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The NHL Goaltending Market: Masked men on the move this summer

The top choice for franchises seeking a fresh face in goal will be restricted free agent Philipp Grubauer, but he's not the only netminder who could be scooped up this summer.

It was never going to get that far, of course, but there was some serious thought given last summer as to what Carey Price could do for a team were he to hit the free-agency market.

One of the best goaltenders in the world, and one of the few who can say he earned league MVP honors, Price would have been one of the top-tier free agents on the market, mentioned in the same breath this summer as John Tavares, John Carlson, Ilya Kovalchuk and James van Riemsdyk. With good reason, too, as Price can be one of the few absolute game-changing players — netminder or otherwise — when he’s on top of his game.

Unfortunately for any GMs who were wide-eyed and willing to sign Price were he to hit free agency, the Canadiens more than took care of the issue when they made the 30-year-old the highest-paid netminder in the NHL. Just one day after he was eligible to sign an extension, Price lent his signature to an eight-year, $84-million pact that sees him eclipse the next-highest paid netminder, New York Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, by $2 million. It’s also worth mentioning that Price’s actual salary for the next two seasons is a whopping $15 million.

Just because Price is off the market, though, doesn’t mean teams who were looking ahead at the goaltending market are entirely out of luck. Here are 10 crease options this summer, both of the unrestricted and restricted free agent variety:

PHILIPP GRUBAUER (RFA)

It’s no secret that Grubauer has played his last game in Washington. His opportunity to usurp Braden Holtby slipped through his fingers when he faltered upon taking the starting reins to start the post-season, and now Capitals GM Brian MacLellan has made it clear that he’ll pursue trade options for the 26-year-old keeper. Teams seeking an upgrade in goal, or franchises that need a netminder to build around, could do much worse than taking a shot on Grubauer. Of goaltenders to play at least 80 games over the past three campaigns, he ranks third with a .923 save percentage and he’s ready for his chance to be a No. 1.

Already, reports have surfaced about the New York Islanders and Carolina Hurricanes showing interest in Grubauer and with good reason. Both teams are in dire need of goaltending. One team that should really take a look at bringing Grubauer aboard, though, is the Detroit Red Wings. With no other bluechip goaltending prospects in the system, Grubauer could have the opportunity to settle into the No. 1 role and become a fixture in the Red Wings’ crease. He’ll have more long-term competition in Carolina and New York, though that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

ROBIN LEHNER (RFA)

Let’s preface this by saying Lehner, 26, is unlikely to leave to Buffalo given the Sabres have no other realistic option to step in and take his place this coming campaign. And, as an RFA, his rights are held by Buffalo, though contract negotiations could become sticky and require arbitration to get settled. However, if this past season’s difficult year has at all soured the Sabres on Lehner’s future in Buffalo, he could be a trade option. If that’s the case, there are a few teams who could — and probably should — come calling.

Again, the Islanders and Hurricanes make the most sense, as both organizations are going to want a young goaltender who can grow with their group while providing some stability between the pipes. But what about the Flyers as a potential fit for Lehner on the trade market? Not only does Lehner have a Ron Hextall-esque fire to his game which would endear him to the Philadelphia faithful, but he would come aboard an organization with some talented defensive prospects who could offer him better insulation than he’s ever had in Buffalo. It could be a recipe for success.

CARTER HUTTON (UFA)

If this were broken down into categories, Hutton would likely sit alone as the only netminder who’s likely to be looked at as a 1B option this summer. It’s not that other netminders haven’t operated in that role before or that they’re not capable of doing so going forward, but Hutton is coming off of a remarkable season with the St. Louis Blues. He posted a league-best .931 SP and 2.09 GAA in 32 appearances, and there were stretches where he looked like the best long-term option for the Blues. It does appear as though the 32-year-old is destined for the market, though, and he’s going to get a chance to fight for a part-time job at worst and a full-time gig as a No. 1 at best.

So, which teams could use Hutton as a 1B? He wouldn’t be a bad option for teams with injury prone No. 1s, such as the Red Wings and Calgary Flames. He also wouldn’t be a bad choice for Carolina, particularly if the Hurricanes want someone to push Scott Darling. Likewise, the Islanders are going to be looking for a keeper who can get the job done, and the Flyers are another group that could use some stability in goal.

JONATHAN BERNIER (UFA)

The quality in free-agent keepers, statistically speaking, drops off steeply once Hutton comes off the board. But Bernier, 29, does possess one quality that few others on the free-agent list do: extended experience as a starter. For three seasons, Bernier was the No. 1 for the Toronto Maple Leafs, over which time he posted a .915 SP in 151 games. He’s not exactly a world-beater, but he performed admirably in relief of Semyon Varlamov this season in Colorado. If he chooses to depart from the Avalanche, a team looking for a sound backup should check in with Bernier.

ANTON KHUDOBIN (UFA)

There’s really no guarantee Khudobin leaves Boston even if he hits the open market. He’s found a modicum of success with the Bruins — .910 SP in 47 appearances over the past two seasons — and the grass might not really be all that greener elsewhere for the 32-year-old. Khudobin saw this past season that the sometimes shaky faith the coaching staff has in Tuukka Rask can open the door for a string of starts, and if he winds up elsewhere, he might not get the same chance. Teams looking for a quality backup, though, should inquire. He can be a solid second stringer.

KARI LEHTONEN (UFA)

In the span of five seasons, Lehtonen has gone from a top-10 Vezina Trophy finish to middle-of-the-road free agent. Maybe the 34-year-old should be counting his lucky stars, though, that he wasn’t a free agent last season by way of a buyout. Times have been tough for Lehtonen in Dallas over the past several seasons, but he bounced back admirably in 2017-18, posting a .912 SP in 37 appearances, his best mark since the 2013-14 campaign. He’s going to need to take a pay cut to land a job, and that should open some doors. If he doesn’t stay with the Stars, could a backup role with the Flames be a fit?

JAROSLAV HALAK (UFA)

If the Islanders don’t play a firewagon brand of hockey last season, Halak may have earned himself a contract extension. Instead, the Islanders’ lack of defensive structure last season led to a boatload of opportunities against the netminder, and now the 33-year-old finds himself searching for a gig this summer. A career .916 SP across 449 games should drum up some interest, and he shouldn’t have a tough time finding a second-string job with any club looking to bolster their crease with a capable No. 2. 

MICHAEL HUTCHINSON (UFA)

The past season was frustrating for Hutchinson, who lost his chance to challenge for the backup job the moment Steve Mason put pen to paper on a free agent deal with the Winnipeg Jets last summer. He channelled that frustration, though, into the best season of his professional career. Hutchinson, 28, put up a .935 SP in 26 games for the AHL’s Manitoba Moose and there will be teams interested in seeing if he can translate that to the NHL. He does have a .910 SP in 107 big league games, so there’s reason to believe he can become and remain a solid backup.

PETR MRAZEK (RFA)

It’s been a far fall for Mrazek. Once considered the heir apparent to Jimmy Howard, Detroit mercifully moved on from the 26-year-old at the deadline last season, but the change of scenery did nothing for him. In 17 games in Philadelphia, he posted a .891 SP and ended the year with a .902 SP in 39 combined appearances with the Flyers and Red Wings. He’s going to get another shot — and he should given the promise he showed when he posted a .920 SP across his first 94 NHL appearances — but he has to make the most of it if he wants his NHL career to continue beyond next season.

CAM WARD (UFA)

A Stanley Cup champion and Conn Smythe Trophy-winning goaltender as a rookie, Ward, 34, now finds himself about to hit the free agent market for the first time with serious potential to slip through the cracks. Over the past six seasons, his .906 SP makes him a backup option, but no team is going to take a shot on him as a No. 1. Maybe he’s a fit back with Bill Peters in Calgary, but Ward’s best shot at landing a job might come by way of a training camp tryout.

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