Need a goalie? No shortage of options out there

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Don’t underestimate the importance of the backup goalie. In today’s NHL, where parity reigns, it can be the difference between making and missing the playoffs.

Think that’s overstating things? Give Jim Nill a call in Dallas. The Stars’ GM gambled on Anders Lindback this season, and it cost his team big time. With a capable backup, the Stars wouldn’t have had to lean so heavily on a struggling Kari Lehtonen. Dallas went on to finish with the NHL’s second-worst team save percentage (.895). Also, seven points back of a playoff spot.

Meanwhile, remember what Andrew Hammond did for the Senators? And Eddie Lack for the Canucks when Ryan Miller went down with an injury? Do either of those teams make the playoffs without such solid play from their backups?

Having one capable goalie is nice. Having two is even better. Heck, in the Senators’ case, it was three.

Remember that on July 1 when unrestricted free agents are expected to include Antti Niemi, Karri Ramo, Michal Neuvirth, and Jhonas Enroth. (As of today, Devan Dubnyk can become unrestricted as well, but it would be a surprise if he doesn’t re-sign with Minnesota.)

And then there’s the trade market. The Senators are trying to trade Craig Anderson or Robin Lehner. The Canucks are expected to deal one of Lack or Jacob Markstrom. The Blackhawks have three goalies under contract; what could Antti Raanta fetch them? Would the Leafs trade James Reimer? They’d listen to offers, that’s for sure.

So yeah, lots of options out there.

In spite of all the supply, Canucks GM Jim Benning is confident there’s enough demand that he’ll be able to recover something for either Lack or Markstrom.

“I think there’s enough teams that need goalies that if we decide to move someone that we won’t have a problem doing it,” he said recently in a radio interview.

And according to a report in the Ottawa Sun, there are seven teams interested in the Senators’ goalies.

The Edmonton Oilers are probably one of those seven teams. They finished the season with the NHL’s worst team save percentage (.888).

“I’ve had discussions on teams with goalies,” GM Peter Chiarelli said yesterday. “We’ve got a goalie under contract in Ben Scrivens.”

We’ve speculated that the Oilers may have interest in a veteran like Anderson, but Chiarelli refused to get into specifics.

“Obviously I’m not going to comment on any discussions with specific teams,” he said.

So, expect plenty of goalies to change clubs this summer. And when the 16 playoff teams are finalized for 2016, don’t be surprised if we’re looking back at one or two moves that made a difference between making and missing.

Related: If Anderson is available, should the Oilers be interested?

Benning trying to figure where Markstrom ‘fits in’

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Jim Benning is trying to figure out what he’s got in Jacob Markstrom.

The Canucks GM was in Utica this past week to watch Vancouver’s AHL team, the Comets, advance to the Western Conference Finals, in which they’ll take on the Grand Rapids Griffins (featuring Dylan Larkin).

On Wednesday, Benning saw another good AHL outing for Markstrom, who stopped 35 shots in a 1-0 Game 7 shutout win over Oklahoma City. The 25-year-old now has a .930 save percentage in 12 playoff games this year. His save percentage was .934 during the regular season, earning him second-team all-star honors.

But whether Markstrom can succeed in the NHL is still to be determined. He hasn’t so far, with an .896 save percentage in 50 games with the Canucks and Panthers.

“That’s part of why I’m down here now — to get a good look at Jacob Markstrom and see where he fits in,” Benning told the Vancouver Sun. “That’s what I’m trying to figure out right now. He showed me a lot last night, playing a real good game in a high-pressure situation.”

If Benning believes Markstrom is capable of backing up Ryan Miller next season, it likely means that Eddie Lack, one year away from becoming an unrestricted free agent, will be traded.

If not, Benning will try and trade Markstrom. (Though that may be easier said than done.)

Related: Canucks ‘know what it’s going to take’ to keep Lack, whose future might be elsewhere

Canucks ‘know what it’s going to take’ to keep Lack, whose future might be elsewhere

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You can add Eddie Lack to the list of goalies that might come available this summer.

Lack, who took over the No. 1 gig in Vancouver after Ryan Miller’s injury and backstopped the team to the playoffs, has one year left on his deal but could be moved if the Canucks decide he’s not in their long-term plans.

From the Vancouver Sun:

Canucks general manager Jim Benning said Tuesday the team will make a decision on its goaltending before the entry draft in June and if Lack isn’t part of the long-term plan, the club will try to trade him rather than risk losing him as an unrestricted free agent after next season.

“We’ve had preliminary talks with Eddie’s agent and we know what it’s going to take to get him signed,” Benning said. “We’re bringing in all our pro scouts and we’ll meet here in the next couple of weeks … and as a group make that decision.”

Asked if Lack, having played 41 NHL games each of the last two seasons, is too good to risk losing to free agency if the Canucks don’t re-sign him, Benning said: “I think you’re right with that.”

Lack, 27, emerged as a legit No. 1 and fan favorite this season, going 18-13-4 with a .921 save percentage and 2.45 GAA while winning over the Rogers Arena faithful with his easygoing personality and affinity for tacos.

The Swedish ‘tender has said he likes playing in Vancouver and wants to stay. But with Ryan Miller under contract for two more years — at $6M per — and Jacob Markstrom posting All-Star calibre numbers at the AHL level, Lack could be the guy on the move.

Of course, he’s not ready to just accept his departure — just ask his mom, who received some media attention herself this year for her exploits on Twitter:

All that said, Lack — who carries an affordable $1.15 million cap hit — may eventually welcome a move if it affords a better opportunity to start.

“I kind of feel like I’m almost coming up to that age where I’m really ready to compete, you know?” he explained. “To be honest, I don’t really care if it would have been me and [Markstrom] like it was before or me and Ryan; I come to the rink every day to do my best. I’m always going to hope and expect to play.

“I have one year left on my contract and I love the city and love the fans. Obviously, there’s a business side and if they want to get rid of me, I can’t really say anything. But I want to spend more time here.”

If Anderson is available, should the Oilers be interested?

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If the Ottawa Senators re-sign goalie Andrew Hammond — and it sounds like they intend to try — they’ll need to trade one of Craig Anderson or Robin Lehner.

If they decide to trade Anderson, should the Oilers be interested?

There’s no easy answer to that question, because there’s no certainty, not ever, when it comes to a goaltender. But at the very least, the veteran Anderson possesses a body of work that suggests a modicum of reliability.

In 406 NHL games for the Blackhawks, Panthers, Avalanche and Senators, Anderson has a .915 career save percentage. That’s in line with Jonathan Quick (.915 in 407 games) and Ryan Miller (.915 in 604 games). Anderson’s numbers this season, albeit in just 35 regular-season appearances, were among the best in the league. He was even better in the playoffs.

If there’s a concern about Anderson, it’s his age — he’ll be 34 next week. He’s had his share of injuries as well. But his contract is reasonable, with three years left at a cap hit of $4.2 million. Edmonton would pay that in a heartbeat to stabilize a position that badly needs to be stabilized.

Now, it’s possible the Senators try first to deal Lehner. So, might the Oilers be interested in him? Possibly. But Lehner is only 23, and he’s never started more than 30 games in the NHL. For all his upside — and he has quite a bit — his inexperience may not be a great fit in Edmonton. The same goes for a guy like Cam Talbot. Great NHL numbers, but a limited body of work. Plus, Talbot’s numbers (.931 save percentage in 57 games) were compiled with the help of some pretty good defensemen. (Remember that Ben Scrivens had good numbers with the Kings before the Oilers got him.)

Another experienced goalie the Oilers could pursue this offseason is unrestricted free agent Antti Niemi. We’re just not sure that would happen if Todd McLellan ends up becoming their coach.

Related: Why sign Miller? Benning wanted ‘a goalie with experience’

Will anyone pay a price for Markstrom?

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Once again, the Vancouver Canucks are going to have to try and trade a goalie.

GM Jim Benning didn’t deny it yesterday, while also agreeing that the time to do it may be at this summer’s draft.

“We have depth in the goaltending position,” Benning said. “We’re going to decide who we’re going to go with going forward. That’s an area where we could probably recapture a draft pick if we decide to trade somebody.”

Chances are, the Canucks will have the same netminding tandem next season as they did this season: Ryan Miller and Eddie Lack. The former has two years left on his contract before he can become an unrestricted free agent; the latter only has one year left, but given his age (27), ability and popularity with the fans, nobody would be surprised if he were to sign an extension.

That leaves Jacob Markstrom, the 25-year-old pending restricted free agent who has nothing left to prove at the AHL level but everything left to prove in the NHL.

Markstrom came to Vancouver from Florida in the Roberto Luongo trade. Drafted 31st overall in 2008, he was once the Panthers’ goalie of the future. Obviously, that plan was never realized.

In September, Markstrom was actually available for free on waivers. While there was reportedly interest, the Canucks gambled they could sneak him down to the minors. In the end, no team made a claim and he was sent to Utica, where he proceeded to go 22-7-2 with a .934 save percentage, good enough to be named to the AHL’s second all-star team.

Bottom line: Markstrom is a high-risk, high-reward proposition. Based on his AHL numbers and draft pedigree, there’s clear potential. On the other hand, in 50 career NHL games, he has a .896 save percentage.

In other words, if you’re the Edmonton Oilers (they jump to mind, right?), you’d be taking an enormous risk by acquiring Markstrom and slotting him in as your back-up. (Just ask the Dallas Stars about their experiences with a back-up that was once highly touted but came to them with a questionable NHL track record.)

The Canucks do have an asset in Markstrom, for now. Assuming he’s the goalie they decide to shop, it’s what they can turn that asset into, if anything, that will be interesting to see.