Monday, June 14, 2010

Looking at the Goaltending Holes in the NHL

I thought I would climb through the roster tables that I've put together for my Pool Outlook pages on my Hockey Pool Blog and I thought I would look at the goaltending holes I could find, especially when it comes to starting goalies. There are a few goalies on the market that will make the offseason awfully interesting. All of these holes will need to be filled or some positions could also be upgraded. Here's where I think those positions are and possibly how they might look to fill them.

The Thrashers don't have a goalie with many minutes signed on to their roster this Summer as of yet and they will be in the market for a goalie this year. Ondrej Pavelec is a restricted free agent and he'll be looking for a starting job, but it's unclear how much ice-time the team wants to give him at this point. The Thrashers have the ability to be in on an unrestricted free agent goalie, so that will likely determine a lot about Pavelec's role come October.

I wouldn't say that the Blackhawks have many holes to fill, as they could keep Cristobel Huet, who is signed on for a couple seasons more, while Antti Niemi could find himself out of the picture, but after winning the Cup, that does seem unlikely.  It isn't a good bet that the Blackhawks will be testing the unrestricted free agent market, but their crease is right in the middle of the rumour mill gears.  There's plenty of speculation and it's only a matter of time before we see some movement.

It does sound like that the Oilers are comfortable giving Nikolai Khabibulin a second chance with the team, after an injury-plagued year and some legal troubles away from the rink, so the number one spot is his to lose (for a while). The Oilers have a couple of restricted free agent goalies that saw plenty of time in 2010 in Jeff Deslauriers and Devan Dubnyk, who might be able to fetch a decent enough return via trade. Khabibulin still has a few years left on his current deal with the Oilers and if he stays healthy, one of those two young goalies will get some itchy feet to move on.

Who is it going to be? Is it Jaroslav Halak or Carey Price as the number one guy for the Canadiens? Maybe the question should be, do they only keep one or do they keep both, as they are both restricted free agents, both hungry for number one minutes. If they only decide to keep one, the Canadiens will likely deal the other away, flooding the goalie market a little bit more and possibly bringing in a talented veteran to help the chosen one through the 2011 season.

How comfortable are the Flyers going forward with Brian Boucher and Johan Backlund going forward? If I had to guess, it would be... not very. Boucher was a solid replacement for some much needed minutes, when there was no one else. Backlund shouldn't be immature at age 28 (29 in July), but reliability at the NHL level does pop up as a reasonable question. I would imagine that the Flyers are going to be players in the startin goalie marketplace, but what can they afford or what are they willing to spend?

With some interesting talent potentially available on the open market, can the Sharks gamble their future on what they can afford on the open market or do they use the last couple weeks of June to try and give a new deal to Evgeni Nabokov, while they still have his exclusive rights? Personally, as of June 15th, I would have thought that if they wanted to keep with Nabokov, they'd have signed him already, but that's just me. They have some negotiating power with a good offense in front of whoever takes the crease, so maybe they'll be looking to try a fresh face in the crease in 2011.

I have seen word on Twitter from some of the Blues sources that talks are open between themselves and potential UFA Chris Mason, which would solve their goaltending issue, in terms of their number one guy. If I remember correctly, they have been going for over a week or so, which suggests that this is not a slam dunk. The Blues are a team that has plenty of flexibility around the cap and probably doesn't want to pay too much for Mason, but may open the purse strings for a big UFA goalie that has a better reputation in the league as a winner. I'm expecting the Blues to drive prices up on UFA goalies.

If you ask me, I think the Lightning are in a solid position to upgrade their goaltending, after giving a solid shot to Mike Smith to be their number one, but he might just fit better as the back-up there in Tampa Bay.  That isn't to say that Smith won't be the number one guy on opening night, but with a new General Manager in town, he might have some good ideas on how to help brace the crease for plenty of shots against in the 2011 season.  The Lightning are another team with cap room, so I expect them to be in the market to spend some money in the crease.

The Capitals have a situation not unlike the Montreal Canadiens, but with the likely departure of Jose Theodore to unrestricted free agency, the Capitals do have a couple of restricted free agents in Semyon Varlamov and Michal Neuvirth, who may be good enough to platoon the number one job, but with the Summer quickly approaching, they might weigh their options, flash some superstars in the direction of a highly rated unrestricted free agent and then go from there.

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