InGoal Update: Goalie movement unlikely on NHL deadline day
Tomas Vokoun remains the most valuable goaltender on the trade market heading towards Monday’s deadline.
The Panthers’ puck stopper is an experienced 35-year-old who remains in the NHL’s top-10 in save percentage (.922) playing behind a below average team in Florida. As an unrestricted free agent on a hard-selling squad that has been busy unloading talent over the past week, Vokoun is undoubtedly available. And as a pure rental, he probably wouldn’t command much in return.
So why was Vokoun so unlikely to move Monday? Simply put, he’s making too much money at $5.7 million.
That puts the contenders that might, stress might, have a need for various reasons – teams like Detroit, Washington, Philadelphia and maybe San Jose – out of the running because they just don’t have enough salary cap space to add Vokoun.
In the case of the Red Wings, who are riding Jimmy Howard and hoping veteran backup Chris Osgood returns from sports hernia surgery, reports indicate they don’t have much more than the $570,000 they signed Evgeni Nabokov for before losing him to the waiver claim that subsequently blew up on the New York Islanders. That means Detroit may not even have enough room to add a $1.3-million Ty Conklin, who was one of four goaltenders available for nothing on the waiver wire before Monday.
(Update: Conklin, Pascal Leclaire and New York Islanders rookie Nathan Lawson all cleared waivers at noon, but Curtis McElhinney was claimed by Ottawa, almost certainly to back up Craig Anderson so 19-year-old prospect Robin Lehner can settle back into the AHL in Binghamton. Also, the Red Wings re-signed Jimmy Howard, who was set to become an unrestricted free agent this summer, to a bargain two-year, $4.5-million extension. Keep checking back for continued analysis of those moves at InGoal Magazine.)
The San Jose Sharks have even less available space, which is one reason they’ve run with a sizzling Antti Niemi (15-1-2 since mid-January), a series of emergency backups and a not-ready Carter Hutton while waiting for Antero Niittymaki, who has missed 16 games with separate groin injuries. The good news for the Sharks is Niittymaki returned to practice Sunday for the first time since aggravating the injury Feb. 8, and told the San Jose Mercury News he is close to being able to play again:
“It’s up to coaches and management, but I felt normal today,” said Niittymaki. “Obviously it was first group practice. We’ll see if it’s a little sore tomorrow or something, but I don’t expect it to be. If I wouldn’t be on the (long-term injury) list I’d be day-to-day. Obviously it’s frustrating, you work hard to get back and then something else happens and you have to start from scratch again. It really sucks but what can you do? I just have to try and keep it healthy from now on.”
The struggling Capitals appear content to go into the playoffs with youngsters Michael Neuvirth and Semyon Varlamov, though injuries to both (and to first option call up Braden Holtby) must be worrisome, especially since it forced them to recall Todd Ford and Jared DeMichiel over the last few days. As for the Eastern Conference Flyers, they too seem content with a tandem of Russian rookie Sergei Bobrovsky and reliable veteran Brian Boucher, especially with last year’s playoff hero, Michael Leighton, waiting in the AHL if needed.
The Buffalo Sabres are finally willing to spend money, and in desperate need of a backup after losing faith in Patrick Lalime, even if their their need to ride Ryan Miller hard in the playoff race means they won’t play the backup often. Buffalo had been relying on Jhonas Enroth to come up from the AHL and play a game here or there to relieve Miller, but with call ups limited after the trade deadline and a new owner willing to spend money, it wouldn’t hurt the Sabres to add a backup, either off waivers or in a minor trade.
As for the handful of teams looking for a goalie for next year and beyond, the Ottawa Senators are already kicking the tires on possibly re-signing Anderson after acquiring him from Colorado for Brian Elliott. Anaheim secured a more reliable backup for Jonas Hiller next season – and a better fill in while he remains out with vertigo this season – by adding Dan Ellis in a trade with Tampa Bay.
There have been rumblings the goaltending-thin Avalanche are interested in adding a better young prospect like Vancouver’s Cory Schneider and Los Angeles’ Jonathan Bernier. But given the importance of both goaltenders to their current teams – both to spell their No.1s down the stretch and as possible playoff options should their counterparts falter – it’s unlikely either will be moved anytime before the summer.
And while there are a number of teams without a top stopper signed for next season, another glut of goalies is expected to again drive down the price of puck stopping when free agency opens on July 1 – the list is topped by Vokoun and Phoenix No.1 Ilya Bryzgalov – meaning it might be more prudent to wait rather than surrendering assets to add a goalie Monday.