Before the 2022 NHL Draft happened, the NHL free agent goalie market looked like a bit of a ghost town. After Ville Husso and Marc-Andre Fleury got snatched up, it might look like Darcy Kuemper, Jack Campbell, and tumbleweeds.
(OK, that’s an exaggeration; apologies to Braden Holtby and others.)
Also, there’s a chance that Maple Leafs opened up salary cap space needed to bring back Jack Campbell, anyway.
So, while teams like the Maple Leafs, Oilers, Capitals, Devils, and others may end up having a demand for goalies, the free agent market presents limited supplies.
With that in mind, would NHL teams in need of goalies be better off seeking trades instead of free agent signings? After all, that’s what the Avalanche did last offseason when they traded for Darcy Kuemper after losing Philipp Grubauer.
Maple Leafs, Oilers, Wild among those saying different things about goalie trade possibilities
First things first, this post revolves around possible NHL goalie trade targets. That doesn’t mean these goalies are actually available.
Just ask Wild GM Bill Guerin. Advice: if you ask him on TV, you make sure there’s a sufficient delay to bleep out profanities.
Guerin: “I don’t have shit to do. Cam Talbot’s under contract. George can say whatever the hell he wants. My team’s set right now, and that’s the way it goes. We can have all the discussions we want. Cam’s a member of our team. We really like Cam. All we’re trying to do is win” https://t.co/F1CNuUH8je
— Michael Russo (@RussoHockey) July 8, 2022
Of course, we’ve seen GMs deny interest in trading players, only to quickly do just that. And Guerin’s potty-mouthed vitriol might be more about feeling cornered than totally dismissing the notion of a Cam Talbot trade.
So, the message is straightforward. Take each mention in this post with a grain of salt. Maybe they’re not on the market at all. In the case of the Sharks, they might be playing coy. But GMs such as Kyle Dubas indicate that several teams approached the Maple Leafs about a goalie trade, and they’re at least considering that route.
“Every team that had someone was coming up to us this morning.”
Toronto Maple Leafs have trade and UFA options, but the list of available goalies is shrinking and there is serious competition. Where Kyle Dubas stands on this spinning carousel: https://t.co/fB0RMLUF0L pic.twitter.com/HBQ2M1B7yC
— luke fox (@lukefoxjukebox) July 8, 2022
Let’s roll through some of the most interesting possible NHL goalie trade targets. If you feel that a netminder is missing, feel free to weigh in with a comment.
Pros and cons of potential NHL goalie trade targets
High-risk, high-reward with John Gibson?
For the most part, potential NHL trade targets revolve around goalies who are on short-term deals. Most only have one year left on their contracts.
There’s a push and pull with such investments.
For one thing, even if they “solve” your problem, it could only be a short-term fix. Some may view parting with picks and/or prospects for a goalie as a poor use of resources. On the plus side, goalies are unpredictable, and you limit your risks if that netminder ends up being a bad fit.
Anaheim Ducks goalie John Gibson is the bold exception. The 28-year-old is locked down for the sort of term and price that Darcy Kuemper might command: five years left (through 2026-27) and a $6.4M cap hit.
Not that long ago, John Gibson looked like a steal at $6.4M. Although, even around his peak, some doubted him, claiming that he didn’t “work on his craft” and was just collecting a pay check(!).
If a team decides to trade for John Gibson, they’re likely expecting the John Gibson from a few years ago, who was among the NHL’s best. Lately, his numbers land closer to average.
John Gibson (rumoured to be on the outs in Anaheim) has nine seasons in the league, and they break into three neat sections; average, astonishing, average. pic.twitter.com/5J6YOCrTwK
— Micah Blake McCurdy (@IneffectiveMath) June 13, 2022
For years, the Ducks defense ranked from below-average (last season) to flat-out bad (basically since 2017-18). A team who believes in John Gibson would make a trade hoping that he regains his elite status with better support.
It’s not an outrageous assumption to make. Yet, if a team makes a Gibson trade and is wrong, they’re not just out whatever that move cost in picks/prospects/players. That team also is on the hook for a pricey investment for five seasons.
If nothing else, John Gibson is the most interesting option in the possible NHL goalie trade market. In my opinion, he’s deserving of his own section.
Potential goalie trade category “that’s a lot to spend on a backup/platoon option”
Again, some of these goalies truly may not be on the trade market. Bill Guerin was profane about Cam Talbot trade talk, or at least agent meddling. Islanders GM Lou Lamoriello indicated that he may keep Semyon Varlamov, even with Ilya Sorokin emerging as a stealth Vezina candidate in 2021-22.
Still, with each of these options, there’s a natural refrain. “Gee, that’s a lot of money to spend on a backup/platoon option.”
Varlamov, 34, carries a $5M cap hit that expires after 2022-23. He has a 16-team no-trade list. For much of his career, Varlamov’s put up steady numbers, with a few elite spikes and a few downturns.
Plenty of teams could talk themselves into spending $3.6667M for a 1B goalie, especially since Cam Talbot costs slightly more than Marc-Andre Fleury ($3.5M). Yet, with the Zach Parise + Ryan Suter buyouts starting to swell in price, the Wild need to make every dollar count.
Bill Guerin can bleep away at such talk, but it might make more sense to seek a cheaper backup, and get something for Talbot. Maybe he can even snag a cheap, quality NHL roster player instead of (or in addition to) a pick/prospect?
After serving as an excellent Rangers backup, Talbot enjoyed a strong start and the sharp decline as an Oilers starter. Since joining the Wild, he’s mostly been solid, though not exactly eye-popping behind a stingy Minny defense.
Generally, Talbot ranks among quite a few potential NHL goalie trade targets in seeming steady, if unspectacular. If you really believe in your team, relative reliability could be very appealing. For the most part, Cam Talbot brings that.
Kings goalies Jonathan Quick and Cal Petersen
Yes, the Kings are either out of their rebuild, or in its final stages. But it’s still fair to ask if the Kings really want to spend a combined $10.8M on Jonathan Quick and Cal Petersen next season.
Quick, 36, is the easiest to move from a transaction standpoint, but possibly challenging from a PR perspective. After all, this is the goalie who won two Stanley Cups with the Kings. Some Kings fans will grumble with a Quick trade, even if he wasn’t better than everyone else’s goalie for the duration of his lengthy contract.
To clarify, that's 10 years after next year — so 11 years in total of our goaltender being better than yours.
— LA Kings (@LAKings) June 28, 2012
As the 2021-22 season went along, Quick regained the Kings’ starting goalie job from Cal Petersen. Theoretically, the Kings could “sell high” on the veteran goalie. Look at Quick’s numbers and you’ll see that he struggled mightily from 2018-19 to 2020-21 before last season’s solid resurgence.
If the Kings feel antsy, maybe they’d seek a Cal Petersen trade? The 27-year-old carries a $5M cap hit for three more seasons (2024-25). While Quick lacks trade protection, Petersen carries a 10-team no-trade list.
It’s tough to imagine anyone knocking down Rob Blake’s door to trade for Petersen, who’s mostly been steady and isn’t exactly cheap. Los Angeles may opt for that expensive tandem, or may not have much of a choice. The duo’s at least worth mentioning because of that pricey $10.8M combined cost, though.
Other noteworthy possible NHL goalie trade targets
During his first season with the Canadiens, Jake Allen (at least technically) registered as a “that’s a lot of money for a backup” candidate. Ultimately, Allen ended up playing more regular-season games than Carey Price in each of the past two seasons.
Granted, Allen being able to play more often doesn’t mean he’s been playing at a high level.
Through two seasons, Allen’s numbers have been meek in Montreal: 20-32-9 record, .906 save percentage, -3.2 Goals Saved “Above” Average. The 31-year-old generated one truly fantastic season in 2019-20, when he sported a .927 save percentage with the Blues. Other than that, he’s been respectable (.911 career save percentage, -4.2 career GSAA).
If a team targeted Jake Allen in a trade, it would likely boil down to the taste of a front office member, possibly a goalie coach. It’s worth noting that the Canadiens are in an experimental rebuild mode, so maybe it would be easier to trade for Jake Allen than some of these other options.
What if the Habs retained half or portion of his $2.8M cap hit? If Allen goes from slightly overpriced to a budget option, he’d become more interesting.
James Reimer or Kaapo Kähkönen from the Sharks?
It’s fitting that both James Reimer and Antti Raanta have played for the Hurricanes. Both goalies have mixed good (sometimes great) results with bad luck, often related to injuries.
During a 2021-22 Sharks season where almost everything was on fire, James Reimer took away many of San Jose’s reliable goalie excuses. An already-solid .911 save percentage only tells some of the story of Reimer’s sneaky-good season. Consider this heat chart from Hockey Viz, and his 5.9 GSAA (by Hockey Reference’s metric).
Sure, Reimer isn’t perfect, but few goalies check every box. He’s been reliable, and sometimes very good, and the 34-year-old carries a cheap $2.25M cap hit.
He’s also on a Sharks team with a congested goalie situation, one that could give you other options. While Adin Hill doesn’t inspire excitement (although all it takes is one front office to be interested), Kaapo Kähkönen is another interesting Sharks goalie possibility.
Yes, it would be a bit odd if the Sharks traded Kähkönen after acquiring him from the Wild at the trade deadline in March. Still, note that Mike Grier was not Sharks GM when they traded for Kaapo Kähkönen. He might not be as interested in the 25-year-old as others, or the pending RFA’s price tag might not fall in line with Grier’s preferences.
Whereas most of these NHL trade target possibilities revolve around older goalies who present short-term solutions, a team could conceivably find a longer-term fit in Kaapo Kähkönen. He’s even younger than John Gibson, and may end up carrying a cheap “prove it” cap hit. (Or, a team might bet big on his potential with term, hoping he exceeds whatever dollar amount he gains.)
Final thoughts about potential NHL goalie trade targets
Just about any NHL team looking for a goalie via a trade should at least have The John Gibson Conversation. His talent and past achievements warrant discussion. Especially since he’s still in his prime range at 28.
Again, though, that’s a risk. If you’re wrong, the price is steep.
For teams that are more risk-averse (or simply lacking in salary cap space and/or assets to trade), a James Reimer-type option is intriguing. The same goes for Kaapo Kähkönen, if your staff believes in the goalie both in the present and the future.
Considering how shallow the NHL free agent goalie market looks, trades honestly seem like the wiser option. Maybe you’re sorting through “lesser evils,” but with goalies, it might just be best to contain your risks … then hope for the best.