The goalie dominoes are falling fast as the Toronto Maple Leafs become the latest team to step up and land a new No. 1 in Frederik Andersen, outbidding the Calgary Flames to land the Danish-born netminder who shared the net with the Pacific Division-leading Anaheim Ducks last season.
It's a move in keeping with the operating philosophy of Leafs' general manager Lou Lamoriello who, in 2013 – when he was running the New Jersey Devils – gave up the ninth overall pick in the NHL entry draft to acquire Cory Schneider from the Vancouver Canucks.
Lamoriello knows from experience – with both Schneider and Martin Brodeur before him – that getting the right young goaltender in place is critically important for any team planning a methodical turnaround. And the cost to the Leafs – who gave up the 30th overall pick in the 2016 entry draft, previously acquired from the Pittsburgh Penguins, plus a second-rounder in 2017 – seems relatively cheap for a goaltender who helped Anaheim win the Jennings Trophy as the best defensive team in the league last season.
Andersen is just 26, and only became expendable in Anaheim because the Ducks also have another excellent goaltending talent in the organization: John Gibson.
Ducks general manager Bob Murray knew he had to trade one or the other before next June's NHL expansion draft, or otherwise risk losing one of them for nothing.
Last week, the Carolina Hurricanes signed Cam Ward to a two-year contract extension, mitigating their need for short-term goaltending help. Now, the Flames are the last remaining team with an immediate need for help between the pipes.
The Leafs immediately signed Andersen to a five-year contract extension – his agent, Claude Lemieux, has a long-time relationship with Lamoriello dating back to their days with the Devils.
But the Ducks weren't the only team needing to address a goalie surplus, and it will be fascinating to see how it plays out. Tampa Bay has Ben Bishop and Andrei Vasilevskiy; Pittsburgh has Marc-André Fleury and Matt Murray; and St. Louis has Jake Allen and Brian Elliott. All three franchises face similar quandaries, with a Las Vegas expansion on the horizon.
Unlike last season, when teams such as Buffalo (Robin Lehner), Edmonton (Cam Talbot) and San Jose (Martin Jones) were all in the market for new No. 1s, it should theoretically be a buyer's market now for Flames general manager Brad Treliving, who made addressing the team's goaltending vacancies his top off-season priority.
Tampa's situation is perhaps the most interesting. Bishop, a Vézina Trophy finalist, had an exceptional year again. Among goalies who played a minimum of 25 games, Bishop was first in goals-against average, second in save percentage (behind Elliott), tied for second in shutouts and tied for fourth in wins. He is a proven commodity and, with only a year to go on his contract, he will want to be paid as a proven commodity.
Can Tampa afford him? Likely not if they re-sign Steven Stamkos. But if they lose Stamkos as an unrestricted free agent, it opens up payroll space to potentially sign Bishop and then trade Vasilevskiy for the sort of young player who could then slide into Stamkos's spot on the roster.
If the Flames were to bid for Bishop, they'd want assurances he'd consider signing an extension with them before they'd commit to sending major assets Tampa's way to make a deal possible.
The Flames are not prepared to give up their pick at No. 6 overall for goaltending reinforcements; if that's the ask, then they will likely be shopping in the second tier of available netminders (the Elliotts of the world), because they need a goalie to get them through the transition to their presumptive No. 1 of the future, Jon Gillies, a highly regarded prospect who had his first pro season ruined by surgery.
And the curious wild card in all this is what happens to former Leaf James Reimer, who might not get the long-term extension he was seeking in Toronto before he was traded to San Jose.
If this year's Stanley Cup final, which featured a rookie in Murray against 99-game veteran in Jones, proved anything, it's that teams can never really be sure where the next goaltending solution might come from.
So NHL GMs will be staring each other down, balancing short-term needs against the reality of an expansion draft next year that will act as a hard finish line for any team with extra goaltenders to trade.
Really, it's become a giant game of poker, and Lamoriello, thanks to all the draft choices he previously stockpiled, is the man with the most chips stacked in front of him. On Monday, he made another smart move, plugging an ultracompetitive player into a Leafs organization that is slowly, finally, starting to get things right.