June 29, 2010
(Ed. Note: In the coming days, we'll be taking a look at the unrestricted free agent crop for each position, because the old-boys network in the NHL prevents us from having real fun with restricted free agents.)
The common thought is that there aren't that many jobs available for goalies in the NHL this summer, and that the UFA market will have to compete with goalies whose teams may seek to move them (Tim Thomas(notes), for example).
The common thought is also that there are only three-to-four goalies on the UFA market that could become starters for their new teams, with the rest of the field comprised of quality veteran backups.
Here are 10 UFA goalies that, should your team sign them, shouldn't ruin your week.
Turning 35 this month, he has 293 regular-season wins, a career 2.39 GAA and career .912 save percentage. He's the surest thing in the UFA goalie field if you're looking for a veteran workhorse, starting over 70 games in two of the last three seasons. But he does have a lot of minutes on that body during his 10 years in the NHL.
The real concern? That if you're a team signing Nabokov as the last piece of a Stanley Cup championship team (*cough*Flyers*cough*), it's clear that he was as culpable as any player for the San Jose Sharks' annual playoff disappointments. Does that change with the scenery for Nabby?
He's won 57 games over the last two seasons for the Blues, with a solid save percentage and GAA that was a tad high. He's 34, will command around what he earned last season, but there are mysteries about the sort of effort you get with him. Or the fact that, should your team make the postseason, this type of follicle miracle will occur.
Turco, who turns 35 in August, deserves credit for rebounding from an absolutely putrid 2008-09 season to help backstop the Dallas Stars near the playoff bubble before falling short. His last two playoff appearances were strong, but his last one was three seasons ago.
Ideally, Turco would be signed for a significant reduction in cap hit and as part of a goalie platoon. He can still catch fire and win games on his own; but there's always a chance his five-hole increases back to Grand Canyon size like it was two seasons back.
First thing's first: He needs to take a dramatic reduction in salary to earn this lofty place in the countdown. The marketplace should make that happen.
At the right price, Theo is a perfect complementary goaltender: Playing around 50 games, carrying the team for stretches, adding some veteran presence between the pipes. He showed his mental toughness by playing through heartbreaking circumstances last season. Coach Bruce Boudreau was quick with the hook for the Washington Capitals in the last two postseasons; but that's why you need another option beyond Theo.
He'll turn 34 this season, but still has enough to warrant a serious look and, if that's what it takes, a two-year deal.
Ellis stole Mason's job with the Nashville Predators and then had his job stolen by Pekka Rinne(notes). In his favor: That great 23-win, .924 save percentage season back in 2007-08; the fact that he's only 30 and that he'll come cheap; and, of course, that he arrives with a legion of Twitter followers to add to your fan base.
Not in his favor: He's clearly not a No. 1 but a No. 1-A, and someone who played his way out of a job in Nashville. Should garner significant interest as part of a goaltending solution, but not the lone solution.
Niitty has carved out a nice niche for himself in the NHL: The backup goalie who works cheap and eventually outworks the incumbent for a bit, forcing the coaches and media and fans to reconsider the pecking order and the future of the position. This can sometimes turn poisonous, as it did during times with the Philadelphia Flyers, but otherwise he's an asset from a competitive standpoint.
Plus, if you're in the Southeast Division and want to go undefeated against Atlanta ...
7. Marty Biron (2009-10 Cap Hit: $1.4 million)
Biron and Niittymaki battled in Philly for the starting role, and may battle again for the slim number of opportunities available in the NHL for goalies. But Biron's been through this before, as he was squeezed out of starting gigs in last summer's Free Agent Frenzy and ended up taking a one-year deal with the New York Islanders.
He'll be 33 next season, and was wildly inconsistent last season. Still, the thought of him as the backup/challenger/Option B for the Montreal Canadiens behind Carey Price(notes) is appealing and widely held.
Leighton, 29, has probably earned more than the eighth spot on this list, with his stellar postseason (2.46 GAA, .916 save percentage, 3 shutouts) and his work in the regular season after Ray Emery(notes) went down. But there's still something that feels slightly "lightning in a bottle" about him. Maybe he just needed the chance the Flyers gave him; or maybe he'll be unable to replicate his heroics behind another defense. Certainly not a starter, but he'll find work.
The Moose is now 37, but he started 42 games for the Atlanta Thrashers last season. He's likely back in Atlanta next year; but if not, he's the sort of backup goalie that quickly becomes a fan favorite.
For whatever reason, things didn't click for Lalime with the Buffalo Sabres, and it's expected they'll go in another direction. He's turning 36 this summer, and the end of the road is in sight. But for a bargain basement veteran backup, Lalime could still give you around 20 starts and a ridiculously cool mask.