Goaltending is perhaps the most under-appreciated position in all the world of sport. While it is true that a team doesn’t need a dominant goaltender to win a Stanley Cup or even compete for one, a poor performance by a tender can absolutely destroy a season or a series. There are still a number of teams with question marks in net, and the premier talent isn’t exactly in abundance. The expansion draft further complicates matters for a number of teams, who will need to make a determination as to who will be the tender going forward. Here are three teams which desperately need solutions to their issues in the crease this off-season.
Winnipeg Jets – The team had three goaltenders this season. None of them played well. Michael Hutchinson is a dime-a-dozen depth goalie who is likely to be exposed, and the former starter Ondrej Pavelec is without a contract and never earned another. The 23 year-old Connor Hellebuyck will be protected, and shows great promise. That said, his .907 save percentage and overall streakiness left a lot to be desired. Perhaps many of his struggles can be blamed on the lackluster defensive efforts in Winnipeg, but will Hellebuyck be ready to ascend to the next level next season? If not, will Jets fans be content with another year without hockey in mid-April? GM Kevin Cheveldayoff has always been reserved in terms of transactions, but perhaps now is the time for decisive action. In the ultra-competitive Central division, the Jets need to find a way to win tight games.
Calgary Flames – Brian Elliott looked like he had finally put it together under new coach Glen Gulutzan in the new year. And then it all fell apart. His first-round series against the Ducks was shockingly bad (.880) – he made simple point shots complete adventures and lacked any rebound control. With his team’s season on the line in Game 4, he ceded only one abysmal goal before being pulled. In light of his consistent struggles in St. Louis prior to his Calgary excursion, it’s fair to assume he will start as a backup elsewhere next year. Actual backup Chad Johnson, also not under contract, will likely be headed elsewhere. This team needs two goalies, and it’s difficult to foresee a route that doesn’t involve a trade. Marc-Andre Fleury will still be available, and Ben Bishop is sure to tempt many. The starter situation needs to be sorted immediately, and if need be, they can always circle back to Johnson for a short-term backup deal.
Dallas Stars – How can you spend so much money on goaltending and still have none of it? Antti Niemi and Kari Lehtonen. Niemi posted a .892 save percentage for $4.5 MM, and Lehtonen posted a .902 for $5 MM. The defense has been shored up (to a degree), but the goals still hit the twine with depressing frequency. With one season remaining on either goalie’s deal, one needs to be shipped out this off-season in favor of a more cost-effective (and hopefully generally effective) netminder. Under a new coach, a resurgence from either is possible, but it seems dangerous to gamble on that possibility. It’s possible that Vegas might want an extra large contract to hit the cap floor or veteran backup with a ring, but with the better options likely to be available, that seems unlikely. Perhaps a financially struggling franchise would be willing to take on an expensive backup, if the deal were sweetened.