Looking for a free agent goalie this summer? Go for a backup

While the Ilya Kovalchuk Saga dominated the biggest headlines during last summer’s free agent months, the most surprising storyline involved NHL teams closing up their pocketbooks when it came to free agent goalies. Really, the only netminders who signed good deals that summer were restricted free agents such as Carey Price, Steve Mason and Jaroslav Halak. Halak was the only one of the three to sign with a different team to boot.

Judging by Craig Custance’s top five UFA goalies list, there won’t be many options for hockey teams searching for a No. 1 goalie. Especially when you consider the fact that the Coyotes would fall apart without Ilya Bryzgalov and Breezy actually might not find a better fit than Dave Tippett’s stingy defensive system, either.

(I’d also strongly advise the Senators to re-sign Craig Anderson. Like, now.)

Then again, there really aren’t that many teams looking for a top goalie at this point. If the Blackhawks manage to keep Corey Crawford and the Maple Leafs decide that James Reimer is their goalie of the present as well a the future, the list of teams looking for a starter probably boils down to: the Lightning, Avalanche, Islanders and Panthers.

Yet there’s one other goalie-related trend developing in the league: it seems like there’s a bit of a Renaissance in the backup position. From sturdy veterans such as Brian Boucher and Brent Johnson to surprise starters such as Crawford to surprisingly successful reclamation projects like Jose Theodore and Andrew Raycroft, No. 2 guys have been saving the day for many NHL teams. Just look at how well the Devils are doing with Johan Hedberg – and conversely, how over-worked Ryan Miller is since the Sabres don’t trust Patrick Lalime – and it’s clear that a dependable backup is one of the most underrated assets in the league.

Sure, these guys aren’t the netminders you want leading your team during Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals, but they might give your starter crucial rest to get there. Here’s a quick list of some of the best backup goalies (or should-be backups) who will be available this summer:

  • Hedberg
  • Theodore
  • Boucher
  • Chris Osgood
  • Mike Smith
  • Ty Conklin
  • Josh Harding
  • Alex Auld

There are also three wild card options if teams want to roll the dice: Marty Turco, Jean-Sebastien Giguere and Ray Emery. Even Peter Budaj and Martin Gerber might have a shot at being halfway competent.

Looking over that list of goalies, let’s put this simply. Barring injuries, your team’s GM won’t have any excuse for riding a workhorse starter for 31 straight games next season. Maybe you can’t find a home run in the goalie market (unless you’re lucky enough to land Tomas Vokoun or Bryzgalov), but it’s better to hit for average rather than power in free agency in general.

Long story short, no team should be without backup in the 2011-12 season.

WATCH LIVE: Blackhawks at Penguins – Wednesday Night Rivalry

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The latest edition of NBCSN’s Wednesday Night Rivalry presents quite the treat: the Chicago Blackhawks at the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Both teams are at 103 standings points and each squad already punched a ticket to the playoffs. Even so, they’re dealing with mini-slumps that they’d like to work out tonight.

For all we know, this could be a preview of what would be one extremely fun, high-profile 2017 Stanley Cup Final. Either way, it’s a showcase of two premiere franchises brimming with star power.

You can watch on NBCSN, online and via NBC Sports App. Click here for the livestream.

Yes, NHL will share protected, available player lists for expansion draft

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We can debate all day how much the NHL, Vegas Golden Knights and others involved really want to do this, but they’re making the right choice with the expansion draft nonetheless. The league will make protected and available players lists available at the same time they’re shared with teams, according to NHL.com’s Nick Cotsonika.

(The NHL tweeted out as much, too.)

Could this lead to feelings being hurt or perhaps even certain sneaky deals being scuttled? Perhaps, but those are headaches that management should be expected to absorb.

The bottom line is that an expansion draft is a dream come true for armchair GMs, rumor enthusiasts, fantasy sports fans and … really, just about anyone interested in hockey. It would be a bewildering decision to try to keep all of this information locked down, even for a league that frequently garners a reputation for choosing comfort over entertainment value.

Cotsonika reports that such lists will probably be made available on June 18, though that isn’t set in stone.

(If you’re the type to take off work if a trade deadline was exciting, you might want to start drumming up excuses/putting aside vacation time/practicing your best “I’m sick” voice just in case …)

Cap Friendly provides a handy timeline for the expansion draft process:

Goalie nods: Blues give Hutton first start in two weeks

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Even though Jake Allen has played extremely well of late, Carter Hutton will get the call when the Blues take on the Coyotes in Arizona tonight.

Some of this could have to do with the opponent. The Coyotes are playing out the string on a forgettable campaign, and have lost six of their last seven. That includes a 4-1 defeat in St. Louis on Monday (in which Allen stopped 27 of 28 shots for the win).

As mentioned above, Allen has been great in March and deserves huge praise for turning his season around. He’s gone 8-1-1 this month with a remarkable .951 save percentage, allowing a mere 14 goals over his 10 appearances.

Hutton, though, has played equally well when called upon. He’s gone 4-1-0 over his last five starts, posting a .962 save percentage and a pair of shutouts. In his last outing, on Mar. 16, he allowed just one goal in a victory in San Jose.

For the Coyotes, Louis Domingue is in goal.

Elsewhere…

— A good matchup in Pittsburgh tonight, as the two defending Stanley Cup champions go head-to-head. Marc-Andre Fleury starts for the Penguins, while Corey Crawford goes for the Blackhawks.

— Calgary can clinch a playoff spot with a win tonight so, unsurprisingly, it’ll go with No. 1 Brian Elliott. No word yet on who starts for the visiting Kings, though it could be Ben Bishop after Jonathan Quick lost last night in Edmonton.

Philipp Grubauer gets the call for Washington, after Braden Holtby led the Caps to victory in Minnesota on Tuesday. Grubauer will take on Calvin Pickard, who starts for the Avs.

Vegas wants ‘progressive’ head coach, says McPhee

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Golden Knights GM George McPhee continued to list the characteristics he wants from a head coach this week, explaining that he’s searching for a forward-thinking bench boss.

“We want someone who is very current on the game, who is progressive on how the game should be played,” McPhee said in a recent phone call with season ticket holders, per the club website. “We’re looking for that progressive guy that can really help us through the early years and help develop our team and our players.”

So, time to connect the dots.

Back in November, Vegas owner Bill Foley laid the initial groundwork for McPhee’s coaching profile, saying he wanted to hire an experienced head coach.

“He’s not looking for a first-termer,” said Foley. “Some may or may not be available. … I would say the coach that we name is going to be a recognizable individual.”

Among the names that have already been floated, many fit the above billing: Jack Capuano, Gerard Gallant, Ken Hitchcock and Michel Therrien, among others.

Vegas has already spoken with Gallant and reportedly made contact with Capuano as well, which shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. Gallant was nominated for last year’s Jack Adams as the NHL’s top coach, and McPhee is familiar with Capuano, having worked as an adviser to Isles GM Garth Snow prior to taking the Golden Knights gig.

It’s also believed former Flyers head coach Craig Berube is being considered, along with current Montreal associate Kirk Muller.