Goaltending Options for Next Season
Guest Writer: GrimmdaGoalie
With goaltending being the key to the Senators’ success next year (and every year, apparently) and everyone acknowledging that it is an area that has to be addressed and improved, it is evident that the position will become the focus of the offseason along with the looming decisions about Alex Debrincat. Goaltending is going to become a dominant story in Ottawa this summer and next season.
As history has proven for the team, the goaltending position for the Sens has been fraught with danger and bad decisions. Going back in time from Talbot to Murray to Condon to LeClaire to Bishop to Barrasso to Rhodes, the past has been littered with harmful acquisitions, potential that never paid off, poor overpayments, damaging trades, veteran bad bets, and secondary choices due to market restraints. One could make the argument that the team has only had two goaltenders – Lalime and Anderson – that provided the Sens with quality goaltending and playoff success over a sustained period of time, with only the occasional unsustainable flashes of brilliance randomly rearing up to give fans false hope (Emery, Hammond, Hasek for a bit before he became a headcase).
The Sens are not the only team in the position of needing to address goaltending this offseason. There are teams that have a hole in the net due to pending UFA’s/RFA’s (Pittsburgh, Toronto, LA, Carolina), who need an upgrade to push for the playoffs next year (Buffalo, Detroit), or who never had a true starter to begin with (hello Columbus and Chicago). There are also a whole bunch of teams looking for quality/better backups (Montreal, Dallas, Vancouver, Tampa) and two teams (Vegas and Seattle) that have way too many goalies. It will be a tough market for the Sens to navigate and this article will try to highlight the options available to Ottawa this year, which fall into three categories…UFAs, RFAs and Acquirable.
Firstly, for any goalie acquisition or signing, there can be no lateral moves and a move has to be made. While Sogaard and Forsberg might be able to push the Sens to the playoffs, everything would have to turn up roses for the team and those players – Sogaard would have to improve on his stats and Forsberg would have to bounce back to form after the injury to both knees. Might happen, especially with an improved and healthy defensive corps. Might not. But the general consensus is someone has to be brought in, even if Ottawa has to overpay to improve the position, even on a one-year contract. Ottawa can take a risk on the POTENTIAL of a player, or a younger goalie, but only a low cost.
Secondly, the Sens should limit themselves to a player with less than 2 years left on contract (to not harm the progress and playing time of the two goalies already in their system that everyone is so high on and that seem to have 1A upside, Sogaard and Merilainen) and shouldn’t pay more than $5 million a year (due to budget restraints). If they trade for a goalie with a high-term, high dollar amount (ie. Gibson or Markstrom), Forsberg may have to be included in the deal in order to make the money work. Thirdly, the Sens should avoid a goalie over the age of 35. The drop-off in performance at that age is sudden and steep. This eliminates such names as Quick, Khudobin, Halak, Elliott and Griess (who is tricky old at 37), unless at a league min, two-way deal.
Taking a look at the UFA market, there are a couple of names that jump right out – Jarry and Korpisalo. They are the right age – under 29 – and have had some playoff experience and success to varying degrees. The only problem is their present teams will more than likely do everything to resign them and they are going to want similar term and AAV to what Kuemper and Campbell got last year (5 or 6 years at $5 million + per year). At best, you get either at an Ullmark signing – 4 years, around $5 million – and you can live with that. But I think at their age and at this point in their careers, term and money are their only concerns, so figure the Sens are out on those two. Mackenzie Blackwood is interesting but he is unproven. If you could get him on a one-year, prove-it deal around $2-3 million, I might do it. Blackwood is also like other appealing UFAs with upside (Brossoit, Raanta, Martin Jones) where I think their present teams will move hard and quickly to resign them. But if you get them at the right term and dollars (1-2 years, $2-4 million per year) the Sens would be happy. Of the remaining UFAs, some have upside (Freddie Andersen, Adin Hill) and a veteran skill set (Reimer, and especially Varlamov) that might be appealing. But only at the right price and term. Of those two, Andersen might be a fit, given he could act as a mentor to his fellow Dane, Mads Sogaard, but I think CAR resigns at least one of their goalies at friendly terms, if not both. Also, I think Varlamov will resign with NYI on a team-friendly deal.
There is one UFA that intrigues me and that is Anthony Stolarz from ANA. He had an off year this year but was amazing the year before, with a save pct. of almost .920 and a GAA under 2.70. His struggles this season could just be due to a horrible defense in front of him and the tanking culture of the team he was playing on. And he is a big goalie. For the right term (1-2 years, $1.5-3 million), I’d be happy with him. I’d also look at Adin Hill, but I think he will also be looking for more than a one-year deal.
Next up for available Sens options in goal are the RFAs. There are only two names worth mentioning here – Samsonov and Swayman – as Gus will (sadly, just to punish us) re-sign in MIN. I think both are going to want term and money. And I think both their teams are going to want to re-sign them (and will be successful in doing so). Both would require some capital to acquire to sign. Of the two, I like Swayman a LOT. Trade a player (Formenton??) and/or 3rd round draft pick and then sign him for 4-5 years at $4-5 million.
As for the Acquirable goalies, there is a lot to like and a lot of issues. Typically, goaltenders tend to get a poor return in trades but the Sens should pay if they go this route. For the Sens to acquire a goalie, they have to look at teams that are in rebuild mode, looking to dump salary, have too many goalies, have a young stud ready for the NHL, or would be willing to deal. I think there are 3 teams desperate to move on (already) from their big-name, big-number goalies. Both Campbell and Kuemper were mistakes in the amount and term given to them at the time and I think both Edmonton and Washington would love to be rid of them. Hard Pass. The VGK would probably love to be rid of Lehner and his contract. Is he worth the risk? Hell no. (Is he even playing hockey anymore?) If Vegas was willing to pay Ottawa (perhaps a 2nd round pick)? Maybe. The same goes with Cal Peterson in LA… give us a 3rd round pick on top of him (maybe some contract retention too) and I would take the chance. High upside, high risk, no cost, plus draft pick makes them all (somewhat) appealing, even if their contracts are not. FLA is fascinating as they have three goalies who could be starters this year (Bob, Lyon, Knight) and one that has the most untradeable contract in hockey right now (Bob). They have too much money tied up at the position, which makes me wonder if Spencer Knight is available, especially given Bob’s performance in the playoffs. Knight at the right price…another high-risk, high-reward player. Carter Hart falls into this category – if it doesn’t cost a lot (2nd or 3rd or Formenton), I’d try it.
Looking at the rebuilding teams, both Gibson in ANA and Demko in VAN jump out. Avoid Gibson – too much term (4 years) and money left over – unless ANA is paying us to take on that contract or he comes cheaply. But, over the last four years, all four of his backups have had better Save% than Gibson. Hard pass. Demko is appealing at 3 years/$5 million. As is Knight. But both would cost a roster player or Formenton, or a 1st. (Basically, any starting, 1A goalie under the age of 30 on a roster will cost a 1st plus more, and that is only if the team is willing to get rid of them.). VAN sounds like they would retain Demko through the rebuild and there is no young goaltender in their system pushing for time or seen as a suitable replacement as a starter. But I wonder if they might deal Demko if he was paired with a bad contract that the Canucks might be desperate to get rid of (Garland and Myers come to mind for the Sens. And…ugh. Taking Myers on means Hamonic definitely doesn’t resign here.)
With the Jets being eliminated, WPG might blow up the team and/or Hellebuyck might want out of Manitoba. Being American, he may want to go south of the border, and he would be the priciest of the bunch – think Grieg, a 1st and probably one of Formenton/JBD/Thomson. I’d do it but I’m a goalie, so I’m nuts. Debrincat and Forsberg for Hellebuyck? Sure. Would the Jets do that? Probably not, especially since they don’t have a young goalie in their system knocking on the door and it’s a lot of money. And, if I’m the Jets, I want Grieg in any deal. If the Jets re-tool, I think Hellebuyck is the one guy they keep unless he begs to get out of Manitoba. As he probably won’t resign there, the Jets may want to get something for a player that will leave. He is also the one goalie that every team without a set 1A and who wants to push for/in the playoffs would covet, so teams like LA, DET, BUF, and PIT would all line up for his services... if they can make it work cap-wise.
That leaves the Calgary Flames’ goaltenders. They have two starters and a third youngster (Wolf) ready to push them out. Markstrom might be available given Calgary may have to shed some salary but Vladar is the one I want. Right term and money left (2 @ $2.2 million) and a big guy. Make it happen (some combo of a draft pick and Thomson or Formenton). And I think Calgary keeps Markstrom because the entire organization/city feels that the team could easily push for a playoff spot having spent a full year together (or with a different coach perhaps, as Sutter was a LOT apparently). So Vladar is my target.
You could use Debrincat to get a goalie but the Sens would be greatly limited by his salary and cap hit. And you might get more for him if you hold onto him - Debrincat at the trade deadline next year (and 20-25 goals at that point) might be worth a 1st and a player/additional draft pick. And his salary wouldn’t be so prohibitive at that point. Trading the Cat for a goalie means the Sens would have to match up with a team with cap space, with a goalie that fits their needs (and is worth what Debrincat would fetch on his own), and is willing to deal. Hard to do that deal in the modern NHL. One team and goalie come to mind… ARI and Vejmelka, who has the right term left (2 yrs) and is the right price (under $3 million). I wonder if Debrincat, Lassi Thomson and some combo of Formenton or a 2nd or 3rd round, would get them Vejmelka and Crouse. But why would ARI do any deal? And is Vejmlka an upgrade? Talking trades….how about Silfverberg, Troy Terry and Gibson for Debrincat, Thomson and Forsberg? I’ve stated before that I’m not a fan of Gibson for the Sens but the other players would round out the lineup in Ottawa quite nicely. (Side note: What a way Anaheim needs players and especially defensemen. Their roster on Cap Central looks thin, with a lot of unsigned players past this year. Also…I am aware I’m trading away Thomson and Formenton a LOT in these scenarios but they are tradable assets and should go - one needs a new start, and the other could be lost after training camp for nothing, which the Senators can never afford.)
Finally, there may be a simple internal solution to the goaltending problems: coaching. A new head coach, with a dedicated defensive system, might do wonders for the goaltenders in Ottawa. And you can look no further than Linus Ullmark than what a change in goalie coach and philosophy (Bob Essensa) can do for the success of a goalie and the team in front of him.
Thanks for reading!