With the Philadelphia Flyers rushing to address their goaltending situation in advance of free agency season by trading for Ilya Bryzgalov’s negotiating rights, now is a perfect time to take a look at the goaltending landscape with an emphasis on unrestricted free agency. This year’s crop of UFA goaltenders features a few elite talents in Bryzgalov, Tomas Vokoun, and Dwayne Roloson, as well as a plethora of serviceable veterans. There’s only a handful of teams that will be seeking to acquire a number one goaltender, but several clubs will be looking to bolster their crease in some capacity.
Here’s our list of impending UFA goaltenders that will command some interest on the open market:
Tomas Vokoun: The relative anonymity of playing in Florida has served Tomas Vokoun well. While the Florida Panthers seemingly get worse from season to season, Vokoun becomes increasingly more difficult to disregard as one of the league’s best goaltenders. Vokoun turned in another predictably awesome performance in 2010-11 by posting a .922 SV% and a 2.55 GAA playing behind the Panthers’ thin blue line. All the more impressive was Vokoun’s unfathomable .925 SV% on the penalty kill, the only other ‘number one’ goaltender to even come close to that mark was Nashville’s Pekka Rinne (.912).
Unlike Bryzgalov, who turns 31 later this month, teams may be a little bit more apprehensive to tender Vokoun a long-term contract given his age (34). If Philadelphia manages to work out a deal for Bryzgalov then Vokoun will be the summer’s most sought after free agent goaltender. A return to Florida can’t be ruled out at this point, but Philadelphia, Tampa Bay, Phoenix, Colorado and perhaps even Washington could be potential suitors for the Czech netminder.
Ilya Bryzgalov: The Philadelphia Flyers have the inside track on signing Bryzgalov, although Paul Holmgren will need to clear some cap space to get a deal done. Bryzgalov became a fixture in annual Vezina Trophy discussions since landing in Phoenix, but his play in each of the last two playoffs has left much to be desired. Many expected Bryzgalov’s price tag to take a hit given the Coyotes’ quick four-game exit from this spring’s playoffs, but a market thin on elite level goaltending should deter any chance of a significant discount on his talents.
The clock is ticking on the Flyers to get something in place. If they don’t get a deal done by July 1st, expect a bidding war for Bryzgalov and hope your city’s parks are plenty.
Dwayne Roloson: One of the best stories of the 2011 NHL Playoffs is the play of 41-year old Dwayne Roloson. One of Tampa Bay Lightning GM Steve Yzerman’s shrewdest moves this past season was the rescuing of Roloson from the doldrums of Long Island. Dwayne Roloson was at the top of nearly everyone’s Conn Smythe Trophy list through the first two rounds of the playoffs, before his play started to slip just a bit in the Eastern Conference Final. It’s hard to envision a team taking a chance on Roloson as their clear cut number one, but he could prove invaluable in a 1A/1B situation or in a backup role for any number of teams.
Josh Harding: One of these years we’ll get that breakout season we’ve been waiting for from Josh Harding. The 2003 recipient of the WHL’s top goaltender and most outstanding player awards was poised to play more in 2010-11, but injuries to both his ACL and MCL put him on the shelf for the year before the season even started.
Harding turns 27 later this month, making him one of the younger UFA goaltenders available. A year off certainly wasn’t the best case scenario for him, but Harding could turn into a steal of deal for any team willing to take a chance on his health. It’s reasonable to think that he can still be a quality NHL goaltender given his untapped potential, but he still has much to prove.
Ray Emery: If Ray Emery ever takes a stab at writing an autobiography, he could effectively title it “To Hell and Back, Then to Russia, Then to Injury Hell, Then Back Again” and no one would dispute its accuracy. In short, Emery was one of this past season’s best stories with his return from avascular necrosis. Health concerns will follow Emery wherever he goes, but his solid play in 10 games with the Anaheim Ducks late this season evoked memories of the goaltender that took over number one duties from Dominik Hasek on the way to the 2007 Stanley Cup Final with the Ottawa Senators.
A number of teams, including Chicago, Minnesota, New Jersey, and the New York Islanders could be in the market for a reliable goaltender to handle anywhere from 25-40 games. If he can stay healthy, Ray Emery could make an excellent addition to any roster searching for help in net.
The rest of the crop: Brian Boucher, Johan Hedberg, Alex Auld, Jose Theodore, Pascal Leclaire, Chris Osgood, Jean-Sebastian Giguere, Mike Smith, Marty Turco, Anton Khudobin, Patrick Lalime.
A few of the aforementioned guys could choose to go the retirement route, but there’s several capable goaltenders in there and guys like Khudobin and Smith who may still be able to carry a decent workload in the right situation.