Breaking down this offseason’s crowded goalie market

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Need a goalie? You’re in luck, because this offseason’s NHL free agent and trade market is overflowing with options as several prominent goaltenders are set to become available over the coming days and weeks.

Let’s take a look at some of the most notable options, ranging from the safest and best bets, to the riskiest and most volatile.

Also just for laughs, one completely bonkers option that does not even seem realistic.

FREE AGENTS

Sign this goalie

Robin Lehner (Vegas Golden Knights — pending UFA). Word is the Golden Knights want to re-sign him, and there was even a report during the playoffs that an agreement had been reached (Lehner denied it). But until pen is put to paper and deal is official we are working under the assumption that he could still be available, and if he is, he would be the best available player at the position. Of the 70 goalies that have appeared in at least 50 games over the past four years, Lehner ranks seventh in all situations save percentage (.919) and 15th in even-strength save percentage (.924) while also posting outstanding postseason numbers. He has played on one-year deals the past two years in shared net situations. He has more than earned a long-term deal and starting job, whether it comes in Vegas or somewhere else.

Jacob Markstrom (Vancouver Canucks — pending UFA). Markstrom was a huge part of the Canucks taking a big step forward this season. He is not one of the league’s elite goalies, but he has been a durable starter for the past three years and consistently provided above average play behind what was — at times — a very porous defensive team. It took him a while to establish himself as a starter, but now that he has, he is an excellent one.

Anton Khudobin (Dallas Stars — pending UFA). How much money did he make for himself this postseason? The risk here is that he is 34 years old and never been a full-time starter in the NHL. The argument for him is that he has been outstanding for three years now, and even though he certainly played his way into a bigger contract he still shouldn’t break the bank. The ideal outcome for him is to re-sign in Dallas where he and Ben Bishop form an outstanding duo.

Thomas Greiss (New York Islanders — pending UFA). Like Khudobin, Greiss is probably most valuable in a platoon role. Not one of the biggest names available, but In four of the past five years he has played in at least 30 games and finished with a save percentage of .912 or better. Some team is going to spend a lot more money on a lesser goalie this offseason.

NHL Free Agency
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Proceed with caution

Corey Crawford (Chicago Blackhawks — pending UFA). Crawford was the most underrated part of the Blackhawks’ mini-dynasty and one of their most important players. I still think he can be (and is) an excellent player when healthy. And that is the big “if” here. He turns 36 in December and has had some significant injury issues the past few years.

Henrik Lundqvist (Bought out — currently UFA). The two obvious questions here are: 1) which goalie-needy contender does he signs with to chase that elusive Stanley Cup (Colorado? Carolina?) and, 2) how much does he have left in the tank as a starter to help that contender win the Stanley Cup? He is 38 years old and has a .906 save percentage over the past two years. He’s a far cry from the goalie he used to be, but in the right situation I think there is still something here.

Braden Holtby (Washington Capitals — pending UFA). Just have a bad feeling about this for some team. At one time one of the best goalies in hockey, but he has been ordinary (to even bad) for three years now. Getting some strong Sergei Bobrovsky-in-Florida vibes with this next contract.

The Trade Market

Likely trade candidates

Marc-Andre Fleury (Vegas Golden Knights). Fleury has said he will not ask for a trade, but if Vegas is successful in re-signing Lehner a deal here seems to be inevitable. There is not enough room under the cap for those two contracts, and there probably isn’t enough room in the crease for two No. 1 goalies. Seems like an ideal fit for Colorado given their trade assets and salary cap space, but why would Vegas want to improve what might be its top Western Conference contender?

Matt Murray (Pittsburgh Penguins). Here’s the problem with Murray: We just don’t know how good he is at this point. Sometimes he looks like the goalie that was a two-time Stanley Cup champion in his first two years and sometimes he looks … decidedly average. It seems to be a matter of when, and not if, the Penguins move him, but given the saturated goalie market and Murray’s inconsistency the past three years the return he could be way smaller than expected.

Long-shot trade candidates

Darcy Kuemper (Arizona Coyotes). Kuemper’s name surfaced in trade rumors shortly after the Coyotes were eliminated, but it really doesn’t seem like a good idea. They have a good thing going with him and Antti Raanta for this season, and given Raanta’s ongoing injury concerns keeping Kuemper seems like it should be a priority. Not likely to get an upgrade at a cheaper price.

Devan Dubnyk (Minnesota Wild). Bill Guerin seems determined to shake things up, Dubnyk only has one year left on his deal, he is coming off his worst season in Minnesota, and with the available options there could be an upgrade to be made here.

The nuclear option

Tuukka Rask (Boston Bruins). Am only including Rask because TSN’s Frank Seravalli mentioned on Thursday that Bruins GM Don Sweeney has “initiated conversations with teams about Rask’s market value over the last number of weeks.” That doesn’t necessarily mean he is looking to trade him, but that is still interesting. Also a little insane. The Bruins have everything it takes to win a Stanley Cup and even though Rask only has one year left on his contract he is still better than any goalie they could realistically acquire to replace him. Let’s not overthink this, folks.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Ducks’ Urho Vaakanainen crashes into boards, leaves on stretcher

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ANAHEIM, Calif. — Ducks defenseman Urho Vaakanainen was taken off the Honda Center ice on a stretcher after he crashed into the end boards in the first period of Anaheim’s preseason game against the San Jose Sharks.

The Finnish defenseman was conscious and alert with full movement in his extremities at UCI Medical Center, the Ducks said.

The frightening incident occurred midway through the opening period when Vaakanainen smashed into the boards at a dangerous speed behind the Sharks’ net. Vaakanainen appeared to be concentrating on the pass he had just made to Derek Grant, who scored the Ducks’ opening goal on the assist.

Vaakanainen’s teammates came onto the ice and gathered around him as he was taken away on the stretcher.

The Ducks acquired the 23-year-old Vaakanainen from Boston last March in the deal that sent longtime Ducks defenseman Hampus Lindholm to the Bruins. After recording two assists in 14 games for the Ducks last season, Vaakanainen is attempting to win a top-six role on Anaheim’s defense this fall.

Lightning donate $2 million to Hurricane Ian relief efforts

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TAMPA, Fla. — The Tampa Bay Lightning and team owner Jeff Vinik are donating $2 million toward Hurricane Ian relief efforts.

The NHL team announced that $1 million each will be donated by the Tampa Bay Lightning Foundation and the Vinik Family Foundation.

“This is a tragic situation for many families and communities across the state of Florida, but especially so in the southwest region of the state,” Vinik said in a statement released by the team. “In times like these the most important thing we can do is support one another, and we hope this donation will help families recover and rebuild in the months to come.”

Ian made landfall Wednesday on Florida’s Gulf Coast, south of the Tampa Bay area. The Lightning postponed two home preseason games and moved the club’s training camp to Nashville, Tennessee, during the storm.

Maple Leafs sign defenseman Rasmus Sandin to 2-year deal

Rasmus Sandin
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TORONTO — Rasmus Sandin has signed a two-year, $2.8 million contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs, the club announced on Thursday.

The 22-year-old from Sweden was the 29th overall selection in the 2018 draft. Sandin had 16 points in 51 games with Toronto last season. He’s played in 88 career regular-season games, with six goals and 22 assists, and has one goal in five playoff games.

“Got a great set of tools,” fellow defenseman Jake Muzzin said. “With experience, I think they’re only going to get better.”

The signing comes as the Leafs’ blueliners been hit hard by injuries. Muzzin has been dealing with a back issue, and Timothy Liljegren recently had surgery for a hernia.

Toronto then lost Jamie Benn (groin) and Carl Dahlstrom (shoulder) in Wednesday’s 3-0 preseason victory over the Montreal Canadiens, pressing forwards Calle Jarnkrok and Alexander Kerfoot into defensive roles for two periods.

Back with Wild, Fleury welcomes big workload as clear No. 1

marc-andre fleury
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ST. PAUL, Minn. — With his ever-present smile, tireless approach and long list of accomplishments in the net, Marc-Andre Fleury has always embraced a heavy workload.

The Minnesota Wild sure haven’t shied away from leaning hard on their new – and 37-year-old – goalie. After arriving in a deadline-day trade in March and re-signing with the Wild in July, the guy everyone calls “Flower” is still fully abloom as he begins his 19th season in the NHL.

“They say, `You play,’ I play, unless maybe I’m hurt or something,” Fleury said. “But other than that, I like playing.”

Wild general manager Bill Guerin initially planned to bring back both Fleury and Cam Talbot, who made the All-Star team and went 13-0-3 in his last 16 regular season starts before being benched in favor of Fleury for the first-round playoff series against St. Louis. The Wild lost in six games, after Talbot got the cold start in the elimination game and gave up four goals on 26 shots.

Guerin changed his mind, though, after signing Fleury to a two-year, $7 million contract. Realizing Talbot’s frustration from the lack of postseason action, he didn’t want to risk any tension or discontent. Talbot was traded to Ottawa for Filip Gustavsson, who will be the No. 2 goalie while top prospect Jesper Wallstedt gets more development in the AHL.

Gustavsson has only 23 career regular-season starts, nearly 200 fewer than Talbot, so it’s a good bet that Fleury will get the majority of the games.

“I was ready to share the load with him, but things didn’t work out and happy to be having the chance to play maybe a bit more. It’s fun to play. It’s more fun than sitting on the bench,” said Fleury, who went 28-23-5 in 56 combined starts for Chicago and Minnesota last season with a 2.90 goals against average and a .908 save percentage.

The Wild reconvened for training camp last week, beginning their quest to recapture the mojo they enjoyed last season while setting franchise records for points (113), wins (53) and goals (305). The only team that finished ahead of them in the Western Conference was Colorado, which went on to win the Stanley Cup, but they never met the Avs in the playoffs because the Blues got to them first.

There’s a strong chemistry in place, at least, to build upon.

“We still have a lot of guys here who were here last year. We’re just trying to make it even better, just trying to listen to everybody,” center Joel Eriksson Ek said. “We want to set a standard and a way for how hard this team’s going to work.”

The Wild start the regular season by hosting the New York Rangers on Oct. 13.

COMINGS AND GOINGS

The most significant roster move of the summer amongst the skaters was the inevitable salary-cap-driven trade of second-leading scorer Kevin Fiala to Los Angeles. Fiala had a career-high 33 goals and 52 assists last season. Guerin otherwise dabbled mostly in two-way contracts in free agency for depth. Former Anaheim center Sam Steel signed with Minnesota last month, one day after defenseman Dimitry Kulikov was dealt to the Ducks.

MORE POWER

The Wild were done in during the playoffs by abysmal special teams. They went just 4 for 24 on the power play against the Blues, and head coach Dean Evason had the team working on that on the first day on the ice. The penalty kill that lagged last season was a focus of the second practice.

“It has to get better, no question,” Evason said.

BLUE LINE SHUFFLE

Captain Jared Spurgeon has been placed with Jonas Brodin on the first pair on defense, and Jake Middleton has joined Matt Dumba on the second unit. Dumba and Brodin are close friends who’ve been paired together for several seasons.

“Dumbs is a shooter too,” said Middleton, who re-signed for three years and $7.35 million. “It’s pretty exciting. I can get some cookies passing him the puck. That’d be a big plus. I think it’ll work well. He loves hitting guys too. He plays a gritty game as well so I think we’ll be a good combo.”

UP FRONT

With Jordan Greenway recovering from offseason surgeries, Tyson Jost will get the first chance to skate with Eriksson Ek and Marcus Foligno. The departure of Fiala has opened at least one spot for a rookie to make the team, with 2020 first-round draft pick Marco Rossi in line for it.

ON THE SLATE

This is the first time in eight years the Wild will play their regular-season opener at home. After three more games at Xcel Energy Center, they don’t hit the road until a five-game trip that starts Oct. 22 at Boston. The Wild have a season-long nine-game homestand from Feb. 9-21.