Goalies, Goalies Everywhere, yet Not a Save to Spare
What started off as a season flush with goaltenders has quickly eroded into one where quality starters have become exceedingly scarce. The 2016/17 campaign has been particularly tough on net minders across the League.
Take a quick glance around the NHL and there is one thing you’re guaranteed to see, goalie problems. Whether they’re the product of an overzealous media, mismanaged expectations, injury or under-performance, the league is rife with goaltending troubles.
From our Haus to yours, here’s The Game Haus’
top ‘tender troubles of 2016/17
The Pittsburgh Penguins sport a unique problem. They have two number one goalies. Not only do they have two number ones, they have arguably two of the best number ones in the League. As far as problems go, this is a pretty good one to have.
Matt Murray and Marc-Andre Fleury have been at the center of speculation since before the beginning of the 2016/17 campaign.
Murray, who backstopped the Penguins to their fourth Stanley Cup championship last year, has effectively taken over the starting spot from veteran net minder Marc-Andre Fleury. Still eligible for Calder consideration, Murray’s contract extends until the 2020/21 season; at which point he’ll be a Restricted Free Agent.
Murray’s annual cap hit is $2-million-dollars less than that of Fleury’s and his contract term one-year longer. Murray is also 10 years younger than Fleury.
Basically, the Penguins have two options. They can hold on to both Murray and Fleury for the remainder of the year or they can make a move, trade away Fleury, and gain something in return.
If the Penguins choose to retain both players the inevitable choice will have to be made, who to protect in the upcoming expansion draft?
Now the Penguins can only protect one goalie, and Fleury has a No Trade Clause built into his contract. So if the Penguins choose to go with Murray (which seems most likely) they will need Marc-Andre Fleury to waive his No Trade Clause. And if he does, there is a good chance that the Las Vegas Golden Knights will take Fleury off their hands.
The upside to this strategy: The Penguins will have the world’s best back-up for the remainder of the season.
The downside: Playing a two-goalie, hot-hand gets the start system, is tough on teams and net minders alike. Not to mention that if the Penguins go down this road they will most likely lose a world-class goaltender while gaining nothing in return. It would be the equivalent of letting him walk in Free-Agency.
Accordingly, there has been lot of talk about moving Marc-Andre Fleury.
Keeping in mind Fleury’s NTC, there are plenty of teams in need of a solid number one net minder right now. While one might speculate that the Penguins ought to shop Fleury sooner rather than later, Rutherford has made it known on several occasions that he is in no rush to relocated Fleury.
There remains the distinct possibility that the Penguins will ride with both guys for the remainder of the season.
The Penguins could also potentially buy Fleury out after the season’s end. Though this scenario is unlikely to play out.
Los Angeles Kings
Second last in the Pacific Division is not where the Los Angeles Kings saw themselves before the season started. Unfortunately, it is what it is.
When the Los Angeles Kings’ lost Jonathan Quick to a groin injury at the beginning of the season the Kings knew it would be a rough go without their Stanley Cup winning, Vezina nominated, net minder.
It was originally hoped that Quick would miss only a few weeks. Having recently undergoing a non-surgical procedure on his groin, however, it is unlikely that the Kings will see Quick back in fighting form until March.
Without Quick, the Kings were forced to turn to their back-up Jeff Zatkoff. But lightning struck twice in Los Angeles this season. Shortly after Quick sustained his injury, so too did Zatkoff. Zatkoff suffered a groin injury during practice back in October.
And so it was without their number one starter and back-up that the Kings recalled goaltenders Peter Budaj and Jack Campbell from their AHL affiliate.
Budaj has been remarkably solid in net for the Kings so far, going 20-14-3 on the season. His Save Percentage is a respectable .916 and his Goals Against Average is 2.14.
Though it would appear that the Kings have managed to stop the bleeding, it will be interesting to see what happens when Quick returns from injury.
St. Louis Blues
For far too long the St. Louis Blues rolled with two tender system without any appreciable success to show for it. For the Blues, a choice had to made; it was between Brian Elliott and Jake Allen.
The Blues decided to go with Allen, trading away Brian Elliott to the Calgary Flames for their Second round (35th overall) draft pick in the 2016/17 NHL Entry Draft.
Putting their faith in Allen, the Blues went ahead this season with a clear number one net minder. No more splitting starts for Jake Allen, or at least that was the plan. For the most part, Jake Allen has received (and will continue to receive) the lion’s share of starts for St. Louis. But it has been a rocky road as of late for the 26-year old New Brunswick native.
On January 19th he was pulled for the fourth time in six starts after allowing four goals on only 10 shots against the Washington Capitals.
And while the Blues began a three game road trip this weekend in Winnipeg, Allen stayed home.
Listed as Day-to-Day, General Manager Doug Armstrong believes that Allen’s goaltending woes are largely mental. He maintains that Allen is their “long-term goaltender” but with a Goals Against Average of 2.85 and a Save Percentage of .897 his performance has been troubling for the struggling Blues squad.
In the 2015-16 season Allen posted a 2.35 Goals Against and a .920 Save Percentage.
With the Blues reportedly shopping around Shattenkirk, it is conceivable that they may take the time to consider adding another quality goaltender to the team.
Did somebody say Brian Elliott?
After the Calgary Flames let both Jonas Hiller and Karri Ramo walk when their contracts expired last year they sorely needed a new net minder. While reports whirled around about who it might be the Flames found a suitable trade partner in St. Louis.
The Flames traded away their second round draft pick in the 2016 Entry Draft for Brian Elliott and never looked back. Until now.
Though Elliott was received with much fan fair, the Flames have been forced to rely on their back-up Chad Johnson. As the situation would have it, it now appears that Johnson is Calgary’s new number one; while Elliott rides the pine as the team’s new number one in reserve.
Johnson signed as a free agent in the offseason. With a record of 16-11-1 and a Save Percentage of .917 (as compared to Elliott’s 8-11-2 and .893 Save Percentage), it looks as if the Flames will be rolling with Johnson for the remainder of the year.
Elliott is on the last year of his $2.5-million-dollar contract, which makes him attractive to teams looking to add a solid back-up before the trade deadline might be interested in Elliott.
Don’t be surprised to see him dealt at before the Trade Deadline comes and goes.
The Winnipeg Jets are in a funny spot right now.
After assigning Ondrej Pavelec, their one-time starting goaltender, to the Manitoba Moose in the AHL, head coach Paul Maurice and the Winnipeg Jets elected to go with their young guns Connor Hellebuyck and Micheal Hutchinson to start the season.
Though the season kicked off with a bang for the Jets their follow through has been less than stellar. The Jets are currently fifth in the Central Division and have consistently failed to crack .500 on season. And it was in the midst of these underwhelming results that the Jets decided to mix things up a bit.
To the surprise of Jets fans everywhere Ondrej Pavelec was recalled from the Manitoba Moose last week. While noting that the move was not permanent, Maurice did mention that “nothing is set in stone.”
Pavelec got the nod against Arizona Coyotes on Wednesday and then again on Saturday against the St. Louis Blues. He won both games, posting a Goals Against Average of 3.03 and a Save Percentage of .914.
And now the Jets are stuck with three mediocre goaltenders.
Given that Pavelec is in the last year of his $4.75-million-dollar contract, don’t be surprised if the Jets start shopping him around. It is likely that they will try to move him before the season ends and go with Hellebuyck and Hutchinson in the long run.
For the Stars it’s a bit of a ‘damned if you, damned if don’t’ type of situation. They sport an abysmal minus-22 on the season.
Neither of their net minders, Antti Niemi or Kari Lehtonen, can be played with confidence and they’ve lost seven of their last 10 matches.
The Stars are in serious need of some new life in net. Conveniently, they have roughly $2-million-dollars in cap space and a full 14 players set to hit Unrestricted or Restricted Free Agency next year. Taken together, the Stars are fully capable of being both buyers and sellers before the trade deadline.
Don’t be surprised if they make a move to improve their back end.
Detroit Red Wings
Though they didn’t make a long run into the playoffs last year the Detroit Red Wings were able to keep the streak alive. Largely due to the unprecedented effort of their young guns and the unbelievable net minding of Petr Mrazek.
Mrazec’s effort last season earned him a two-year $8-million-dollar contract extension. Accordingly, the Wings’ former number one Jimmy Howard was relegated to the role of back-up.
Before the season began the plan was pretty straight forward: roll with Mrazec, expose Howard to the expansion draft, and call upon their farm team to replace the missing piece if need be.
But those plans never panned out.
Instead, Mrazec underperformed, Howard hit the Injured Reserve, and the Wings were forced to call up the youngster Jared Coreau.
And now the Wings find themselves in somewhat of an awkward position.
Do they protect Coreau? He appears to be the Wings’ new number one going forward.
Do they protect Mrazec? Though Coreau has been solid thus far, Mrazec has a much larger body of work. Coreau is young and relatively untested, as were Mrazec has a few solid years under his belt.
One thing is for certain, the Wings aren’t likely to protect Howard. But they aren’t likely to trade him either.
Detroit’s biggest problem, when it comes to net minders, is the amount they pay them.
Howard comes with a hefty $5.3-million-dollar a year price tag. With two more years remaining on his contract it is unlikely they will be able to move him without retaining some of his salary.
That said, keep an eye on the Wings’ at the deadline.
Tampa Bay Lightning
Even when big Ben Bishop was healthy the Tampa Bay Lightning were having a tough time stringing wins together. Now that he’s injured, they are having an even harder time.
Now you might think that Andrei Vasilevskiy would shine in Bishop’s absence but that simply hasn’t been the case. The Bolts have struggled immensely without Steven Stamkos in the lineup and things do not appear to be getting any better.
The story here is nothing new. The Bolts have two of the League’s most elite net minders in Bishop and Vasilevskiy but can only protect one in the expansion draft.
Whether it’s Bishop of Vasilevskiy, it’s better for the Bolts to make a trade and get something – rather than nothing – in return.
The Philadelphia Flyers have been struggling as of late. Both Steve Mason and Michael Neuvirth are pending Unrestricted Free Agents and it remains unclear if either of them will be given extensions or resigned in the off-season.
The New York Islanders seem to have found a new number one in Thomas Griess and Jean-Francois Berube. After Jaroslav Halak cleared waivers earlier this season it is unclear what will become of their former starting net minder. Halak’s hefty $4.5-million-dollar salary will make him hard to move. He has another year left on his contract.
The Colorado Avalanche are unlikely to right the ship any time soon. With Semyon Varlamov out until at least after the All-Star break, Calvin Pickard playing sub-par at best, and a ton a trade bait on their roster, the Avs’ are going to be a team to watch come the trade deadline.