directory Light the Lamp - a Columbus Blue Jackets blog: 2009 Free Agency Preview - Goaltenders

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Sunday, June 14, 2009

2009 Free Agency Preview - Goaltenders

This is the second entry in a series of posts I will be presenting this offseason as we build up to the July 1st free agency period.

The first entry focused on unrestricted free agent defensemen which can be found here.

This entry will focus on unrestricted free agent goaltenders.

Off what is a damn near lock for winner of the Calder (for rookie of the year) and a Venzina nod (for best goaltender) Steve Mason is the undisputed main man between the pipes for the Jackets. The problem however is that after Mase, there isn't a reliable backup to give the kid a rest.

As we know Dubie was a great guy and seemed well liked by the guys in the room. However, it was clear by his 1 start, that the coaching staff had no trust in his game. They survived with him last year but can't take that kind of gamble again going into next season.

The lack of a true capable backup seemed to catch up with Mase as he struggled down the stretch and into the playoffs. Bottom line is the kid was worn out. That can' t happen again.

Near the top of Howson's shopping list this offseason will be the acquisition of a backup goaltender fully capable of shouldering 15 to 20 starts. This player must be able to play at a high level cold off the bench, must be a good team guy and of course, has to be affordable.

Howson will also have to guard against the dreaded "sophomore slump". You want to give the Mase the benefit of the doubt but as a GM, you have to cover all your basis.

By my count (actually 29 goaltenders with some NHL experience will be unrestricted free agents this summer. Let's take a look at some of the more prominent names.

Manny Fernandez
ASSETS: Covers the net well. Plays with poise and confidence. Handles the puck like a defenseman. Is improving in the mental aspects of goaltending.
FLAWS: Still lacks the consistency needed to play the starter's role at the NHL level. Will he ever take his game to another level?
CAREER POTENTIAL: No. 1A goaltender.

Age: 24
2008 stats: 28 16 8 3 2.59 .910
2008 salary: 4.75

Outlook: Fernandez will certainly be chasing a an opportunity to be a starter again in this league. That isn't going to happen in Columbus with Mase being the clear #1. Couple that with the fact that Fernandez will want, and probably get, more than the Jackets are willing to pay for a backup and any thoughts of the Jackets signing him should quickly dissipate.

Nikolai Khabibulin
ASSETS: Plays an electrifying, acrobatic style that leaves fans on the edge of their seat. Has the ability to win games by himself. Can play a ton of minutes.
FLAWS: His flopping, unpredictable style makes him vulnerable against teams that go to the net hard. Can experience difficulty with rebounds.
CAREER POTENTIAL: No. 1 goaltender.

Age: 36
2008 stats: 42 25 8 7 2.33 .919
2008 salary: 6.750

Outlook: After a couple of very rough seasons in Chicago Khabibulin bounced back (in a free agent year mind you) with a very strong season with a 25 wins and only 8 losses as he split time with Huet. He also had a solid GAA of 2.33 and save% of .919. The "wall" will certainly find a home as a #1 starter in the league this offseason and it certainly won't be in Columbus.

Andrew Raycroft
ASSETS: When he's on his game, his positioning and technique are nearly flawless. Has an athletic build and a positive attitude.
FLAWS: Can be beaten upstairs. Needs to improve the mental aspects of the game in order to improve. Lets in the odd soft goal.
CAREER POTENTIAL: Streaky backup goaltender.

Age: 29
2008 stats: 31 12 16 0 3.14 .892
2008 salary: .800

Outlook: Mr. Inconsistency himself. My how his game has fallen since winning the Calder trophy for best rookie in the 03-04 season. Raycroft could be an option for the Jackets as he definitely falls in their price range but they will have to strike out in a lot of other places before giving Raycroft and his inconsistent game any serious consideration.

Ty Conklin
ASSETS: Has plenty of confidence in the crease, and is a capable puck-handler. Works extremely hard at improving his game.
FLAWS: Must prove he handle the pressure over the long haul. Is too inconsistent to start at the NHL level.
CAREER POTENTIAL: No. 2 goaltender.

Age: 33
2008 stats: 40 25 11 2 2.51 .909
2008 salary: .750

Outlook: Former Jacket Ty Conklin put in a good season for the Wings last season (I still remember that save on Peca). However, as with any goalie who plays for Detroit, you must take into account the team in front of him. Still Conklin seems to be a well liked guy, is a veteran who understands the backup role/mentality and has the ability to play well cold. With the solid foundation a Hitch coached team provides in front him, he is certainly worthy of consideration again in Columbus - especially considering his reasonable price tag.

Dwayne Roloson
ASSETS: Is capable of playing spectacularly well for stretches and has leadership qualities as the last line of defense.
FLAWS: Has fought consistency his entire career. May have trouble duplicating his career year, and is running out of race track.
CAREER POTENTIAL: No. 1 goaltender.

Age: 39
2008 stats: 63 28 24 9 2.77 .915
2008 salary: 3.00

Outlook: Personally I hope the Jackets stay far away from this guy.. but that's just because I hate the way this guy competes (i.e. crys). I don't suspect there will be any interest from either side as Roloson will look remain a starter either with Edmonton or elsewhere. Judging by his solid numbers last season he'll probably find a home as one as well. His price tag would put him well out of our range for a backup as well. Age is a concern.

Craig Anderson
ASSETS: Possesses a positive demeanor and sound fundamentals. Can step in and dominate hockey games from time to time.
FLAWS: Isn't consistent enough in stopping the puck to play the starter's role at the NHL level. Can be guilty of flopping around in the crease.
CAREER POTENTIAL: No. 2 goaltender.

Age: 28
2008 stats: 31 15 7 5 2.71 .924
2008 salary: .575

Outlook: As backup to Tomas Vokoun for 2 1/2 seasons Anderson has had some very impressive stretches of play and solid stats to back it up. He's a guy who may be ready to be a starter but hasn't had the chance to carry the load and prove it. He'll certainly look for a raise and to find his best opportunity to start but there are only so many starter positions to go around. This is a guy I hope Howson takes a very hard look at as he would great fit behind Mase and a guy Hitch could trust to provide solid play when Mase needs a break or (knock on wood) should he go down with an injury.

Scott Clemmensen
ASSETS: Has great size for the goaltending position. Plays with poise and lets the puck hit him. Is an excellent team player.
FLAWS: Doesn't have No. 1 goaltender potential, mainly because of a lack of consistency. Needs more work on his lateral mobility.
CAREER POTENTIAL: No. 2 goaltender.

Age: 31
2008 stats: 40 25 13 1 2.39 .917
2008 salary: .500

Outlook: Opened up eyes around the league with his strong play after Brodeur went down. Like Anderson, Clemmensen will be looking for a bigger payday and a chance to be a #1 somewhere in this league. No doubt Howson will kick the tires and he would be a great fit but he could get outbid pretty quickly depending how things shake out with the other bigger names on the market.

Kevin Weekes
ASSETS: Is very athletic in the goal crease. Makes the spectacular save look routine. Shakes off bad goals well. Plays with the intensity of a power forward.
FLAWS: Consistency has always eluded him at the NHL level. Has trouble with long shots. Will give up untimely goals.
CAREER POTENTIAL: No. 2 goaltender.

Age: 34
2008 stats: 16 7 5 0 2.42 .920
2008 salary: .700

Outlook: Weekes also turned in a solid season for the Devils in a backup role to Clemmensen. His numbers were all solid. The belief is that between the two, the Devils will most likely resign Weekes as he'll come a little cheaper due to his age and less starts. As of now though he's still unsigned and again, he's another guy that's most certainly on the Jackets radar as he has displayed the ability to be a strong backup in this league and the price may be right here.

Martin Biron
ASSETS: Is extremely poised and rarely gets rattled after giving up a bad goal. Has tremendous agility and the cockiness needed to play between the pipes.
FLAWS: Needs more meat on his bones. Tends to go into prolonged slumps when everything seems to go in over the course of a season.
CAREER POTENTIAL: No. 1 goaltender.

Age: 31
2008 stats: 55 29 19 5 2.76 .915
2008 salary: 3.5

Outlook: Not a bad season in Philly but I suspect they wanted more bang for their buck as well. With the signing of Ray Emery it looks like the Flyers will be headed in a different direction. The question now is if Biron can find another team that is willing to pay him a starter's salary? I'm not so sure. I highly doubt Howson makes a play here but if for some reason he's still hanging out there a few weeks after July 1st and the Jackets haven't signed a backup then who knows. Biron in union blue is an unlikely marriage.

Antero Niittymaki
ASSETS: Displays a calm demeanor at all times and plays with a lot of poise in the crease. Can make spectacular saves at key moments of a hockey game.
FLAWS: Must rely on positioning and reflexes, because he doesn't cover a lot of the net with his frame alone. Is prone to inconsistency.
CAREER POTENTIAL: No. 1A goaltender.

Age: 28
2008 stats: 32 15 8 6 2.76 .912
2008 salary: 1.375

Outlook: If there is one thing Niitymaki has going for him is that he played for Hitch before. He also put up solid numbers as a backup, has a lot of NHL experience and is relatively affordable. Again I see no reason why this guy wouldn't be on Howson's radar unless he was a guy that Hitch wasn't impressed with.

Mathieu Garon
ASSETS: Has tremendous poise. Shows an excellent glove hand. Is a hard worker and displays the ability to bounce back from adversity.
FLAWS: Must prove capable of handling the pressure of playing major minutes. Does he have the demeanor of an above-average NHL starting netminder?

Age: 31
2008 stats: 19 8 9 0 3.12 .894
2008 salary: 1.00

Outlook: Ouch. Not a good season for Garon last year but has put up some decent numbers prior. Garon could come cheap and if Howson strikes out in other areas he could be a fallback option. Then again I believe the Jackets passed on Garon when he was on the waiver wire so who knows. I see him being pretty far down the wishlist if on it at all.

Brion Boucher
ASSETS: Has the ability to recover and never quits on a play, regardless of how awkward he looks. Owns the ability to steal victories from time to time.
FLAWS: Must rebuild his fragile confidence. Has to play with more consistency if he is ever to be considered a starting goaltender in the NHL again.
CAREER POTENTIAL: No. 2 goaltender.

Age: 32
2008 stats: 22 12 6 3 2.18 .917
2008 salary: .650

Outlook: Another former Jacket who saw some quality time as a backup last season for San Jose as he spelled Nabakov for 22 starts. I wasn't much of a fan of Boucher when he was a Jacket but then again the team in front of him didn't provide a lot of help. I see the Jackets interest in him in a way similar to Garon -- lots of strikes before his name bubbles up the list.

Manny Legace
ASSETS: Has incredible reflexes and excellent lateral movement. Will never quit on a play. Can steal a victory from time to time.
FLAWS: Isn't as effective when given 60-65 starts, since he lacks durability. His lack of size can be exploited by NHL snipers.
CAREER POTENTIAL: No. 1A goaltender.

Age: 36
2008 stats: 29 13 9 2 3.18 .885
2008 salary: 2.50

Outlook: Legace is another guy the Jackets passed on when he hit the wire. Could be money related but my guess is they, like St. Louis, were not impressed with his play or attitude. I don't think there is really any chance the Jackets make a move for this player.

Curtis Joseph
ASSETS: Has a wealth of experience. Is extremely agile. Usually controls his rebounds with aplomb. Just when you think he's down and out, he makes a miraculous stop.
FLAWS: Gets into odd funks whenever he plays too deep in his net. Has never been very good at handling the puck. Can he adjust to a backup role to end his career?
CAREER POTENTIAL: Aging former starting goaltender.

Age: 42
2008 stats: 21 5 9 1 3.57 .869
2008 salary: .700

Outlook: 42 years old? Jackets pass.

Brent Johnson
ASSETS: Has tremendous size for a goaltender. Shows a good glove hand and the ability to play the puck effectively. Has settled nicely into a backup role.
FLAWS: Needs more work on his quickness and ability to recover when he's on the ground. Is too inconsistent, which is why he failed as a starting goalkeeper.
CAREER POTENTIAL: Quality backup goaltender.

Age: 32
2008 stats: 21 12 6 2 2.81 .908
2008 salary: .825

Outlook: Johnson has played a backup role for Washington for the past 4 seasons with mixed success. He could be a decent option but there are major concerns here with injuries as he missed the past 30 games of last season with a hip injury. The Jackets need a reliable backup who can stay healthy and can't afford to take any chances on health for such an important position.

Martin Gerber
ASSETS: Has plenty of experience at several levels. Displays good mobility and a solid glove hand. Is a good teammate.
FLAWS: Is somewhat undersized. Tends to lose his focus from time to time, which leads to the occasional soft goal against.
CAREER POTENTIAL: Ideal backup, but only an average starting goaltender.
Age: 34
2008 stats: 26 10 14 1 3.03 .902
2008 salary: 3.7

Outlook: After strong season in Carolina in 05-06, Gerber signed a huge free agent contract with Ottawa which ended up being a colossal bust to the point of Gerber being put on and clearing waivers and getting sent down to Binghamton. He does have a lot of pro experience and could be an option as a backup but he would have to take drastically less than the 3.7 mil he made last season for the Jackets to make a push.

There are some other names out there that may be considered like Dany Sabourin, Mikael Tellqvist, Yann Denis or Jason Labarbara but those are you main players.

If I had to rank what I think are the best options for the Jackets my list would look something like:

1. Craig Anderson
2. Scott Clemensen
3. Antero Niittymaki
4. Kevin Weekes
5. Martin Gerber
6. Ty Conklin

Of course money will be the driving factor as to who Howson ends up signing but I can see him snagging a name on that list for a mil to mil and 1/2.

I'm certainly no expert in every team's goaltending situation but by my count there are 3 teams that need a starter and 14 who need a backup:

Starter - Colorado, Edmonton, Toronto Maple Leafs

Backup - Boston, Chicago, Columbus, Dallas, Detroit, Florida, New Jersey, New York Islanders, New York Rangers, Philly, Pittsburgh, San Jose, Vancouver

Now some of these teams in need of a backup may have someone in their system who is ready to step up and fill that backup goaltender slot so they won't all be competing against one another.

Bottom line though is the goaltending position is too important not to reinforce. You have to give your starter a rest throughout the 82 game grind, there is always the threat of injury and as I mentioned earlier, in Mase's case you have to guard against the sophomore slump.

If Howson has to overpay a bit for a quality backup then so be it.



tsheppa said...

WTF? What about taking another risk on a goalie in our system?? Why spend millions on old good headcases (for whatever reason)??? Dan Lacosta may more than willing and able. As Osgood proves, you are only as good as the guys in front of you....beef up the blueline....give the young guy a shot...ala Mason....Wtf?

LTL said...

Are you willing to risk our season on LaCosta or Lalande should Mase go down?

I'm not.


Max said...

Wtf... I agree with LTL. LaCosta will have his chance I believe. Either that or he'll be traded. I don't know why the team has no trust in him, because he looked pretty solid to me.

On your list, LTL, Clemmenson is definitely the sexy backup. He lit up New Jersey when the ultimate goalie was out. But, like you said I think he's looking for starter's money. Weekes will probably resign elsewhere, because Broduer, barring injury, will want to play 75 games again.

LTL said...

I also wanted to add that at this point you don't want LaCosta or Lalande in a backup role. You want them playing and developing.


Barga said...

I trust in doobie, adn i think that we should kep him

Barga said...

That said, however, if we need a person who can play 20 games form Mase then we need somebody like Conklin, who is solid, good, and can start that many games without an issue

we should also try and get some decent lower level goalies, put them with the Crush, and see what happens

Always remember, mason was supposed to suck and was almost buried

tsheppa said...

Just thoughts, a year ago at this time were we willing to risk it all on Mason?? Probably not. One never knows.

patrick said...

well, most of these guys on the list are either too old (roloson, joseph) or too expensive (fernandez, khabibulin). and then there are those on the list that are hungry for playing time...and probably deserve it (anderson and clemmer, esp anderson). these players however would be a concern as they could become too competitive for starting time. it could unsettle MASE. not saying that he has a fragile psyche, but we dont need a competition to determine our #1. hell, for a while it looked like anderson was going to supplant vokoun. our message to him should be one of confidence, that he is our #1. signing a quality career backup (weekes, dubie, nittymaki, raysoft...scratch that...raysoft is not a quality backup) sends the right signals.