With the recent trade of Mike Smith to Calgary, the market for starting goaltenders is dwindling even further. An interesting dynamic for the Vegas Golden Knights as they choose their team will be whether they opt to select every quality goalie out there in order to flip them to other teams. There are quite a few available – Marc-Andre Fleury of Pittsburgh, Eddie Lack (and Cam Ward) of Carolina, Calvin Pickard of Colorado, Antti Raanta of New York, Petr Mrazek of Detroit, Roberto Luongo of Florida, Jaroslav Halak of the Islanders, Michal Neuvirth of Philadelphia, Peter Budaj of Tampa Bay, and Philipp Grubauer of Washington, with a few interesting prospects also exposed. As we’ve seen in the past few seasons, dealing a goaltender for anything remotely resembling fair value can be an enormous challenge. The salary cap has really warped the value of a solid starting goaltender in a way that has not been totally beneficial to the players.
One down season and a tender’s value goes down quite heavily. The top ten goalies in the league always seem to find a home on the rare occasion they hit unrestricted free agency, but that has been a rare occurrence. Many might point to the 2010 Stanley Cup Final when they isolate a particular moment that the highly-paid goaltender became an oddity. In that Final, Michael Leighton, third-string for Philadelphia, faced off against the very pedestrian Antti Niemi, who was then sacrificed for cap reasons. With the whole league watching, these teams ascended to hockey’s main stage with relative no names in the crease. While that moment may have been particularly damaging, the moment for me was the fiasco that was the Luongo and Cory Schneider trade saga in Vancouver, which lasted parts of 2 seasons. Then Canucks GM Mike Gillis had a terrible time finding a suitor for Luongo before finally being forced to ship Schneider off in the 2013 offseason for a 9th round pick. This too, was terrible value, considering that Schneider was one of the best young goalies in the league and coming off a scorching season where he had a .937 save percentage. This ordeal took place less than two years after Luongo had taken the team to its first Final since 1994. Granted, Luongo’s contract was considered a bit of an albatross, but it very publicly cemented the value of goaltenders on the trade market as minimal.
Looking forward to the present day, and the last two goaltenders have been traded for rather uninspiring returns. Arizona’s Smith only fetched a 3rd rounder, and Ben Bishop only netted a 4th from Dallas. GM George McPhee could end up hosting a goaltender buffet, with few paying customers. He would be wise to gauge the interest of other teams before deciding on their selections in net. They obviously want to draft a solid starter and a few young goaltenders as future cornerstones. They need to draft 3, and it’s difficult to envision them drafting less than 4 with the enticing names available out there. But if they decide to go into 5 or 6 goaltender territory, McPhee could manufacture a logjam that could be difficult to sort out. After all, only the WInnipeg Jets are truly desperate for a starting goaltender, and that’s assuming they don’t want one of Brian Elliott, Mike Condon, or another UFA to be their partner for Connor Hellebuyck. Philadelphia could be interested in a younger asset, and there are always teams who will desperately seek a starter mid-season when a keeper inevitably goes down to injury. That said, the market simply doesn’t favor the strategy of going all-in in net.