Expansion draft speculation has gone into overdrive, and much of the chatter revolves around goaltending. That makes sense given the Vegas Golden Knights must fill at least three netminding spots. Might we see Marc-Andre Fleury as their No. 1 next year? He’s waived his no-movement clause. Antti Raanta or Philipp Grubauer, perhaps?
I’ve also heard whispers from league sources that Vegas might exceed the goalie minimum and claim as many as five available netminders, hoarding them in hopes of holding the league hostage for trades. It’s a neat idea, but would GM George McPhee be overestimating the demand for goalies in that case? The Carolina Hurricanes nabbed Scott Darling and the Dallas Stars Ben Bishop, so there aren’t too many teams who actually need goalies right now. Which ones do? Here’s a breakdown of the market. Maybe it’ll give us a hint of which teams might wade into the trading pool over the next week.
DESPERATE FOR GOALIES
No-brainer. The Flames’ battery of Brian Elliott and Chad Johnson hits unrestricted free agency, meaning the team has no legit NHL options on the roster for next year. They probably have to land two netminders unless they’re interested in bringing back Elliott or Johnson. Elliott’s shaky playoff performance probably punched his ticket out of town.
The Flames are more likely than any other team to trade for a goalie by the weekend. The reason: they only have Tom McCollum signed, and that’s for the purpose of exposing him to Vegas, so Calgary GM Brad Treliving needs a signed goaltender he can protect by Saturday’s deadline. He can re-sign Johnson or trade for a starter. That could be Fleury, if he’s willing to play in a Canadian market, or it could be a proven starter such as Jaroslav Halak.
Vegas Golden Knights
The Knights are the other shoo-in, as they literally have no goalies yet. Fleury is now eligible to be claimed since he’s waived his NMC. The question is whether he waived it as part of a side deal with the Pittsburgh Penguins that ensures Fleury won’t get claimed. The guess here, though, is that he does get claimed and becomes Vegas’ starter. He’s a low-risk investment at a $5.75 million cap hit for just two more years. If the Knights are out of contention by the 2019 trade deadline, they could shop Fleury. The other potential scenario entails another team trading for him, but how many besides Calgary are natural fits for his services?
COULD USE A STARTER UPGRADE
It’s all in the money. The Flyers re-signed Michal Neuvirth for two years at a $2.5-million cap hit. That doesn’t scream “starter.” You also don’t pay a backup $2.5 million just to play 10 games. It appears GM Ron Hextall wants to employ Neuvirth as a 1-B who can play 25 or more games. That means puts the Flyers in the market for a 1-A option. Steve Mason’s time with the team appears over. Might we see a trade for Halak? An Elliott signing? Ryan Miller would be a decent fit, too, but his personal life keeps him tethered to the west, as his wife is an actress based in L.A. Fleury might work for the Flyers on paper but, c’mon, he’s not getting traded across the state…right?
GOOD FIT FOR A 1-B
The Canucks may have a vacancy on paper. We know Jacob Markstrom is the 1-A for the near future, signed for three more seasons with a $3.65-million AAV. We also know Thatcher Demko is being groomed as the future starter. Markstrom needs a good platoon mate, though, as he’s never played more than 33 games in a season. The Canucks are thus players on the open market in theory, but I predict they simply bring back Miller on a short-term pact. The Canucks don’t need to spend wildly for a major upgrade as they’re not a win-now team, and Markstrom/Miller is serviceable enough for the present.
NEED A HIGH-END BACKUP
Boston Bruins, Chicago Blackhawks, Edmonton Oilers, Tampa Bay Lightning, Toronto Maple Leafs
The Oilers’ Talbot, the Leafs’ Andersen and the Bruins’ Rask ranked first, second and fourth in games started this past season and could all use a more seasoned backup. Examples of names that make sense for that role include Johnson, Mike Condon, Peter Budaj and Jonathan Bernier. The Blackhawks traded Darling and thus should be in the market for a backup who can handle a decent chunk of playing time, too, as No. 1 Corey Crawford has never topped 58 starts in a season.
The Lightning are an interesting team to watch. Cap space is obviously a problem as GM Steve Yzerman must work out new deals for restricted free agents Jonathan Drouin, Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat, but the Bolts need an experienced backup for Andrei Vasilevskiy. He’s still one of the game’s most promising young netminders and is the reason Yzerman deemed Bishop expendable, but Vasilevskiy was inconsistent in 2016-17. His save percentages by month were .929, .944, .892, .896, .919, .922 and .936. Tampa would be wise to employ a safety net. To me, Tampa is the ideal fit for Elliott, who could start around 30 games to keep Vasilevskiy fresh.
TEAMS WHO COULD BE PILLAGED BY EXPANSION DRAFT
Buffalo Sabres, Pittsburgh Penguins, New York Rangers, Washington Capitals, Winnipeg Jets
These teams all have attractive No. 2 options that might tempt Vegas. That means Linus Ullmark (Sabres), Fleury (Penguins), Raanta (Rangers), Grubauer (Capitals) and Michael Hutchinson (Jets). The Oilers also qualify for this category with Laurent Brossoit.
Here’s where Vegas could create a bunch of roster holes and leverage them to obtain draft picks. We know the expansion rules state the Golden Knights cannot trade a player back to the team from which they took him, but they can trade the players to other teams. Could we thus see McPhee grab Raanta and Grubauer, then trade Raanta to the Capitals and Grubauer to the Rangers, netting picks for both? We’ll see some trade wizardry in the days to come, no doubt.
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