The most complicated and, as a result, probably the quietest trade deadline in NHL history is just three weeks away. Between the flat salary cap, expansion-protected lists and the quarantine periods required for cross-border deals, the trading landscape is a minefield for GMs to navigate. Those pitfalls will make it difficult to trade for skaters. But goaltenders will be particularly challenging to trade or acquire.
If you’re trading for a goalie, you’re likely desperate for an upgrade in net, which means your contender team is likely losing more games than it wants to right now, which means any quarantine period while awaiting for a netminder to arrive in a trade could be the difference between sitting inside and outside the playoff picture. Any team trading away a goaltender, must factor in the 2021 expansion-draft protection strategy, as every team can only protect one goalie and must leave at least one eligible goalie exposed for the Seattle Kraken.
With those complications factored in, which goaltenders are expected to be the hottest trade commodities in the weeks to come? Consider these 10 names, presented alphabetically. Disclaimer: the team of each goalie mentioned does have a third goalie who could be left exposed to meet the expansion-draft requirements. Example: if the Arizona Coyotes traded Antti Raanta and protected Darcy Kuemper, they could expose Adin Hill.
(Using naturalstattrick.com, the 2020-21 statistical sample I’ll refer to for this list consists of the 47 goalies who have logged at least 500 minutes at 5-on-5 so far this season).
Jonathan Bernier, Detroit Red Wings (UFA in 2021)
Stunningly, the Red Wings have one of the league’s best players at his position this season. Bernier ranks no worse than sixth in 5-on-5 save percentage, goals saved above average per 60 and high-danger goals saved above average per 60 despite facing fifth-toughest workload in terms of expected goals against per 60. He’s legitimately “back” and the most relevant he’s been 2013-14, his first year as starter with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
He’s certainly not a safe acquisition given the almost-random resurgence but, in a short season, a team could try to ride the wave…if he’s healthy. Bernier was injured in practice last week and is currently considered day-to-day with a lower-body injury. The healing timeline ranges from “could heal quickly” or “could take longer” according to Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill. That makes Bernier more likely to be moved closer to the deadline. Since he was hardly a sure thing entering this season, teams will want to at least see him healthy.
Chris Driedger, Florida Panthers (UFA in 2021)
Driedger has been a nice story this season, but it will Panthers cash out their chip rather than risk losing him for nothing? They’re committed to Sergei Bobrovsky, who is immovable with five seasons remaining at his $10-million AAV, while Driedger is a pending UFA. The two netminders’ performances are also reversing their early-season trends. Bobrovsky’s save percentages by month: .894, .900, .907. Driedger’s: .937, .924. .910.
The question is whether the contending Panthers are willing to lose a crucial safety net behind ‘Bob,’ who owns a piddly .902 career playoff SP. They’re set in net long-term for goaltending depth with ultra-prospect Spencer Knight but would be taking a chance relying on someone like Sam Montembeault as the backup for the stretch run and playoffs.
Devan Dubnyk, San Jose Sharks (UFA in 2021)
Dubnyk had his first bad season with the Minnesota Wild in 2019-20 but also endured some personal turmoil that impacted his play. He thus deserved a mulligan entering his first season as a Shark. So far this year, however, he’s graded out again as one of the league’s worst netminders, ranking 42nd in GSAA/60, sitting in the 11th percentile. Do you give him two mulligans because he’s playing on another mediocre club? He’s one of the more experienced goalies available and capable of hot streaks. But he’ll also turn 35 in May. His best years are likely behind him.
Anton Khudobin, Dallas Stars ($3.33-million AAV through 2022-23)
From 2018-19 through 2019-20, Khudobin graded out as not just the best backup in the league, but the best goaltender, period, in terms of GSAA/60. He was exposed near the end of the 2020 playoffs as he played the most (frequent) hockey of his life, thrust into a true starter’s role during Dallas’ run to the final while Ben Bishop was hurt, and Khudobin hasn’t fully gotten his groove back since. He’s been just average despite a strong defense in front of him gifting him the league’s second-easiest degree of difficulty. High-pedigree prospect Jake Oettinger has outplayed him and looks like Dallas’ goalie of the future and perhaps the present.
Would a team be willing to pay Khudobin, who turns 35 in May, for two more seasons after this one? Perhaps if Dallas ate a bit of salary in a trade, as Khudobin could still thrive in the “luxury backup” role that made him so handy the past few years. He showed he could step in and be good enough to help a team go all the way to the final, even if he did run out of steam by the end.
Joonas Korpisalo, Columbus Blue Jackets ($2.8-million AAV through 2021-22)
Korpisalo or Merzlikins. Merzlikins or Korpisalo? The pair have taken turns outplaying the other for extended stretches over the past two seasons. The sum of their parts has given Columbus above-average goaltending most of the time, though neither has been as good this season as last. Still, both are just 26 and have flashed the ability to be true No. 1s. Korpisalo may attract a bit more interest after standing on his head early in the 2020 post-season, helping Columbus reach the Round of 16.
Darcy Kuemper, Arizona Coyotes ($4.5-million AAV through 2021-22)
Kuemper, like Bernier, is hurt. Kuemper sustained his lower-body injury two weeks ago and still hasn’t even skated. But Kuemper, perhaps more than any other goalie on this list, could be worth the wait. He’s been one of the best goaltenders in the league over the past two seasons and change, amassing a .924 SP and finishing fifth and seventh in the past two Vezina Trophy votes while rating among the top starters in the league in GSAA/60. It’s a not a question of whether he’d upgrade a goaltending-hungry team like the Toronto Maple Leafs or Edmonton Oilers in net. But Kuemper is a complicated piece to acquire. He carries a $4.5-million cap hit through the end of next season, and any team trading for him has to be comfortable letting him heal from his injury for a while. A quarantine period would allow for that, at least.
Elvis Merzlikins, Columbus Blue Jackets ($4-million AAV through 2021-22)
Korpisalo has arguably been the more consistent goalie over the past two seasons, but Merzlikins’ star has burned brighter when he’s been hot, such as when he rattled off an incredible five shutouts in an eight-game stretch as a rookie last year. He may have the higher ceiling of the two goaltenders. Bonus: as an NHL sophomore, Merzlikins is exempt from the expansion draft, meaning a team could acquire him and still protect an additional netminder.
Ryan Miller, Anaheim Ducks (UFA in 2021)
Miller, 40, won’t be targeted as a starting option at the deadline, but he’d make a fine backup rental. His roots in Southern California are deep now as he’s built a life with actress Noureen DeWulf and their family. But considering he’s a strong bet to retire after this season, his last chance at a Stanley Cup ring would be a trade to a contender in the next few weeks, so perhaps he’d give his blessing to GM Bob Murray. The question is whether a trade would be worth it just to sit on the bench as a backup, however.
Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles Kings ($5.8-million AAV through 2022-23)
Of the potentially available goaltending options, Quick carries the most prohibitive contract. Even before factoring in the flat salary cap, eating a $5.8-million AAV for two more years to employ a 35-year-old with a sub-.900 SP over the past three seasons would’ve seemed unwise. The pill is even chalkier to swallow now. If the Kings were to retain 50 percent of Quick’s salary, however? There’s no more experienced netminder available. He’s a two-time Stanley Cup winner and a one-time Conn Smythe Trophy winner with a history of elevating his play as the stakes get higher. Perhaps a desperate team is willing to bet on his intangibles. The rebuilding Kings would likely be glad to shed his contract and hand the full-time starting reins to the impressive Cal Petersen.
Antti Raanta, Arizona Coyotes (UFA in 2021)
It’s never a question of talent with Raanta, who has posted an SP of .916 or higher in six of his eight NHL seasons. Durability is the mountain to summit. He’s cleared 40 starts in a season once and has primarily been deployed as a high-end backup rather than a workhorse starter. He’s good enough to get a look in the post-season as a No. 1, but can he be counted on to start every game? If you’re acquiring him as a backup, even cutting his $4.25-million cap hit in half would be steep. So the ideal suitor for any Raanta trade would need a fair amount of cap space or be able to send a pricy contract Arizona’s way as part of the deal.