Assessing the 2020 Offseason Goalie Carousel
This NHL offseason will be one unlike any other for many reasons. One of the most interesting things to watch this offseason, in my opinion, will be the movement of goaltenders around the league. It seems like there is an unprecedented number of quality goaltenders who are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents. There are also teams finding themselves in a position where they have an excess of quality goalies and will probably looking to move one this offseason. Overall, I count over 20 teams that could have a new goaltending tandem next offseason.
Teams Likely to Stand Pat
Let’s start by getting the teams who are most likely not going to make any sort of move with their goalies. There is always a possibility of one of these teams surprising everyone and making a move. However, I am almost certain we will not see movement from Boston, Los Angeles, Florida, and Tampa. The New York Islanders’ will likely let Thomas Griess walk and roll with Varlamov and the rookie Ilya Sorokin. I also think Montreal will likely be all set now that they acquired Allen. They might look to trade Charlie Lindgren but I don’t think that will have a major impact on the rest of the goalie market. Winnipeg and Philadelphia recently re-signed Laurent Brossoit and Brian Elliott so they are also probably all set.
Teams That Will Look to Move a Goalie
The intrigue for this offseason will be three teams who have an excess of goalies in their organization and will likely make one available for trade. The biggest name available in the goalie market is likely to be Pittsburgh’s Matt Murray. The Penguins have three quality goaltenders and seem destined to have to move at least one this offseason as none of them are waiver exempt, meaning they can’t be sent to the minors without being exposed to every other team. Casey DeSmith is under contract for two more seasons at a very reasonable $1.25M per year. If I were looking for a goalie, he might be my top option but for a team already pushing the cap, I don’t think it would be smart to move him. He also has been the team’s best goalie over the past three seasons.
Both Murray and Tristian Jarry are restricted free agents with arbitration rights. Murray and Jarry have performed similarly with Jarry trending in a better direction recently. The big difference between the two is Jarry’s next contract will likely be significantly cheaper. I don’t know how the goalies are viewed around the league but I wouldn’t be surprised if teams would give up more for Murray because of his past playoff success. If that’s the case, Pittsburgh would not hesitate to move Murray.
New York Rangers
The Rangers might have the best young goaltending tandem in the league with Alexandar Georgiev and Igor Shesterkin. They also just bought out the best goaltender from the mid-2000s to the late 2010s. That of course is Henrik Lundqvist. Of the two remaining, Shesterkin should be virtually untouchable. He has already shown to be a game-stealer and could be the next Lundqvist for the Rangers. Logically, it made the most sense to move on from Lundqvist. It also could be the costliest option for the Rangers. The cost of a buyout will be a cap hit of $5.5M next year and $1.5M the following, for a total cost of $7M. Lundqvist was slated to count for $8.5M against the cap. I don’t think this was a great option with the cap remaining flat and the team should have looked at all other options. If I were the Rangers, I would’ve tried to retain 50% of his cap hit and tried to get anything for him. I would think there would be a team out there who would have been willing to have Lundqvist for a year at a cap hit of $4.25M if there was an asset attached.
With Shesterkin being the clear-cut goalie of the future, I still wonder if it makes sense to entertain offers for Georgiev. Here is my logic: Georgiev’s ceiling in New York is a backup. His trade value might be the highest ever right now. He would definitely return an asset that could be used to make the team better right now. The downside to this approach is you would then go from a position of strength to having to spend in the free-agent market which might be a tough ask now that they have Lundqvist’s cap hit on the books. It’s a tough call. The only certainty is Shesterkin will be the starter next year.
I have much less confidence in saying Nashville will definitely move a goalie but I think they have a big decision to make and the best move for their team might be moving on from Pekka Rinne. Nashville is in a fairly good spot when it comes to the salary cap. They have just over $8M in space with most of their roster filled out. The bigger question is whether that roster is good enough. In the play-in round, Nashville gave Juuse Saros more playing time. His and Rinne’s performances have been very similar the last few seasons. I don’t think Nashville HAS to move Rinne but it would make a lot of sense. There are probably a couple of contenders in western Canada who might like to add Rinne to be their 1A starter. Moving Rinne would give Nashville $13M in cap space, without making any other moves, that they can use to tweak their roster.
Moving Rinne could also make Nashville a “buyer” in the goalie market. I also think it is very possible that Nashville could roll with Saros and Connor Ingram, who has been very good in the AHL though he is still waivers exempt so Nashville would have some flexibility. Nashville will be a very interesting team to watch this offseason and their goalie decision makes it even much more so.
Arizona is very similar to Nashville. They have two similar goalies, in terms of performance, under contract for next season in Antti Raanta and Darcy Kuemper. They also just re-signed Adin Hill, which complicates matters slightly. Hill has no waiver exemption remaining, has shown glimpses of being a capable NHL goaltender, and is cheap. For a team that seems destined to be budget conscience next season, I can’t imagine they keep both Raanta and Kuemper while potentially losing Hill for nothing. The question is which goalie should Arizona look to move?
Raanta and Kuemper have both been excellent goalies the past couple years for Arizona and it can be argued that they quietly have one of the best tandems in the league. The problem is both goalies have had some injury concerns, with Raanta missing more time. From a pure performance standpoint, Kuemper is probably the more desirable option. However, the contract situation of each goalie makes things a little more interesting. Kuemper is under contract for two more seasons at $4.5M average annual value (AAV) while Raanta has one year remaining with a cap hit of $4.25M. The kicker for Raanta is he only has $2M more in salary owed after a signing bonus is paid out. My guess is Arizona is more likely to move Kuemper for budget reasons but I think there will be suitors for Raanta as well.
It seems Minnesota is looking to shake up their goaltending and their preference seems to be to trade Devon Dubynk as he carries a higher cap hit AND was the inferior performer last offseason. The one positive with Dubynk is his actual salary owed in $2.5M while his cap hit is $4.3M. Teams looking to manage an internal budget would make the most sense for Dubnyk. At this point in his career, he probably isn’t more than a 1B type of goalie. Alex Stalock would probably be the more attractive trade option but my guess is Minnesota would like to keep him.
Vegas Golden Knights
All eyes will be on Vegas as they pushed the first domino with the goalie market when they likely re-signed Robin Lehner. Lehner was probably the best goalie available and Vegas had the inside track to retain him. With Lehner signing, that likely makes Marc-Andre Fleury available. Vegas will likely try to trade Fleury but there might not be a robust market. I am not sure how many teams will be lining up for an aging goaltender who struggled this season and is under contract for two more years with a $7M cap hit. The one thing working is Vegas’s favor is Fleury is only owed $12.5M more in salary. This could make him attractive to a team looking to save actual dollars but still needing the cap hit, especially if Vegas retained some salary. If Vegas does what I expect, signing Lehner and trading Fleury, they will then put themselves in a position to need to add a goalie.
Toronto Maple Leafs
After acquiring Jack Campbell, having Freddie Andersen entering his final year of his contract, and being tight to the cap, Toronto puts themselves firmly in this discussion as a trade of Andersen is very possible. I don’t think it is a given that Andersen is traded but I do think Toronto listens to offers to see if they can improve their team. Andersen has been a solid option for Toronto but it could be argued that Campbell is the better option going forward. However, he would be an improvement for a number of teams. It all comes down to offers for him versus offers for other players and how much cap space they will need to clear.
Columbus Blue Jackets
Both Columbus goalies seem to have come up more frequently in rumors as time has gone on. I am not convinced Columbus will be a player in the goalie market. I think the most likely scenario is they stand pat. However, if someone wants to offer them a great asset(s) for one of Elvis Merzlikins or Joonas Korpisalo, they would probably be open to it. I just don’t know if another team will offer Columbus an asset that will make their team better and my read on them is that would be necessary to move one of them. Maybe my opinion of Columbus is wrong and they are looking to do a mini rebuild. If that’s the case, I think it is much more likely they move one of the goalies and are ok accepting a prospect(s) and/or pick(s). From a talent standpoint, both these goalies might be at or near the top of the board for goalies. If I were a team looking to acquire either, I would have some concerns about either replicating their performance if they are playing behind a different team. I would be more concerned with Korpisalo.
I think it is very possible that Carolina goes into next season with Reimer and Mrazek as their tandem again. However, if they want to get better, they should be in the market for an upgrade. If they pull that off, one of these goalies will need to be moved. Reimer was stronger in the 25 games he played but Mrazek shouldered the heavier workload, playing 40 games. Carolina would probably prefer to move Mrazek who is due $3.125M (same cap hit) but I think more teams will have interest in Reimer who counts $3.4M against the cap but will only cost $850,000. If Carolina can sign or trade for an upgrade, they should have no problem moving Reimer.
New Jersey Devils
I don’t think any teams will be lining up to take Corey Schneider BUT I do think New Jersey would like to move him if at all possible. So technically, Schneider would be considered available but I don’t think it’s likely he’s in high demand.
The team would certainly like to upgrade their goalie situation and part of that would ideally include moving Carter Hutton. I think there could be some interest in Hutton as he is relatively cheap and could come in as a veteran back-up. However, I don’t think there will be suitors until the market settles a little, which could put the team in an awkward situation if they sign someone and then are left with three goalies.
My guess is Colorado looks to stand pat but if they have the ability to add a bona fide starter then they likely will, which could make Philipp Grubauer or Pavel Francouz available. I don’t think it is overly likely as Colorado would be better suited to spend their resources elsewhere. However, I do want to include them as other teams might have interest and neither has much term on their contract and I wouldn’t count on Colorado committing big money to either so Colorado could be wise to get something in return before they have to make that decision.
Now that I have discussed the goalies that I think could be available, in addition to the already known free agents, I would like to sort them into tiers so we can get a sense of what goalies would be fits for what team.
I don’t know how many “clear starters” are available but I do think there are some goalies who could start 50 games and do fine in that role. Goalies that fit this category are Darcy Kuemper (Antti Raanta could if he can be counted on to stay healthy), Matt Murray, Freddie Andersen, Joonas Korpisalo/Elvis Merzlikins, Alexandar Georgiev, and Jacob Markstrom. In addition to these goalies, there are four veterans who might be asked to fill this role. They are Braden Holtby, Corey Crawford, Marc-Andre Fleury, and Pekka Rinne.
If you are a team with a decent goalie and are looking for someone to supplement them to form a split starter tandem, you may be in luck because I think that is where the strength of this market is. Most of the names discussed immediately above would be ideal to bring in for this situation, Andersen and Markstrom (possibly Kuemper too) would be exceptions. In this category, teams would definitely be looking at Reimer/Mrazek, Thomas Griess, Anton Khudobin, Cam Talbot, and Grubauer/Francouz. Aaron Dell is a borderline option here who more likely signs as a true backup option. Additionally, there are veterans who were former starters but their best days are likely behind them. Depending on how teams view some of these players, they could be 1B options. In this category, I would include Dubnyk, Jimmy Howard, Mike Smith, Ryan Miller, Lundqvist, and Craig Anderson.
Most of the options I mentioned as 1B options trickle down to here. Realistically, Dell, Howard, Smith, Miller, Elliot, Lundqvist, and Anderson would be better suited to be backups who would start no more than 30 games. The other options I would potentially add here are Schneider, Hutton, and Michael Hutchinson.
I have laid out who is available so the next step is to start to looking at team fits.
Chicago currently has the rights to Malcolm Subban and Colin Delia under contract and their organizational depth is horrible. There is no chance they can go into next season with those as their only options. I highly doubt Robin Lehner would go back and would likely be out of the team’s price range. My bet is they look to get something done with Corey Crawford but if they are forced to pivot could look to Braden Holtby. Personally, I think Chicago might be wise to inquire about Joonas Korpisalo or Alexandar Georgiev. They really need a cost-controlled option who can perform at a high level and be an option going forward. If they could move out some salary Jacob Markstrom or Matt Murray could be definite possibilities. Trading Olli Maatta is a start but still not likely enough. If they remain tight to the cap, they could look to bring in a cheaper Thomas Griess or Anton Khudobin with the promise of making them the clear starter or roll the dice on a veteran. Chicago is not in a good position at all and are very tough to predict.
Prediction: Either re-sign Corey Crawford or trade for Joonas Korpisalo (rights to Dylan Strome, Pittsburgh’s 2nd round pick)
Edmonton isn’t in quite as bad of shape as Chicago as they have more players under contract but are still staring at minimal cap space to improve their goaltending. Mikko Koskinen is counting $4.5M against the cap and could be a 1B option. However, for a team in a win-now situation, they wouldn’t be wise to rely on a 1A/1B tandem. I think they will look to get one of the more attractive options on the market. They have been connected to Matt Murray and Freddie Andersen. I’m not sure they can make Andersen work without sending Koskinen to Toronto and Toronto is going to want a serious return for that to happen. Fitting Matt Murray in won’t be easy either but my guess is that is where they turn.
Prediction: Edmonton trades the rights to Jesse Puljujarvi to Pittsburgh for the rights to Matt Murray
San Jose Sharks
If it doesn’t happen before publishing, it certainly sounds like the Sharks have their eyes on Devon Dubynk, which would be a bad idea. If they were acquiring him, they would have to have Minnesota retain some salary. I’m assuming Minnesota would be happy to move him so the price won’t be too high but should San Jose really be giving up an asset when they can sign a better option at a similar cost without giving up an asset? I would have thought Anton Khudobin would have been a tremendous fit. I am penciling in Dubynk so Khudobin will remain available.
Prediction: If they don’t trade for Dubnyk, sign Anton Khudobin
Assuming Minnesota moves on from Dubnyk, they will find themselves looking for a starter as well. They have money to spend and probably could look to commit term to someone. I could see them firmly in the discussion for one of Crawford, Holtby, or Markstrom in free agency or Kuemper or Andersen via trade. Guerin has been looking to dramatically change his roster so I am going to make a bold prediction here. If my bold prediction does not happen, I would pencil Jacob Markstrom in here.
BOLD PREDICTION ALERT: Minnesota acquires Freddie Andersen, Alex Kerfoot, Justin Holl for Matt Dumba
Toronto Maple Leafs
With my prediction of the team trading Andersen, they will need to find a complement to Jack Campbell. I would see them looking to split games between Campbell and another goalie. I wonder if Lundqvist could be an option here. He has faced the pressure of playing in a big market and it would likely give him a better opportunity to play some games for a contender than many other options. The big question is if Lundqvist thinks Toronto is close enough to a championship contender. It might depend on how the rest of the market plays out. Does Toronto wait things out or look to strike quickly? Another option I really like for Toronto is Anton Khudobin. He performed incredibly well on the big stage when called upon and doesn’t seem like someone who will falter in a big market. If my trade scenario plays out, which might not be very likely, Toronto would be wise to strike quickly and I think Khudobin would fit better in that aspect.
Prediction: Sign Anton Khudobin
My guess is Jacob Markstrom ends up leaving. Vancouver has an equal or better option in Demko and they don’t have much cap space. They would be much better taking money they may have set aside for Markstrom and use some of it to improve other aspects of their roster. The team likely needs a 1B type of option. I wouldn’t be surprised to see them potentially linked to a veteran goalie but outside of Mike Smith, I can’t imagine one of the others moving so far away from their previous homes. I think an option like Griess, Khudobin, or Talbot would make sense. Since I have already predicted Khudobin elsewhere, I will stick with Griess or Talbot here. I think Griess is the better option so he will be my pick.
Prediction: Sign Thomas Griess
Calgary needs to address their goaltending. David Rittich is a decent option but if Calgary wants to take any sort of step forward, improving their goaltending would go a long way. Their cap situation is not great but I think they will look to make a splash here. I see three or four names to pay attention to with Calgary. I think they will be talked about as destinations for Markstrom and Holtby. I could also see them talked about as a trade partner for Nashville if they look to move Rinne. The wild card here could be Marc-Andre Fleury. I’m not sure it would be a great fit unless he is bought out. My guess is Vegas tries to find a trade partner first. If not, the buyout could be an option but I think there will be other teams interested as well. It could all depend on what Fleury prioritizes. Markstrom would be the best option but also would command the most. I think this comes down to signing Holtby or trading for Rinne. A trade for Rinne would certainly be interesting since those two teams could be looking to make major changes to their cores. I thought long and hard about predicting another blockbuster for Rinne. I was thinking of a trade involving Monahan and Bennett for Rinne and Ryan Johansen. However, when it comes down to it, I don’t know if Calgary would improve themselves enough to justify the added salary cap hit.
Prediction: Sign Braden Holtby
Carolina HAS to improve their goaltending. They are an elite team with average to below-average goaltending. With such a robust goalie market, now is the time to address it and find someone who can take care of the net for years to come. I don’t think it would make sense to not go for one of the top goalies available as Reimer and Mrazek are fine as a tandem that splits time. They could be connected to any of those I have discussed under the starter category. Assuming all of my other predictions are correct, the two goalies remaining that make sense here are Kuemper and Markstrom. I’m not convinced any team will meet the Coyotes’ demands for Kuemper. If Carolina misses out on Markstrom, they might turn their attention to Arizona but I think Markstrom would be a great fit for them. Signing Markstrom would mean they would need to move one of their returning goalies.
Prediction: Sign Jacob Markstrom (trade for Darcy Kuemper if Markstrom goes elsewhere)
I am not convinced Buffalo will definitely make a move to upgrade their goalie situation. However, if an opportunity presents itself, I do think they will take advantage. The team has reportedly set an internal budget so they are probably looking for players that can cheaply improve their team. Enter James Reimer. Reimer is owed only $850,000 in salary this season despite having a $3.4M cap hit. He would be a massive upgrade on Carter Hutton. Assuming Carolina acquires Markstrom (or a similar caliber goalie), the price to acquire Reimer shouldn’t be too high. The only issue is what to do with Carter Hutton. Unless someone is without a goalie when the music stops, I think it would be very difficult to move him, which is why I am not convinced the team will acquire another goalie. Acquiring Reimer would give the team future flexibility to turn to Jonas Johannsson or Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen next year.
Prediction: Buffalo acquires James Reimer for conditional 2021 fourth that could become a 2022 3rd
Ottawa probably needs a starter. The question is how much they want to pay. They need to get to the salary cap floor. They would probably prefer to have less actual salary than cap hit. I think James Reimer could be a definite possibility here too. However, there is a goalie who they could acquire, with additional assets that would bring some credibility to the organization and fit the salary criteria. I think Marc-Andre Fleury to Ottawa would make a lot of sense. This would require some cooperation from Fleury but if he wants to play, get paid, and move closer to home, Ottawa would make plenty of sense. I think the team will improve a little but they will likely be far from a playoff contender. If Fleury’s top priority is to get another shot at the Cup, Ottawa might be a tough sell. However, I don’t see many other opportunities for him to play an unquestioned number one role. I’m not quite sure what Ottawa will do otherwise. Maybe they would try to add one of Talbot, Griess, or Khudobin with the promise of making them the starter. I don’t see Howard or Lundqvist going to Ottawa and they have already decided to move on from Craig Anderson. Maybe they would try to acquire Raanta from Arizona for a second-round pick. I also don’t think it is out of the realm of possibilities that they do nothing or go way off the board, select Yaroslav Askarov and try to get him in to play immediately, which might be tough with him under contract in the KHL.
Prediction: Ottawa acquires Marc-Andre Fleury, Jack Dugan for a conditional 2nd round pick in 2021.
Vegas Golden Knights
With my prediction of Vegas moving Fleury, they would need to find a goalie to replace him as the backup as none of the in-house replacements are viable for a Cup contender. Vegas is close to winning and if they could move out Fleury’s contract and use it to upgrade their roster (Pietrangelo) they would probably go into next season as one of the favorites. This would make them a very attractive option for some of the veteran goalies. They probably could have their pick of any of them and might choose to add a King to their castle.
Prediction: Sign Henrik Lundqvist
Detroit Red Wings
With Detroit letting Howard walk, they are going to need to find someone to replace him. They could look to find a longer-term option but I don’t know if they would want to overpay a veteran like Holtby or Markstrom or if they would be willing to part with assets to acquire a younger goalie. Instead, I think they opt to find a complement to Jonathan Bernier. At this point, I have Talbot, Dell, Anderson, and Smith remaining as realistic options. I think any of them could be options but I will go for the goalie who is probably most interested in going someplace to get playing time.
Prediction: Sign Cam Talbot
I would imagine Dallas loses Anton Khudobin to free agency. He seems to have priced himself out of what they can afford. Bishop should be the unquestioned starter so they are likely looking for a backup option. Realistically, any of Dell, Anderson, Smith, or Howard could make sense for Dallas. Dallas could consider turning to Jake Ottinger as the backup sooner than later and if he were forced into action next season, he probably could hold his own. As such, I could see Dallas turning to a veteran backup to serve as a bridge to Ottinger. I could see anyone of Anderson, Smith, or Howard. For this prediction, I will go for the goalie one who performed the best last year.
Prediction: Sign Mike Smith
I think this decision is easy if Ryan Miller wants to be back. The only way this gets complicated is if Miller decides to retire as I don’t see him going elsewhere at this point in his career unless he wants to give himself one last shot at the Cup. Miller is a more than capable backup and would change some of these predictions if he came out and said he would be playing another year and looking for a contender. If Miller doesn’t come back, Anaheim may opt to just use Anthony Stolarz as their backup to save cap space. Otherwise, they would likely look to sign someone cheaply. I think one outside the box idea could be acquiring Carter Hutton from Buffalo with the Sabres retaining 50% of the cap hit. I’m not sure someone like Howard or Anderson would go to the west coast to a rebuilding team and get paid under $2M. Hutton would provide that.
Prediction: Retain Ryan Miller
New Jersey Devils
New Jersey is interesting in that they have two goalies under contract, with one being paid $6M per season. However, that goalie is Corey Schneider who has struggled and has sort of be kicked to the curb by New Jersey. Mackenzie Blackwood seems like he could develop into something. I’m not sure the team will look to make a big move but could look to add a complimentary piece to shore up the position. Someone like Talbot, Griess, or Khudobin could work but they will all likely opt to go somewhere with a better opportunity. Instead, the Devils could opt to sign someone who would be cheaper but has shown glimpses of being able to be a 1B goalie. If you’ve been reading along, you will probably realize Aaron Dell is still without a team. I could see Dell going to another team easily as well. He will not be left without a seat when the music stops.
Prediction: Sign Aaron Dell
I would not be shocked if Washington rolled with Pheonix Copley and Ilya Samsonov as their tandem. They will not be trading for anyone major. However, if they could add a veteran to the mix, I wouldn’t be surprised at all. If Lundqvist opts to remain on the east coast, he is a very likely target for Washington. I could also see Fleury as a possibility if he is bought out by Vegas. Aaron Dell could be a good option as well. However, since I have predicted them elsewhere, I will stick with one of the remaining veterans. At this point, we are down to Howard and Anderson as free agents. I’ll again predict the one who performed better last year. Much like I said about Hutton to Anaheim could be applied here as well.
Prediction: Sign Craig Anderson
St. Louis Blues
Everything said above about Washington could apply here too. If they can add someone for $1M, they probably do it instead of having Ville Husso serve as the backup. Husso is not waivers exempt but has not been great in the AHL the past two seasons after a promising start in North America. At this point, Jimmy Howard is the one goalie remaining and I think he would be a decent fit in St. Louis. I don’t want to make it sound like Carter Hutton is an attractive option but given his past success in St. Louis, he could be an alternative too.
Prediction: Sign Jimmy Howard
I think this is where the carousel stops. Are you dizzy? Through all of this, I have not left any UFA goalie who was on a team last year available. There are a couple of goalies I discussed as available who did not move in my predictions. These are goalies from Columbus, Arizona, and Pekka Rinne. The only team that I mentioned as a possibility to add a goalie was Colorado. I could see Lundqvist or even Fleury as a possibility there. I am not sure Nashville would trade Rinne there and I don’t know if Colorado would want to meet Arizona’s or Columbus’s asking price. Having said that, I would not be surprised if Colorado did make a move. Hopefully, some of my predictions turn out to be correct. However, these are all for fun with no inside information on any of these moves.
Stats are courtesy of naturalstattrick.com and contract data is courtesy of cap friendly.com.
KYLE STICH is the Director of AFP Analytics. In addition, Mr. Stich is a tax specialist and Director of Operations at AFP Consulting LLC, whose clientele include professional athletes performing services on three separate continents. Mr. Stich earned his Master of Science in Sport Management with a Concentration in Sport Analytics from Columbia University in 2017. He earned his undergraduate degrees in Accounting and Sport Management from St. John Fisher College in 2015, where he has served as an adjunct professor teaching Sport Finance and Baseball Analytics.