By: Nick Lanciani
12:01 PM ET on July 1st (precisely) marks the start of the NHL’s free agency period, so of course, you’ve found yourself scavenging the Internet for the freshest hot takes and the best indications of where players will end up. Likewise, you probably just want to know who’s available out there (and I’m not talking about Tinder).
Well fear not, because I’m here to set things straight with a short series of posts about the Top-5 free agents in every category you can think of (UFA forwards, UFA defensemen, UFA goalies, RFA forwards, RFA defensemen and RFA goalies) in this latest edition of Numbers Game posts. Also, I have bad news, if you came here expecting to find a starting goaltender, you won’t find one.
1. G Chad Johnson (22-16-0-4, 2.36 GAA, .920 SV% with the Buffalo Sabres)- $1.300 million cap hit, 29 years old
Chad Johnson is the closest thing to a starting goaltender, compared to the majority of the rest of the pending UFA goalies. Goalies are weird. They have no timetable for development, they’re unpredictable and most everyone seems to make whatever conjecture imaginable about whether or not a goalie is good or not, worthy of starting or a lifetime backup (or #AHLLifer, but that might just be a running joke here).
Johnson is a solid backup (dare my circa 2010 self say it). In 45 games played for Buffalo this season, he racked up 22 wins, a 2.36 GAA and a .920 SV%. While that might not look elite compared to other goaltenders around the NHL, Johnson has been an entirely different goaltender since his 2.10 GAA and .925 SV% in 27 games with the Boston Bruins in 2013-2014. Granted, his goal against average crept past the 3.00 mark in 2014-2015 with his 19 game stint with the New York Islanders, with the right team, Johnson can solidify your crease.
If you even have a better blue line than most teams around the NHL, perhaps Johnson could be the next Martin Jones to emerge as a goalie that never really had a chance to fully take control of a number one starting job, without any competition, and run with it.
Look, at $1.300 million this season, Johnson is not much of a risk to take in the coming years if you sign him to a multiyear contract. The hope is that he continues his upswing as long as you balance his time and/or have a good enough team in front of him. Johnson is one of those underrated, feel good stories and who wouldn’t want to see him succeed?
2. G Jhonas Enroth (7-5-0-1, 2.17 GAA, .922 SV% with the Los Angeles Kings)- $1.250 million cap hit, 27 years old
Jhonas Enroth is not a starting goalie. Now that that’s out of the way, here’s why. He had his best career save percentage with the Los Angeles Kings this season at a .922 in 16 appearances and he even had his best goal against average (2.17) in 10 games played or more of his career.
Compared to the time Enroth split time with the Buffalo Sabres and the Dallas Stars in 2014-2015 when he had a 18-26-0-2 record in 50 games played with a .904 SV% and 3.07 GAA, he’s a changed goaltender when he has 1) a defense in front of him and 2) a backup role that limits him to around 20 games a season. The 2014-2015 season was his worst campaign since his first career NHL start in the 2009-2010 season, when he debuted his NHL career with a .892 SV% and a 4.12 GAA.
The moral here is that Enroth is better than most people give him credit for, however, many still question his stature in a 6′ by 4′ net. And with smaller pads coming to the league, his play is bound to be affected by that. But alas, the old days of 3.00 GAA and .800 SV%’s being tremendous might finally return if you like offense. We’ve come to know low 2.00 and high 1.00 GAA’s as standard, when in actuality, pretty much any goalie under a 3.00 is better than you would think.
Again, it all boils down to the role of the goalie and how much usage they get. Another season like this season for Enroth would be respectable if he continues to be a top-notch backup that plays in anywhere from 20 to 25 games a year.
3. G James Reimer (17-14-0-7, 2.31 GAA, .922 SV% with the Toronto Maple Leafs/San Jose Sharks)- $2.300 million cap hit, 27 years old
Don’t laugh, but James Reimer might finally be starting to turn the corner and become a good goaltender. In 40 games played with the Toronto Maple Leafs and the San Jose Sharks this year, he had a 17-14-0-7 record, 2.31 GAA and a .922 SV%. His GAA and SV% this year were both career bests in the most number of games he’s played in a single season.
Granted, his record could still use some room for improvement in the “wins” column, Reimer is ready to make a run at being a number one goalie on the right team. If Calgary tightens their defense and feels like making newly acquired goaltender, Brian Elliott, compete for his number one spot, similar to how he battled Jake Allen in St. Louis, then Reimer is their man.
Then again, they probably should stick with what they’ve got. But my point remains, James Reimer can be good after all. I’ve said it before, goalies are weird. In six NHL seasons, Reimer has had a goal against average of 3.10 or more three times, all with the lackluster Maple Leafs. Of note, his 2.31 GAA performance beat his 2.46 GAA in 2012-2013 when he played in 33 of the 48 game lockout shortened season.
Take it or leave it, Reimer is a solid choice for your net if you have the right guys in front of him. He might not be a starter (yet), but his skills can still be honed in before it’s too late. At only 27 years old, he likely has at least 10 more years of playing in front of him.
4. G Anton Khudobin (3-3-0-0, 2.69 GAA, .909 SV% with the Anaheim Ducks)- $2.250 million cap hit, 29 years old
Chalk Anton Khudobin up as another solid backup goaltender— if you have the right defense for him. He might not be stealing wins in the “wins” column, but Khudobin has shown flashes of quality stats in both goals against average and save percentage.
Last season, Khudobin made only nine appearances before the Anaheim Ducks settled on Frederik Andersen and John Gibson as their goaltending tandem. Of course, Andersen was traded to Toronto earlier this month and Gibson is now considered their number one guy, so why would they risk the chance of losing out on a decent backup when you consider their other option (they have none).
Khudobin’s 2013-2014 season campaign with the Carolina Hurricanes resulted in 36 games played with a .926 SV% and a 2.30 GAA. Since then he has not seen the same action or numbers, but there’s a good chance that with the right mix of players, Khudobin could bail a team out in a game or two and play as a backup in 20 to 25 games.
By now I’m sure you’ve recognized my trend. Backup goalies should only play 20 to 25 games, depending on who they are. If they prove more value to you, based on their performance, up their appearances to 30. But if you’re considering splitting time between your goalies, get two starters. Don’t waste your time mismanaging a position you can’t fully manage in net.
5. G Jonas Gustavsson (11-9-0-1, 2.72 GAA, .908 SV% with the Boston Bruins)- $700,000 cap hit, 31 years old
Before you start breaking out the jokes about Jonas Gustavsson, consider this; Gustavsson only has one losing season as a backup goaltender in seven seasons in the NHL since 2009-2010 with Toronto and stops with the Detroit Red Wings and Boston Bruins. His career save percentage has hovered right around .900 and he’s only had a season that ended with a GAA of more than 3.00 once (a 3.28 in 2009-2010).
When there’s not much else to choose from, sometimes it’s best to take a stab at someone who can hold you over for a year or two as a quality backup. He should play nowhere near 40 games, nor should he only play seven, as he’s done twice in his career, both with the Red Wings (once in the shortened 2012-2013 season and again in 2014-2015). Actually, you know what? His numbers don’t really show how much you should use him one way or another.
I’ll admit, I was scratching for a fifth goaltender to include in my top-5 pending UFA goalies (no offense to Gustavsson). The fact of the matter is that the talent pool in the crease is extremely thin this offseason, so it’s best to just get what you’re money can buy to hold you over without overpaying and/or develop your guys in the system.
G Ben Scrivens (5-8-0-0, 3.07 GAA, .906 SV% with the Montreal Canadiens)- $2.300 million cap hit, 29 years old
Ben Scrivens has never had a GAA less than 2.55— and that was when he split the 2013-2014 season with Los Angeles and the Edmonton Oilers. So that pretty much explains everything, given that he’s also played for Toronto and most recently Montreal in his career that spans all the way back to the 2011-2012 season.
He’s certainly not a starter and he’s definitely not worth $2.300 million as a back up, but if there’s no one else left, he’s going to be paid whatever amount of money to stand in the net for some team (like what Montreal did before they had Mike Condon take the brunt of the work and handle it as well he could with what little the Canadiens had going for them while Carey Price was hurt).
G Karri Ramo (17-18-0-1, 2.63 GAA, .909 SV% with the Calgary Flames)- $3.800 million cap hit, 29 years old
It appears the Calgary Flames are ready to throw in the towel on trying to develop the once considered top prospect of the Tampa Bay Lightning. In six NHL seasons, broken up by a stint in the KHL, Ramo has never had a season with a GAA better than 2.60 or a SV% better than .912.
It’s not the save percentage that bothers me, but rather, it’s that goals against average that’s a little concerning for any team that chooses to sign a goalie that made 37 appearances this season and surmounted a 2.63 GAA and a .909 SV%. Perhaps there’s one more shot left for Ramo, but at whatever price is under a million dollars and for a backup role. Again, if you had to, he’s someone to take in free agency over whatever might be left for a year.
G Anders Lindback (5-7-0-1, 3.11 GAA, .894 SV% Arizona Coyotes- $875,000 cap hit, 27 years old
In 2011-2012, Anders Lindback proved he could be a decent backup with a 16 game performance that resulted in a career best 2.42 GAA and a .912 SV% that season, despite a 5-8-0 record.
When he was with the Nashville Predators, he had blue liners in front of him to prevent chances and Pekka Rinne to play more than the majority of the games of the season. Lindback’s bounced all around the league and might have settled in with the Arizona Coyotes if it weren’t for Louis Domingue as an up and comer for the Coyotes. For a low-risk, high reward opportunity, why not take a 27 year old backup goaltender for a year or two and see if he can improve with a better team in front of him?