Being a free agent goalie is always a little like playing musical chairs.
With only 60 jobs as a regular starter or backup and established goalies taking many of those spots, netminders that become unrestricted free agents have to be careful they don’t end up without a home.
This is even more true in the past few seasons. Looking to save under the salary cap, many teams are bringing in rookies or European veterans to fill their backup roles, which leaves several netminders with NHL experience left with trying to find either two-way deals or options overseas.
Just look at rosters for next season. If we leave the Toronto Maple Leafs out of the equation for now, there are really only five teams that need a goaltender heading into free agency this Sunday: Nashville, New Jersey, N.Y. Rangers, Philadelphia and Winnipeg.
The Devils need to sign two netminders, but it’s unthinkable one of them won’t be Martin Brodeur. The Jets, meanwhile, have already acquired Jonas Gustavsson and just need to sign him. The Rangers want to bring back Martin Biron.
If those three deals all get done, then we have seven UFA goaltenders listed below and just three backup positions left to fill in Nashville, New Jersey and Philadelphia.
Who goes where?
The top 10 UFA goaltenders
(statistics from last three years combined)
It’s hard to imagine Hedberg and Clemmensen can’t find work in the NHL, as they’ve been solid in spot duty the past few years. So expect them to catch on in one of those three backup spots.
Where things will get tough is for the likes of Ellis, Mason, Roloson, Montoya and Johnson.
That said, there are also some teams with less established backups who may at some point be looking for an upgrade this season.
At this point, Anaheim is likely going with Viktor Fasth, Boston with Anton Khudobin, Detroit with Joey MacDonald, Florida with Jacob Markstrom and Toronto with Ben Scrivens (barring a trade for Roberto Luongo, which would then mean the Canucks have an inexperienced backup).
Factor in the potential for injury and maybe another spot or two opens up come the fall. Even so, at least a couple of the names above aren't going to find work in the NHL next season.