Goalie Musical Chairs, Free Agency Wrap-Up

MAN, does this look rock and roll!
Photo credit: https://www.instagram.com/goaliecustomizer/ (via NHL.com)

You may not realize it, but the Seattle Kraken had a fantastic couple of days as the free agent signing period opened up, and they didn’t even sign anyone!

The main reason for that is the financial crunch caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, resulting in the flat salary cap in the NHL for this upcoming season and next. This placed significant downward pressure on contract values, and also reduced the average contract length for free agent veterans. The result was that several brand-name, starting goaltenders who hit the free agent market signed deals that open them up for acquisition by the Seattle Kraken.

The list will surprise you, and it essentially sets up a virtual buffet from which Kraken GM Ron Francis and his staff will have their choice.

No Movement (Clause)

The contractual impediment to selecting certain players during the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft is the no-movement clause, or NMC. Any player whose contract contains a full NMC for the season prior to, and the season following the expansion draft must be protected by their club, and therefore can’t be selected.

Two of the goaltenders potentially up for grabs for the Kraken did sign new deals including NMC’s with their new teams: former Penguins netminder Matt Murray had his signing rights traded to Ottawa, where he signed a new 4-year deal; and Vancouver starter Jacob Markstrom jumped ship to the Calgary Flames with a 6-year, $6 million AAV contract.

Both of these guys are now off the table for Seattle during the draft next year. But the list of goaltenders still available to the Kraken is very appealing. There are two means by which the Kraken can obtain their goaltending duo: either selecting those players during the draft itself, or signing them during free agency. We’ll take a look at the latter first.

Negotiate This

As outlined in our NHL Expansion Draft Primer, the Kraken will have an exclusive negotiating window with any pending free agents while the draft is in progress. During that time Ron Francis can negotiate with any unprotected free agent, and if a deal can be reached, then that player becomes the one chosen from his current team.

The list of goalies who fall into this category didn’t really change much during the free agent signing period. Goaltenders including James Reimer, Petr Mrazek, David Rittich, and Philipp Grubauer all will be pending unrestricted free agents on the day of the draft. But those are just the guys Ron Francis shouldn’t look at. Here are the ones he should.

Jaroslav Halak, Boston Bruins: Halak was the first of two playoff bubble surprises, as Bruins’ starter Tuukka Rask made the decision to leave the bubble to join his family following a medical incident involving his infant daughter. Halak stepped in and led the Bruins to the Eastern Conference Semi-finals. He has 282 wins to his credit in 500 starts spanning 15 years in the league. His career 2.48 goals-against average and .916 save percentage during the regular season actually improves once he gets to the playoffs — which he has done with every team he’s played for. Longevity, consistency, and delivers in the playoffs: the Kraken could do worse, and with an expiring contract carrying a mere $2.25 million AAV, Halak is arguably the best goaltender value available.

Jake Allen, Montreal Canadiens: Allen was part of the goaltending tandem that pushed the St. Louis Jorts Blues to their first and only Stanley Cup Championship the season before last. He was traded to Montreal in the off-season to serve as Carey Price’s backup, and will be coming off a 4-year deal at $4.35 million AAV. He has 148 wins in 271 NHL starts, with a career GAA of 2.50 and .913 SV%. With his 1-B designation in St. Louis and seated firmly in the backup role in Montreal, I expect Allen will be itching to get the starting goaltender label applied to him when he signs his next deal.

Jordan Binnington, St. Louis Blues: Binnington is the other half of St. Louis’ championship goaltender combination, and although younger he is considered the “better” netminder (I dispute this, but anyhow…). The Blues’ 27 year old #1 has 54 wins in a mere 80 starts, boasting career stats of 2.31 GAA and .917 SV%. With the Blues lacking a consensus up-and-coming ‘keep to take the reins in the near future, I believe St. Louis will extend Binnington beyond his current 2-year, $4.4 million AAV contract and protect him for the draft — but as of now, he’s still an option.

Frederik Andersen, Toronto Maple Leafs: Andersen is the goalie Leafs fans love to hate. The 31-year-old netminder gets the blame for every loss, and the gushing accolades for every win. Truth be told, the last 4 seasons in Toronto his defense has largely left him flapping in the wind, and yet he still compiled over 130 wins during that stretch. Toronto is a crucible filled with reactionary fans and relentless media, and based on his public comments I expect Andersen is itching to see The 6ix in his rear-view mirror. His career numbers are 2.63 GAA and .917 SV%, and were I the one making the decision, Andersen would be the first phone call I make.

The other name I must mention in this category is Tuukka Rask. His contract also expires at the same time, but he has recently declared very adamantly that he wants to play for no team other than Boston. So it’s unlikely that the Kraken will have a shot at landing him.

I will discourage you from giving more than passing consideration to either Pekka Rinne or Henrik Lundqvist, with the assertion that even at low-dollar contract values, neither has much to offer a young, growing organ-eye-zation. I don’t think either player will be on anybody’s short list over at Kraken HQ — except potentially as a goaltending coach.

Fall-Back Position

Believe it or not, there’s even better news. Let’s say Ron Francis tries to negotiate deals with all of the aforementioned players but can’t sign any of them to a contract. There are still a half-dozen goaltenders that the Kraken will be able to choose from as draft selections, and there isn’t anything their current teams can do about it. This assumes that their respective teams protect the goaltender ostensibly filling the “starter” role on their roster; but given that prerequisite, this list is almost as juicy as the previous one!

Antti Raanta, Arizona Coyotes: I have never been hot on Raanta, though a review of his statistics informs me that perhaps I have been unfairly relegating him to the “overpaid backup” category. He is currently with Arizona earning $4.25 million AAV, but his role is more of a 1-B than a true backup. Last season he went 15-14-3 in 32 starts, with a 2.63 GAA and .921 SV% — respectable enough, until you get to his 2 appearances in the playoffs. There he illustrated that my initial assessment was correct, letting in 4 goals on 10 shots in just 40 minutes of play. That’s not the guy you hang your franchise’s hopes on.

Corey Crawford, New Jersey Devils: No, that’s not a typo — the Chicago Blackhawks are taking a Hunger Games approach to their goaltending this upcoming season, with three unproven ‘tenders duking it out for dominance. As such 36-year-old Corey Crawford entered free agency and signed a 2-year deal with a $3.9 million AAV in New Jersey. I’m very familiar with Crawford’s play, and the most valuable asset he possesses is that he’s completely unflappable. It’s not in dispute that his best days are behind him, however on any given night he can still deliver the kind of play that won him two Stanley Cups. Concussion problems are the wildcard when discussing any possibility that Seattle might take a chance on him.

Anton Khudobin, Dallas Stars: Interestingly, the 36-year-old Khudobin was the only player in Goalie Musical Chairs who did not change teams in the last week. He raised significant eyebrows during the playoff bubble by taking the reins from an injured Ben Bishop and shepherding the Stars to the Stanley Cup Final against Tampa Bay. That, combined with a 2.22 GAA and .930 SV% in 26 starts last season (16 wins, 8 losses, 4 OTL) would suggest that he is the dark horse in this race. In the event Ron Francis decides to go with a “tandem” in goal, Khudobin is an affordable veteran at $3.5 million AAV.

Braden Holtby, Vancouver Canucks: Vancouver has made it known that youngster Thatcher Demko is the heir apparent to the starter’s mantle going forward. To usher him into his role, the Canucks have brought in Stanley Cup champion netminder Braden Holtby as mentor on a 2-year, $4.3 million AAV contract. In 10 seasons with the Washington Capitals Holtby logged 458 starts, accumulated 282 wins while maintaining a 2.53 GAA and .916 SV%. His stats dipped below that level last season, but at 31 years old it could be argued that his best years are potentially still ahead of him. For that reason he would be my choice if none of the free agent options work out.

Thoroughness requires that I mention Marc-Andre Fleury in this category, and I see his name bandied about frequently in discussions surrounding potential Seattle goaltenders. But there is one major obstacle to the Kraken selecting him in the expansion draft: (not Las) Vegas doesn’t participate in the expansion draft! This means that in order for Fleury to wind up in a Kraken uniform Ron Francis would have to negotiate a trade to acquire him, and that assumes Seattle is not on Fleury’s contractually allowed 10-team no-trade list. So while it’s not impossible, even with 3 Stanley Cup rings to his credit, at $7 million AAV Fleury represents far too big of an investment — particularly with his stats once again in decline. Given the more affordable alternatives, I doubt he will get any consideration from Ron Francis and his scouting crew.

Back It Up

The debate has recently been engaged that a goaltending tandem — two capable netminders splitting starts roughly down the middle — is the way to go in today’s NHL. Most teams have yet to adopt that strategy, and with GM Ron Francis belonging to what I consider “old school” thinking, I expect he will craft the Kraken lineup with a more traditional starter/backup framework.

Which begs the question, if Francis can land his starter, who fills the backup role? Beyond that, who should be getting a look as possibly filling the “goalie of tomorrow” role for the Kraken in Palm Springs?

These questions will be answered down the road as we continue our exploration of the goaltending position with your Seattle Kraken. Stay tuned, check back regularly, and follow us on Twitter for all the latest including notifications of all our new articles.

Author: Tim Currell

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