James Reimer, Steve Mason, and Antii Raanta. Image by: Getty Images
Teams can only protect a single goaltender from the expansion draft, meaning the Golden Knights will have a nice netminding buffet to peruse.
The Vegas Golden Knights inked Russian forward Vadim Shipachyov this week and are reportedly in hot pursuit of SKA St. Petersburg teammate Evgeny Dadonov, leading to speculation they’ll try to pry Ilya Kovalchuk from the New Jersey Devils. The flurry of activity reminds us that, even though the Stanley Cup playoffs aren’t yet half over, Vegas GM George McPhee is hard at work.
You can bet he and his staff have started planning out their expansion player picks in detail, too, with the draft about six weeks away. And no position offers greater potential to yield a high-impact talent than goaltender. Which stoppers make the most sense to tend Vegas’ crease next October? Consider these 15 names.
THE WIN-NOW CROWD
These netminders come with the highest price tags and the best pedigree. If Vegas lands one of these, it secures above-average goaltending. It’s debatable whether a team that could use a few years’ worth of lottery picks wants to do that, though.
Fleury’s playoff performance has been a fun story, reminding us he’s still a good starter at 32. The Penguins’ future belongs to Matt Murray, though, and Fleury is a competitor who wants to play. Might he consider becoming the face of the Golden Knights? He already has multiple Stanley Cup rings, so playing time might trump a championship chase on his 2017-18 wish list. He’d have to waive his no-movement clause to make himself eligible for a claim.
Halak was unappreciated this season. He swallowed a mid-season demotion and absolutely owned the AHL after the New York Islanders committed to Thomas Greiss as their starter and didn’t find a trade out of town for Halak. With just a one-year investment for the final year of his deal, the Golden Knights could secure a respectable No. 1 netminder.
The eye test says Reimer gives up too many rebounds and often looks shaky and uncomfortable in the net. The advanced statistics say he’s been one of the game’s better goaltenders the past couple seasons. As long as Roberto Luongo returns for another year as Florida’s starter, it will leave Reimer flapping in the breeze. He’d be a hot claim for the Golden Knights. He offers upside and youth at 29 and is under contract for four more seasons at a reasonable $3.4-million cap hit. There may not be a more attractive grab on the table for Vegas among the proven veteran goalie group.
These goalies are perfectly serviceable and could provide competent goaltending on short-term contracts. They’re also capable of making themselves trade bait at future deadlines if they string together extended hot streaks.
Elliott appeared to turn his season around with a massive second-half hot streak, but his game tanked when Calgary needed him most: in the playoffs. That likely ended his tenure with the Flames and knocked his price tag below the bona fide No. 1 tier. He’s still a quality plug-and-play goalie, though, and would be perfectly fine to start 40 or 50 games for an expansion franchise on a short-term pact.
He platooned with Elliott, outplaying him for stretches, and with a shorter track record of success, Johnson should cost $1 million less per year. He’s no stranger to one-year contracts, either. A low-risk claim for Vegas.
Mason made it clear he doesn’t want to platoon in Philly anymore. It’s not necessarily up to him whether he gets to start for another NHL team, though. His best bet might be to sign a prove-it contract with Vegas and try to carry them as a starter.
Geographically and hockey wise, Vegas makes sense for Miller. He wants to stay west to accommodate his wife, actress Noureen DeWulf, who works out of L.A. The Kings and Ducks have entrenched starters, and returning to Vancouver would put him back in a platoon situation at best. If he were willing to sign a short-term deal with a major pay cut from his previous AAV of $6 million, he’d end up close to his wife and with a better path to playing time than he’ll find anywhere else.
THE BUILDING BLOCKS
These goalies have played very well in limited duty and are young enough to blossom into legit stars.
Grubauer has a .922 save percentage across 66 career NHL appearances, the equivalent of one full season as a workhorse starter. He was long heralded as a strong prospect in the Washington Capitals’ system, too, so his success comes as no surprise. He’s only 25 and appears ready to prove he can handle more playing time. He’s a restricted free agent and would require a new contract, but that's no problem.
Raanta outplayed the immortal Henrik Lundqvist for much of this season in Manhattan and is finally realizing the potential he showed as a star in the Finnish League a few years back. Hank’s no-movement clause makes him the must-protect goalie, exposing Raanta, who costs just $1 million and looks like a slam-dunk expansion-draft candidate.
THE WILD CARDS
They could contribute a lot to the Golden Knights or they could flop. They’re intriguing investments, though.
He’s a late bloomer with far from an elite pedigree, but he’s shown in consecutive seasons he can slide in and look competent with big workloads in a pinch. Condon has quietly appeared in 95 games over the past two seasons. It remains to be seen if he’d thrive in a non-temporary role with increased pressure.
His potential is untapped, and he’ll never get an extended look in Columbus as long as Sergei Bobrovsky is healthy. There are worse lottery tickets out there. Korpisalo has solid pedigree and is just 23, which is about 19 in goalie years.
Hard to believe he was a legitimate Vezina Trophy contender halfway through the 2015-16 season. This season he got badly outplayed by Jimmy Howard, enough so that Mrazek isn’t guaranteed to start for Detroit going forward. Howard is eight years older and more expensive, but Jared Coreau and his $612,500 cap hit aren’t exempt from the expansion draft anymore. What if GM Ken Holland decides to go scorched earth and exposes Howard and Mrazek? It wouldn’t be the worst idea.
THE QUID PRO QUO PICKS
Maybe McPhee scratches another team’s back and eats a bad contract in exchange for something else.
Kari Lehtonen or Antti Niemi
If McPhee agreed to claim one of Lehtonen and Niemi, who carry cap hits of $5.9 million and $4.5 million, Vegas could ask for a draft pick in return. And one year of Lehtonen or Niemi would be serviceable enough for an expansion team.
Eddie Lack or Cam Ward
The Carolina Hurricanes surrendered a third-round pick for Scott Darling’s negotiation rights. You don’t do that unless you’re planning to play him 50-plus games. General manager Ron Francis needs to relieve his cap of Ward’s $3.3 million or Lack’s $2.75 million. The Golden Knights could help there.
OTHER GOALIES TO WATCH
Jean-Francois Berube, Laurent Brossoit, Peter Budaj, Jimmy Howard, Michael Hutchinson, Calvin Pickard.
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