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Thursday's Jaroslav Halak trade has opened up a vacancy in Montreal's goaltending duo, there's a help wanted sign for Carey Price's backup. The goalie market is quite saturated this coming offseason with lots of options available. As a prelude to HW's upcoming UFA market preview coming after the draft, let's take a closer look at some of the options out there.
I'll break them down into two tiers, +$1 million and less than $1 million. For the purposes of this article, I'm omitting Evgeni Nabokov and Marty Turco as both will likely be out of Montreal's price range unless they take major pay cuts.
Tier 1 - Over $1 million:
Martin Biron (NYI): Getting the local factor out of the way (which really could be beneficial to deflect media attention), he can still play as well. His numbers weren't too pretty this year (9-14-4, 3.27 GAA and a .896 SV%) but a lot of that can be attributed to a poor Islander defence in front of him. His days of being a true number one are gone (he turns 33 this offseason), so Montreal, a place where he may play more than the average backup sounds appealing at this point. Projected salary cost: $1.0 - 1.5 M
Dan Ellis (NSH): There's some familiarity with Ellis in the organization as he once played for the Hamilton Bulldogs when they were a split affiliate. In 3 full NHL seasons, he has winning records in 2 and his GAA has been around the league median when averaged out over the 3 seasons. Simply put, he's your typical backup goalie. One concern is his NHL experience; despite turning 30 later this week, he has less than 150 NHL games under his belt. Projected salary cost: $1.25 - $1.75 M
Johan Hedberg (ATL): The Habs liked him a few years ago near the deadline (the failed Hossa acquisition) and he hasn't done too much to really change that opinion. At 37, he's most likely a 1 and done (retirement) goalie, but as short-term options go, he may be the best. Projected salary cost: $1.25 - $1.75 M
Chris Mason (STL): Though it may look a little odd seeing the player that Halak replaces take his spot in Montreal, it's somewhat feasible as well. Mason had his ups and downs last year but still played over 60 games, meaning he can shoulder the load if necessary. However, with not a lot of teams looking for starting goalies, he's probably not going to get the $3 M he's made for each of the last 3 seasons. At 34, he's a very short term option too. Projected salary cost: $1.9 - $2.5 M
Antero Niittymaki (TB): He signed for a bargain basement $600,000 last year but given his performance in Tampa, that should easily double this summer. At 30, he has a few years left in him so the potential for a multi-year investment is there. Knowing there were KHL offers last season though, it's hard to believe there won't be this time as well - he could bolt from the Bolts and the NHL altogether. Projected salary cost: $1.5 - $2.0 M
Jose Theodore (WAS): Before you cringe at the thought, look at the facts. He's still a competent NHL goalie who surely realizes his days as a starter are gone, despite the great record (30-7-7) with the Caps this year. His best days were in Montreal and there have been rumblings he'd be open to a return. In fact, I think he'd take less to come home than to serve as backup elsewhere, something that can't be ignored. Projected salary cost: $1.5 - $2.0 M
Tier 2 - Below or equal to $1 million:
Alex Auld (NYR): A late season waiver claim, Auld didn't quite put up the numbers he did 2 years ago in Ottawa but they weren't that bad either. He's a veteran who's bounced around and is good for 20 or so games per season. Depending on what the Habs expect from Price, this may be just the type of goalie they want. Projected salary cost: $700 K - $1.0 M
Patrick Lalime (BUF): Though I hate to put a player here largely because of where he's from, it has to be mentioned. He's a veteran, knows his place, and like Biron, could deflect some of the media attention from Price. A concern here is that he may not be able to handle a 25 game workload which I suspect is what the Habs are interested in. Projected salary cost: $550 - $900 K
Manny Legace (CAR): Earlier this week, Carolina announced he wouldn't be back to back up Cam Ward, but it's not because he played poorly. When he came in, the Canes were sliding badly but were one of the toughest of the non-playoff teams to beat down the stretch. Considering he had a minor league deal to start the year, he may be content with a cheap backup deal - at least he's in the NHL for sure that way. Projected salary cost: $600 - $950 K
Andrew Raycroft (VAN): Despite the grief he gets from struggling with Toronto, Raycroft had a solid year backing up Luongo; his 2.42 GAA is only behind Yann Danis (NJ) in terms of the lowest. That said, Raycroft may be looking for a longer term deal, which could take him out of this tier and into Tier 1. On a 1 year deal though, he'd fit this price range. Projected salary cost: $800 K- $1.0 M
Curtis Sanford (MTL): He's been an NHL backup before and had a solid season with the Bulldogs. Better still, him moving up would ensure Cedrick Desjardins (who admittedly is also an option to become the backup) gets a full workload for the first time in his pro career in Hamilton. The fact he wasn't in the NHL last season means he'd be the cheapest option out there...if the Habs are going cheap, he may be the guy for the job. Projected salary cost: $500 - $700 K
Vesa Toskala (CGY): Though Toskala may think he can still be a number one goalie, reality has to set in some time, I expect it will around July 3rd or so when teams proclaim they only see him as a backup. This is where the Habs would come in. If Price falters, theoretically Toskala could step in and really all he's going to want is an opportunity. On a 1-year deal, you could do worse. Projected salary cost: $750 K - $1.0 M
Despite the above lists, there's other options as well not noted here,
including Yann Danis (NJ), Michael Leighton (PHI), and Joey MacDonald (ANA).
The good news is that it will be a buyer's market with so many options which
should bode well on the money side of things. (It also explains why it was
best to trade a goalie now rather than wait until into free agency when all
these other options become available). Who will Price's backup be?
We'll find out soon enough.
- Halak dealt to St. Louis for Lars Eller and Ian Schultz posted by B. La Rose