Goalie Market Still Active Ahead of Deadline
What seemed inevitable anyway became reality yesterday, as Ryan Miller’s time in Buffalo came to an end.
Sportsnet’s Matt Brown and I agreed it was a case of ‘where and when’ rather than ‘if’ when we talked about a potential trade for Miller on this weeks podcast. As it turned out, the where was St Louis, and the when was about 90 minutes after we recorded…
The move represents a significant step for St Louis, who have essentially lost out to LA during the last two post seasons because of Jonathan Quick. Now Ken Hitchcock’s team has an elite netminder of their own with which to challenge.
But Miller’s move to Missouri does not mean the goalie market is now dead. Far from it.
Jaroslav Halak, who went the other way in the Miller trade, isn’t expected to stay in Buffalo for long. The expectation is that Sabres GM Tim Murray will flip the Slovak stopper for (another) pick or prospects.
Halak may be the best netminder ‘obviously’ available right now, but one of the clubs expected to be keenest on acquiring a goaltender ahead of March 5th, Minnesota, apparently have limited interest in the former Canadien.
The Wild were linked with Miller, as their once solid goaltending department looked worryingly flimsy with Josh Harding’s future uncertain, as he continues his battle with multiple sclerosis, and Nicklas Backstrom’s form and health a cause for concern.
Harding was outstanding early in the season, but has been sidelined since January following a change to his treatment. Whilst 23-year old Darcy Kuemper has made the most of his opportunity thus far, the Wilds designs on becoming a Cup contender would benefit from a little more security at the back.
Minnesota GM Cliff Fletcher may still look East to solve the issue however, with TSN’s Darren Dreger reporting that Carolina would be willing to move one of their three goaltenders:
Whilst Anton Khudobin and Justin Peters have both had respectable years for the Hurricanes (Khudobin in particular), Cam Ward is the standout name among the Carolina trio. But after an injury damaged season, his $6.3m/year through to 2016 might put some teams off. He does however have a Stanley Cup ring and Conn Smythe to his name, and is still among the leagues elite goaltenders on his day.
Michael Russo, of the Star Tribune, also mentioned Tim Thomas as a possible target for the Wild; and reported that Edmonton had offered Ilya Bryzgalov as part of a possible deal.
Martin Brodeur is another name frequently mentioned in trade talks; though it is hard to truly get a handle on where he might go.
Washington is a possibility, as the Caps look to finish strong. Braden Holtby has had an indifferent season, so some veteran support would be welcome, but their needs may lie elsewhere, with Ryan Kesler strongly linked with a move to the US capital.
Jonas Hiller’s status has been somewhat unclear, as the Swiss stopped head towards free agency. But the idea of trading him still appears to be ‘off limits’ to Ducks GM Bob Murray.
Pierre LeBrun reports that Anaheim might be willing to part with one of their other goaltenders though.
LeBrun’s suggestion John Gibson and Frederik Andersen are probably also off the table seems justified (you don’t generally give up strong goaltending prospects like that); so that leaves Viktor Fasth – which brings me back to this piece I wrote last March. Fasth made a rapid start to his NHL career, but has struggled this season and looks to be an expendable asset for a Ducks team looking to make the most of their superb regular season come play-off time.
At the other end of the standings there are also considerations in the crease, which may trigger trade activity.
Evgeni Nabokov became solid servant to the Islanders, once GM Garth Snow convinced him to come to Long Island. But the Russian is 38 now, and, on a team which is slowly starting to see the potential of some of its youngsters realised, hardly a long term solution for the franchise.
Kevin Poulin and Anders Nilsson have both shown flashes of ability, but the Isles need more than flashes. They need consistency (something even Nabokov has struggled with) if they are to kick on and become a frequent visitor to the post season.
I’ve previously talked about the idea of RFA James Reimer as a target for the Islanders; whether Snow does look at the Maple Leafs stopper, or tries to acquire a goalie as part of any deal involving Thomas Vanek or Andy MacDonald, some kind of decision does need to be made if the team is serious about becoming a contender again.
At the bottom of the West, Winnipeg also has some big decisions to make between the pipes. Firing Claude Noel in January was the first major move the Jets have made since the franchise moved to Manitoba.
Under Paul Maurice the Jets have found some fire (6-3-1 in their last 10); but huge question marks remain over incumbent Ondrej Pavelec – whose save percentage is only fractionally above .900 this season.
Now in the highly competitive Central Division, Winnipeg needs to get serious if they have any designs on making the play-offs. They could be tempted in to making a deal to improve their chances in the crease, as well as shaking up a roster that could easily be accused of being a little too comfortable in their shoes right now.
The end result is a goalie market which is perhaps even more intriguing than it was before Miller was moved.