This has been one of the more interesting free agent classes in recent years. We’re two weeks in and several notable forwards and quality defensemen are still available. That’s not normal in a typical free agent year where most of the top players are gobbled up within the first 72 hours.
That hasn’t been the case when it comes to goaltenders, however. Most of the movement there has typically been done in the first couple of days and this year was no exception as Jacob Markstrom, Braden Holtby, Cam Talbot, Corey Crawford, and Thomas Greiss were among those to find new homes while Anton Khudobin and Mike Smith stayed put. All of a sudden, the market looks pretty thin. Here is an overview of what’s left at that position among goalies with at least 10 NHL appearances last season.
Craig Anderson – The 39-year-old last had above-average numbers back in 2016-17 and since then, he has posted a .901 SV% with a 3.37 GAA. While there is some cause for optimism that those numbers could improve in front of a better team than what Ottawa had, there is still some uncertainly in what he has left on the table.
Jimmy Howard – He’s only a year removed from being a starter but what a dreadful year it was in 2019-20. He won just two of his 27 starts with a dreadful .882 SV% and a 4.20 GAA. Yes, Detroit had a brutal season but Jonathan Bernier managed to perform a lot better behind the same team. The 36-year-old said last month that he intends to keep playing but there hasn’t been much interest so far. Even if he could rebound to the numbers from his previous two seasons though, Howard could provide a bit of upside as a backup.
Michael Hutchinson – He made 11 mostly forgettable starts for Toronto before being farmed out but a late-season trade to Colorado certainly boosted his stock. Hutchinson wound up making four playoff appearances (including three starts) while Philipp Grubauer and Pavel Francouz went down due to injuries and did well enough to help force a seventh game against eventual conference champion Dallas. The 30-year-old may not land a number two spot but as an insurance third-stringer (like Aaron Dell in Toronto), there should be a good fit for him.
Ryan Miller – With a .907 SV% last year, Miller’s performance was still decent as far as backup goalies go but at 40, there are going to be questions about how much longer he can keep playing. Assuming Anaheim decides they’re okay with having him back up John Gibson for another year, there’s a landing spot for Miller for next season but otherwise, he may have some challenges finding a contract.
Garret Sparks is the only other UFA goalie to make at least one NHL appearance last season but he isn’t going to contend for an NHL backup position and will likely have to settle for a number three role once again.
While there clearly aren’t many options left, there aren’t a lot of vacancies left to fill either. Let’s look at some of the openings.
Anaheim: As long as Miller’s spot hasn’t been filled, this is one team where one of the above netminders should land. Anthony Stolarz is in the system but he is better off as a third-string option.
Chicago: Publicly, the team has committed to using two of Malcolm Subban, Collin Delia, or Kevin Lankinen to comprise their goalie tandem. If an opportunity presented itself for improvement though, they could change course but none of the remaining free agents necessarily constitute an upgrade.
Pittsburgh: With them considering Marc-Andre Fleury (with some heavy salary retention) at one point before Vegas pledged to keep him, GM Jim Rutherford is at least open to the idea of upgrading on Casey DeSmith. But again, there isn’t a free agent that’s head and shoulders above what DeSmith can provide.
St. Louis: They could go in either this category or the one below it as GM Doug Armstrong has suggested that they’ll bring in a veteran to serve as some insurance for rookie Ville Husso who is expected to be Jordan Binnington’s backup next season.
Buffalo: The Sabres have Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen who should be in line for more AHL action next season but if they want both him and Jonas Johansson starting, adding another netminder to the mix would make some sense.
Vancouver: Michael DiPietro should receive the bulk of the work but the Canucks may want a veteran to play behind him that could be recalled if one of Holtby or Thatcher Demko is injured so as to ensure DiPietro’s development doesn’t get stalled.
(Carolina would have been in this mix but they took themselves out of the market with their recent signing of Antoine Bibeau.)
A handful of other teams may opt to make a move for insurance purposes and when training camp rolls around and there are some inevitable injuries, there could be some other moves made at that time as well.
It’s often suggested that free agent goaltending is a lot like musical chairs. Two weeks into the market, the chairs are almost all gone and the music is seemingly about to stop.