Sergei Bobrovksy’s massive Florida deal headlines blockbuster day for goalie moves
The goaltending carousel went for a maximum-velocity spin on July 1st this year, with almost every big free agent name on the board heading to new organizations and a handful of surprises moving on to new rosters for the upcoming season as well.
The biggest headliner was probably the least surprising of them all, as Sergei Bobrovsky got the money he’d been looking for and the term he wanted to head down to South Beach. The 30-year-old unrestricted free agent inked a deal for seven years and $70 million, joining the Florida Panthers on the heels of his most successful playoff run with the Columbus Blue Jackets ever.
Bobrovsky won two Vezina trophies during his tenure with the Blue Jackets and climbed his way to an impressive 213 wins with the club, more than doubling the team’s next-highest performing goaltender during their 19 seasons in the league and winning them their first-ever playoff round in franchise history. His age and a perception of a nasty injury history left people shocked that the Panthers were willing to shell out the money, but ultimately the retirement of franchise starter Roberto Luongo put the club in a position to usher in a new player with experience while they await the arrival of Spencer Knight down the line. Add in his work with a new trainer during the last few seasons, which has been one of the most intriguing (and best-kept) secrets in the league, and his health has been stellar; for the Panthers, it was money seemingly well spent.
The south Florida deal was by far the biggest of all the goalie moves made on Monday, but far from the only one of any significance. Here’s a recap of what else went down:
New York Islanders
Signed: Semyon Varlamov
Perhaps the most unexpected contract of the day was the four-year, $20 million deal that the New York Islanders signed with former Colorado Avalanche starter Semyon Varlamov, who reportedly came on for what insiders are suggesting is going to be an easier transition for top Russian prospect Ilya Sorokin when his contract is up with the KHL’s CSKA Moscow. GM Lou Lamoriello was reported as calling a strong relationship between Varlamov and Sorokin, who was drafted by the Islanders with the 78th overall pick in 2014, a “fringe benefit” for the signing – although it’s come under fire nonetheless.
The deal is a slight decrease in salary for the 2014 Vezina finalist, who made $5.9 million per season with the Avalanche over the last five years. But as another goaltender who has been cited as having injury issues – his more pronounced and recent than Bobrovsky’s – the term is surprising for Varlamov. When the contract expires, he’ll be 35, and he’s played just 24, 51, and 49 names in each of the last three seasons, respectively. Without the guarantee that he’ll be healthy enough to play out the deal, the $5 million cap hit seems risky for the Islanders to have taken on.
Signed: Robin Lehner
Coupling with the surprising move for Semyon Varlamov on Long Island was the equally surprising move of his predecessor, Robin Lehner, to the Chicago Blackhawks. The 2019 Vezina Finalist, who took home a Jennings Trophy and Masterton after his candid reveal of substance abuse struggles and a subsequently incredible bounce-back year, inked a one-year deal to head to the Central Division and couple up with Corey Crawford.
Rumors had circulated that Lehner had spurned a two-year deal with the Islanders worth a matching $5 million AAV to the one that Varlamov ended up signing, which raised some eyebrows when New York instead took on massive term for a riskier Varlamov and Lehner took less term elsewhere. His deal with Chicago is just one year in length, paying the $5 million that he had reportedly turned down with Lamoriello.
While speaking to Chicago media, though, Lehner rebuffed the idea that he’d turned anything down, instead giving a chilling indictment of how the process went down. He described a scenario in which he’d been given what he called an ‘ultimatum’ on a certain contract, took a few days to think about it, and came back to talk with the team only to hear they’d gone out and gotten a different goaltender. That left him jumping into negotiations fairly recently with Chicago, likely ending up with the one-year ‘prove it’ deal once again.
For Chicago, though, the deal is a dream come true. While it carries a $2 million increase on what the team paid goaltender Cam Ward during the 2018-19 season, Lehner’s glowing bounce-back season with the Islanders is a far cry from the fading numbers that Ward had been posting when he arrived with the club. He was good for a .930 save percentage in all situations with the Islanders during 46 games, making him a potentially perfect tandem with Corey Crawford while they play out the final year of the team’s long-standing starter’s current deal. When both Lehner and Crawford are looking for new contracts in the summer of 2020, the Blackhawks will be able to negotiate additional term with Lehner if they wish, easing Collin Delia into a potential NHL role without the pressure that would have come this season had Crawford missed any more time with injury – and if things with Lehner don’t work out, he can head elsewhere after the season is done. For the Blackhawks, who entered free agency with plenty of cap space to spare, it was a positive and fairly low-risk signing that could shore up their crease for a solid push at the playoffs.
Re-signed: Petr Mrazek
It seemed like the Hurricanes were set to lose Petr Mrazek to free agency, as he clearly hoped to earn starter cash somewhere and the team was starting to appear a bit skittish and stingy in net. When all was said and done, though, it was Curtis McElhinney they had lost – and it was Mrazek who stuck around, inking a two-year deal worth $6.25 million total.
The deal doesn’t handicap the Hurricanes much, as they’ll only have one year beyond this one if things don’t work out. They won’t be stuck facing another Darling or Läck situation, even as it appears that the team has moved past the situations that left those two former star backups struggling in Carolina – and they aren’t committing a ton of cap space to the Czech goaltender, even despite his clear steps forward last year.
Ultimately, though, there’s no guarantee he’s the clear number one. The team got out from under Scott Darling’s contract by trading him to Florida for James Reimer, who struggled in Florida but could be in a better situation in Carolina with less pressure on him. Then there’s Anton Forsberg, who was brought in from Chicago, and the heir apparent in Alex Nedeljkovic who has started to breathe down the necks of the guys playing up in Raleigh already. There’s no guarantee that Mrazek is a long-term fit in Carolina, and he’ll have to continue to play well to keep the spot he has now.
That being said, he took marked strides forward during the 2018-19 season and shone at times during the playoffs. For the Hurricanes, staying out of the free agent frenzy and simply re-upping their own guy was probably the right move in the long run.
Signed: Mike Smith
The two free agent goaltenders in Alberta won’t have to drive very far to get to their new homes, with Mike Smith – the embattled veteran starter who parted ways with Calgary this summer – inking a new, one year deal worth $2 million to join the Edmonton Oilers and tandem with Mikko Koskinen.
Smith put up one of his worst seasons to date with Calgary this past year, posting a fairly poor .898 save percentage in all situations and boasting a -12.65 GSAA through 42 games played. He lost the crease to rookie David Rittich for most of the year, and only redeemed himself with a much more positive playoff performance behind a team that fell apart defensively.
The 37-year-old Ontario native is known for being candid and polarizing, with a style that’s unique and often over-scrutinized. He’s a frequent puck-player and can get involved in the offensive breakout, something that could help an Edmonton team that sometimes badly drowns in its own end – and he knows his style and worth, which could prevent a year with the Oilers from being a confidence (and possibly statistics) killer.
That being said, it’s a surprising move for the Oilers given their lack of a proven starter in Koskinen – and fails to bring any kind of long-term security for a crease that still very badly needs it.
Signed: Cam Talbot
After letting Mike Smith walk to Edmonton, the Flames turned around and took the Oilers’ own former starter back for their own. They inked Talbot to a one-year deal worth just $2.75 million, giving him a chance to prove he can bounce back after the struggles he dealt with in Edmonton during his tenure with the embattled fellow provincial club.
When Talbot was brought on board by the Oilers in the first place, he was a low-movement goaltender who played conservatively and consistently. As his time in Edmonton progressed, he started to struggle with consistent positioning and lateral movement, leaving questions surrounding whether he was truly regressing or simply dealing with the Oilers curse. For Calgary, this gives them a year to see if he’s got what it takes to fill in the spot they have yet to find a long-term solution for – without taking away starts from David Rittich after a successful first year as a heavily-relied upon NHL backup.
Tampa Bay Lightning
Signed: Scott Wedgewood, Curtis McElhinney, Spencer Martin, Zach Fucale (AHL-only deal)
The Lightning and their mercurial relationship with prospect Connor Ingram finally came to an end this summer, as the club dealt Ingram to the Nashville Predators a few weeks ahead of free agency. And while their try-out contract for Finnish prospect Atte Tolvanen didn’t work out (he’s headed for the Liiga’s Pelicans this year) and Eddie Pasquale hit free agency, the team didn’t find themselves at a loss for options; instead, they seemed to pick up just about every minor league goaltender who was willing to head their way.
On NHL deals they signed prized backup Curtis McElhinney, who left the Carolina Hurricanes to gain some cost control on a two-year deal worth $1.3 million per season. They then added two goaltenders to hopefully sneak through waivers in Spencer Martin and Scott Wedgewood, who signed matching one-year deals worth $700,000 apiece, and added to their minor league depth with an AHL-only deal for former Team Canada gold medalist and Montreal Canadiens prospect Zach Fucale. The moves likely shore things up at the minor league level while giving someone to take over for Louis Domingue when he ultimately moves out of the system, although it makes for a crowded crease come training camp – and ultimately may create some complications when it comes time to slip players down through waivers.
Signed: Keith Kinkaid
The New Jersey Devils finally parted ways with backup and social media fan favorite Keith Kinkaid at the 2019 trade deadline, sending him to Columbus to help the Blue Jackets shore up their depth for what they had hoped would be the franchise’s longest playoff run yet.
The move paid off, bringing in a practice goalie to their system and helping Sergei Bobrovsky and Joonas Korpisalo get adequate rest while splitting up game starts more evenly. Ultimately, though, the Blue Jackets hope to move forward with a tandem of Korpisalo and the recently-signed Elvis Merzlikins from Switzerland – so Kinkaid was left to explore free agency without any real ties left to his name. He was scooped up by an optimistic Montreal, who badly need more consistency to back up Carey Price and seem prepared to move on from Charlie Lindgren. He joined the Atlantic Division club on a one year deal worth $1.75 million, making his money without Montreal sacrificing much in the way of term.
Kinkaid’s style has yet to really look starter-caliber, and at 29-years old it’s hard to consider him a goaltender who still has a higher ceiling left to reach. But ultimately, he’s managed to provide some relentless optimism and acceptable NHL-caliber goaltending for the Devils over the course of his career – including a much-needed elite run with New Jersey when starter Cory Schneider went down with injury two seasons ago. If he’s able to even reach that level of play for a small stretch with Montreal, it should be a worthwhile signing; Carey Price badly needs enough support to get some rest, and the Canadiens need a goaltender they can trust while they try to develop their prospects behind him.
Detroit Red Wings
Signed: Calvin Pickard
The 2018-19 season was a disappointing one for Calvin Pickard, who Toronto had hoped to sneak through waivers and instead got scooped up to join the goaltending carousel in Philadelphia. Things didn’t work out there, and he was picked up by the Arizona Coyotes to help them with their own onslaught of goaltending injuries – and ultimately, he ended up going months at a time without sniffing NHL ice.
Pickard’s promising numbers with the Avalanche and AHL Marlies in the past, though, combine with one of the most highly-lauded locker room presences in the league. So the 27-year old Manitoban was picked up on a two-year deal by the Detroit Red Wings, who gave him a combined $1.5 million to both provide some guaranteed money for the player and a reasonable $750,000 cap hit for themselves. He’ll join the Red Wings to compete with backup Jonathan Bernier for the number two spot behind Jimmy Howard and provide some insurance in case the 35-year old Jimmy Howard suffers any kind of setbacks.
At best, Pickard has proven to be a phenomenal teammate and a positive practice goaltender, but the assumption is that the Red Wings will need to use him in some capacity during the year – so don’t expect to see him go through the kind of lengthy starting dry spells this time around.
Signed: Andrew Hammond
It’s hard to really get a feel for what the hell the Buffalo Sabres are doing, although the addition of Mike Bales to help backup Linus Ullmark take steps forward and Carter Hutton solidify his game should work wonders for the team. Ultimately, Andrew Hammond inking a one year deal worth $700,000 doesn’t move the needle much – although as he’s proven in the last few seasons, he should at the very least provide the team with an AHL option who has a friendly disposition and an ability to get called up if the need arises. For Buffalo, who desperately need to do something to clarify their goaltending situation moving forward, it’s a reasonably good stopgap signing.
Signed: Zane McIntyre
North Dakota native Zane McIntyre was one of the league’s feel-good stories when he changed his name to honor his late grandmother in 2014, but his struggles within the Bruins system left him turning for another option this summer. He’ll join the Vancouver Canucks organization, presumably shoring up their depth chart with the Utica Comets alongside veteran Richard Bachman and incoming rookie Michael DiPietro. His deal is just one year and $700,000, so there isn’t a ton to dislike about it – and the change of scenery for the former Bruins prospect could end up being his own saving grace.
Signed: Maxime Lagace
The Bruins were probably right to part ways with Zane McIntyre after a handful of seasons with unsuccessful progress, but left themselves without much in the way of immediate AHL depth. That ushered in the signing of Maxime Lagace, who left the crowded Vegas depth chart to join the Bruins on a one-year deal worth $700,000. His AHL numbers – and overall development – suggest there isn’t much of an NHL future, but he’s been steadily improving and should make a decent option to join Daniel Vladar in Providence next year.
Signed: Jean-Francois Berube
The carousel of goaltenders in Philadelphia’s system never really seems to stop, and they added yet another option with a one-year, $700,000 deal for former Kings, Islanders, Blackhawks, and Blue Jackets minor leaguer Jean-Francois Berube. He’s on his fifth organization since 2015, which doesn’t bode well for the 27-year-old goaltender, but his numbers have been good enough to keep him floating around. There’s always the question of where he’ll fit in – the team currently has Alex Lyon, Felix Sandström, Kirill Ustimenko, and now Berube all signed at the minor league level while they also have Carter Hart and Brian Elliott – but for the Flyers, more still always seems to be better when it comes to signing goalies. So this may have been a smart move after all.