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NHL goaltending is as unpredictable as ever

Every season brings hope for franchises, but the chaotic nature of the position means there are few sure things in the netminding game

Goaltending is both the easiest and hardest thing to find in the NHL. There always seems to be one savior out on the trade market or via free agency, and yet every year franchises are doomed because they didn’t find the right one. On the flip side, you’ll also find teams that manage to hit paydirt on both their backup and their starter.

To wit; San Jose’s Aaron Dell is currently rocking a .939 save percentage and has only surrendered four goals in his past four appearances, all of which have been wins on nights where Martin Jones was getting a breather. Over in Nashville, Juuse Saros just notched a shutout over Connor McDavid’s Edmonton Oilers – though he can’t match the .927 save percentage that starter Pekka Rinne has put together. Heck, even Ryan Miller is having a big comeback season behind John Gibson in Anaheim, though Miller has already fought through two injuries.

But then you look at Carolina and Philadelphia, for example, and sigh. Because both franchises sit at the bottom of the Metropolitan Division, despite a generous helping of talent either up front (Philly) or on defense (Carolina). The Flyers are currently on a five-game win streak, but it cannot be said that new starter Brian Elliott has been consistent. In fact, prior to his own five-game win streak, Elliott’s save percentage was just .904 for the season.

Scott Darling’s save percentage has actually dipped below the .900 mark yet again this season, as the Carolina starter sports an .899 score. Darling was one of the biggest risks of the off-season, though he had a lot of supporters when the Hurricanes decided to make the erstwhile Chicago Blackhawks backup their No. 1 guy. So far, the experiment has not worked and what looked like a promising season for Carolina is all but dead already.

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But you have to take risks if you don’t have a rock-solid starter.

There aren’t many sure-things slated to hit unrestricted free agency this summer – Dell, Carter Hutton and Darcy Kuemper have the best stats of the bunch, albeit with limited starts – which is why Petr Mrazek’s name is in the conversation.

The Detroit Red Wings netminder has struggled mightily this season and he needs a new contract in the summer (he’s an RFA). But we have seen some pretty good hockey from Mrazek in the past and at 25, he’s still on the young side of the NHL goalie spectrum. I’ve been told that the Wings would be willing to eat some of his $4 million cap hit in the event of a trade, so there’s a bit of motivation for potential trade partners. While Detroit isn’t exactly loaded with goaltending talent, apparently the organization is willing to use minor leaguers Jared Coreau or Thomas McCollum as the backup to Jimmy Howard, should they deal Mrazek away. Given how tight (in a mediocre way) the Atlantic Division’s middle is, the Red Wings may be toast by Christmas, but they might also be in a playoff spot – so this is a fluid situation to be sure.

Would Mrazek be the answer in another market, or just another netminding misfire? Unfortunately, that lack of clarity is what makes the position so maddening.