Trading an NHL goalie? Don’t expect to hit a home run – a history of mediocrity

Devan Dubnyk

Yesterday the Edmonton Oilers traded their starting goalie for a fourth line player under contract for another three seasons beyond the current one. Devan Dubnyk has an expiring contract, will be a UFA in the summer and has a sub-.900 save percentage this season, but the deal marked just how weak the goaltending market is.

But, really, the trade market for goalies has been weak going back at least 20 years or so. That’s my conclusion, after looking back through the NHL’s trade history and having a real hard time finding a trade in which a team dealt its starting netminder for a killer, home run, no-doubt win of a return.

I looked back as far as May 25, 1994, because once I started seeing names like Alexandre Volchkov, Don Beaupre and Esa Tikanen appearing, it was time to stop. The best deal, in its time and place, may have been the Aug. 4, 1995 trade of Curtis Joseph from St. Louis to Edmonton, in which the Blues received first round picks in 1996 and 1997. They turned into Marty Reasoner and Matt Zultek, so even that didn’t pay off. (In fact, this is a good way to point out why I don’t consider the Cory Schneider deal a “home run.” It was a good move, don’t get me wrong, but it’s far from a sure thing. Schneider, on the other hand, is proven.)

The last time a team hit a home run when it traded away its starter may have been the Feb. 18, 2011 trade that sent Brian Elliott from Ottawa to Colorado for Craig Anderson. Elliott struggled through 43 starts with the Senators and they turned him into Anderson, who immediately began paying off.

A weak trading market for goalies is nothing new. When the Dominik Hasek era in Buffalo ended, the Sabres received Slava Kozlov and the last pick in the first round from Detroit. Kozlov was gone at the end of the season. Then there’s the infamous Patrick Roy trade out of Montreal, where the Habs got Andrei Kovalenko, Martin Rucinsky and Jocelyn Thibault for the future Hall of Famer. One of those goalies was on an expiring contract and the other demanded a deal out of town, but those are still very mediocre returns for all-time greats.

Contracts and cap hits, of course, have an even bigger impact on moves today and are the biggest reasons the Canucks couldn’t get what they wanted when they tried to move Roberto Luongo. The fact many young, backup, full-of-potential goalies are coming out of nowhere to star these days (Josh Harding, Ben Bishop, Jonathan Bernier and even Tuukka Rask and Jonathan Quick) makes goalies with contracts, no matter their track record, less valuable in trade than their numbers indicate.

It goes the other way at this position, too. There have been a fair number of young goalies who were expected to take over starting jobs, but failed. Anders Lindback, for example, was acquired before Bishop to be Tampa Bay’s starter. Andrew Raycroft was once a Calder winner.

Despite it being the most important position on a hockey team, goaltending is also the most difficult to project and get a handle on. This would make any GM wary of paying too much in trade for an inexperienced youngster with potential or even a proven veteran with a monster contract. Why pay through the nose for a large cap hit, when you can try your luck picking up the next Bishop or Rask or Quick or Bernier off the trade market for a relatively cheap cost?

About the best you can hope for in a return for your starter, it seems, is a mid-to-high first round pick. A return like that could be great, or terrible. At the end of the day, it’s an unknown commodity when you acquire it.

Want to trade your starting goalie away? Don’t expect to get a killer return back.

Sorry, Buffalo.

Here is a list of all trades that involved either a starting goalie or a guy who was acquired to be a starter, going back to 2010. Goalies such as Reto Berra and Karri Ramo aren’t included, because they were playing in Europe when they were dealt. Also not included are Tim Thomas and Ilya Bryzgalov, since one wasn’t in the NHL and the other’s rights were traded.

Devan Dubnyk to Nashville for Matt Hendricks

Cory Schneider for the ninth overall pick (Bo Horvat)

Jonathan Bernier for Ben Scrivens, Matt Frattin, second-rounder

Ben Bishop for Cory Conacher, fourth-rounder

Steve Mason for Michael Leighton, third-rounder

Sergei Bobrovsky for second-rounder, two fourth-rounders

Anders Lindback (and Kyle Wilson) for two second-rounders, one third-rounder and Sebastien Caron

Tomas Vokoun for a seventh-rounder

Semyon Varlamov for first-rounder (Filip Forsberg) and second-rounder

Brian Elliott for Craig Anderson

Dwayne Roloson for Ty Wishart

Jaroslav Halak for Lars Eller and Ian Schultz

Kari Lehtonen for Ivan Vishnevskiy and fourth-rounder

Overall, this is what you end up with:
Devan Dubnyk, Cory Schneider, Jonathan Bernier, Ben Bishop, Steve Mason, Sergei Bobrovsky, Anders Lindback, Tomas Vokoun, Semyon Varlamov, Craig Anderson, Dwayne Roloson, Jaroslav Halak and Kari Lehtonen

For:
Matt Hendricks, Ben Scrivens, Matt Frattin, Cory Conacher, Michael Leighton, Sebastien Caron, Brian Elliott, Lars Eller, Ian Schultz, Ivan Vishnevskiy, Ty Wishart, first round pick (Bo Horvat), first round pick (Filip Forsberg), five second-round picks, two third-round picks, four fourth-round picks and a seventh-round pick.

Follow Rory on Twitter