As the calendar prepares to flip to 2011, NHL teams will be taking a hard look at their postseason chances and what holes they need to fill if they are going to compete in the spring and summer. And we all know there's no more important position in hockey than goalie.
The Blackhawks’ Stanley Cup win with untested — and cheap — Antii Niemi between the pipes had many thinking other GMs in the league would save money on goaltending and use their cap space on other positions. Some did, but the results have been mixed. Here's a look at five teams that could use an upgrade in net if they are to compete later in the season, and five goalies that could be on the move.
Teams In Need
1. Chicago Blackhawks — Chicago walked away from Niemi's arbitration award, instead signing veteran Marty Turco for a bargain $1.3 million and elevating prospect Corey Crawford to the full-time backup role. Crawford has performed well, but Turco has been a disappointment regardless of cost. The Hawks could look to Crawford to lead the way and hope he, like Niemi last year, does enough to give Chicago a chance in the playoffs. But this isn't last year's Cup team and the thinned-out roster will be hard-pressed to hide any weakness in net.
2. Colorado Avalanche — Craig Anderson was a revelation for the Avs last season, but 2010-11 hasn't been as kind. With Colorado struck by several injuries, the team needs Anderson to perform better than ever to keep pace in the deep Western Conference. Instead, his goals-against average in a robust 3.21 and backup Peter Budaj isn't much better (3.05). That doesn't mean only the goalies are at fault, but the Avs will need will have a hard time continuing to outscore opponents (their 125 goals is a league high through Monday) with their injuries mounting.
3. San Jose Sharks — The Sharks signed Niemi and Antero Niittymaki to $2 million-a-year deals (one year for Niemi, two for Niittymaki) in the hopes that they could follow the Hawks’ blueprint and have enough skill among their forwards and defense to cover up any bumps in the road. The two have split time, with Niemi performing poorly and Niittymaki holding his own. The team could lean on Niittymaki, but that would mean heading into the playoffs with a goalie who has 73 minutes of postseason experience. Going with Niemi would mean hoping he could play much better in the playoffs than he has so far this regular season.
4. Tampa Bay Lightning — Mike Smith and Dan Ellis both have winning records, but they also have save percentages in the .880s. Furthermore, Smith has no playoff experience and Ellis is 2-4 in his lone postseason series, a first-round exit with the Preds in 2008. Granted, Ellis had a nice save percentage in that series (.938), but his play this year doesn't indicate that he's the same guy who put up those numbers three seasons ago.
5. Washington Capitals — The Caps keep saying they're fine with youngsters Semyon Varlamov and Michal Neuvirth manning the nets, but neither looks like the answer right now. Neuvirth has cooled considerably after a hot start, and Varlamov can't seem to stay healthy and was just so-so for the Capitals the past two postseasons. The good news for Washington is that neither Alex Ovechkin nor Mike Green is having a typical season and Washington is still in the hunt for the Eastern Conference’s top seed. But another Presidents Trophy doesn't mean anything if it isn't followed by at least a spot in the Stanley Cup Finals.
Goalies To Be Had
1. Ilya Bryzgalov, Phoenix — Surprised? Don't be. If the Coyotes aren't in a better position come the trade deadline, the impending unrestricted free agent could be gone from Arizona. Phoenix would love to hold on to its best player, but he costs $4.25 million against the cap this season and could be in line for a raise. Phoenix used a first round pick on Mark Visentin this summer, and while he likely wouldn't be ready for next year, the Coyotes could bridge the gap to him with a cheaper player the next couple seasons and get a great return for Bryzgalov at the deadline.
2. Jean-Sebastien Giguere, Toronto — Giguere and Jonas Gustavsson have split duties with similar results this season, but the big difference between them is age (Gustavsson is seven years younger) and cost ($6 million cap hit this year for Giguere vs. $1.35M this year and next for Gustavsson). Furthermore, Brian Burke's attempted quick rebuild hasn't gone as planned. But if he could move a proven playoff goalie in Giguere and get more help going forward, he could get closer to turning around the struggling franchise. It may be tough to find a taker for Giguere's big cap number, but teams will certainly be interested in the two-time Finals goalie who has one Conn Smythe and one Stanley Cup under his belt.
3. Evgeni Nabokov, UFA — Nabokov left San Jose this offseason and found better money in the KHL, but his stay was short-lived and now NHL teams are inquiring about the veteran goalie's services. The big hurdle is that Nabokov would have to clear waivers after signing with any team. So if, say, Tampa Bay signed him for the balance of the season, what's keeping another team in need from claiming him? Even teams with established No. 1 goalies might find Nabokov an attractive option as a backup at the right price.
4. Dwayne Roloson, New York Islanders — Roloson may be 5-13-1, but the 41-year-old was a huge part of the Oilers Cup Finals run in 2006 (when he was injured in Game 1 vs. the Hurricanes) and has an expiring deal that costs a reasonable $2.5 million against the cap this season. The Isles are going nowhere fast (unless we're talking about the race to the most draft lottery balls) and need all the help they can get. Roloson probably could not recreate his magical 2006 postseason, but on a team with some talent at other positions he could be a steadying force in net.
5. Tomas Vokoun, Florida — Florida could have traded Jay Bouwmeester at the trade deadline two seasons ago, but instead held on to him for what turned into a futile playoff push. The decision cost them dearly in draft picks and prospects. With Jacob Markstrom penciled in as the goalie of the future, the Panthers would be wise to get as much as they can for the rock-solid Vokoun even if they think they have a shot at getting to the postseason. His $5.7 million cap hit is steep, but he is arguably the best netminder available and could be the difference in winning a title and falling short.