Free agent goalie market only makes Shesterkin, other values more precious

Free agent goalie market only makes Shesterkin, other values more precious
Mark LoMoglio/NHLI via Getty Images

Nothing can swing a playoff series quite like a red-hot (or ice-cold) goalie. When you’re charting the importance of a goalie, you don’t compare them to a two-way center or elite defenseman. Instead, you’re often asking how a goalie’s importance compares to, say, a quarterback.

Yet, for as important as goalies are, they’re extremely difficult to predict. Some may even call them “voodoo.”

Uncomfortably, you don’t necessarily “get what you pay for” with NHL goaltending. Even so, during the past two offseasons, it sure feels like the “floor” keeps rising on what you pay for NHL goaltending — whether that netminder’s track record is strong or not.

Among other things, these recent trends only make (relatively) reliable goaltending more precious, especially on team-friendly deals.

Even shots in the dark are costing at least $2.75 million per year

After wearing out his welcome with the Capitals, Vitek Vanecek received a new opportunity by way of a trade to the Devils.

Free agent goalie market only makes Shesterkin, other values more precious Samsonov Vanecek
Both of these goalies found new teams this offseason. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

For a goalie who experienced enough ups and downs to possibly be labeled something of a reclamation project, it’s striking that the Devils still paid up quite a bit for Vanecek: a three-year deal that carries a $3.4M cap hit.

At first, that at least feels a little steep. But then you realize that it more-or-less falls in line with the floor rising for the goalie market. Even goalies with limited track records mostly fetch $2.75M per year. Consider some of the mid-level signings:

  • Vanecek: three years, $3.4M cap hit (Devils).
  • Alexandar Georgiev: three years, $3.4M cap hit (Avalanche).
  • Kaapo Kähkönen: two years, $2.75M AAV (Sharks).
  • Anton Forsberg: three years, $2.745M AAV (Senators).
  • Technically, the Maple Leafs traded for Matt Murray‘s contract from the Senators. It doesn’t feel unreasonable to throw him in this group, however, as he carries a considerable cap hit (about $4.7M) amid muted expectations.

[Related: 2022 NHL Free Agency Tracker]

Then, add in some weightier investments, such as Jack Campbell‘s contract with the Oilers, and the Red Wings’ proactive Ville Husso addition.

For some, it inspires a reasonable response: all of that spending makes the Capitals’ investment in Darcy Kuemper feel like a better “calculated risk.”

Overall, not a bad point. Yet, with Kuemper’s age (32) and his history of injuries — most recently an eye injury that forced him to work on tracking — there’s enough risk there that Washington could regret the move. (Injuries and health challenges often get worse, especially for big goalies.)

Instead, a different point lingered. The select few NHL teams with excellent goalies (or, let’s be honest, goalies they think are excellent) at value prices should thank their lucky stars.

And, in cases where those bargains are running out soon, they really might want to use that as motivation to go for it. Consider a team-friendly but short-term goalie contract the netminding equivalent to a rookie contract. You may only get one window where a difference-making person is making team-friendly money.

The $5M-ish Goalie Club: Shesterkin, Demko, Saros

Igor Shesterkin: $5.6667M cap hit for three more seasons (through 2024-25)

Personally, Igor Shesterkin was my pick for best goalie in the world in 2021-22. Hockey Viz’s goalie saving charts provide one way to measure Shesterkin’s historically great season. Saving close to 50 goals above expected is truly ludicrous, and you can still make a Hart Trophy debate for Shesterkin. Once he got over a few early struggles, he was spectacular during the playoffs, too.

Free agent goalie market only makes Shesterkin, other values more precious Shesterkin Viz
via Hockey Viz

Considering how much the Rangers leaned on him (and figure to keep leaning on him), he may slip next year. Perhaps you don’t think Shesterkin’s the absolute best goalie in the world, tabbing the reliable machine Andrei Vasilevskiy. That’s perfectly fair.

For the Rangers, that debate is mostly noise. He’s an incredible steal at a bit less than $5.7M per year, and in the meat of his prime at 26 years old.

One can only guess how much Shesterkin will cost in three years. For the time being, the Rangers should try to make the most of this bargain (not to mention whatever’s left of the peaks for Artemi Panarin and Chris Kreider).

Juuse Saros: $5M cap hit for three more seasons

For the past couple seasons, Juuse Saros has stood alongside Connor Hellebuyck and Andrei Vasilevskiy as a workhorse goalie who combines the quantity of all of those starts with the quality of making tough saves. Last season, Saros and Hellebuyck were the only two goalies in the league to make 1,900 saves and face at least 2,000 shots.

By Hockey Reference’s Goals Saved Above Average metric, Saros was in select company the past two seasons: 23.0 GSAA last season, and 20.9 in 2020-21.

Free agent goalie market only makes Shesterkin, other values more precious Saros
Predators stretched Saros to the limit. (Photo by Donald Page/Getty Images)

That whole time, I couldn’t help but wonder if the Predators were riding Saros too hard. Whether it was fatigue or just bad luck, Saros suffered an injury at the end of the regular season, and was unavailable for the playoffs.

As it stands, there’s some room to worry about such a workload for a goalie who succeeds at least in part based on world-class athleticism.

Much like Hellebuyck, it’s impressive to note that value the Predators already extracted from their goalie bargain. Saros is a steal at $5M, still young at 27, and cheap for three years. Really, his ascent to the elite makes the Predators’ rebuild phobia easier to stomach.

Canucks found themselves a gem with Demko

In many of these cases, NHL teams are reaping the rewards from drafting and developing their own goalies. For all that’s gone wrong with the Canucks, they have some promising young core pieces, and Thatcher Demko may just provide the most bang-for-the-puck. (Though Quinn Hughes is a nice value, especially in a defenseman market that went pretty bonkers last summer.)

Demko’s merely 26, and if he’s truly as elite as he looks, his deal may end up being more valuable than others. That’s because his $5M cap hit lingers for four seasons (through 2025-26), one more than Shesterkin.

Demko stands with Vasilevskiy and Saros as a young goalie who maybe faced too much of a workload. As time goes on, that’s something for the Canucks to think about.

Most of all, they should avoid wasting a great opportunity where Demko’s getting paid less than he’s worth.

Short-but-sweet NHL goalie bargains

Connor Hellebuyck: $6.166M for two more seasons

You could argue that the Jets already got their money’s worth for Connor Hellebuyck’s six-year, $37M contract. He’s been one of the truly great workhorses in the NHL, propping up some abysmal Jets defenses.

Seattle Kraken v Winnipeg Jets
You don’t see Hellebuyck in the “backup tonight cap” often. (Photo by Jonathan Kozub/NHLI via Getty Images)

But the Jets could end up haunted by the thought that they wasted having one of the best goalies in the world at such a team-friendly $6.166M cap hit. (The Jets have also not-quite fully exploited the value they’ve enjoyed with the likes of Mark Scheifele.)

At 29, Hellebuyck could very well deliver far above his cap hit for these remaining two seasons. With Rick Bowness being fixated on defense above anything else (at least in Dallas), it may be a more nurturing situation.

Really, though, this contract is part of a fascinating window for Winnipeg. Scheifele’s only under contract for two more seasons, and Pierre-Luc Dubois could set things up to walk as a free agent around that time.

If things don’t work out, that Hellebuyck contract could be a key part of a Jets rebuild. Either way, it’s already been a bargain for Winnipeg, and could very well be extremely fruitful for two more seasons.

Ilya Sorokin: $4M for two more seasons

For those who pay attention to stats along the lines of Goals Saved Above Average/Expected (there are quite a few variations of the general idea), two names rose as 2021-22 went along: Ilya Sorokin and Ville Husso. In Sorokin’s case, he built a credible argument to end up a Vezina Trophy finalist.

Amusingly, the biggest nitpick of the Islanders’ savvy, projection-based investment with Sorokin is that the savings are a bit brief. The 26-year-old’s $4M cap hit only runs for two more seasons.

Two other factors loom. For one, it remains to be seen if Barry Trotz’s departure makes life tougher for Islanders goalies. Beyond that, there’s the other Islanders goalie: Semyon Varlamov carrying a $5M cap hit dilutes some of the bargain of having a possibly elite young goalie at $4M.

To play “4D Chess” for a second: perhaps Varlamov eats up enough starts to limit Sorokin’s volume, and then the Islanders might extend Sorokin for another value contract? Maybe that type of thinking slips toward Charlie Kelly’s mailroom conspiracy board, but if nothing else, it’s at least a short-term boon for the Islanders.

Premium prices probably justified

Andrei Vasilevskiy: $9.5 million AAV for six seasons (through 2027-28)

Over and over again, I wonder if the Lightning will finally lean on Andrei Vasilevskiy so much that he “breaks.” Year after year, he defies those worries.

With Vasilevskiy, you wade through certain layers of nitpicking. Close to the time he signed his big, current deal, people pointed out that he mainly saved around the number of goals he was expected to. When wading into “best in the world” debates, one might point to relative hiccups, like so-so numbers in the Maple Leafs series.

Yet, as a whole, Vasilevskiy pulls off the remarkable feat of being a bargain at $9.5 million.

By racking up all of those miles — not just heavy in the regular season, but with three straight Stanley Cup Final appearances — I still wonder if the bottom might fall out. Such a thought could make that lengthy, $9.5M investment go “Just About Bob.”

Of course, there’s an obvious distinction even if Vasilevskiy starts to shew closer to Sergei Bobrovsky. The Lightning have already won two Stanley Cups with him.

And would it be that shocking if he just kept chugging along? I’d love to see Tampa Bay find a way for more backup help, but if that never happens, Vasilevskiy is still (somehow) just 27.

Other goalies who may or may not be bargains

  • Jacob Markstrom is tricky. At 32, Markstrom’s play could slip, and the Flames may take a serious step back in front of him. Still, his $6M cap hit looks more reasonable considering the far-less-proven goalies who are making comparable money.
  • What does the future hold for John Gibson? When he signed at $6.4 million, it seemed like a mega-steal. Yet, the 28-year-old’s results have been mixed-at-best the past three seasons. There’s talent there, but that $6.4M AAV through 2026-27 is something of a mystery. Maybe we won’t really get a true answer until he’s traded, or the Ducks make big improvements?
  • Jake Oettinger — currently 23 and an RFA — stands as a fascinating goalie contract situation to watch.
  • While playoff injury issues soured the end, both Frederik Andersen (32, $4.5M) and Antti Raanta (33, $2M) delivered serious value for a Hurricanes team that could be even better in 2022-23. Both are entering contract years, though, so those savings may be short-lived.
  • In surveying the NHL goalie trade landscape instead of free agents, James Reimer was one of my biggest recommendations. “Frequently above-average, sometimes quite good” might not be the sexiest thing in the world, especially for a 34-year-old goalie. Yet, with the way prices went, one year of Reimer at just $2.2M looked and looks really appealing.
  • Truthfully, I have no sweet clue what to expect from Ilya Samsonov. That said, there are worse bets than $1.8M for a 25-year-old whose show flashes of brilliance. (You know, like almost $4.7M for Matt Murray.)

In the end, it’s about making the best, most-educated guesses you can about a mysterious position

To reiterate: even the most promising-looking goalies on this list could flop. And it’s not outrageous for a deal that looks dicey (multiple years of Jordan Binnington at $5M, maybe even Bobrovsky?) could work out, short-term and/or long-term.

There are just so many variables that go into goalies succeeding, failing, or merely getting by.

That said, if recent seasons are decent indications of what’s next for at least the most established goalies, then Shesterkin, Saros, Demko, Sorokin, and others could improve their teams’ odds in enormous ways.

Scroll Down For:

    Sabres agree with Dylan Cozens on 7-year, $49.7M extension

    Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports
    0 Comments

    BUFFALO, N.Y. — The Buffalo Sabres agreed to terms with forward Dylan Cozens on a seven-year extension worth $49.7 million.

    The team announced the contract. Cozens will count $7.1 million against the salary cap through the 2029-30 season.

    Cozens, who turns 22, is the latest core player the Sabres have extended over the past six months. Buffalo signed All-Star forward Tage Thompson for $50 million over seven seasons in August and defenseman Mattias Samuelsson to a seven-year, $30 million deal in October.

    Rasmus Dahlin, the top pick in 2020 who’s a Norris Trophy candidate and filled in for Thompson at NHL All-Star weekend, figures to be next for a big contract. He’s signed through next season and can begin talking about an extension this summer.

    Cozens, who was set to be a restricted free agent, has already set career highs with 17 goals, 26 assists and 43 points – with 30 games left in the season. The seventh pick in 2019, Cozens has 34 goals and 60 assists in 169 regular-season NHL games, all with Buffalo.

    The Sabres, led by Dahlin, Thompson, Cozens and 2021 No. 1 pick Owen Power, are contending to make the playoffs. The organization’s 11-year playoff drought dating to 2011 is by far the longest in the league.

    Stanley Cup champion Avalanche steadily returning to health

    avalanche injuries
    André Ringuette/Getty Images
    1 Comment

    ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Had his coach been watching, this might have made for an anxious moment: Colorado Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar catching an edge and falling in the fastest skater contest.

    Jared Bednar wasn’t tuned in, though, and had no idea what happened in the skills contest over All-Star weekend. Only that Makar emerged from his crash into the boards just fine.

    These days, things are definitely looking up for the Stanley Cup champions on the injury front. Defenseman Bowen Byram returns to the lineup, along with forward Valeri Nichushkin. Defenseman Josh Manson is creeping closer to a return. Same for captain Gabriel Landeskog, who’s yet to play this season. Forward Darren Helm is progressing, too.

    In spite of all their bumps and bruises, the Avalanche entered the All-Star break in a playoff spot. To weather the injury storm, Colorado has relied on 39 different skaters this season, a mark that’s tied for the most in a single season since the team relocated to Denver in 1995.

    “Anybody we can get back right now is huge,” said Makar, whose team kicks off a three-game trip Tuesday night in Pittsburgh.

    Byram returns after being sidelined with a lower-body injury since early November. He was an integral part of their Stanley Cup run a season ago, when he led all rookies with nine assists in the postseason. Byram was off to a fast start this season – two goals and three assists in 10 games – before his injury.

    “He’s looking great. He’s buzzing out there,” Makar said of his fellow blue liner. “Hopefully it doesn’t take him too long to get back into game mode. But I think he’s a guy that can turn it on pretty quickly.”

    Byram missed a chunk of games last season as he dealt with concussion symptoms. This time, he was able to be around the team as he worked his way back.

    “I was just happy it wasn’t my head,” Byram said. “It was a lot easier to be out when you’re still feeling good and feel like yourself. … I’m just excited to get going again.”

    Count on Byram for as many minutes as necessary, too.

    “I’m 100%, so no reason to ease into it,” Byram said. “I’m confident with jumping back in.”

    Manson will join the Avalanche on the trip so he can skate with the squad. He’s been out with a lower-body injury since the start of December.

    “I do think it helps to get on the road, be around the guys,” Bednar said.

    Landeskog could be back “fairly soon,” Bednar said, but didn’t have a definitive timeline quite yet. The longtime Avalanche captain has been sidelined since knee surgery in October.

    The Avalanche entered the All-Star break on quite a roll, winning seven of their last eight. They’ve amassed 57 points, which trails Dallas (66 points at the All-Star break), Winnipeg (65) and Minnesota (58) in the Central Division.

    One thing the Avalanche are guarding against is another slow start out off the break. It happened over Christmas when the team had a few days off and promptly went 0-4-1 upon their return.

    “It’s just shifting the mentality back to game mode. No more vacation,” Makar said. “We still have a long way to go. We’re not where we want to be right now. But there’s a lot of time left.”

    Kraken add some size, acquire Jaycob Megna from San Jose

    Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports
    0 Comments

    SEATTLE — The Seattle Kraken acquired defenseman Jaycob Megna from the San Jose Sharks in exchange for a 2023 fourth-round draft pick.

    Megna is in the midst of his best season with 12 points in 48 games for the Sharks while averaging more than 19 minutes per game.

    “Jaycob has shown with his play this season that he is a responsible defenseman that can be relied on in all situations,” Seattle general manager Ron Francis said. “He provides welcome depth to our defensive group and we are happy to have him join our organization.”

    The 6-foot-6, 220-pound Megna will add some size and bulk to Seattle’s lineup. Megna ranked fifth for San Jose in both blocked shots and hits.

    Megna previously played for Anaheim for parts of three seasons between 2016-19. The 48 games played this season is a career-high for the 30-year-old.

    Seattle is tied for the lead in the Pacific Division and will return from the All-Star break beginning against the New York Islanders.

    Islanders sign Bo Horvat to 8-year deal after trading for him

    Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
    0 Comments

    The New York Islanders signed center Bo Horvat to an eight-year contract less than a week after acquiring him in a trade with the Vancouver Canucks.

    The team announced the contract after their first practice following the All-Star break. Horvat’s deal is worth $68 million and carries a $8.5 million salary cap hit through the 2030-31 season.

    General manager Lou Lamoriello joked to reporters at practice on Long Island that Horvat’s contract was “too long and it’s too much money.”

    The Islanders sent forward Anthony Beauvillier, prospect Aatu Raty and a protected first-round pick to the Canucks for Horvat . He was set to be an unrestricted free agent after the season, and the trade was a result of Vancouver and Horvat’s camp being unable to reach a deal last summer.

    Lamoriello and Horvat expressed confidence about getting a deal done after the trade. The 27-year-old has scored more than 30 goals for a second consecutive season.

    Horvat was chosen as an All-Star and played for the Pacific Division despite the trade. He played with longtime Canucks teammate Elias Pettersson and combined on one last goal together before parting ways.

    “I want to get going,” Horvat said after the All-Star 3-on-3 tournament. “That’s enough. Let’s start playing some games and getting to know the guys. I just want to start playing hockey again.”

    Horvat was on vacation with his family in Orlando when he was traded. He said coach Lane Lambert wanted him to enjoy All-Star festivities before getting rolling with the Islanders, who play at the Philadelphia Flyers.

    “Obviously getting my legs under me is going to be No. 1 and getting systems down and obviously chemistry with the new linemates and stuff like that,” Horvat said.

    After facing the Flyers and Seattle, Horvat will play against his former team when Vancouver visits UBS Arena.