Cease me in the event you’ve heard this one earlier than: goalies are voodoo.
Nowadays, only a few goalies strike concern into shooters’ hearts on a constant foundation. Extremely-elite superstars like Andrei Vasilevskiy and Connor Hellebuyck are amongst those that do. However it’s extra frequent to see some stage of volatility among the many league’s prime netminders year-over-year. Marc-Andre Fleury took Vegas to the Stanley Cup last in its first 12 months, misplaced the crease to Robin Lehner final season, after which took it again and should have received a Vezina within the course of this 12 months. In current reminiscence, rookies Jordan Binnington and Matt Murray (twice) have propelled their groups to Cups. And each subsequently floundered.
The crease guardian position is certainly hockey’s most capricious place. However that’s what makes this season’s UFA crop of goalies so fascinating. Make the suitable name as a GM, and you might get your self a short lived celebrity. Make the flawed name, and you’ll saddle your self with an albatross deal.
So, over the subsequent week, I’ll break down the 2021 UFA goalie market, whereas grouping them by sure frequent traits. Right this moment, we begin with a triumvirate of stoppers who had incredible 2020-21 seasons however have query marks about their play’s sustainability.
Philipp Grubauer – Colorado Avalanche
Query Mark(s): Full-time starter expertise; issue of 2020-21 pattern
Philipp Grubauer picked the right time to have a profession 12 months. The 29-year-old German tended twine for the powerhouse Avalanche, incomes his maiden Vezina Trophy nomination within the course of. Amongst certified goalies (17 video games or extra), Grubauer completed second in wins (30) and goals-against common (1.95), and his .922 save share ranked eighth. Grubauer’s seven shutouts additionally tied him with Semyon Varlamov for the league lead.
Grubauer will now turn out to be a UFA for the primary time in his nine-season NHL profession. The Avs will definitely make a play to retain his companies however will first must allocate a lot of their $25.5 million in cap house towards extensions for captain Gabriel Landeskog and RFA Cale Makar. Would-be Avalanche backup Pavel Francouz missed all of 2020-21 with a lower-body harm and goalie-of-the-future Justus Annunen isn’t prepared, which can enhance strain on GM Joe Sakic to maintain Grubauer round.
Grubauer might be sensible to return to Colorado on a short-term pact. Their stalwart protection retains his crease clear and will give him a bigger pattern of starter-caliber play – 2020-21 was Grubauer’s first wholesome season as a full-time starter – to money in on sooner or later. However one other goalie-needy crew could also be higher positioned to supply Grubauer a profitable medium- or long-term deal – particularly in the event that they’re dazzled by the Vezina nomination.
Ought to Grubauer depart, the Avs can relaxation assured realizing their 5-on-5 protection contributed considerably to Grubauer’s glowing numbers. Among the many 54 goalies to play a minimum of 17 video games in 2020-21, Grubauer had the bottom anticipated targets towards per hour (tied with Jaroslav Halak) and confronted the fourth-fewest high-danger photographs/60.
Mike Smith – Edmonton Oilers
Query Mark(s): Age; consistency
What a distinction a 12 months made for veteran stopper Mike Smith. The Kingston, Ont., native had a tumultuous first foray with Edmonton in 2019-20 – to the tune of a .902 SP – regardless of durations of scorching play and a Battle of Alberta scrap with former Oiler Cam Talbot that might eternally endear him to the Edmonton devoted. However when Smith was off, he was downright abysmal. That included a disastrous begin in Recreation 1 within the play-in spherical towards Chicago that noticed Smith enable 5 targets on 23 photographs in a dropping effort.
Smith’s 2019-20 SP was within the bottom-third of his 15-season profession and got here in his age-37 season, making it barely vexing when, on Oct. 10, 2020, Oilers GM Ken Holland re-signed him to a one-year deal price as much as $2 million.
However goalies. Are. Voodoo.
Smith missed the beginning of 2020-21 with harm, forcing Mikko Koskinen into every-night responsibility for Edmonton’s first 13 video games. Koskinen struggled mightily and, when Smith got here again, he instantly wrested the crease from his Finnish battery mate. Smith began 30 of the Oilers’ last 43 regular-season video games and shone behind a middling Oilers protection. He posted a .923 SP, the second-best in his profession and the perfect single-season SP in Oilers historical past. Per moneypuck.com, Smith ranked second in goals-saved above anticipated per hour, forward of celebrity stoppers like Hellebuyck and Vasilevskiy.
Smith carried out effectively within the playoffs, however Edmonton was ousted by Hellebuyck’s otherworldly first-round effort.
He turns into a 39-year-old UFA this summer season and might be a good stopgap for a crew searching for a 1B, although it’d be unwise to anticipate him to duplicate his 2020-21 heroics. Oilers bench boss Dave Tippett has coached Smith in 10 of Smith’s 15 seasons and for 3 separate franchises. The greybeard could also be most snug returning to the Metropolis of Champions.
Chris Driedger – Florida Panthers
Query Mark(s): NHL expertise; minor-league consistency; issue of 2020-21 pattern
Chris Driedger would be the greatest wildcard among the many free-agent goalies within the 2021 cohort. Driedger, who hails from Winnipeg, Man., turned 27 on Could 18 and has commanded the crease in simply 38 profession NHL contests, 23 of which got here this season.
Earlier than 2019-20, the sum of Driedger’s NHL expertise was three aid appearances spaced throughout three seasons (one in every) with the Ottawa Senators, during which he performed just below 95 whole minutes.
Ottawa chosen Driedger 76th total within the 2012 draft and opted towards re-signing him following a tough 2017-18 season, the majority of which he spent with ECHL Brampton. Earlier than that, in 92 video games throughout 5 seasons with Ottawa’s AHL affiliate, Driedger had a .905 SP and a 3.08 GA. The Child Sens groups on which he performed have been poor, however his shoddy play allowed Filip Gustavsson and Marcus Hogberg to cross him within the pecking order, and the Senators had simply chosen Kevin Mandolese within the 2018 draft, so Driedger was on the outs.
Driedger performed a lot of 2018-19 on a minor-league pact with the Springfield Thunderbirds, Florida’s AHL affiliate. He acquitted himself effectively in his time there – main the AHL in SP – and finally earned an NHL contract with the Panthers, which he signed on Feb. 24, 2019. Driedger wouldn’t get any NHL time in 2018-19 regardless of the mid-season signing however re-upped for 2 extra years with the Cats in April 2019.
He cut up 2019-20 between the AHL and NHL, performing effectively at each ranges, but it surely wasn’t till this season Driedger would turn out to be one of many league’s breakout stars.
With incumbent starter Sergei Bobrovsky sputtering within the early phases of 2020-21, the Panthers turned to Driedger to supply stability on the final line of protection. In 23 video games, Driedger posted a .927 SP – tied with Juuse Saros for fourth amongst certified goalies – and a 2.07 GAA (fifth). Not unhealthy for a man making $850,000 per season, to Bobrovsky’s $10 million.
Bobrovsky bought the nod for Recreation 1 of the playoffs towards Tampa Bay however carried out poorly in a dropping effort and ceded the web to Driedger, who began Video games 2 and three. Sadly for the upstart South Florida netminder, the playoffs didn’t go fairly so swimmingly, and he would in the end get pulled in Recreation 3. The 2 goalies once more traded the web in Recreation 4 – this time Bobrovsky began however yielded to Driedger mid-game – earlier than rookie Spencer Knight would step in for Video games 5 and 6.
It was a disappointing finish to the season for all concerned, but it surely hardly undid Driedger’s splendid season. If something will give groups pause about Driedger’s 12 months, it’s that Florida did an unbelievable job at facilitating his crease duties. Driedger ranked tenth in lowest xGA/60 among the many 54 goalies to play a minimum of 17 video games and confronted the fewest high-danger photographs per hour of any of these netminders.
That’s to not say the above undoes his work both, nevertheless. Driedger’s goals-saved above anticipated/60 of 0.132 was an identical to Grubauer’s, tying the pair for eleventh amongst certified goalies. However a extra porous protection might see Driedger’s numbers regress behind it.
Driedger is coming off a contract that paid him simply $1.7 million in two seasons. He’s due a elevate, however the query is how substantial will probably be. And who’ll be paying. Florida is unlikely to have room except they unload Bobrovsky’s albatross deal, and have Knight ready within the wings anyway. Driedger has a minuscule NHL pattern however has persistently posted good numbers within the AHL and NHL the previous three seasons. He might present a crew with a 1B goalie at an inexpensive ticket on a short- to medium-term deal.