Jhonas Enroth represents the best of the remaining scraps of a once-deep free agent pool of goalies this off-season. But is there any market remaining for his talents? The once highly-touted Sabres prospect is now 28 years old, but is still capable of being a reliable contributor. Last season, Enroth posted a 2.17 goals against average and .922 save percentage in 16 appearances in relief of Jonathan Quick in Los Angeles. Both of those statistics, the lifeblood of goalie evaluation, put Enroth above the average set by the rest of his peers in free agency. Despite his efforts, Enroth still lacks a team while Anton Khudobin, Carter Hutton, Jonas Gustavsson, Al Montoya and others are happily signed.
At this point in the summer, and given the lack of open positions across the league, Enroth has to start to wonder whether he will have a job in North America when the NHL season kicks off in less than three months. It’s not unheard of for a known commodity, fully capable of playing at the NHL level, to head overseas simply because of a lack of opportunity or contract offers that pale in comparison to European possibilities. This is especially true for European players, such as the Swedish-born Enroth. However, for a talent such as Enroth’s to leave the NHL at this point in his career seems to be a waste and a missed opportunity for one of the thirty NHL squads.
While Enroth certainly did not live up to the lofty expectations set for him in Buffalo, the last few seasons have pointed towards a player that is peaking as a high-end backup in his prime years. After four years of struggling to be “the guy” in Buffalo, Enroth was finally given the reins as the starter with the Sabres to begin the 2014-15 season. Not long after, having made just 37 appearances, he was traded to the Dallas Stars. As the backup in Dallas, Enroth had a then career-high 2.38 GAA. While his numbers overall for the season were only mediocre, his performance in the low-pressure backup role after a change of scenery seemed to show promise. The Kings took a chance on him last summer, signing him to one-year, $1.25MM contract, and it paid off as Enroth was solid as the backup to one of the best in the game, and Los Angeles never had to worry about goal tending between Quick and the occassional Enroth appearance. However, the Kings decided not to move forward with Enroth as their backup, signing displaced former Penguin Jeff Zatkoff and acquiring prospect Jack Campbell, to go along with veteran Peter Budaj as backup options. This decision likely was a function of LA’s tight cap space and the salary demands of Enroth. So now the question becomes will someone take the same chance on Enroth as the Kings did, or will another good European goalie head back overseas?
The presence (or lack thereof) of suitors is the bigger issue at hand than the talent of Jhonas Enroth. As compared to the likes of Joni Ortio, Ben Scrivens, or Anders Lindback, Enroth is the clear choice as the best available unrestricted free agent goalie. So who might bite? The leading candidate is the Toronto Maple Leafs, who have already made a goalie splash this summer with the trade for Anaheim’s Frederik Andersen. However, they turned around traded Jonathan Bernier to the Ducks and now find themselves without a reliable backup. It has been rumored that the Leafs would prefer to make a trade for a top-end backup, and could also use the young Garrett Sparks as their primary backup as well, but they could also replace the departed former King, Bernier, with another former King, Enroth, and be no worse for wear.
The defending Western Conference champion San Jose Sharks could also be a destination. They traded for James Reimer at the deadline to spell their upstart number one, Martin Jones, but watched him head to Florida on July 1st. They have no internal options with ample NHL experience, and are still dealing with a starter that has only one full season as the go-to goalie under his belt. The Sharks watched Martin Jones play back up for the rival Kings first hand and went out and got him. They could do the same with Enroth.
Finally, never count out the Chicago Blackhawks. If there is a value signing to be made, the Blackhawks are always in the mix. They do have Scott Darling on a very affordable sub-$600K contract, but after a stellar rookie season, his number dipped last year and Chicago could upgrade with Enroth if the price is right. Teams can always come out of the woodwork to add a goalie as well, and Enroth may present value that can’t be passed up to the right team.
One goalie-needy team that can likely be counted out: the Buffalo Sabres. With just Robin Lehner and Anders Nilsson under contract, the Sabres aren’t swimming in goalie depth and talent, but it seems unlikely that the two sides would be looking into a reunion.
Enroth was the last man in when we made our Top 50 Free Agents list and predictions, and his can still prove to be correct, as he we thought he would be a good fit for the Sharks at $1.4MM on a one-year deal. Given how close the Sharks were to winning the Stanley Cup last year, it seems unlikely that they would go into the season with their current goalie depth. However, when you’re this deep into the season, you have to wonder what could be holding up a contract between the two. San Jose may be taking their time to go through options or Enroth may be pricing himself out after a strong season. Either way, the two would be a good fit, as would Enroth in Toronto and a cheap, one-year deal seems likely. The NHL would benefit from keeping a good talent in goal like Enroth in North America, so it will continue to be a waiting game to see which team makes that happen.