Several teams have fortified their depth in net before the NHL Trade Deadline, which also acts as a deadline for players to sign and be postseason-eligible. The New York Islanders have signed Jeremy Smith, the Florida Panthers have signed Chris Driedger, and the Buffalo Sabres have signed Adam Wilcox. All three deals are identical: two-way contracts worth the minimum $650K at the NHL level for the remainder of the 2018-19 season. The trio of keepers will need to clear waivers today.
Smith’s signing is the most significant, as the Islanders have all but clinched a playoff spot this season. The 29-year-old journeyman played in ten games for the Colorado Avalanche just two years ago and previous stops also include the Nashville Predators, Columbus Blue Jackets, Boston Bruins, and Carolina Hurricanes. Smith has had several strong seasons in the AHL, including a two-year stretch with the Providence Bruins a few years back in which he was among the best keepers in the league. While the Islanders have hit the jackpot this season with outstanding performances from Thomas Greiss and Robin Lehner, there was a significant lack of depth in net with third-string goalie Christopher Gibson struggling immensely this season in the AHL and having a poor track record in the NHL. With Smith signed, he is likely the new third-string should anything happen to Greiss or Lehner.
Driedger, 24, spent several years with the Ottawa Senators before signing an AHL contract with the Springfield Thunderbirds this off-season. Before the Panthers traded Michael Hutchinson away, Driedger was relegated to the ECHL with Hutchinson and Samuel Montembeault taking the AHL starts. However, he has gotten into 16 games with the Thunderbirds since and has outperformed Montembeault. The promising prospect likely remains Florida’s next man up in net, but given the injury histories of Roberto Luongo and James Reimer, it is certainly possible that both Montembeault and Driedger could see NHL action this season.
The Sabres’ signing of Wilcox is likely in response to a recent rash of injuries in net. Both Carter Hutton and Linus Ullmark have had injury scares lately, while young Jonas Johansson recently underwent season-ending surgery. While their postseason hopes are dwindling, it still remains a possibility for Buffalo and adding Wilcox gives them depth behind Hutton, Ullmark, and Scott Wedgewood. Wilcox, 26, is no stranger to being an emergency option; the Sabres were forced to call him up last season – again as the fourth-string option – and were pleased by a shutout performance in his lone appearance.