This July 1 may not be the start of the NHL’s free-agency frenzy, as is normally the case, but that doesn’t mean we can’t kick it off with one final look at the 2021 UFA goalie cohort.
In case you don’t know, this is the fifth and final in a series of blogs examining this off-season’s UFA options between the pipes. For more context, and to read the first blog in this series, click here.
Today’s blog details most consequential UFA goalies who haven’t yet been covered. Many are nearing the end of their NHL journeys, but deserve at least a send off, if nothing else.
Tuukka Rask – Boston Bruins
If Rask had even a shred of interest in exploring the open market, he’d be the 2021 UFA goalie class’s white whale. The 34-year-old Finn is the NHL’s active leader in goals-against average (2.27) and save percentage (.921). In fact, only three goalies in league history – Dominik Hasek, Johnny Bower and Ken Dryden – stopped shots at a better rate. Rask’s best campaign came in 2013-14; he won the Vezina Trophy and earned a first-team all-star nod while leading the Bruins to the Presidents’ Trophy. And he's not far removed from similar radiance. Rask shone in 2019-20, with a .929 SP, five shutouts and a league-leading 2.12 GAA. He was Vezina runner-up and the NHL's second-team all-star goalie.
Rask has never won a Stanley Cup as a starter, but that’s really the only plaudit he lacks. His individual numbers even marginally improve in the post-season. But Rask – who will miss the start of 2021-22 following off-season hip surgery – has said it’s Boston or bust for him. That’s a shame for goalie-needy GMs but a boon for the B’s. He should return down the stretch and can take over if young Jeremy Swayman falters.
Jaroslav Halak – Boston Bruins
Rask’s battery mate in Boston the past three years. The Slovak stopper has played in 15 NHL seasons, calling five different cities home – never staying in one spot longer than four seasons.
Halak likely finds new stamping grounds this summer, though Rask’s injury opens the possibility of a Beantown return. But Halak would have to take a haircut on the $3.5 million he made this season. Halak has been dependable throughout his career – especially as part of a tandem; he has twice been a part of a Jennings Trophy-winning duo. Halak, 36, is nearer the end than he is the beginning, but still has some good hockey left in him. In his three seasons in Boston, Halak had 49 wins and a .918 SP in 83 starts.
Pekka Rinne – Nashville Predators
The big Finn is one of the elite goalies of his generation and a quintessential Predator, but his residency in the Music City may well be finished. Juuse Saros emphatically cemented himself in the starter’s crease, and Rinne could choose to move elsewhere or even hang up the pads after 15 years in The Show.
Rinne missed 51 games after underdoing hip surgery in October 2013, but the 38-year-old has been otherwise sturdy, even into his twilight NHL years. Rinne has missed just 14 games due to injury since returning in March 2014 from his trip under the knife.
Like countryman Rask, Rinne has a Vezina and two all-star nods on his resume. His 60 career shouts rank third among active NHLers. If his time in Nashville has finished, it ended fittingly; Rinne posted a 30-save shutout in his 2020-21 curtain call.
He could always help an offense-needy club.
Henrik Lundqvist – Washington Capitals
You could’ve forgiven ‘Hank’ for being a little moody after the year he had, but he’s dealt with the adversity laudably while seemingly maintaining good spirits. Maybe that shouldn’t be a surprise coming from one of the NHL’s best-known good guys.
Lundqvist signed a one-year, $1.5-million pact with Washington ahead of 2020-21 but missed the entire campaign after undergoing heart surgery. We won’t speculate too much on what that means going forward but instead will take a moment to appreciate his spectacular career.
If his playing days are over, Lundqvist will be remembered as an all-time great goaltender. The 39-year-old is a five-time Vezina finalist – winning the award once – a two-time NHL all-star, and was Sweden’s starting goalie for their run to Olympic gold in 2006. Beyond the Turin triumph, he’s also a World Championship gold medallist. Among active NHLers, he’s second in both wins (459) and shutouts (64).
Lundqvist hasn’t officially closed the book yet, and if he can continue playing, he’ll look to sign with a contender. A date with Lord Stanley is seemingly the only outing the suave Swede hasn’t managed to wangle.
James Reimer – Carolina Hurricanes
Reimer is one of three netminders who called Carolina’s crease home in 2020-21. He’s also one of three Carolina netminders whose contract now expires. Alex Nedeljkovic – the only RFA – will be retained; that much we know. Whether Reimer (or Petr Mrazek) returns to the Tar Heel State, however, is anyone’s guess.
Reimer is 33 years old and has played in 11 NHL campaigns. After five-and-a-half seasons in Toronto, the Leafs traded him to San Jose at the 2016 deadline. Since then, Reimer is 88-55-20 with a .912 SP and 2.72 GAA. He played in 22 games this season for the Canes.
Manitoba-born Reimer just finished a five-year, $17-million contract he originally signed with the Florida Panthers in the summer of 2016. He won’t be making nearly the $3.4 million AAV he did on his previous pact but should catch on somewhere as a backup.
Brian Elliott – Philadelphia Flyers
One-half of the disaster in Philadelphia’s net this season. The 36-year-old from Newmarket, Ont., has spent the past four seasons with the Flyers on three separate short-term deals. They probably bring in a different veteran to pair with a Carter Hart they’ll hope rebounds from a dreadful 2020-21.
Elliott led the NHL in SP in 2011-12 and 2015-16, but it’s not those years anymore. Could bounce back removed from Philly’s goalie graveyard, though.
Craig Anderson – Washington Capitals
Colorado traded Anderson to Ottawa in exchange for Elliott in February 2011. Could one – or both – ride off into the sunset this summer?
Anderson just turned 40 and – thrilling two-game stint as playoff No. 1 aside – played in just four regular-season games this year. His final three years in Ottawa were a struggle after six-and-a-half great seasons in Canada’s capital. The 2017 Masterton Trophy winner is the Sens’ all-time leader in games played (435), wins (202) and nearly doubles runner-up Patrick Lalime in saves as a Sen.
Anderson is coming off a league-minimum deal with the Caps.
Cory Schneider – New York Islanders
New Jersey bought out the 12-year NHL vet on Oct. 8, 2020. He then signed a one-year deal with the Islanders for the league minimum ($700,000) one day after the 2020-21 season started. Schneider didn’t get into any NHL action this year and only skated two games in the AHL. Maybe he signs a PTO?
Laurent Brossoit – Winnipeg Jets
He was drafted by Calgary, made his NHL debut with Edmonton and has spent the past three seasons with Winnipeg. Could he journey to Vancouver to complete the Western Conference Canadian tour? Brossoit has oscillated between good and bad seasons since becoming a semi-regular in 2017-18. He only started 11 games in 2020-21 but posted a .918 SP and had a shutout.
Carter Hutton – Buffalo Sabres
Hutton had one win in 12 starts with Buffalo this season. It seems like a long time since he led the league in SP and GAA in 2017-18 with the Blues. It'll be interesting to see what his NHL future holds.