Examining the 2021 UFA Goalie Market: Two Veteran Workhorses Who've Recently Struggled

The second in a series examining the 2021 UFA market for goalies. These are two veteran stoppers whose 2019-20 and 2020-21 seasons weren't quite up to their usual standards.
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This is the second in what will be a series of blogs examining this summer’s UFA crop of goalies. Because there are so many fascinating free-agent tenders to look at, I’ll be grouping several by some defining characteristic for each blog and then running down their resumes in detail.

For more context and to read the first entry in this series, click here.

Next up, we have a pair of crease guardians who probably wish they’d hit UFA status a couple summers ago. These two have seen their names fall somewhat out of vogue in the past two seasons but have been among the NHL’s most dependable workhorses when on their games. Each has name recognition and a solid resume, but neither played a second of playoff hockey this season even though both their teams received invites to the dance. Now, they may be bargains for their future teams.

Frederik Andersen – Toronto Maple Leafs

A goalie so nice, he was drafted twice. The Carolina Hurricanes used their seventh-round pick in the 2010 draft to take Frederik Andersen from Frederikshavn of his native Danish League. Andersen forwent signing and raising with the Canes, instead re-entering the draft in 2012, where he was selected 87th overall by the Anaheim Ducks. 

Andersen spent one year percolating in the AHL with the Norfolk Admirals before making his full-time NHL debut in 2013-14. The 6-foot-4, 238-pound netminder spent three prosperous years with the Ducks, a stint that included bringing them within a game of the Stanley Cup final in 2015. But on June 20, 2016, Anaheim officially put its future in John Gibson’s hands and traded Andersen to the Toronto Maple Leafs for the 30th overall pick in 2016 (Sam Steel) and a second-round pick in 2017 Anaheim used on Max Comtois.

Upon arriving in Toronto, Andersen immediately signed a five-year, $25-million extension to stay with the Leafs through 2020-21.

The early returns were strong, with the Dane providing the reliable presence required by the upstart Leafs’ then-porous defense. Andersen's first three seasons in Toronto were all quite impressive. He was an absolute workhorse – playing 66, 66 and 60 games, respectively – and posted a .918 SP and 2.75 GAA while winning 107 games. Nobody started more games than did Andersen between 2016-17 and 2018-19.

The past two years, however, Andersen has faltered, despite the Leafs improving on defense. Since 2019-20 began, Andersen has played 76 games, with a .905 SP and 2.89 GAA. He was a bottom-10 goalie in GSAx in 2019-20 and has a cumulative minus-19.1 GSAx the past two seasons. In his first three seasons with Toronto, it was plus-44.7. He also decisively lost the starter’s crease to Jack Campbell this year.

Andersen turns 32 in October. The cap-strapped Leafs are unlikely to retain his services, meaning he should see the open market. He has name recognition, a strong professional resume, and an ability to bail out leaky defenses. But he put a lot of miles on during his time in Toronto, and his past two years will work against him. He hasn’t made it past the first round of the playoffs since his 2015 post-season run with Anaheim.

Still, Toronto is such an aberration of a hockey market, teams may discount his recent struggles and place more value on his overall resume. He’ll have plenty of suitors.

Devan Dubnyk – Colorado Avalanche

Andersen started the most games between 2016-17 and 2018-19, but Dubnyk was close. The Regina, Sask., native started 188 games in that timeframe, behind only Andersen and Sergei Bobrovsky. Dubnyk’s 192 games played – he had four relief appearances – tied him with Andersen for most in the NHL.

Like Andersen, Dubnyk has had periods of spectacular play during his career but reaches UFA status at an inopportune time. Unlike Andersen, proving his NHL mettle didn’t happen quite so quickly for Dubnyk.

Edmonton chose Dubnyk 14th overall in 2004, and the lanky netminder spent the next five-and-a-half seasons post-draft building toward playing in The Show. He then spent his first four full NHL seasons in the City of Champions, where his performances were mercurial. The 2012-13 season was his best; he posted a .920 SP – the best in Oilers’ history until Mike Smith’s .923 this season – behind an abysmal Oilers defense. Per moneypuck.com, he was fourth in GSAx that season. He started 37 of 48 games in that lockout-shortened campaign and had Edmonton competing for a playoff spot deep into the calendar.

But Dubnyk’s time in Edmonton was marred by a penchant for allowing poor, backbreaking goals, especially early in games. He struggled mightily to start 2013-14 and was subsequently traded to Nashville in January 2014. He spent the next several months bouncing around North America, ending up as an AHL backup.

Dubnyk signed a one-year, $800,000 pact with Arizona during the 2014 off-season. The contract would be his saving grace. Dubnyk – buoyed by then-Coyotes’ goalie coach Sean Burke’s guidance – flourished with Arizona, posting a .916 SP in 19 games with the talent-devoid Coyotes. On Jan. 14, 2015 – almost exactly one year after moving on from Edmonton – Dubnyk was traded from bottom-dwelling Arizona to a competitive Minnesota team. He became the Wild’s starter and spent the next five-and-a-half seasons establishing himself as a top NHL netminder. Dubnyk’s 2014-15 efforts would earn him a third-place finish in Vezina voting, while his 2016-17 season was good enough for a fifth-place finish and even a couple down-ballot Hart votes.

Nobody played in more games in 2018-19 than did Dubnyk (67). But in the two proceeding seasons, he has played a total of just 52 games for three different franchises. And he hasn’t had a SP above .900 for any of them.

During the 2020 off-season, the Wild – who would soon sign fellow workhorse Talbot – dealt Dubnyk to San Jose. In 17 games with the hapless Sharks, Dubnyk had a .898 SP, a 3.18 GAA and won just three contests. Though to be fair to Dubnyk, none of the four goalies to suit up for San Jose this season posted a SP above .900.

At the 2021 trade deadline, Colorado GM Joe Sakic acquired Dubnyk as an insurance policy for Philipp Grubauer. In five regular-season contests with Colorado, Dubnyk had a .886 SP, a 3.26 GAA and matched his three wins from San Jose. He didn’t see any playoff action in the Mile High City.

Dubnyk recently turned 35 and is coming off a contract that paid him $26 million over six years. He and Andersen have relatively similar peaks, while Dubnyk has probably had lower valleys. He could be a good stopgap 1B netminder for a team looking to compete. A good goalie still exists there, and he could be a candidate to see a Mike Smith-esque bounceback in 2021-22.

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