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Photo Credit: © Gerry Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

UFA Profile: Anton Khudobin is set to ride his Stanley Cup Final run into free agency

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be looking at possible free-agent fits for the Edmonton Oilers. Today, we have Anton Khudobin. 

Anton Khudobin stopped 34 of the 36 shots the Golden Knights threw at him on Monday night, ultimately helping the Stars win Game 5 and reach the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in 20 years.

Over the course of the series, Vegas managed 161 shots on goal. Khudobin allowed eight of them to go in, posting a save percentage of .950. His performance in net was undoubtedly the game-changer in the Western Conference Final, as Vegas outshot Dallas 170 to 124.

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Khudobin picked a great time to get hot. He’s eligible to hit the unrestricted free-agent market this fall and his playoff showing coupled with his league-leading .930 regular-season save percentage will surely net him a raise on his modest $2,500,000 annual salary.

Now 34 years of age, Khudobin has had an interesting career. Before he arrived in Dallas, Khudobin was a journeyman who could generously be described as a talented-but-inconsistent backup.

He was drafted by the Minnesota Wild in the seventh round of the 2004 draft and finally made his debut with the team in 2010. At the 2011 trade deadline, he was dealt to Boston where he would spend one year as Tuukka Rask’s backup.

After that, he left Boston for Carolina in free agency, which was his first chance at extended playing time in the NHL. Between 2013-14 and 2014-15, Khudobin split the Hurricanes’ net with Cam Ward and Justin Peters, posting a .914 save percentage over 70 games.

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After a brief stint in Anaheim as the third-string goalie behind John Gibson and Frederik Anderson, Khudobin returned to Boston as a free agent. He would spend two seasons as Rask’s backup again, posting a .910 save percentage over 47 games.

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Finally, he signed in Dallas in the summer of 2018 and broke out as a very good 1A/1B goalie along with Ben Bishop. Over the past two seasons, Khudobin has a .926 save percentage, and, as I mentioned earlier, his .930 figure (over 30 games) was the highest in the league this season.

And now here we are. The Stars in the Stanley Cup Final and Khudobin, who had played in two playoff games in his career (both in relief) before this run, is four wins away from immortality. His strong regular season and his amazing playoff run will surely capture the attention of many general managers around the league if he reaches free agency.

An important thing to consider with Khudobin, of course, is that he’s been thriving on a Dallas team that plays very well defensively. The Stars had the seventh-lowest expected goals against (based on shot quality and volume against at even-strength) in 2019-20. This isn’t to take away from Khudobin’s play, necessarily, but there’s obviously some buyer beware when looking at a goalie who comes from a strong defensive environment.

His career save percentage in Dallas .926 while his career save percentage in Boston, Carolina, Anaheim, and Minnesota is .915. So, while Khudobin’s play might not remain elite if he were to leave the Stars, his career numbers indicate he’s still a solid 1B-type goalie, which is exactly who the Oilers need to play alongside Mikko Koskinen.

The key is not getting overly caught up in Khudobin’s playoff run and getting into a bidding war looking for a Stanley Cup-calibre franchise goaltender. Khudobin’s body of work in the NHL, a .919 career save percentage with a career-high of 41 games in a season, suggests he’s a very good tandem goalie, so you can’t go overboard with a contract expecting an ace.

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There’s also no guarantee that Khudobin reaches the open market. Dallas has about $15 in cap room to work with and, if Khudobin backstops them to the Stanley Cup, you’d have to think they’ll want to keep him around.

The Stars also have Ben Bishop signed for three more seasons at $4,916,666 and top prospect Jake Oettinger waiting in the wings. Bishop has missed the entirety of the playoffs with an undisclosed injury, so the Stars could look to unload him and instead roll with Khudobn and Oettinger.

This is much like the situation I mentioned when I profiled Robin Lehner a few days ago. The Golden Knights reportedly want to keep Lehner around, but they have Marc-Andre Fleury inked to a big contract, so dumping the former is key to keeping the latter.

If Dallas does re-sign Khudobin, that would likely make Bishop an available trade target. Would the Oilers be interested?

Bishop was the runner-up for the Vezina Trophy last season after posting a .934 save percentage in 46 games with the Stars. Over his career, from St. Louis to Ottawa to Tampa Bay to Los Angeles to Dallas, Bishop owns an impressive .921 save percentage. He isn’t the same No. 1 guy he used to be as a member of the Lightning and his undisclosed injury might be a little worrying, but Bishop and Koskinen could form a very strong tandem in net.

Ultimately, both options, Khudobin and Bishop, are worth exploring for a goaltending upgrade.

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