Goalie Musical Chairs, Vol. 1

As many as 20 teams could start the 2020-21 season with new #1 goalies, and the fun is already underway…

As if this season hasn’t been bonkers enough to this point, the off-season is going to be a chaotic sprint of trades, signings, and free-agent silliness, in particular when it comes to goaltenders. Some, if not all, of these changes will alter the pool of available netminders for the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft, making an already difficult situation even more challenging for Seattle Kraken GM Ron Francis.

You’ll note that we have labeled this article “Vol. 1,” because this is merely the first salvo in what will likely be more than a dozen updates over the next 3 months. We will continue to keep you posted as they all come down.

Let’s dive in…

Allen Va Aux Canadiens

Montreal was the one to pull the trigger on the first deal of the summer, acquiring St. Louis’ “1-B” goaltender Jake Allen from the Blues to serve as Carey Price’s backup. Allen has 1 year remaining on his contract at $4.35 million/AAV.

This plainly was a move borne of desperation: Price started 58 of the 71 games in the shortened 2019-20 regular season, a pace that he has been keeping up for several seasons due to Montreal’s lack of a reliable backup. With Allen in the fold, Coach Claude Julien can give Price a night off without saddling his team with a liability between the pipes.

This comes at a cost, however. Price has a $10.5 million/AAV contract that lasts another 6 seasons, and having nearly $15 million wrapped up in goaltenders is unsustainable. So Allen will join Les Habitants for the 2020-21 season, but likely will still be on the free agent market when the clock starts ticking on the expansion draft.

Leafs and Oilers Moving On

After 4 seasons and 0 playoff series wins, it appears that the Toronto Maple Leafs are fielding offers for starting goaltender Frederik Andersen. With the Leafs’ high-octane offense it stands to reason that fans — and perhaps management — lay the blame for the team’s lack of post-season success at the feet of the goalie, though statistically speaking the justification for that is dubious at best and flawed at worst.

The more likely reason is that Andersen will (justifiably) be looking for a raise at the end of his contract next season, and with over 50% of the Leafs’ cap space bottled up in just five players, being able to re-sign Andersen at market rate is highly unlikely. This may be just a case of Leafs GM Kyle Dubas trying to get value for a marketable asset, replacing Andersen with a youngster on a more affordable medium-term contract.

Andersen has decent stats and just one year remaining on a $5 million/AAV contract, but you can bet that whoever acquires him will be looking to sign him to a longer-term extension. I expect that, all things being equal, the next stop for Andersen will be his home for at least 3 to 5 more seasons. Should that occur, that would close the book on his availability for the expansion draft.

Meanwhile out in Edmonton, a brutal defeat at the hands of the 12th-seed Chicago Blackhawks during the play-in round has Oilers GM Ken Holland looking at the possibility of some new blood in the blue paint. The first period shellacking in game 1 made it abundantly clear that veteran netminder Mike Smith’s best days are long behind him; and the middling performance of ‘keeper Mikko Koskinen for the remainder of that series raised doubts about his ability to perform in the NHL playoff pressure cooker.

Smith’s contract is expiring this summer; Koskinen is signed for two more years at $4.5 million AAV. That leaves some room for Holland to upgrade his duo in goal — but for both Edmonton and Toronto, the question is, who is available, and affordable?

Penguin Flies North?

The Pittsburgh Penguins have had some unusual luck with their #2 goalies becoming #1 goalies before their time. First it was Matt Murray usurping the starting mantle from Marc-Andre Fleury; now it is Murray who is on the outs as Tristan Jarry has asserted himself as Coach Mike Sullivan’s go-to guy between the pipes.

As such, Pittsburgh has openly stated that restricted free-agent Murray is on the block; subsequent reporting around the league suggests that both the Leafs and Oilers have expressed interest. Murray had a down year and uninspiring playoff statistics, but will still likely command at least the same $3.75 million AAV contract as he earned last year. It remains to be seen what Pittsburgh is asking in return for Murray, and whether either team is willing to pay it.

Canucks Conundrum

One of the other challenges north of the border is the contract of Vancouver starting goaltender Jacob Markstrom. The Canucks’ #1 was sidelined with a groin injury in the playoff series against the (not Las) Vegas Golden Knights, putting youngster Thatcher Demko in the driver’s seat starting in game 4. The kid responded with an otherworldly 0.64 goals against average and .985 save percentage, though it wasn’t enough to push the Canucks into the Conference Finals.

This has eyebrows raising and tongues wagging in Vancouver: should the Canucks walk away from Markstrom and anoint Demko as their main man for 2020-21? Indications from the Vancouver front office during the pause were that re-signing Markstrom was their #1 off-season priority; following Demko’s performance in the playoffs, all we’ve heard are crickets.

Markstrom is an unrestricted free agent coming off a 3-year deal paying him $3.667 million AAV; this past season he was 23-16-4 with a .918 save percentage and 2.75 goals against — 11th in the league in wins, 16th in save percentage among goalies with more than 10 starts.

Should the Canucks wash their hands of him, it will markedly change the landscape for teams in the market for a reliable #1 netminder for the upcoming season. That will have ripple effects impacting the team who ends up signing him; it will also mean that Seattle fans will have to stop drooling over the possibility of seeing Demko in a Kraken uniform on opening night.

But nothing has been finalized as yet, nor has there been any reliable reporting as to what Vancouver brass are actually considering. As of this writing at least, the situation is unresolved and still fluid.

Minnesota Morass

The same kind of problem faces the Minnesota Wild in the upcoming season, though the situation is slightly different. Long-time starter Devan Dubnyk, owner of a 3.35 goals against average for the 2019-20 season (ouch…), has likely played his last game in the Twin Cities. With one year left on his $4.333 million/AAV contract, the prevailing thought is that either a trade or an outright buyout are imminent.

The problem of who assumes the starting goaltender role in Dubnyk’s absence is more cut and dried than in Vancouver. Veteran netminder Alex Stalock, inconsistent but currently performing sufficiently, will likely play mentor and tandem with talented Finn Kaapo Kahkonen. How much confidence Minnesota has in Kahkonen and what role they expect him to play with the organ-eye-zation will become evident when they re-sign him this summer.

With stats like Dubnyk’s, him landing anything more than a 1-year deal as #2 on the depth chart is unlikely. It is equally unlikely that the Seattle Kraken will pursue him in the lead-up to the expansion draft. But his eventual destination could have implications for the remainder of the market for goaltenders this summer. Stay tuned.

Just Getting Started

We have merely scratched the surface of what is about to unfold before our eyes in a compressed and hectic off-season. Chicago stalwart Corey Crawford could be relegated to a backup or tandem role, if he gets re-signed at all; the Washington Capitals have to decide whether to fish or cut bait with starter Braden Holtby; Thomas Greiss, part of the reason that the New York Islanders are advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time in 27 years, is potentially going to test the free agent waters; New Jersey’s $6 million dollar man Corey Schneider has been outplayed for the past 2 seasons by $697K restricted free agent Mackenzie Blackwood; and Dallas’ “backup” Anton Khudobin, who is leading the Stars into the Western Conference Finals this week, is looking for his 5th NHL team and a contract with more meat on its bones.

But the biggest prize of the free agent off-season, (not Las) Vegas netminder Robin Lehner, will be looking for a mid- to long-term deal, a nice raise, and a team that can contend for the Stanley Cup. Once he makes up his mind, the scramble to sign or acquire the remaining goalies on the market will make Black Friday at Walmart look like a quilting bee.

As events unfold we will be providing you with news and insight on who’s on the move, who’s staying put, and what that means for the goaltender who will be available for the Seattle Kraken during the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft.

Author: Tim Currell

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