstrom could find long-term security in a familiar place, with plenty of uncertainty surrounding the state of the free-agent market. The Canucks would be able to lock down their goalie and continue a push toward being a consistent postseason fixture.
Markstrom expressed his desire to stay in Vancouver in a recent interview with Sportsnet's Iain McIntyre:
"In my mind, I want to stay in Vancouver. That's my goal. The season isn't over this year, either. I'm still hoping we can come back and play and make a push in the playoffs here. It's going to be tough to get fans in the building, but give the people and city of Vancouver something to cheer for. That's pretty much 100 per cent of my mindset. I'm still a Vancouver Canuck and I'm super proud of being it. I have no plans of leaving."
Markstrom should command more money because of how consistent has been between the pipes. He has five straight seasons with a save percentage over .910, including a career-high .918 this season, and he has produced at least 23 victories in each of the past three seasons.
The ideal contract for both parties would be worth around $5 million for four to five years. That would allow the Canucks to not worry about the goalie position and hand Markstrom plenty of job security.
Prediction: Markstrom remains in Vancouver.
Holtby's situation in Washington is much different, as he appears to be on his way out.
The one-time Vezina Trophy winner has been a mainstay on the Capitals roster since 2010, but a dip in production combined with Ilya Samsonov's emergence could force out the 30-year-old.
Samsonov has a .913 save percentage and 2.55 goals-against average in 26 games this season, while Holtby owns a .897 save percentage and 3.11 GAA in 48 appearances.
Holtby is in line to have his first season with a save percentage under .900 and a GAA of more than three.
The decrease in production, a potentially high asking price and Samsonov's development could motivate Washington to move in a different direction. Holtby's contract was signed for five years and $30.5 million, and since he is only 30, he could command a large deal because of his resume.
The Detroit Red Wings and Buffalo Sabres are projected to have the second- and third-most cap room, and both are in need of consistency in net.
Detroit's pair of Jonathan Bernier and Jimmy Howard combined for 17 wins, and with a rebuild underway, the Red Wings could say goodbye to both in favor of a better netminder.
While the Red Wings could be a few years away from contending for a playoff position, Buffalo's young core, led by Jack Eichel, is poised for a surge up the standings. Carter Hutton is the only goalie under contract for next season, and he has a worse GAA than Holtby at 3.18.
If Buffalo adds Holtby's playoff experience, it could pose a larger challenge in the Eastern Conference wild-card hunt.
Prediction: Holtby leaves Washington, ends up in Buffalo.
Lehner could be another free-agent candidate for teams with the most cap room.
The 28-year-old is likely looking for more stability after playing for four teams over the past three seasons.
He had a .930 save percentage and 2.13 GAA last season with the New York Islanders, but he was only able to turn that into a one-year deal with the Chicago Blackhawks when free agency opened last summer.
The Vegas Golden Knights acquired Lehner at the trade deadline, but he is not expected to be there on a long-term basis with Marc-Andre Fleury signed at a $7 million cap hit until 2022.
If a return to the Ottawa Senators or Buffalo is not in the cards, Detroit could home in on the Swede. Were Vancouver unable to come to terms with Markstrom, Lehner might be in the mix there as well.
The San Jose Sharks could be a team to watch in the goalie market since Martin Jones and Aaron Dell both possess GAAs over three. But it may be harder for the Sharks to justify a large price tag with Jones having a cap hit of $5.75 million through the 2023-24 campaign.
Detroit's rebuild may not be intriguing to some, but it could offer Lehner long-term security, and its large amount of cap space could entice a few other free agents to join its young core.
Prediction: Detroit lands Lehner.