Antti Raanta

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.

Get to know new Coyotes GM Bill Armstrong, and the difficult job he faces

Coyotes GM Bill Armstrong
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The Coyotes made it official: Bill Armstrong, formerly of the Blues, is now their new general manager.

“We are thrilled to name Bill as our new GM,” said Coyotes owner Alex Meruelo. “Bill is smart, honest and hard-working and he knows how to build a winning team. He brings the right mix of hockey knowledge, business acumen and leadership qualities that we need in order to achieve our goal of bringing a Stanley Cup to Arizona.”

In naming Armstrong, the Coyotes ended a whirlwind span that began with John Chayka’s messy exit, and included Steve Sullivan pitching in as interim GM.

Frankly, Armstrong has his work cut out for him. If you ask me, the Coyotes’ GM job is arguably the toughest in the NHL, if not all of major professional sports.

But we’ll get to that. Let’s start with the question many are asking: “Who is Bill Armstrong?”

Who is new Coyotes GM Bill Armstrong?

The Philadelphia Flyers drafted Armstrong in third round (46th overall) in 1990, but the defenseman peaked in the AHL. You can check out more about his playing days at HockeyDB, complete with his then-vaguely-Todd-Bertuzzi-like visage.

Armstrong joined the Blues organization as an amateur scout in 2004. Then, in 2010, Armstrong rose to the level of director of scouting. By 2018, Armstrong became assistant GM to Doug Armstrong.

That’s a lot of experience in a quality NHL front office. As much as the Ryan O'Reilly trade pushed the Blues to a higher level, this team was largely based on drafting. And aside from a stray Alex Pietrangelo (No. 4 overall, 2008), the Blues haven’t enjoyed many high first-round picks in recent years. If they even held onto their first-rounders.

It’s often difficult to tell how much credit you should assign to any single member of a front office, but Bill Armstrong played a role into building the Blues into a Stanley Cup winner and regular contender. For the Coyotes’ sake, let’s hope that Bill Armstrong had almost as much to do with that success as GM Doug Armstrong did.

One of the toughest jobs in hockey, if not sports

Even if Bill Armstrong has been dreaming about being an NHL GM for decades, the Coyotes might just present a “be careful what you wish for” situation. Consider:

• A turbulent financial situation, even in stable times

Coyotes fans will groan about arena and money talk, and understandably so. But this Coyotes team has faced relocation or other threats for so long, it’s difficult to remember if things were ever easy.

Now throw in the COVID-19 curveball that might leave even the most lavish teams buckling at their knees. Where does that leave the Coyotes, from a financial standpoint? We can only guess.

But what we do know is that their salary structure isn’t exactly like an oasis in the desert. The best news for Armstrong is that Cap Friendly estimates their actual salary expenditure at about $61.45M for 2020-21, versus a bloated team cap hit of $80.4M. With that only covering 17 roster spots, it’s a mess either way.

Unless something unexpected happens with Taylor Hall, the Coyotes don’t really have big-money players to retain, at least. That’s about the only solace on a bloated roster that leaned extremely heavily on its goalies the past two seasons (something that was on display as they collapsed around Darcy Kuemper during the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs).

• Not much bang for your buck, either

“You get what you paid for” doesn’t really apply to the Coyotes.

Either they’re getting great returns from Kuemper and/or Antti Raanta (when healthy), and the occasional Conor Garland, or they’re paying huge prices for the likes of Phil Kessel, Derek Stepan, and Oliver Ekman-Larsson.

Frankly, John Chayka left Bill Armstrong with a mess to clean up as GM, even just from a salary structure standpoint. And then we remember …

• Why it doesn’t make sense for the Coyotes to tank

… Just how many picks Chayka burned on his way out the door.

The NHL ruled that the Coyotes must forfeit their 2020 second-round pick and 2021 first-rounder for violating the league’s Combine Testing Policy. That would already be a devastating blow to the Coyotes’ futures, and then you realize they coughed up their 2020 first-round pick to New Jersey in the Taylor Hall trade.

Sometimes it’s OK to “go for it,” but between the Hall rental and that astounding player-testing blunder, Bill Armstrong begins his work as Coyotes GM without his first-round picks in both 2020 and 2021. The Coyotes aren’t slated to pick until the fourth round in 2020.

Considering the Coyotes’ cap/salary woes — and their middling results despite heavy spending — there’d be some logic in blowing things up and rebuilding … if they had those picks.

Instead, the Coyotes have little incentive to tank, but also possible (and understandable) pressure from ownership to cut costs. Brutal.

• Bill Armstrong will need to be creative, shrewd, and yes, lucky

This doesn’t mean the Coyotes are doomed. It just means that Bill Armstrong has his work cut out for him. (Honestly, even if Steve Sullivan stings at not getting the bump up to actual GM, can you blame him if he uttered a sigh of relief?)

There are some creative ways to work around limitations.

Consider players with higher cap hits than salaries for 2020-21.

As an example, Bill Armstrong could initiate some “You scratch my back, I scratch yours” work with Doug Armstrong of the Blues. Maybe St. Louis could send an asset to Arizona for, say, absorbing some or all of Alexander Steen‘s $5.75M cap hit? Steen’s base salary is $3.5M for 2020-21, so one can imagine how everyone might win.

Now, ideas like these revolve around incremental victories. Grinding away at the margins to try to find value (and, frankly, make up for some of Chayka’s follies).

We don’t know much about Bill Armstrong as a GM yet, but we’ll find out a lot thanks to the monumental task of fixing the Coyotes.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Avalanche embarrass and eliminate Coyotes in Game 5

After crushing the Coyotes in Game 4, the Avalanche put up a rerun in Game 5, eliminating Arizona 7-1. Despite the Coyotes grabbing a win in this series, the Avs advance after putting together one of the most one-sided First Round efforts you will see.

(Yes, that’s two straight 7-1 wins for the Avalanche. Yikes.)

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Avalanche dominate Game 5, Coyotes eliminated after another blowout

Less than five minutes in, Nazem Kadri scored another big goal, once again on the power play. It wouldn’t be Kadri’s last goal of Game 5, either, as he scored twice in the first period. Samuel Girard connect on the power play as well in the first, as the Avs dominated a listless Coyotes team through 20.

Speaking of reruns, the second period felt a lot like the first. The Avalanche poured on three more goals to make it 6-0. During that frame, Nathan MacKinnon really took over.

Game 5 looked over after the first, but the second erased even a hint of a doubt.

Mercifully, the Coyotes replaced Darcy Kuemper during the empty third. Kuemper played incredibly well early in this First Round series, including stealing a Game 3 win for the Coyotes (and keeping Arizona in most of Game 1). Unfortunately, the Coyotes didn’t develop much of a plan beyond “depend almost entirely on Darcy Kuemper and some bounces,” and the Avalanche rolled them over. About the only positive thing from Game 5 was that the Coyotes scored a garbage goal to avoid being shut out.

After this series, the Avalanche only look more like a superpower in the West. You probably don’t need a caveat like “rising” or “future” any longer; it sure looks like the Avs have arrived. Of course, the Second Round should present the sort of competition that can confirm or deny such feelings.


Call it Elimination Wednesday?

Lightning need OT to bounce Blue Jackets

Bruins use special teams to knock out Hurricanes

Golden Knights eliminated Blackhawks (also on Wednesday, technically, in some time zones)


A fuzzy future for the Coyotes after being blown out again by Avs

Yes, the Coyotes technically “made” the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Still, after a dramatic and messy split with now-former GM John Chayka, the Coyotes face terrifying uncertainty.

Whether Steve Sullivan remains in place, or someone else slides into the GM role, righting the Coyotes’ ship won’t be easy. Chayka might be gone, but his fingerprints will be hard to remove, considering a salary structure loaded with lengthy, sometimes-ugly-looking extensions. Is there much on this roster or farm system that indicates the Coyotes will be able to hang with the Avs of the world in the future? Will the Coyotes need to clean house amid financial uncertainty for the league as a whole?

(It’s almost impossible to imagine Taylor Hall choosing to re-sign with the Coyotes, in the unlikely event they’d find a way to afford him at all.)

Here’s hoping that Darcy Kuemper and/or Antti Raanta can maintain at least most of the stellar goaltending the Coyotes received over most of the past two seasons. That’s probably the brightest side to look at for a team that’s still going through some dark times.

No. 2 Colorado Avalanche vs. No. 7 Arizona Coyotes (COL wins 4-1)

Wednesday, Aug. 12: Avalanche 3, Coyotes 0 (recap)
Friday, Aug. 14: Avalanche 3, Coyotes 2 (recap)
Saturday, Aug. 15: Coyotes 4, Avalanche 2 (recap)
Monday, Aug. 17: Avalanche 7, Coyotes 1 (recap)
Wednesday, Aug. 19: Avalanche 7, Coyotes 1

MORE:
• Stanley Cup Playoffs First Round schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Coyotes-Avalanche stream: 2020 NHL Stanley Cup First Round

Coyotes-Avalanche stream
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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs continues with Wednesday’s First Round matchup between the Coyotes and Avalanche. Coverage on NBCSN will be joined-in-progress following the conclusion of Hurricanes-Bruins. Watch the entire Coyotes-Avalanche game via stream at 5:30 p.m. ET on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Two days after losing Game 3, Colorado scored early and often in a 7-1 Game 4 win over Arizona. The Avs scored three goals in the first period alone, including two from Nazem Kadri, and went 3-for-7 on the power play for the game.

After keeping the Coyotes in the first three games, Darcy Kuemper cracked in Game 4. He was pulled after allowing four goals on 22 shots and was replaced by Antti Raanta, who stopped 5 of 8 shots he faced. Still, Kuemper has a 2.99 GAA and .924 SV% this postseason.

After tallying two assists in Game 4, Nathan MacKinnon has scored at least a point in all seven games this postseason and is tied with Kadri for the team lead with nine points (2G-7A). MacKinnon is the fifth Avs/Nordiques player to open a postseason with a point streak of seven-plus games, and first to do so since Peter Forsberg in 2004. Forsberg and Milan Hejduk were the last players in the franchise to open a postseason with a point streak of eight-plus games, in 2001.

WHAT: Arizona Coyotes vs. Colorado Avalanche
WHERE: Rogers Place – Edmonton
WHEN: Wednesday, August 19 – 5:30 p.m. ET (joined-in-progress after Hurricanes-Bruins)
TV: NBCSN
ON THE CALL: Kenny Albert, Pierre McGuire
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Coyotes-Avalanche stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

No. 2 Colorado Avalanche vs. No. 7 Arizona Coyotes (COL leads 3-1)

Wednesday, Aug. 12: Avalanche 3, Coyotes 0 (recap)
Friday, Aug. 14: Avalanche 3, Coyotes 2 (recap)
Saturday, Aug. 15: Coyotes 4, Avalanche 2 (recap)
Monday, Aug. 17: Avalanche 7, Coyotes 1 (recap)
Wednesday, Aug. 19: Arizona at Colorado, 5:30 p.m. ET – joined-in-progress on NBCSN (entire game via livestream)
*Friday, Aug. 21: Colorado at Arizona – TBD
*Sunday, Aug. 23: Arizona at Colorado – TBD

*if necessary

MORE:
• Stanley Cup Playoffs First Round schedule

Avalanche dominate Game 4, put Coyotes on brink of elimination

The Avalanche couldn’t solve Darcy Kuemper in Game 3, but the Avs made it look easy against Kuemper and the Coyotes in Game 4. With a 7-1 win, the Avalanche now lead the Coyotes 3-1 in their First Round series.

Avalanche dominate Coyotes in Game 4 — this time Kadri & Co. get results

Much like in Game 3, the Avalanche controlled the puck for virtually all of Game 4 against the Coyotes. The key difference is that the Avs succeeded in taking advantage of their opportunities.

Things really fell apart for the Coyotes late in the first period. Following the 1-0 goal by Matt Nieto with a bit less than six minutes remaining in the first, Nazem Kadri connected on two straight power-play goals. In the span of less than six minutes, the Avalanche built what looked like an insurmountable lead. After all, the Coyotes only managed as many shots on goal (three) as the Avs scored during the first period.

From there, the Avalanche kept pouring it on, as Joonas Donskoi cashed in on nice work by Kadri and Andre Burakovsky for the 4-0 goal. While Jakob Chychrun got the Coyotes on the board with a booming power-play goal later on in the second, it was a one-sided affair overall.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Nastiness late with hit on Makar, MacKinnon fight

During the third period, the Coyotes mercy-pulled Darcy Kuemper, and it didn’t really make much of a difference.

One couldn’t help but feel some sympathy for Alex Goligoski (and Antti Raanta) as Cale Makar scored a beautiful goal in the third.

The Avalanche scored two more goals, and coach Jared Bednar made the questionable decision to keep top players out there in Game 4. Personally, I’m not sure I’d want to see Cale Makar subjected to the sort of hit he took, and for MacKinnon to get in a fight. Even when MacKinnon wins that fight.

We’ve seen plenty of players suffer hand injuries thanks to ill-advised fights. Imagine how little the Avalanche would gain if MacKinnon broke a hand understandably sticking up for Makar?

It doesn’t seem like there were injuries from either moment, but that’s a situation to monitor. Either way, it seemed like a foolish risk. Perhaps you just have to “let them play,” risks or not?


No doubt, it’s impossible to ignore how red-hot Kadri was, who scored two goals and one assist to give him nine playoff points already. With as dangerous as Nathan MacKinnon and others continue to be, a deeper Avs team is very scary not just for the overmatched Coyotes, but really the rest of the West and NHL.

The Avalanche get a chance to eliminate the Coyotes in Game 5 on Wednesday (5:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

No. 2 Colorado Avalanche vs. No. 7 Arizona Coyotes (COL leads 3-1)

Wednesday, Aug. 12: Avalanche 3, Coyotes 0 (recap)
Friday, Aug. 14: Avalanche 3, Coyotes 2 (recap)
Saturday, Aug. 15: Coyotes 4, Avalanche 2 (recap)
Monday, Aug. 17: Avalanche 7, Coyotes 1
Wednesday, Aug. 19: Arizona at Colorado, 5:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN (livestream)
*Friday, Aug. 21: Colorado at Arizona – TBD
*Sunday, Aug. 23: Arizona at Colorado – TBD

*if necessary

MORE:
• Stanley Cup Playoffs First Round schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.