NHL Free Agency Preview: Goalies
July 1 is a significant day in the National Hockey League. It's the day that unrestricted free agents are finally able to negotiate with any team they want. Even with a fading economy, it's a safe bet that money will be spent, and it will probably be spent freely by at least some teams. With this big day in mind, FanHouse offers up a position-by-position look at the top free agents, as well as some guys you may want your team to avoid.
While there isn't a large population of goalies, there appear to be fewer starting positions available. There are some veterans in the midst of solid NHL careers who may struggle to find work in the league. It likely establishes a buyer's market for goalies.
Nikolai Khabibulin, Chicago Blackhawks. A Cup champion with Tampa Bay back in 2004, Khabibulin parlayed that success into a big free-agent deal with the Blackhawks. He largely floundered in Chicago, including a ghastly 3.35 goals against in 2005-2006, but he put things together in his contract year, just like he did with the Lightning.
With Cristobal Huet both in the fold and quite expensive, it's not likely Chicago will bring back Khabibulin, even though he was very good for them this season and in the playoffs. If they do, he needs to be cheaper than the $6.75 million he made this past season, and he may have to accept a short-term deal.
Then again, looking around the league, it doesn't appear that there are any options nearly as attractive as "competing with Huet for the top job with a playoff-caliber Chicago team".
Proven Talents Set to Strike it Rich
Scott Clemmensen, New Jersey Devils. No one ever likes getting playing time because a superstar got hurt, but that's exactly what happened to Clemmensen, and the 31-year-old made the most of it. 25 wins and a 2.39 goals against should vault him into serious consideration for a job next season. The Devils will have their hands full trying to re-sign him, as Clemmensen says he expects to take this opportunity to test the market.
Manny Fernandez, Boston Bruins. With Vezina Trophy winner Tim Thomas locked up long-term, the cap-strapped Bruins have no need for a veteran backup. The sometimes-temperamental Fernandez was very good for Boston when given the opportunity, but never could prove himself better or more consistent than Thomas. Fernandez probably merits at least a chance to compete for a starting job, but there's no chance of this happening in Boston. Teams like Colorado and Toronto may want to stick their toe in the water.
Ty Conklin, Detroit Red Wings. Especially valuable for anyone planning to play a game outside during the 2009-2010 season (Conklin has played in all three NHL outdoor games), Conklin helped hold Detroit's defense together while Chris Osgood found himself struggling through much of the regular season. With Osgood righted and Jimmy Howard ready to back him up, there was simply no room for Conklin.
He made a scant $750,000 (just $30,000 per win) for the Red Wings, and he should serve as someone's solid veteran backup, likely with a modest raise but not much of a chance to start every night.
Craig Anderson, Florida Panthers. With Tomas Vokoun going through the occasional struggle, Anderson stepped in and performed well while serving dutifully as the backup in south Florida. Now, Anderson gets a chance to see if he can get a bigger role somewhere in the NHL. He posted a .924 save percentage while playing in a career-high 31 games this past season.
Of course, the problem with Anderson can be easily seen in that last sentence. The phrase "career-high 31 games" sticks out like a sore thumb. That said, Anderson should be able to net himself a very nice raise and could be a breakout candidate if he signs with the right team.
Martin Biron, Philadelphia Flyers. He's being unceremoniously set aside by the Flyers, who don't exactly have a superstar waiting to take the job. That should tell you something about the enigmatic Biron, who made $3.5 million in his walk year. With so few teams looking for a starter, it's hard to imagine Biron avoiding a paycut this summer.