The Best Netminders Available This Summer

Does your team need a shake-up between the pipes this summer?

While there may not be many (any?) star names hitting free agency this summer, there’s plenty of competent puck stoppers available to bolster a teams fortunes this off season.

Devan Dubnyk
Contract Status – UFA

Has any netminder’s stock recovered as rapidly as Dubnyk’s?

Minnesota were 13th in the West, with a 18-19-5 record, when the former Oilers netminder was acquired from Arizona for a 3rd round pick.

The Wild now sit 7th in the Conference, with a 44-25-7 record (winning 8 of their last 10 games) with Dubnyk securing 26 wins in 34 games for the club; posting a tiny 1.70 GAA.

Dubnyk put up reasonable numbers behind the worst defence in the league in Edmonton, but was oft the scapegoat for the clubs woes. A torrid 2013/14 campaign ended with a 2-5-0 run with the Hamilton Bulldogs in the AHL, having been traded twice during the year, and left his reputation in tatters.

A technical ‘re-think’ with Steve Valiquette during the summer helped repair the embattled netminders confidence, and a 1-year deal with Arizona Coyotes followed.

Dubnyk went 9-5-2, with .916 save percentage in the desert – enough to persuade Minnesota he might be the solution to their puck stopping problems. So far, it looks like they were right.

With veteran Niklas Backstrom and Darcy Kuemper signed through to 2016, it’s hard to figure what might happen in Saint Paul this summer. Minnesota would be loathed to let Dubnyk go, given the shot in the arm he has given the franchise. But the former Kamloops Blazers netminder’s run of form would make him a hot property on July 1st – one who will almost certainly command a significant rise on the $800,000 he earned this season.

Antti Niemi
Contract Status – UFA

Arguably the best ‘proven’ netminder currently slated to be available this summer – Niemi is coming to the end of the 5 year, $17m deal he signed with the Sharks in 2010.

The 6’2″ Finn has had what might be described as an ‘up and down’ run with San Jose – often (unfairly) criticised as the talent laden, but success starved, Sharks failed to capitalise on years of regular season dominance.

Some believe the emergence of Alex Stalock, and a poor play-off performance last year, may have made Niemi ‘expendable’ to a franchise undergoing some sort of weird crisis right now – but he is at the very least a league average netminder, who can play 60+ games in a season. And for several teams that would reprsenet an upgrade.

Most notable among those interested in the former Cup winner are Edmonton – who’ve had goaltending and defensive troubles for years, and would benefit from a more experienced hand in net.

The Oilers would certainly be a much more ‘fearsome’ opponent with someone a little more intimidating between the pipes…

Niemi

Michael Neuvirth
Contract Status – UFA

Neuvirth represented a rare high point in the Sabres (consciously awful) season – to the point where many joked he should be traded because he was giving Buffalo too-greater chance to win.

Dealt to the Islanders at the deadline, Neuvirth has had some wobbles adjusting to life on Long Island – but his run with the Sabres demonstrated an ability to play to a high standard in a busy crease, posting a .918 save percentage whilst averaging 34.9 shots against in his 27 starts.

Martin Jones
Contract Status – RFA

Jones would not be the first blue collar goaltending prospect LA have dispensed with.

Jonathan Quick is the clubs go to netminder for the foreseeable future; leaving restricted free agent Jones, like Bernier before him, with limited opportunities (barring a serious injury to Quick).

At 25, Jones has a little time on his side still – but at some point player and club need to decide what the next step is. A short term extension is the most likely scenario, but British Columbia native cannot remain nailed to the bench forever.

Cam Ward
Contract Status – 1 year Remaining at $6.8m

2006 Conn Smythe winner Ward had struggled with injuries and form, but made some progress under new goaltending coach David Marcoux; posting a .910 save percentage and 2.44 GAA this season on a poor Hurricanes side that find themselves 13th in the East.

With 1 year left on his current deal, Ward’s experience might appeal to some – though his $6.8m salary will be a significant barrier to any potential suitors.

At ‘just’ $2.5m, also with 1 year remaining, stable mate Anton Khudobin may be a more appealing target – in spite of his own dip in form this season.

Jacob Markstrom and/or Eddie Lack
Contract Status – Markstrom RFA; Lack 1 year remaining at $1.3m

The Canucks goaltending conundrum may, or may not, have solved itself – depending on your view point.

Ryan Miller is the teams undisputed #1 and the likeable Lack has been excellent in the #2 role once again, posting a .919 save percentage; giving Vancouver a strong tandem to move forward with should they choose to ‘stick’.

But Lack has generated interest before, most notably from Winnipeg, and with 1-year left on his present deal could be an attractive 1B goaltender for a number of clubs.

Markstrom on the other hand is still gauged on his ‘potential’. After another stand out season in the AHL (this time for Utica), he has been ‘so-so’ in two starts for the Canucks and has struggled to make an impact in the NHL thus far.

Given the high level of attention he garnered as a youngster, there would almost certainly be someone willing to give Markstrom another throw of the dice should GM Jim Benning consider moving him – but it would be a bold move to give up on a netminder with such a heigh ceiling.

Benning now needs to decide whether 27-year old Lacks on ice performances trump 25-year old Markstrom’s potential – because keeping both on board seems unlikely, with the latter becoming a restricted free agent this July and Miller signed through to 2017.

*****

The Wild Cards

Braden Holtby or Phillipp Grubauer
Contract Status – Both RFA

The Caps have some big choices to make between the pipes.

With Mitch Korn installed as Goaltending Coach (and Adam Oates removed as Head Coach), Holtby has re-discovered the form that made him Washington’s #1 – and as such he seems unlikely to hit the open market during the off season.

But Washington also has Rosenheim native Grubauer waiting in the wings. Widely regarded as one of the brightest prospects in the league, Grubauer has posted an impressive .924 save percentage in his first 20 NHL games.

The likelihood is that Grubauer will spend another year in Hershey, spelling Holtby and backup Justin Peters when required, before moving up full time when Peters contract expires in 2016.

But the Caps have never been shy about letting the new kid on the block force out the incumbent starter; leaving that tiny sliver of intrigue heading in to the summer.

Andrew Hammond
Contract Status – RFA

‘The Hamburglar’ became something of a phenomenon in Ottawa, following his recent red hot run of form.

With Robin Lehner out indefinitely, and Craig Anderson day-to-day with a hand injury, Hammond put himself in the shop window during a magical run that helped the Sens mount an assault on the play-offs.

It’s hard to see him unseating Lehner or Anderson as the Sens ‘go to’ pairing; but despite being unproven over the long term, Hammond has surely done enough to garner some interest this summer – though would need to beat out other pending UFAs like Karri Ramo to secure a regular NHL spot.

Jonathan Bernier
Contract Status – RFA

With the Maple Leafs undergoing a major rebuild, and even superstar winger Phil Kessel ‘available’, nothing can be ruled out – albeit moving Bernier seems unlikely.

Toronto was apparently willing to listen to offers for Bernier before the trade deadline – but with Sean Burke rumoured to be on the Maple Leafs radar, the chances of a move seem to have diminished.

Bernier was outstanding last season, keeping Toronto in the play-off hunt for much longer than many believed they had any right to be, but the 26-year old saw a dip in form this year.

Adding Burke to the clubs staff would provide Bernier, and partner James Reimer, with some strong support – and as such it would seem foolish to move either before Burke has had a proper opportunity to work with them.

*****

Honourable Mention

Josh Harding
Contract Status – UFA

Harding may carry a higher risk vs reward ratio than any other netminder; posting some strong numbers when healthy.

And there lies the the caveat with Harding. His battle with multiple sclerosis is well documented, as was the pre-season ‘incident’ in which he fractured his foot kicking a wall.

At 30, Harding could still represent good value for a team looking to perhaps establish a 1A/1B tandem or provide some support/competition in the crease.

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About Rob

Software engineer by day, Elite League Media man by night, Rob also blogs about cricket for One Stump Short, hockey for In Goal Magazine and video games for Outpost Delta as well as hosting the One Stump Short Podcast.

Posted on March 30, 2015, in Hockey, NHL and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Cam Talbot?? Has been superb replacing the king

    Like

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