Although the expansion draft and entry draft are the immediate matters on the minds of those not involved with the Finals, there is still ample reason to speculate on the UFA class. After all, the ability for teams to start signing players is less than a month away. In a particularly weak free agent class, however, one factor sticks out quite prominently. There are 10 goaltenders who played regularly for their teams this season, who will be vying for far fewer NHL roster spots. Only two teams are truly desperate for a starter, those being the Calgary Flames and Winnipeg Jets.
None of the available goaltenders even cracks my top 25 free agents, which should indicate how poor some of the tenders’ seasons have been. That said, these 10 names combined have played thousands of NHL games. By my estimation, still leading the pack should be former Calgary Flame Brian Elliott. Elliott’s career stats are decent, and he’s only one season removed from a 38 win, .930 save percentage year with the Blues. However, he melted down in grand fashion this off-season en route to a sweep at the hands of the Anaheim Ducks. It may not be fair, but that will absolutely impact his perceived value around the league. His one-year contract gamble, which looked wise at the time, may cost him now. Also in the “top tier” of goaltenders available are Peter Budaj, who had a career year in Los Angeles, Mike Condon, who is one of the most valued backups league-wide, and Jonathan Bernier, who had 21 wins and a respectable .923 save percentage in the regular season before being totally usurped by John Gibson.
Then there is the “middle tier” of goaltenders who likely won’t see a ton of interest, but could easily serve backup duty, some only on a severely reduced contract. These include Ryan Miller, Chad Johnson, and Steve Mason. Ryan Miller is nearly 37 years old, and although he may still have a bit left in the tank, it’s impossible to imagine a team opting to make him their starter. Complicating matters is that Miller will likely want a multi-year agreement to bring him security. Chad Johnson will likely find work, but it could be a long while waiting. Teams will more than likely scour the field for the bigger names first, and only circle back to him as a security backup. Steve Mason is an interesting reclamation project, especially when you consider that his stats weren’t totally horrendous (.908 SV%, 2.66 GAA). However, his career numbers just aren’t that solid, and the absolute fury he invoked from the Flyers fanbase didn’t boost his confidence or stock. Mason will need to come to terms with the fact that he is no longer a number one goalie, nor will he be paid as one – he earned $4.1 MM on his last contract and he’ll see nowhere near that this time around.
Rounding out the “bottom-most” group is Ondrej Pavelec, Jhonas Enroth, and Curtis McElhinney. Out of these, McElhinney seems the only with a solid hope of finding a gig. He only played in 21 games this past year between Columbus and Toronto, but performed decently. His .917 save percentage, well up from his .905 career, might be just enough to negotiate a contract, perhaps in the event of an injury. Pavelec has been nothing short of a disaster in Winnipeg, with his only good statistical year being 2014-15. He played just 8 games last season, with a .888 SV%. He may be forced to look overseas for employment. Enroth hasn’t fared any better – he’s only played 17 games in the last two seasons, not even tallying a win in 2016-17.
Essentially, none of these goalies will be highly sought after. Condon could realistically see a starting role next season, as could Budaj, which would have been unthinkable in the not-so-distant past. Teams have many options when it comes to goaltending, but none of them are particularly awe-inspiring. The prices on contracts will likely be diminished substantially due to the abundance of available players, and agents could see this situation extend deep into the summer months.