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For the second straight offseason, there will be a help wanted sign for Carey
Price’s backup come July 1st.  Alex Auld was the backup last season but will the
Habs look to bring someone new in this summer?  In Part 1 of our UFA preview,
let’s take a closer look at some of the options out there.

I’ll break the goalies into three groups, +$1 million, less than or equal to $1 million,
and internal options.  For the purposes of this article, I’m omitting Dwayne Roloson and Tomas Vokoun as both will likely be out of Montreal’s price range
unless they take major pay cuts as well as a notable drop in workload.

Group 1 – Internal Options:

Alex Auld: There weren’t a lot of moments where as a fan, you
felt safe with him between the pipes but at the end of the day, he more or less
did exactly what was asked of him.  He faced the weaker teams to give Price
a night off and wound up losing only 2 games in regulation the whole year. 
He didn’t do much to help his stock but he didn’t do anything to hurt it either.  Projected
cap hit:
$750,000 – $1,100,000

Drew MacIntyre: Acquired just before the trade deadline from
Atlanta, MacIntyre proved to be a huge factor in Hamilton’s playoff run (and
that’s probably understating things).  He started 40/41 games after being
acquired and, at least in my mind, has given the Habs something to think about. 
Given that he has only a handful of games in the NHL, he’ll be on the cheaper
end of the salary scale.  Projected cap hit: $525,000 –

Curtis Sanford: If MacIntyre was Hamilton’s second half MVP, Sanford
was just that in the first half.  He managed to improve upon his MVP-type numbers
from 2009-10, posting a 1.93 GAA before suffering a season ending back injury. 
He too will be one of the cheaper options out there given his lack of recent NHL
playing time though if I had to guess, he’ll be brought back as Hamilton’s
starter.  Projected cap hit: $525,000 – $700,000

Group 2 – Over $1 million:

Peter Budaj: He is one of the more intriguing options out there as he
isn’t overly old (he’ll be 29 next year) and has played 34+ games in 5 of the
last 6 years.  He struggled with the Avalanche significantly last year as
he failed to take advantage of Craig Anderson’s struggles.  Because of his
younger age and experience, he may be one of the more expensive UFA options out
there this year.  Projected cap hit: $1,200,000 – $1,650,000

Ray Emery: How he lost out in the Masterton balloting to someone whose
perseverance was so strong that he sat and collected his insurance money and
didn’t play (Ian Laperriere) is beyond me.  Not only did Emery come back
from a career threatening injury, he played extremely well for a surging Ducks
team down the stretch.  I’m not sure he’ll get a #1 job but he should have
no shortage of suitors.  Projected cap hit: $1,000,000 – $1,500,000

Mathieu Garon: He proved to be adequate insurance to Steve Mason who
struggled over the past couple of seasons, to a point where he was briefly the
Jackets’ starter.  Unlike most of the goalies on this list, he is familiar
with playing for the Canadiens and has already said he would like to return. 
Given how well he played with Columbus though, he may be a little too expensive
for Montreal.   Projected cap hit: $1,100,000 – $1,550,000

Jean-Sebastien Giguere: Yes, his tenure with Toronto didn’t come to
the best of endings but he showed enough that he can at least be a competent
backup.  In recent years, he has indicated he doesn’t like to move around a
lot for family reasons and given that he is from the Montreal area, one has to
believe the Habs are one of the few teams he’d consider if this is still the
case.  However, he made $7 million last year, how much of a pay cut is he
willing to take?  Projected cap hit: $1,250,000 – $2,000,000

Johan Hedberg: He wound up playing a lot more than expected with the
injury to Martin Brodeur and put up quality numbers with a 2.38 GAA and .912 SV%. 
It is, however, hard to look past the fact he is now 38 years old, he doesn’t
have too many more years left in him.  The Habs have had interest in him
before dating back to his days in Atlanta and with his success with the Devils,
they may think he’s still worth a look now. Projected cap hit: $1,000,000 to
$1,500,000 (including bonuses which he is eligible for given his age)

Mike Smith: After Tampa Bay acquired Roloson, he was the odd man out
but before long, he had played his way back into the equation (a Dan Ellis trade
didn’t hurt his cause there though).  He also played quite well in limited
playoff action.  At 29, he is one of the younger free agent goalies out
there and may be one of the few who could legitimately earn a multi-year deal. Projected
cap hit:
$1,100,000 – $1,750,000

Marty Turco: Yes, it took him a while to get a contract last offseason
but that was in large part due to the fact he overpriced himself on the market,
a mistake he can’t make again given his struggles with Chicago. 
Statistically speaking, he probably shouldn’t be up in this group but given his
past successes and reputation, someone likely will give him seven figures.
Projected cap hit:
$1,000,000 – $1,500,000 (including bonuses which he is
eligible for given his age)

Group 3 – Less than or equal to $1 million:

Brian Boucher: For better or for worse, the Flyers felt he was their
best option come playoff time while his regular season numbers were very
impressive (2.42 GAA in 34 games).  This alone will warrant that he gets a
look somewhere but his lack of success in recent years will keep the cap hit
low.   Projected cap hit: $750,000 – $1,000,000

Ty Conklin: After being one of the more sought after veteran backups
for several years, Conklin had a brutal year backing up former Hab Jaroslav
Halak in St. Louis to the point where he cleared waivers at the deadline. 
I do think part of the reason for that was his $1.4 million salary though. 
He has played at least 25 NHL games in the past 4 seasons and at this point is
no longer considered to be a 1B- type goalie which will bring his cap hit down
to 6-figures. Projected cap hit: $700,000 – $1,000,000

Jeff-Drouin Deslauriers: A one-way contract proved to be his downfall
last year as that was a key factor in him clearing waivers and being sent to the
AHL.  In 2009-10, he was the Oilers’ starter by default and though he
didn’t fare too well, it’s not as if he had a good team in front of him either. 
He has indicated in the past he’ll take less money than the $1.05 million he
earned this past year to get an NHL job somewhere.  He’s also the second youngest
UFA goalie out there which will make him intriguing for a team looking for a
bargain with upside. Projected cap hit: $550,000 – $850,000

Brian Elliott: The swap of starting goalies with Ottawa may have
worked well for the Senators but certainly not for the Avalanche who failed to
qualify Elliott.  He had a quality 2009-10 season playing in a career high
55 games but struggled with the Sens this year (3.19 GAA) and played even worse
with Colorado (3.83 GAA).  At 26, he’ll be the youngest goalie with NHL
experience on the market so it stands to reason that he’ll get a look and given
Montreal’s lack of depth in the system, a younger backup may not be a bad thing. Projected cap hit: $600,000 – $950,000

Patrick Lalime: If you want a veteran who is content with sitting for
extended periods of time and will take any offer thrown at him, this is your
guy.  Lalime has been consistently mediocre with Buffalo in recent years
and has played less and less each season.  This may be the year where he is
forced to take a two-way offer which could play into the Habs’ hand if they opt
for a new goalie in Hamilton who can at least still play a little in the NHL. Projected cap hit:
$525,000 – $675,000 (including bonuses which he is eligible for given his age)

Pascal Leclaire: If he didn’t completely hit rock bottom last year, I
don’t know how much further he could fall.  Once believed to be a
cornerstone goalie in Columbus, he was relegated from starter to backup to minor
league backup with Ottawa last year before undergoing surgery.  It’s pretty
safe to say that a change of scenery is needed for him.  If he recovers
well from his surgery, he is one of the few backups who could have a little
upside, though his struggles in recent years will keep the cap hit and suitors
low. Projected cap hit: $600,000 – $1,000,000

Curtis McElhinney: Although he struggled with the Ducks last season,
Ottawa claiming him from Tampa Bay via waivers (this isn’t a typo either) seemed
to give him the jolt he needed.  At 28, he also is one of the younger
options out there and has played at least 20 games in the last two seasons. 
He has come a long way from the rookie backup who nearly didn’t win at all in
his first year in the NHL and should get an offer from someone. Projected cap hit:
$525,000 – $700,000

Jose Theodore: Don’t all groan at once now.  Despite his horrific
(or terrific depending on how you want to phrase it) performance vs the Habs
last year, he played relatively well for the struggling Wild.  In fact, he
managed to put up a winning record while improving his GAA and SV% from what he
posted with Washington the year before.  As long as he isn’t planning on
holding out for a starter’s job like he did last offseason, he very well could
be one of the first backups snapped up this time around. Projected cap hit:
$750,000 – $1,000,000

Evgeni Nabokov: As most of you know by now, the Islanders have tolled
his contract for his failure to report last season after surprisingly being
claimed from Detroit.  If he really wants to play and will be content with
a backup role on a quality team, the Habs would be wise to kick the tires as he
can still handle a larger workload if Price falters or gets hurt while his cap
hit is dirt cheap.  Cap hit: $570,000

Despite the above lists, there are other options as well not noted here that
saw limited NHL action while being strong AHL goalies.  These include
former Hab prospect Cedrick Desjardins (TB), Martin Gerber (EDM), and Joey
MacDonald (DET).  (Chris Osgood – DET – is another option but at this
point, I see him re-signing or retiring.)  Similar to was last summer, it will likely be a buyer’s market
as the number of goalies out there will greatly exceed the number of teams
looking for a backup.  This should play to Montreal’s advantage as they
shouldn’t need to rush to sign one, although they did just that last July 1st
with Auld.  So, which of these will become Price’s backup?  We’ll find
out soon enough.