Next year’s goaltending UFA crop may lack star power, but it does contain many interesting potential rehabilitation projects. This season provides those pending UFA goaltenders with an opportunity to turn things around and show teams that they are worth more than their current reputation belies. Whether it’s a former starter regulated to backup duties, or an aging veteran with just enough left in the tank, the following goaltenders can significantly improve their stock going into unrestricted free agency.
Jonathan Bernier – Colorado Avalanche – $2.75MM
The Colorado Avalanche signed the former Toronto Maple Leafs starter to a one-year deal worth $2.75MM this season to back up presumed starter Semyon Varlamov. Varlamov struggled last season, dealing with injuries and his worst stat line in his career. The Avalanche hope that Bernier can provide steady goaltending if Varlamov continues to slide or cannot shoulder a full starter’s load. If Bernier steps up and performs admirably, he could be in line for a starters position during the offseason. Last season saw Bernier player with the Anaheim Ducks and put up his best numbers in years. Part of that is the superior team in front of him, but it shows that given the proper tools, Bernier can be a serviceable starter in the league.
Eddie Lack – Calgary Flames – $2.75MM ($1.375 retained)
The Carolina Hurricanes traded Lack to the Calgary Flames this summer and agreed to retain 50% of his salary. Lack now has the opportunity to back up new Flames signee Mike Smith. Smith turns 36 this season, and will experience the injury woes that go along with veteran goaltenders. Lack will have an opportunity to step up and show teams that he still has the skills to become a starting goaltender. He is only two seasons removed from posting a .921 SV% and a 2.45GAA in 41 games for the Vancouver Canucks.
Ondrej Pavelec – New York Rangers – $1.3MM
Continuing with the reclamation projects backing up older veterans, Pavelec has a chance to show NHL GMs what he can do behind a very good team. In Pavelec’s ten year career he has seen the playoffs just once—with the Winnipeg Jets in 2014-15—and can benefit from the Rangers’ stacked defensive corps. Luckily, his bar is set low after his worst statistical season since 2008-09. Last season Pavelec played in just eight games, earning a .888 SV% and a 3.55 GAA. He was not much better the season before, with a .904 SV% and a 2.78 GAA. Mired by a reputation for being shaky and inconsistent, this may be Pavelec’s last opportunity to convince GMs to take a flier on the former 2nd round pick.
Cam Ward – Carolina Hurricanes – $3.3MM
Ward is over a decade removed from his Stanley Cup-winning playoff performance, but since then he has been the model of consistency. Unfortunately, he has been consistently average. And once again, Ward will have some true competition coming into camp. The Carolina Hurricanes signed former Chicago Blackhawks backup Scott Darling to a $4.15MM a year contract, signalling who the team prefers to earn the starting role going forward. Ward has already experienced this before with Eddie Lack, and eventually Lack was moved out to Calgary. This time, however, a decent season may not end with a new contract from the Hurricanes, but it will garner interest from other NHL teams.
Antti Raanta – Arizona Coyotes – $1MM
Raanta is the only goaltender on this list who is not a reclamation project. The Finnish netminder has backed up elite goaltenders Corey Crawford and Henrik Lundqvist, and now has the opportunity to take the starting reins in Arizona. The New York Rangers shipped Raanta alongside Derek Stepan to the Arizona Coyotes for Anthony DeAngelo and the 7th overall pick earlier this summer. Raanta is fresh off of a 30 games season where he earned a .922 GAA and a 2.26 SV%, significantly better than Lundqvist’s .910 SV% and 2.74 GAA. If Raanta can maintain his statline for a full season in Arizona, he will be in line for a large pay increase.