There were plenty of free agent goaltenders on the market this summer, and a number of decent options remain unsigned as the regular season gets underway. Most teams have a clearly-defined No. 1 goalie or are happy to go with a strong tandem at this point, but players disappoint and injuries happen (just ask Nashville and Pekka Rinne).
There are some serviceable veteran goalies waiting for a contract right now, and a few young prospects in the minors who could get a look if a backup gets injured somewhere.
Here are some names you might see back on an NHL ice surface before the end of the season.
1. Martin Brodeur
Martin Brodeur is not ready to go quietly into that good night, but he’s also not the goalie he once was. Brodeur is stuck in limbo right now, skating and training with his son in Gatineau while he waits for the right deal to come along. He’s said he wants to play, but he’s not afraid of retirement.
The future Hall of Famer was the second-best goalie in New Jersey last season behind Cory Schneider, and despite his storied career with the Devils, they opted not to re-sign him this summer.
That left Brodeur looking for a job, be it as a starter for a contender (unlikely) or as a backup in a city he likes (like Montreal). Brodeur’s agent, Pat Brisson, told NHL.com last month that his 42-year-old client wants to reach 700 career wins before he retires. According to Brisson, Brodeur is “both physically and mentally” ready to play one more season.
Still, it’s clear he’s on the back nine of his career now. Brodeur’s numbers last year were some of the worst of his career. His save percentage was .901 (a career worst) and his goals-against average was 2.51 (second-worst). He’s also no longer the 70-game workhorse he once was.
But goalies get hurt, and Brodeur might still be an attractive short-term No. 1 somewhere. Much as Ilya Bryzgalov helped carry the torch for part of the season in Minnesota last year, Brodeur could be a great fill-in for a contender over a two-month stretch. He’d probably need about 20 games with a decent team to hit that landmark 700-win goal.
2. Tomas Vokoun
After sitting out all of last year’s NHL season with a blood clot issue, Tomas Vokoun says he’s healthy and ready to play again. Vokoun could be an easy $1-million emergency backup who can provide veteran experience and stop some pucks, too. His save percentage has been .917 or higher in his last eight seasons, and he’s started the majority of games in all but his last season with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The 38-year-old has reportedly turned down two contract officers already, so he’ll probably wait for the right situation before he commits to coming back.
3. Jacob Markstrom
Isn’t Jacob Markstrom in the minors?
Yeah, and he got there via waivers, but the Vancouver Canucks were smart with his demotion. They sent him down to the American League early in the pre-season, while other teams were still looking at their big, unwieldy rosters and trying to figure out what they had. Teams are more likely to pick up guys on the waiver wire toward the end of the pre-season, so Markstrom’s early demotion was clearly a Canuck ploy to get him through waivers without losing him.
Markstrom won’t get picked up as a replacement No. 1 goaltender, but his draft pedigree (31st overall to Florida in 2008) could be enough for someone to take a chance on him as a replacement backup. Sure, the Panthers lost patience with Markstrom and shipped him to Vancouver in the Roberto Luongo trade, but at 6-foot-6 and 24 years old, it’s hard to believe someone doesn’t take a shot at “fixing” his game.
Think of Markstrom as the Devan Dubnyk of 2014-15 (without the crushing pressure of a starting job in Edmonton).
Markstrom’s best season – albeit with a small sample size – was in 2011-12, when he played seven games for the Florida Panthers and posted a .923 save percentage and 2.66 goals-against average. His NHL numbers have gotten worse in each of the three seasons since, but he’s consistently hovered at around .920 in the AHL.
4. Tim Thomas and Ilya Bryzgalov
These guys share a spot on the list because they’re in very similar positions. They can play goal, but they’re also seen as a couple of head cases with strange off-ice personalities. Tim Thomas’ political views have overshadowed his goaltending since the day he refused Barack Obama’s White House invitation in 2011. And “stops pucks” is probably fourth on a list of “Things We Know about Ilya Bryzgalov,” behind “likes tigers,” “likes the universe” and “left Philadelphia with a ton of money in his jeans.”
But ‘Bryz’ proved he could still play in the NHL last year, first with the Edmonton Oilers and then with the playoff-bound Minnesota Wild. Tim Thomas had less success with Florida and Dallas, but the former Stanley Cup, Conn Smythe and Vezina Trophy winner may still have something to offer at age 40.
The money here is on ‘Cool Bryz’ getting a gig first, if not as a goalie, then as a social media coordinator.
Because he takes amazing selfies with fans.
5. Philipp Grubauer
Philipp Grubauer of the Hershey Bears/Washington Capitals is a young No. 3 goalie who could easily land a No. 2 job somewhere. The 22-year-old Caps fourth-rounder from 2010 put up strong numbers (.925 save percentage, 2.38 GAA) in 17 games with Washington last season. Grubauer's stellar play was enough to push then-backup Michal Neuvirth aside, which prompted Neuvirth to request a trade.
Neuvirth got his wish at the trade deadline when he was dealt to the Buffalo Sabres, but fast-forward to this season and Grubauer is again third on the depth chart, behind former Carolina Hurricanes backup Justin Peters.
Grubauer is starting the season with Hershey in the AHL, but given the Caps’ seemingly annual glut of talented young goalies, he’ll be an attractive (and attainable) asset for other teams via trade.