The Goaltending Market, just as it was with the other positions, was very active during Friday’s Free Agent Frenzy. It kicked off with a few bigger names in Evgeni Nabokov and Ray Emery, then closed out with a number of teams solidifying the backup roles.
You can view the latest version of the NHL Depth Charts to stay updated with every team’s movement in goal.
Below are some of my thoughts on all of the goalie movement that transpired on Friday. If you would like more insight or opinions on anything, please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org at any time.
NABOKOV STICKS WITH ISLES
The goalie-go-round started turning when the Islanders signed Evgeni Nabokov to a one-year deal reportedly worth $3.25 million. “Nabby” got hot at the right time for the Isles this past season, going 7-0-4 in April with a 1.76 goals-against average and .928 save percentage. He was a stickler against some decent teams, going 3-0 against Tampa Bay and Florida, 2-0 against Montreal, 2-0-1 against Washington, and 2-0-1 against Toronto.
Photo Copyright: Tom Turk – Piratical Photography
Just a few days after buying out Rick DiPietro, I was not surprised to see Nabokov re-sign. On one hand, I think it’s a good fit because it breeds an even higher level of familiarity between the two sides. Paying him over $3 million is a hefty investment, but there is no long-term risk due to this being a one-year deal.
On the other hand, Nabokov turns 38 on July 25, so the risk regarding this deal begins and ends with his durability. If the Islanders feel he shouldn’t or can’t play more than 62-65 games, they will have to either instill their faith in Kevin Poulin as the team’s backup, or spend more money to sign a veteran.
If the Isles don’t sign anyone else, there is a chance that Anders Nilsson could win the job, but the odds are in Poulin’s favor since he spent a chunk of this past season behind Nabokov. Nilsson also missed a fair amount of time with what was possibly a vitamin B-12 deficiency, but it still remains somewhat of a mystery.
Honestly, I think questions surrounding Nabokov’s durability are overblown. You can’t go into a season expecting an injury just because he’s a year older, and beyond playing in 41 games this season, he arguably saved his best stretch for last. No, he wasn’t very good against the Penguins in the playoffs (posted a 4.44 GAA in six games), but he still gave the Islanders a chance to win a few of those games.
Since 2000, for all active and non-active goalies between the ages of 30 and 45, Nabokov is currently third overall in wins with 214 (Brodeur has 345, Kiprusoff has 239). So despite the fact he’s in his late-30′s, I still think he’s reliable. As the driving force behind the team making it back to the playoffs, even though things like rebound control and “timely saves” were questionable at times, he still earned this new deal.
EMERY RETURNS TO FLYERS
The theme of “familiarity” continued when it was announced that Ray Emery signed a one-year, $1.65 million deal with the Flyers. There’s never a dull moment in Philly’s crease, and you can be rest assured there will be plenty of media commentary and maybe a bit of drama surrounding the tandem with Emery and Steve Mason.
In terms of efficient production, Emery is coming off the best season of his NHL career. He was well-insulated behind a strong Blackhawks team, which certainly played a role in his ability to go 17-1-0 with a 1.96 GAA and .922 SV%. Take nothing away from Emery’s accomplishments (Stanley Cup, Jennings Trophy) and his admirable return from Avascular Necrosis, but the major change in atmosphere and scenery will play a major role in his performance next season.
With that in mind, I consider this to be another risky tandem for the Flyers. But at least it’s way more cost-efficient, and for way less term.
You will see plenty of feel-good stories coming out of the Philly media as the summer goes along. They’ll talk about Emery’s improved maturity, his work ethic, and his determination. But when the going gets tough and the Flyers are relying on him every night, I still have to question his durability in a system that hasn’t been the kindest to their goaltenders.
Of course this is all contingent on how Mason performs in his early-season opportunities. Both will have chances to run with things, but I’m not seeing a clear-cut “winner” in this battle right now.
The Flyers also announced the signing of Yann Danis. Danis is an undersized goalie that can fill in as an NHL backup in an injury situation, but I don’t believe he has the skill to stick in the league for a full season.
He does make a perfect starter for Adirondack though. He was the AHL Goaltender of the Year in 2012 and was fifth overall in AHL wins this year with 26. He posted a 2.59 GAA and .911 SV% in the regular season, and then went 10-7 in the AHL playoffs with a 2.41 GAA and .923 SV%.
That signing sets up a really nice battle in training camp for his backup spot between Carsen Chubak and Cal Heeter. Chubak is signed to an AHL with Adirondack after a stellar year with Niagara. He was a Hobey Baker Finalist and led his team to the NCAA Tournament.
GREISS LANDS IN THE DESERT
The Coyotes went against the grain of their prototypical bigger, positionally-based goalie by signing Thomas Greiss. In my most recent viewings of Greiss, I continued to like what I saw. I think he has a very nice athletic blend to his butterfly style, but I always came away feeling like he could be a more stable, consistent performer.
While he clearly has the active hands and feet needed to thrive at the NHL level, I think he over-pursues shots and plays too often. In that regard, I think he will benefit from working with Coyotes goalie coach Sean Burke, who can instill more structure in his positional game. He’ll learn how to trust his angles and depth more by possibly having him play on a tighter leash and spending a bit more time in the blue paint.
I love the fact Greiss is not afraid to square up to shots in the white paint and be aggressive, but he has decent size (listed at 6-foot-1, 215 pounds), so I think there is an opportunity for him to use it a bit more effectively.
Smooth laterally and very quick to drop, recover, and rotate, I also think Greiss has the mechanics and quickness to improve on his 1-4-0 record and .915 SV% from last season. It will certainly be bolstered playing within Phoenix’s defensive system, but even that’s not a guarantee since he won’t have the luxury of playing often behind Mike Smith.
That being said, San Jose scored just 2.42 goals-per-game (24th overall) in the regular season, so I just don’t anything came easy for Greiss. He also suffered a head/neck injury (may have been a concussion) and missed a fair amount of time, not playing at all from Feb. 11 to March 6.
With only 25 appearances behind Antti Niemi over the past two seasons, I feel like Greiss’ game needs to be cleaned up. He’s messy at times; over-animated and exhibiting unnecessary excessive movement. I think he tries too hard to make some routine saves, so he seems to expel a lot of energy, and then struggles to play at a composed and controlled manner as the game drags on. Although this sample size is extremely small, he has allowed 15 goals in the first period, 16 in the second period, and then 22 in the third period.
I have no way of knowing whether there’s a correlation between that goal-per-period stat and my observations, but it was something I’ve noticed over the past few seasons.
At the end of the day, Greiss’ role essentially stays the same — he goes from backing up one workhorse to backing up another. The Coyotes’ defensive-minded system is a benefit, but whether it translates to a more successful season remains to be seen because he simply may not play more than 10-12 games. I am excited to see what kind of tweaks and adjustments Burke makes to Greiss’ game, however.
SHARKS SECURE ALEX STALOCK
The Sharks made a key move by signing St. Paul, MN native Alex Stalock. It appears like he has earned the backup role to Niemi, which is a role I had projected for him a few years ago.
Stalock has a high level of quickness and agility, he’s very proficient at moving the puck, and he is very competitive in the crease. He plays with an aggressive edge, challenges shooters very well, and makes excellent compact, tight butterfly saves. He has active hands and a good stick and is not afraid to surprise shooters with a poke check or a full-split save attempt.
The biggest obstacle for him will be the size and consistency factor. He is listed at 6-foot-0 but that is being gracious, and with only three games of NHL experience, he won’t shake the questions concerning his readiness. But his NHL debut was memorable. He was thrown into the fire after replacing Niemi on Feb. 1 of 2011. He entered the game down 3-0 to the Coyotes halfway through the second period and stopped all nine shots he faced for the 5-3 win.
But just two days later, Stalock suffered a nasty laceration injury behind his left knee due to an errant skate blade. That ended his season, and in that same game, he was replaced by none other than newly-signed Predators backup Hutton.
It took almost an entire year for Stalock to recover from that injury, so the playing time he missed was significant. Now that he turns 26 on July 28, the injury and rehab experience has made him no worse for wear, and maybe even a bit more prepared to handle what lies ahead.
Stalock established himself as a legit NHL prospect after he spent three years at the University of Minnesota-Duluth. He turned pro in 2009 as the school’s all-time leader in SV% (.910) and GAA (2.48). In 2009, he was the driving force behind the Bulldogs winning the WCHA Final Five.
LABARBERA JOINS THE OILERS
The 33-year-old Jason Labarbera had his ups and downs with the Coyotes last season, going 4-6-2 record with a 2.64 GAA and .923 SV%. He’s one of those “perfect backup” guys that earns kudos from guys like myself because he does all the little things in practice and on the bench in order to be labeled a great teammate. His size is a clear-cut asset, and despite the fact the numbers and performances may not be sparkling, his work with Burke during his tenure in Phoenix has enhanced his overall skill-set.
It also helps to play behind a guy like Smith and learn from him since the two are decently comparable in terms of style.
LaBarbera has bounced around a lot in his career, playing with the Kings, Rangers, and Canucks. He has 175 games of NHL experience and has a great friendship with Devan Dubnyk, as they have trained together for many years.
The risk involved in this situation is the fact that LaBarbera will have to win some hockey games in a very different type of system compared to Phoenix. If Dubnyk struggles, can Jason perform at a high level on a consistent basis. Is a .923 SV% possible outside of the insulated Coyotes defensive system?
Over the past four seasons, LaBarbera has tallied just 17, 17, 19, and then 15 appearances. That’s only 68 games over the course of four seasons — a lot of drills and practice work, and not a lot of playing. He has obviously learned how to handle that aspect of being a backup, but it doesn’t make things any easier once the workload increases.
So that’s the question in my mind — will his role actually elevate behind Dubnyk, or will the Giraffe reach the next level in his slowly-developing career? Except for Bryzgalov, we don’t have any legit NHL goalies coming out of Phoenix’s system to use as a comparable for moving out of their warm and cozy defensive shell, so consider me apprehensive right now.
HUTTON GRADUATES TO THE NHL
Carter Hutton was one of the most unlikely candidates to earn a full-time NHL backup gig today. But even though Hutton didn’t have the strongest season compared to 2011-12 (named as Rockford’s team MVP), he did impress Nashville’s scouts enough to earn this opportunity.
Another person he impressed was Predators goalie coach Mitch Korn. I had a brief chat with him shortly after the deal was announced to get his thoughts:
“He has battled for everything he’s ever gotten,” Korn told me. “He’s played in an AHL team that has produced goalies. He handles the puck extremely well and he’s the right age . He reminds me so much of when we took Dan Ellis with one NHL game of experience. For all those reasons, we felt we’d go in that direction rather than recycle.”
In my lone live viewing of Hutton, which came in November at the Xcel Energy Center against the Houston Aeros, I noted that his puck-handling was very good. At the same time, I also noted that I thought he could play bigger, as he was dropping early on a few shots and not showing great patience on his skates. It was a very average showing in my opinion, as he stopped just 18 of 21 shots total in the 3-2 loss. But hey, that’s just one game, and one where he didn’t see much action, while Matt Hackett stood on his head that night.
Ultimately, Hutton is being asked to fill a role where he might play 12 games total. As Korn told me, the door is open for Hutton to establish himself as an NHL backup, and they have some goalies to continue developing in Milwaukee.
That means you can expect Sweden’s Magnus Hellberg and Czech Republic native Marek Mazanec to be the organization’s AHL tandem.
DAN ELLIS RETURNS TO DALLAS
Speaking of Dan Ellis, I was surprised to see the Stars sign him to back up Kari Lehtonen for two years. I knew they would be adding some type of veteran presence to act as a buffer between Lehtonen and Cris Nilstorp, who signed a new one-year, two-way deal back in mid-June.
Ellis was originally drafted by the Stars 60th overall in 2000. He most recently resurrected his career by having a stellar run in the AHL with Charlotte during the NHL Lockout, going 8-7-2 with a 2.46 GAA and .922 SV%. After that, he signed with Carolina for a pro-rated one-year deal, and went 6-8-2 with a 3.13 GAA and .906 SV% while playing with Justin Peters (Cam Ward was injured).
Ellis earned the opportunity to return to the NHL after resurrecting his career following a bad groin injury to end the 2011-12 season. Over the summer, he trained hard with Corey Wogtech from W Goaltending. In February, I had a chance to chat with Wogtech and posted this piece on the adjustments they made to make Ellis a more positionally sound goaltender.
I spoke with Stars goalie coach Mike Valley shortly after Ellis signed, and I know the two have a good relationship and get along very well. So Ellis will step into a familiar role by backing up a workhorse starter and should mesh with his teammates comfortably. Because the Stars will continue to manage Lehtonen’s minutes by trying to keep him in the 62-game range, Dan will get a chance to win some games for a team that has a whole new look, a new general manager, and a totally new direction.
KHUDOBIN NOW A HURRICANE
The Bruins lost their solid backup when Anton Khudobin agreed to sign a new one-year deal with the Carolina Hurricanes.
Personally speaking, this was my favorite deal of the day. Khudobin rarely had an off night with the Bruins this season, going 9-4-1 with a 2.32 GAA and .920 SV%. He brings a ton of energy to the crease, and just like his dynamic and unique style on the ice, he has a similar personality off the ice.
I believe he’ll be well-received by the team and successful in a role that has been quite unstable for the Hurricanes. From Michael Leighton to Justin Peters to Brian Boucher (UFA) and Ellis, they finally have someone that has worked hard to get to this point in his career.
Khudobin is 27 and was drafted 206th overall way back in 2004 by the Minnesota Wild.
That age bracket — between 25 and 27 — seems to be the sweet spot for a number of these fringe AHL/NHL guys to earn that elusive opportunity to be full-time backups.
Chad Johnson just signed a new one-year, one-way contract with the Bruins to replace Khudobin, and he just turned 27 on June 10. Hutton and Greiss are also 27 years old.