Saturday, July 14, 2007

Musical chairs

Here's something I've been wondering... with at least nine NHL goaltenders left on the free agent market, which ones are going to find a home?

Are there any homes left? Or are these guys left waiting a la Jason Allison for what might be a lost year? Do Ed Belfour and Curtis Joseph simply retire?

Here is a team-by-team look at the NHL-calibre netminders with contracts (or who are going to arbitration), as well as potential vacancies:
  1. Anaheim: Giguere, Bryzgalov, Hiller
  2. Atlanta: Lehtonen, Hedberg
  3. Boston: Fernandez, Thomas, Toivonen
  4. Buffalo: Miller, Thibault
  5. Calgary: Kiprusoff, ~vacant~
  6. Carolina: Ward, Grahame
  7. Chicago: Khabibulin, Lalime
  8. Colorado: Budaj, Theodore
  9. Columbus: Norrena, Leclaire
  10. Dallas: Turco, Smith
  11. Detroit: Hasek, Osgood
  12. Edmonton: Roloson, Garon
  13. Florida: Vokoun, Anderson
  14. Los Angeles: LaBarbera, Cloutier
  15. Minnesota: Backstrom, Harding
  16. Montreal: Huet, Halak, Price
  17. Nashville: Mason, Rinne
  18. New Jersey: Brodeur, Weekes
  19. N.Y. Islanders: DiPietro, Dubielewicz
  20. N.Y. Rangers: Lundqvist, Valiquette, Montoya
  21. Ottawa: Emery, Gerber
  22. Philadelphia: Biron, Niittymaki
  23. Phoenix: Tellqvist, ~vacant~
  24. Pittsburgh: Fleury, Sabourin
  25. San Jose: Nabokov, Greiss (likely)
  26. St. Louis: Legace, Schwarz/Bacashihua
  27. Tampa Bay: Holmqvist, Denis
  28. Toronto: Toskala, Raycroft, Clemmensen
  29. Vancouver: Luongo, Sanford, Schneider
  30. Washington: Kolzig, Johnson
So, there we are: Only two real vacancies — and one of them consists of playing "let's swap the goalies" with Mike Keenan ad infinitum.

If you're a career adviser to one of the fellows left on the sidelines in free agency so far, what do you tell these guys to do? With the way the salary cap is, many teams don't want to tie up any more salary than the minimum in their backup.

Does that mean guys like Aebischer, Esche, Markkanen and Auld, all of whom have been exclusively in the NHL for years, are headed to the AHL or Europe?

It sure seems like it.

UPDATE How can you tell agents are getting desperate? They've started to call up the Blue Jackets, hoping there's some interest in a goaltender:
Nor are the Blue Jackets floating offers to the handful of capable goalies still available on the free-agent market.

"We've had a couple of calls from agents wondering if we have interest in their clients," Howson said.

But the conversations have been brief, always ending with a "No, thanks."
In the future, I wonder, will we see more of a downward trend on goaltender salaries as the surplus of free agents aim to simply get a team rather than a big money deal?


At 9:32 p.m., July 14, 2007, Blogger Pete said...

I still think that Gerber is somehow going to end up in a Coyotes uniform and Ottawa could sign someone like Markkanen as a backup for Emery.

But my real question is: How is Phoenix going to make it to the salary floor? Even picking up a $3.7 million salary from Gerber is going to leave them something like $9 million short, right?

At 9:58 p.m., July 14, 2007, Anonymous Frank said...

Pete, I agree Phoenix is the really interesting team to watch here. Maloney has already indicated that they are going to use the cap space they have - up to the $34 million floor - to take on salary dumps from other teams for draft picks.

They were even trying to trade Jovo to free up another $6.5 million for even more dumps - but Jovo used his no trade clause since he just acquired a multi million dollar mansion in Phoenix.

In otherwords, they are going to become the "garbage dump" for the NHL and the tipping fee is likely to be quite high, especially after arbitration awards with teams scrambling for cap space. We are likely to see some pretty wierd trades.

For example, Gerber ($3.7 miilion) and a 1st round and 2nd round round pick from Ottawa for some prospect from Phoenix no one has ever heard about. Or Cullen ($2.8 million) and the Rangers 1st round pick for another unknown Phoenix prospect.

Or Hatcher ($3.5 million) plus a 1st rounder from Philly for an unknown Phoenix prospect.

Can you imagine how Doan and Jovo are going to feel about playing on this team, much less how Gretzky is going to feel about coaching them??

At 2:05 a.m., July 15, 2007, Blogger PB said...

As far as making it to the minimum salary cap, there are still Restricted Free Agents that have yet to agree to contract offers, namely Keith Ballard. The Coyotes will have no problem making the minimum pay roll.

I'm not sure where Maloney has ever indicated taking salary dumps from other teams for draft picks. It's not in any of the local articles here in the Valley, nor have I read any from other sources. I would like to read them if they are available.

From Maloney's actions to this point, he is not going to sign a contract just to sign a contract and get locked into a bad deal with an older player with no long term potential. Looking at the Coyotes prospects as of late (Rookie Camp just ended here) the Coyotes have a clear vision and focus to rebuild this hockey team using the prospects they have. It's a long haul, but it's the hand they are currently playing.

Depending on how LeNeveu will be used (just re-signed for a one year deal and played last season with the Rampage in San Antonio) and how he performs in training camp, he could retain his backup job. However, the Gerber story keeps popping up (only in other sources though and not in the local press) and Aebischer (for better or worse) is still available, along with the other goaltenders that were mentioned.

The Coyotes are clearly not in the market for older players. I can firmly tell you that Hatcher will not be an option here. Cullen will be a stretch given his age and his long term value. Plus, any rumors involving Cullen being traded have been shot down by Cullen himself. Adams and Boynton were waived due to the salary they carried (Boynton more so than Adams), but also the age group these players belong to. They cleared waivers and are still with the team.

Again, if the Coyotes were willing to sign an older player, they would have signed the other free agents that were available because they had the money. They instead stayed pat.

If Jovo wanted out of Phoenix, he would have waived his no trade clause. Depending on how the season goes, I wouldn't be at all surprised to hear Jovo's name pop up more often at the trade deadline than last season. Hopefully, he'll stay healthy but his contract is huge.

Gretzky has been pretty positive with his younger players and has been very upbeat regarding the future here. I'm sure it will be gratifying to teach players who want to be here how to play in the NHL.

At 6:54 a.m., July 15, 2007, Blogger Joe said...

I'm thinking you'll see a couple of those goalies go to teams in need of a higher quality backup, should a questionable starter fall on his face. LA is very likely to grab a third goaltender, especially if LaBarbera or Cloutier start out badly this year. Whether that be a free agent signing or coming up from within the organization could be a question mark though. If Ottawa does move Gerber, they're going to need a backup. I could see Pittsburgh going for a veteran like Belfour or CuJo for real cheap, just to put a veteran with more big game experience behind Fleury. I dunno if that veteran would be #2 or #3 behind Sabourin, but I think that move would make sense. Nashville also might want someone with some experience to backup Mason, in case he has trouble maintaining consistency over the course of a long season. Kolzig is only getting older, so Washington may want to bring one of them in to help spell him if he needs it as well.

At 12:28 p.m., July 15, 2007, Blogger Jeremy said...

Also, keep in mind that goalie injuries happen pretty frequently. Usually at the start of every season there's a team whose netminders are absolutely jinxed. One blows out a knee, the other tweaks his groin, and soon they've got a pair of AHLers manning the nets. This happened with Atlanta in 05-06, with Lehtonen, Dunham, and Shields all going down with various ailments, leaving Michael Garnett and Adam Berkhoel to weather the storm. Another infamous example was the rash of goalie injuries in Calgary (in 98-99, I believe) that gave Freddy Brathwaite the chance to return to the NHL.

Last year, Patrick Lalime was sidelined with back surgery, giving Brian Boucher a job in Chicago.

So I would not be surprised if some of these guys wait to see if they get the chance to step in as injury replacements. As you noted, James, almost all nine of these UFAs are NHL-caliber, although few teams would want any of these guys as a starter at this point.

I've heard rumblings on Hockeybuzz that Phoenix might be trading for Andrew Raycroft, allowing Cujo to return to Toronto as a backup, but that all might be wishful thinking by the TO media. We'll see how this carousel plays out.

P.S. Don't forget about Ty Conklin! Heh heh.

At 1:15 p.m., July 15, 2007, Blogger James Mirtle said...

What are we looking at though, two or three injury replacements, at most? And they're all going to have to come in on bargain basement contracts.

I'm thinking you'll see a couple of those goalies go to teams in need of a higher quality backup...

The cap will start to be a problem for teams going that way.

Besides, LA's got two netminders on NHL contracts. And where's Gerber going to get moved to? Pittsburgh and Washington already have their backups signed.

There aren't holes there.

At 2:12 p.m., July 15, 2007, Blogger Jeremy said...

Definitely, James. I don't see more than three of these guys getting aboard an NHL team thanks to injury. It's still an option, though, and I think at least a few (Boucher, McLennan...) will hold out to try and capitalize on such a situation.

I don't see Belfour retiring just yet. After last year's showing, he still thinks he can play as someone's top dog. He'd still be a great backup at this stage in his career, but Eddie's never considered himself a backup. In fact, he's always considered his backups to be lesser lifeforms (see Jeff Hackett, countless others). So he might pull a Brian Leetch and hang around without officially filing his papers. Cujo might be a different situation. Depends how he wants to go out.

Barring a trade, I think Aebischer and Esche (ex-Coyote) have the best shots at landing that job in Phoenix. Both are coming off lousy seasons, but have been number ones in the past, and could accept a cheap one-year contract to try and prove themselves again. I like Alex Auld for the Calgary spot. Keenan, after all, thought enough of him to bring him into Florida as a part of the Luongo fiasco. He's still fairly young, and could probably hold his own behind that crazy good Flames defense.

Aubin will most likely have to reacquaint himself with the AHL bus schedules, and Markkanen could return to Europe for a spell, although Jussi could also land in Calgary.

That's my take, anyway.

At 11:44 a.m., July 16, 2007, Blogger saskhab said...

Notice something? All the goalies are in that "middle range" that are left out... they might be pricing themselves out of a backup job because they've previously been starters.

Cost efficiency over quality is coming into play a bit here.

As far as your open jobs go... Calgary may not be one at all. Curtis McElhinney was Calgary's 3rd stringer last year, and an AHL All-Star. He posted a 35-17-1 record with a 2.13 GAA and a .917 SV% for Omaha, although he struggled as the Knights got upset in the first round of the playoffs. Still, he's now 24 and a Calgary native to boot, so I think they'll give him a real shot at the gig, and have former top 10 pick Brent Krahn take the starter's job in Omaha and continue his "he's still here?" exsistence in Calgary's organization.

Phoenix also has David LeNeveu as an option, but he's likely going back to the AHL and I think they'd best be served by picking up a guy with 1 year left on his contract rather than a guy like Gerber. So a UFA should be targeting Phoenix for a 1 year deal. I'd take a guy like Aebischer to split with Tellqvist.

Also... I'd call up a team like Tampa Bay and ask if the backup job is up for grabs. In other words, is it possible that they'd waive Denis if their guy came into camp on a tryout and beat him out. Same with LA & Cloutier.

Call me crazy, but I do think Michael Leighton has a shot at knocking off John Grahame as Carolina's backup. It might be a small one, but I think it's very possible. Guys like Grahame shouldn't be in the NHL anymore anyways.

At 11:45 a.m., July 16, 2007, Anonymous Keith said...

Markkanen won't land in Calgary. He simply is not an upgrade on Krahn or McElhinney. With Keetley and Lalande graduating, and Irving in junior, we don't really need any more AHL goaltenders.


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