Several NHL teams could be in the market for goaltending upgrades when unrestricted free agency begins on July 1.
Finding one won’t be an easy task, however, as the pool of potential available starting goaltenders this summer is a very shallow one.
Only two, Colorado’s Jose Theodore and Washington’s Cristobal Huet, have records as proven starters, but both come with concerns regarding their performances.
Theodore is a former Hart and Vezina winner who lost his starter’s job with the Montreal Canadiens and was dealt to the Avalanche in 2006, where, heading into this season, it appeared he was destined to be the highest paid backup in the NHL.
Peter Budaj had out-played Theodore last season to earn the starter’s role, leading to speculation last June the Avs would buy out the final year of Theodore’s contract, but they passed due to the expensive hit to their salary cap.
Since mid-season, Theodore has regained the form that once ranked him among the league’s best goalies, sporting a 22-18-2 record in 42 games with a 2.37 goals-against average, a .912 save percentage and two shutouts; his best statistics since the 2003-04 season.
The Canadiens dealt Huet at this year’s trade deadline to the Capitals for a second round draft pick, a move that stunned many observers, considering his strong numbers with the Habs the past three seasons.
The move was a steal in the short-term for the Capitals, deepening their depth between the pipes and improving their playoff chances.
Still, the knock on Huet during his tenure with Montreal was a perceived problem with consistency and his inability to win a playoff series. To be fair, he’d only appeared in one during his NHL career, a 4-2 series loss in 2006 to the Carolina Hurricanes.
Regardless of their shortcomings, Theodore and Huet could attract considerable attention if they’re available this summer.
The Los Angeles Kings might seek an experienced hand to split the duties with Jason LaBarbera (and/or Jonathan Bernier), although they'd likely either have to buy out the final year of Dan Cloutier’s contract or ship him to the minors for one more season to free up the necessary cap space.
Atlanta Thrashers GM Don Waddell could overhaul his club this summer, perhaps by adding an experienced starter to either share the duties with oft-injured Kari Lehtonen or possibly as a replacement if unable to re-sign Lehtonen, a restricted free agent, this summer.
The Tampa Bay Lightning recently acquired Mike Smith from the Dallas Stars in hopes of using him as their starter, but one shouldn’t rule out a possible interest in Theodore or Huet.
St. Louis Blues starter Manny Legace struggled in the second half of this season, which was a significant factor in their decline, and could spur Blues management to consider adding more experienced depth between the pipes.
The Chicago Blackhawks might also be in the market if they decide to buy out the remaining year of Nikolai Khabibulin’s contract and pass on re-signing Patrick Lalime.
Although, one shouldn’t be too quick to assume Theodore and Huet will still be available by July 1.
Avalanche management could try to retain Theodore, although he’d have to accept less than the $5.3 million he’s earned over the past three seasons.
That’s a good possibility if Theodore wishes to remain in Colorado, except it might be a one-year deal worth around $4 million as a means of proving himself worthy of a larger contract after next season.
The acquisition of Huet was also seen as the Capitals’ management preparing for the eventual replacement of long-time veteran Olaf Kolzig at season’s end.
If Huet gets the bulk of the starts over the remainder of this season and helps the Caps make the playoffs, it’s a safe bet they will try to re-sign him to a lucrative multi-year contract.
Rumor Roundup appears Mondays only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, www.spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Foxsports.com and Eishockey Magazine.