NHL Free Agents 2020: Contract Predictions for Braden Holtby, Robin Lehner, MoreMay 5, 2020
There's a lot of uncertainty surrounding not only the 2019-20 NHL season but also the upcoming offseason. One of the reasons for that is because of the potential impact the coronavirus pandemic could have on the league's salary cap for next season.
With the league currently suspended, it's still not clear whether the NHL season will be resumed. But it's not too early to start looking ahead to free agency and the players who could be available. However, even some of the better players expected to be on the market may opt to sign short-term deals and return to free agency in a few years, when the salary cap should be higher after it potentially may not go up for the 2020-21 season.
Among the players set to become unrestricted free agents are some talented veteran goaltenders, such as Braden Holtby and Robin Lehner, who are likely to switch teams and could have numerous suitors.
Here are predictions for where some of the top goaltenders on the market will land this offseason.
A return to Washington seems unlikely for Braden Holtby, despite the fact that he led the franchise to the Stanley Cup in 2019 and has been a solid player for the past decade. Rookie Ilya Samsonov is poised to take over as the Capitals' starting goaltender, and Holtby would be a bit too expensive to sign as their backup.
Plus, Holtby will likely still want the opportunity to have a starting job. And he shouldn't have trouble finding interested teams.
One potential fit for Holtby might be the Vancouver Canucks, who could pair him with 24-year-old Thatcher Demko for a few seasons to form a strong tandem in the net. Jacob Markstrom is set to hit free agency this offseason, so if he leaves, Holtby would be a strong option to take over his role.
Holtby is 30 and coming off his worst season. So, if he signs a short-term deal and bounces back the next two years, he could return to free agency and get one more solid contract before the end of his career. Expect that to happen with him heading to Vancouver for this next stage of his career.
Prediction: Holtby signs with Vancouver for two years, $10 million
Like Holtby, Robin Lehner could be on the move this offseason as the Vegas Golden Knights assess their goaltending situation. Vegas already has $7 million committed to Marc-Andre Fleury for next season, so it may opt to find a more affordable backup goaltender than Lehner.
Lehner is still only 28 and coming off back-to-back strong seasons. He had a .930 save percentage and 2.13 goals against average in 46 games for the New York Islanders in 2018-19. This season, he has a .920 save percentage and 2.89 goals against average in 36 games for the Chicago Blackhawks and Golden Knights.
After playing for four different teams over the past three seasons, Lehner could be looking for stability this offseason. Perhaps that will be possible if he signs a backloaded deal with a team that can afford him, meaning he'd make more money in the later years of the contract.
Although the Red Wings are in rebuilding mode, perhaps they could pursue Lehner as a strong veteran goaltender to add to their young core. Lehner would get plenty of playing time and give Detroit a boost in the net.
Prediction: Lehner signs with Detroit for three years, $17 million
The Blackhawks traded Lehner midseason, and starting goaltender Corey Crawford will be turning 36 this December. So, Chicago could be in pursuit of a strong goalie this offseason, and it would make sense for it to go after Jacob Markstrom.
Over the past five seasons, Markstrom has been a consistently strong presence in the net for the Canucks. During that span, he has a .914 save percentage and 2.73 goals against average in 222 games (213 starts), 163 of which have come in the past three seasons.
Markstrom and Crawford could form a solid goaltending duo for Chicago. The Blackhawks were on pace to miss the playoffs for the third straight year when the season was suspended, but they had good stretches.
Although Chicago could end up being tight on cap space, it could work out a backloaded contract with Markstrom and move around some pieces to make it work. And if that's the case, the Blackhawks will be getting a reliable veteran goaltender who should continue to have success.
Prediction: Markstrom signs with Chicago for three years, $15 million