The most exciting part of the off-season is less than two weeks away. On July 1st, all the buildup of where free agents such as Ilya Kovalchuk , Patrick Marleau, and Anton Volchenkov will be realized. This year features a decent market for forwards and defense, but what is really being overlooked is the goaltending market.
I don’t think I can remember a time where there were so many capable goalies available, as this year we have five goalies who were number ones this season as well as a slew of backups. With a bad economy and teams not wanting to spend as much money as they used to, it will be interesting to see who goes where, because there are way more goalies than spots available.
Over the next week, I will give my predictions, breaking them down by position. I figured to start this year moving from the crease on out. Joe and I will also be on the air sometime next week, most likely before the draft. We will be bringing back Around the NHL, which we have not broadcasted from since the last off-season. If you remember, Joe and I hosted a show on Youcastr called Rangers Radio, from July 2008 to April 2009. That would end when the station went out of business.
1. Evgeni Nabokov to the Washington Capitals
“Birds of a feather flock together” is the old saying, and with Washington’s two main catalysts, in Ovechkin and Semin, both being Russian, it would make sense that if Nabokov does not re-sign in San Jose, that he would join his countrymen in Washington. The Capitals had a glorious season last year, but were eliminated from the playoffs by the eighth seed Montreal Canadiens. Since Olaf Kolzig left, this team has desperately needed a number one goalie.
Jose Theodore has been nothing short of a disaster, and Semyon Varlamov is just not ready, despite his record. Nabokov has been known in San Jose and in the Olympics as a player who is not a big game goalie. This is true, and is the reason why he most likely will not be back with the Sharks. But the Capitals will be willing to take that risk, as they have much more at stake.
Unlike San Jose, the bulk of their stars are in their prime, not on the cusp or past it. The Capitals will sign Nabokov to a five-year deal, that will carry them through the primes of Ovechkin, Semin, Backstrom, and Green.
2. Marty Turco to the Philadelphia Flyers
The Flyers have not had a good number one goalie since Ron Hextall. Since then, we have seen Vanbiesbrouck, Cechmanek, Boucher #1, Esche, Niittymaki, Boucher #2, and most recently, Ray Emery. Out of all of those, the one who would carry them the farthest, would be Michael Leighton, a 29-year old minor leaguer.
It would make sense to think that Leighton would re-sign with the Flyers, but the recent trend of free agency has shown career minor leaguers become starters, win games down the stretch, then bolt during the summer for another team, and a boatload of cash. We saw it last summer with Scott Clemmensen of the Devils, and we are going to see in here with Leighton.
The obvious choice for the Flyers to be goalie, would be Marty Turco, a goalie who had fallen out of favor in Dallas after two average seasons. But prior to 2008, Turco was a model of consistency, and is desperately in need of a change of scenery.
The Flyers could be the optimal team for him to be attracted to, as they can boast of one of the hardest hitting defenses in the league, that only got stronger when they acquired the rights to Dan Hamhuis yesterday from Nashville.
I can easily see a two-year deal for the 34-year old Turco.
3. Jose Theodore and Vesa Toskala to Europe
Perhaps there is only one goalie in the league that could have the best offense in front of him since the 1980’s Oilers, go 30-7-7, and still find a way to blow it. That will go to Jose Theodore, who undoubtedly will not return to the Washington Capitals next season after an embarrassing first round exit that was shared between him and Varlamov.
The fact is, teams have not been spending a lot of money on goalies, compared to what they spend on offense and defense. Turco and Nabokov are the only two goalies who will make out well this summer, and with teams looking for cheap, older veterans or young rookies to be their backup, Theodore has no place left in the NHL.
The same can be said for Vesa Toskala who has been brutal since he left San Jose in 2007 and has earned the nickname “ToskaLOL” on the internet forum circuit. It can be attributed to the shoddy defense of the Maple Leafs, but it has taken its toll mentally on him. I do not see there being any team willing to take on Toskala, when any kid in their farm system can come up and play the same way, if not better.
Both of these goalies will head to Europe, most likely Russia, and get paid like kings all while being number one goaltenders. They will each look for one year deals over there, and will hope to return to the NHL next season after a solid year overseas.
4. Chris Mason to the Atlanta Thrashers
When the Blues acquired Jaroslav Halak from the Canadiens the other day, that all but spelled the end for their number one goaltender Chris Mason. The last two seasons have witnessed excellent play from Mason, despite a young and inexperienced team in front of him.
He will be looking for a starting job, and as of right now, there is only team left with a gaping hole at starter. The Thrashers make sense, as do the Sharks if Nabokov bolts for Washington as I predict he will. The two backups for both these teams are Thomas Greiss for San Jose, and Ondrej Pavelec (RFA) for Atlanta. I think the Sharks will look to go younger and give Greiss the starting job, but the Thrashers will look for stability.
A goalie tandem of Mason and Pavelec going 50/30 for the season could work out well. Atlanta’s defense will also be much better this season, and such a young corp could be attractive to Mason.
5. Martin Biron to the New York Rangers
Joe and I have been saying this since last season, that the Rangers would have an interest in Biron. Henrik Lundqvist needs a backup who can play twenty games and also push him to play better during the middle of the season, when Lundqvist usually tends to slump.
Biron has been a starter in the past and could be a reliable backup that the Rangers would trust over Chad Johnson or Alex Auld. The Rangers would give him a one year deal so Johnson could get an extra year in the minors to be ready for next season.
6. Dan Ellis to re-sign with Nashville
7. Michael Leighton to Dallas
8. Ray Emery to Edmonton, or back to Europe
9. Patrick Lalime to Montreal
10. Johan Hedburg to New Jersey
11. Alex Auld to San Jose