Fixing Holes: Goaltenders on the Free Agent Market

Over the next week, I’ll be going through this summer’s free-agent market position by position. Today, we have goaltenders.

The Oilers have operated with the goaltending tandem of Mike Smith and Mikko Koskinen for two seasons and both times they were good enough to get the team into the playoffs.

In 2019-20, Smith was up and down, posting a .902 save percentage, while Koskinen was a rock, putting up a .917 save percentage. The roles reversed in 2021, with Koskinen struggling to an .899 save percentage and Smith standing tall with a .923 save percentage.

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The question for Ken Holland this off-season is whether or not the Smith-Koskinen tandem is good enough to get the Oilers over the hump. Smith is a free agent and Holland has expressed interest in bringing him back while Koskinen is signed for one more season and could be bought out if there’s a better option out there.

Let’s go through some of the goaltenders on the market this summer. I’ve left out names such as Pekka Rinne and Tuukka Rask who won’t be moving on from their respective teams, but there are 12 names out there who could be considered.

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Mike Smith

As I mentioned earlier, Holland has openly expressed interest in bringing back Smith this off-season. On a one-year deal worth $1,500,000 with $500,000 in performance bonuses, Smith put together a very good season for the Oilers, posting a .923 save percentage over 32 games. The question now is whether the 39-year-old can do that over the course of a normal, 82-game schedule.

Regardless, based on what Holland said, it’s a fair bet to assume Smith will be back on another one-year deal with performance bonuses. The question for Holland is whether any of the names listed below are enough of an upgrade over Koskinen to warrant a buyout that will cost the team $1,500,000 for two seasons.

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Chris Driedger

One of the best stories during the 2021 season was the out-of-nowhere performance from Chris Driedger for the Florida Panthers. Driedger had just 15 NHL games to his name heading into the season but he was a rock for Florida, posting a .927 save percentage over 23 games. Florida has Sergei Bobrovsky locked into an unmovable contract and rookie Spencer Knight ready to break into the league, so it’s safe to assume Driedger will sign elsewhere.

Is his small sample size of success worth investing in?

Phillip Grubauer

Despite a poor showing in his final few playoff games against the Golden Knights, Grubauer had an excellent season for the Avalanche in 2021. He put together a .922 save percentage over 40 games, was a rock in Colorado’s sweep over the Blues, and he’s nominated for the Vezina Trophy.

You’d think Colorado would figure out a deal for their ace goaltender and, if they can’t, it would mean that he’s priced out of Edmonton’s budget.

Linus Ullmark

The Buffalo Sabres haven’t had much to cheer about over the past few years but one bright spot has been the play of Linus Ullmark. Over the past two seasons, Ullmark has put together a .916 save percentage in 54 games, which is impressive given how awful the team is in front of him. The Sabres will surely try to re-sign Ullmark, a goalie they drafted and developed, but it’s difficult to say if he wants to stick around and be a part of that mess.

Petr Mrazek

Here’s a name that Ken Holland knows well. Petr Mrazek was drafted by Holland in the fifth round of the 2010 draft and appeared to be Detroit’s goaltender of the future after strong rookie and sophomore seasons. Mrazek had a rough season in 2016-17 and Holland made the controversial decision to leave him exposed in the Expansion Draft in favour of veteran Jimmy Howard. That decision makes me skeptical that Holland would be interested in a reunion with Mrazek.

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Mrazek was limited to just 12 games due to injury in 2021, but he posted a .923 save percentage when he was playing. The Hurricanes will likely roll with Alex Nedeljkovic next season, so either (or both of) Mrazek or James Reimer will be moving on.

James Reimer

The third goalie in Carolina’s trio this year was James Reimer. After a solid season in which he posted a .914 save percentage in 25 games, Reimer was mediocre in 2021, putting up a .906 save percentage in 22 games. Reimer has been all over the grid throughout his career, putting up some amazing performances, such as his 2013 season with Toronto that earned him a few Hart Trophy votes, but also imploding to a below-average goaltender. You never know which Reimer you’re going to get in a given season.

Jonathan Bernier

Back in 2018, Holland signed Jonathan Bernier to a three-year deal worth $3,000,000 annually to form a tandem with Jimmy Howard. In three seasons on some dreadful Detroit teams, Bernier put up a .908 save percentage in 105 games. His 2021 season with a .914 save percentage in 24 games was the standout of those three seasons.

Would Holland be interested in signing Bernier again?

Antti Raanta

One of many names to perform well in a backup role behind Henrik Lundqvist in New York, the Coyotes acquired Antti Raanta back in 2017 to take over their vacant starting gig. Raanta was up and down in his four seasons with Arizona, dealing with a few injuries that have ultimately kept him from living up to his potential. He was excellent in 2019-20, posting a .921 save percentage in 33 games, but he was limited to just 12 games due to injury in 2021.

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There’s certainly a lot of upside with Raanta but the injury history is a concern.

David Rittich

Big Save Dave hasn’t made too many big saves lately. He appeared to be Calgary’s goaltender of the future in 2018-19 after posting a .911 save percentage over 45 games but he struggled since, putting up a .905 save percentage in 67 games between 2019-20 and 2021. It would be difficult to call Rittich an upgrade over Koskinen at this stage.

Jaroslav Halak

Jaroslav Halak has put together a very nice NHL career as a tandem goalie. He’s never been able to consistently handle a starter’s load but Halak has been very effective when splitting the net with somebody else. Between 2018-19 and 2019-20, Halak put up a .921 save percentage for the Bruins as Tuukka Rask’s 1B, but his performance declined in 2021 as his .905 save percentage in 16 games was his worst showing since the lockout-shortened 2013 season.

Halak is 36 years old and it’s difficult to say how much he has left in the tank.

Frederik Andersen

In his first three seasons in Toronto, Freddy Andersen was one of the league’s most consistent goaltenders. He put up .918, .918, and .917 save percentages in those seasons, but his game has deteriorated since, presumably because the Leafs opted never to have a quality backup goalie and to ride Andersen into the ground. In 2021, Andersen had a .895 save percentage in 24 games and missed a decent chunk of the season due to injury.

Had he reached free agency last year, Andersen would be looking at a big payday. Now? His injury issues and poor play make him a buy-low bet on a short-term deal.

Devan Dubnyk

Finally, we have an old friend in Devan Dubnyk, Edmonton’s first-round pick from the 2004 draft who didn’t blossom until he was traded away in 2013. Dubnyk put together some very good seasons in Minnesota but his performance has cooled off over the past couple of seasons. The Wild moved him as a cap dump last off-season and he posted a .895 save percentage between San Jose and Colorado in 2021.

Like with Andersen, Dubnyk would be a buy-low option with the hope that he rebounds.