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The NHL Goaltending Market and the Leafs

Hi there!

Has it felt like we have talked about trading Freddie Andersen enough in the past week? Our apologies. We’ve been caught up in the possibility of Alex Pietrangelo finding his way to Toronto and that’s enough to distract anyone. Of course there have been a few things worth noting over the past week around league as well.

Anton Khudobin having one hell of a playoffs is definitely part of what has been interesting. Right now he’s got to be the Conn Smythe favourite unless the wheels come completely off in the next 4-6 games, and considering that he was supposed to be Ben Bishop’s backup, he’s raising an interesting question of whether it’s more important to have a great goaltender on your team or whether it comes down to luck and your goaltender needs to get hot at the right time.

At the other end of the ice Vasilevsky is making a strong case for the importance of having a great goaltender, so perhaps a case can be made for investing in hockey’s most important position as well.

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No matter the situation, it seems that approximately 14 teams are going to be in the market for a new starting goaltender this season. I’ve included the Leafs in that list for now, but perhaps when we dissect the quality of who is available in free agency and trade, it might not make sense for the Leafs to explore their options this summer and wait until next year when Andersen is set to hit free agency.

Team Not Going Anywhere They’ll try to trade UFA On the fence
Anaheim Gibson Miller
Arizona Kuemper, Raanta
Boston Rask, Halak
Buffalo Ullmark, Hutton
Calgary Talbot Rittich
Carolina Mrazek, Reimer
Chicago Crawford Subban, Delia
Colorado Hutchinson Grubauer, Francouz
Columbus Merzlikins, Korpisalo
Dallas Bishop Khudobin
Detroit Howard Bernier
Edmonton Koskinen Smith
Florida Bobrovsky Driedger
Los Angeles Quick, Petersen
Minnesota Stalock Dubnyk
Montreal Price, Allen
Nashville Rinne, Saros
New Jersey Blackwood Schneider
NY Islanders Sorokin, Varlamov Greiss
NY Rangers Shesterkin, Georgiev Lundqvist
Ottawa Anderson Hogberg, Nilsson
Philadelphia Hart Elliott
Pittsburgh Jarry Murray
San Jose Jones Dell
St. Louis Binnington Husso
Tampa Bay Vasilevsky McElhinney
Toronto Andersen Campbell
Vancouver Demko Markstrom
Vegas Lehner Fleury
Washington Samsonov Holtby Copley
Winnipeg Hellebucyk Brossoit

So when you look at that free agent list it’s Markstrom and Greiss as you high performers, Holtby and Crawford as nostalgic options for what they used to be and hope they can be once more, Talbot and Anderson as committing to a downgrade option, Dell, Elliott, and Brossoit as backups, and Howard, Smith, Hutchinson and Miller as firm no under any circumstance options. Of course I left off Khudobin who seems like a lock to re-sign in Dallas. That list contains five goaltenders I could remotely feel comfortable putting in net, and at least one of which would be far too expensive for Toronto to consider (Markstrom.)

Including Andersen, there are likely 14 goaltenders being shopped on the trade market right now. Goaltenders like Martin Jones, Mikko Koskinen, and Corey Schneider all carry expensive contracts and keeping them in the league as backups is enough of a challenge let alone looking at them as potential starts. Darcy Kuemper, and Matt Murray, have high price tags but are solid options in net. For arguments sake I’d put Freddie Andersen in this group as well, though for the Leafs to trade Andersen for a significant return only to spend it on another high quality goaltender might be silly. Ben Bishop is also likely in this group now that Khudobin might be the cheaper goaltender of the future for the Stars. Lundqvist is a wildcard as retirement is a very real option, but if some team has the money to burn, maybe he gets traded instead. Fleury is nearly as expensive, but not nearly as good, but Vegas has to find a way of moving him, and the reality for Florida is they are better off hoping that Bobrovsky turns it around than doing what they’d have to do to move on from him. Heck, Dubnyk had a .890 save percentage, so he’s not going to be much of an answer either, Raanta is constantly hurt, and somehow a downgrade like Petr Mrazek starts having some appeal if you think that Jack Campbell can split the workload with him.

All of this is just further pointing to good goaltenders being in short supply and moving on from Andersen being the double edged sword of probably netting the Leafs a huge return, but also committing to downgrading in net. It’s not an easy decision and one that has the potential to bite the Leafs no matter what they choose.

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My opinion

With Andersen being one of the best goaltenders available, and only being owed $1M on a $5M cap hit, the Leafs should be able to name their price on him. While he had a questionable second half, he was solid in the return to play, and was an All-Star based on his first half of the year. Someone should want him, and someone should be willing to pay for him, hopefully it’s one of the teams outside of his no trade list.

In trading Andersen the Leafs are committing to downgrading in net, at least temporarily, although they can certainly explore what they have in Campbell further. Toronto isn’t likely to exceed the $5M they were spending on Andersen, but given Toronto’s resources they are likely to be one of the strongest players for a netminder in free agency.

Options like short term, signing bonus heavy deals for someone like Crawford or Holtby seem like the best ways to proceed at this point, though Talbot on a cheap deal also makes sense to me. Trading for someone like Fleury or Mrazek if the Leafs are rewarded for taking on one of those contracts also makes some sense, but in the case of Fleury the Golden Knights would have to put together one hell of a package to make it appealing.

Of course if there’s an option where the Leafs can make a trade for a goaltender that allows them to move salary such as Kerfoot, Johnsson, Dermott, or Holl in the process of bringing back someone of Andersen’s abilities that surely would be nice, but playing connect the dots on who needs what at the moment seems more difficult than ever given many teams having the desire to blow up their salary situation.

Given the Leafs potential need to clear cap space for free agency, Toronto might be better off making an Andersen move prior to the draft, and trusting in their ability to find a replacement shortly after. A terrifying thought, but probably one the Leafs need to consider to optimize their roster for next season.