As one would expect, the goaltending market is fairly thin as the trade deadline approaches, which isn’t great news for those in search of some stability in goal ahead of the post-season. But what makes the market that much thinner is that the best options – the backups, second-stringers and so-called 1Bs who’ve stood out this season – seem rather unlikely to move.
Take, for instance, St. Louis Blues goaltender Carter Hutton. Heading into the campaign, he was seen as nothing more than a member of the supporting cast in St. Louis, the second in line to the crease behind Blues starter Jake Allen. But in recent weeks with Allen struggling, St. Louis coach Mike Yeo hasn’t shied away from calling on his backup to give the Blues the goaltending they need. Hutton has gotten the nod to start six of the past eight games for St. Louis, compiling an impressive 5-0-1 record to go along with a rock-solid .934 save percentage. His recent play has given him a season-long .943 SP and 1.72 goals-against average, putting him among the league leaders in both categories. And totals that good have basically taken Hutton off the market, especially with the Blues fighting for a Central Division crown.
Hutton’s not alone in playing so well he’s removed himself from obvious deadline-rental contention. San Jose Sharks netminder Aaron Dell, who has been called on to spell Martin Jones on a number of occasions this season, is also in the same category. Dell has shared the crease with Jones, trading off games for much of the past month, and the Sharks backup's .925 SP and 2.26 GAA have offered San Jose much more stability than the .910 and 2.68 marks posted by Jones. So, with the Sharks fighting for a playoff berth of their own, it would seem unlikely they’d move Dell along at the deadline despite his expiring contract.
That doesn’t mean the goaltending market is completely barren, however. There are still a few pending free agents who could be up for grabs in the coming weeks, but a pair of restricted free agents also find themselves on this list. While not your typical rentals, expiring contracts make them potential trade fodder:
Antti Raanta, Arizona Coyotes
Heading into the off-season, Raanta, 28, was considered one of the top targets for teams seeking steady goaltending. With the Rangers last season, Raanta was a standout backup, putting together a 16-8-2 record, .922 SP and 2.26 GAA when standing in for New York’s longtime starter Henrik Lundqvist. But Raanta’s season paired with his stellar statistics meant he was on his way out, and when the Coyotes nabbed him, he was seen as the potential successor — this season and onward — to Mike Smith in Arizona’s crease.
And while Raanta has had a decent season, he’s been far from the Coyotes’ savior in goal. His .915 SP and 2.68 GAA in 24 games have made for a slightly above league average performance, but Arizona is in the league’s basement and should be looking to sell whatever pieces possible as they enter another off-season of uncertainty. A team such as the New York Islanders, who’ve struggled to get consistent goaltending, might benefit from taking a shot on Raanta.
Jonathan Bernier, Colorado Avalanche
At this point in the season, with little more than five weeks to the deadline, the Avalanche aren’t in a position where they need to be sellers. In fact, on the cusp of a post-season berth after an absolutely disastrous 2016-17 season, there’s reason for Colorado GM Joe Sakic to even consider bringing a piece or two aboard. That said, Colorado still has a way to go before they’re true contenders in the Western Conference, so it might be advisable to ship out expendable assets if it helps build a brighter future. That includes the 29-year-old Bernier, who, once Semyon Varlamov returns, will likely be relegated to backup duty ahead of free agency this summer.
Bernier’s numbers, though in five fewer games played, are almost the exact same as Raanta’s — the Avalanche netminder .915 SP, 2.67 GAA but with two shutouts to his name. But what makes him a more risky acquisition, and more difficult to add, is his cap hit. While Raanta has a $1-million cap hit, Bernier carries a $2.75-million price tag. A team swinging and missing on Raanta might move on to Bernier, however.
Cam Ward, Carolina Hurricanes
Another circumstantial rental, with the circumstance being the Hurricanes are currently on the playoff bubble and sit a mere three points out of a wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference. But if Carolina can’t get into a better position by the time Feb. 26 rolls around, it wouldn’t be shocking to see GM Ron Francis consider moving assets to further supplement a franchise on the up-and-up. And given the Hurricanes have put their eggs in a Scott Darling-shaped basket, trading Ward, a pending free agent, might be an idea worth exploring.
Ward, 33, has undoubtedly struggled in recent seasons, posting a .908 SP and 2.51 GAA in 164 games across the past three seasons, but playoff teams with defensive woes in need of a steady backup might be willing to see what it’ll cost to bring the veteran Hurricanes netminder aboard. Pittsburgh GM Jim Rutherford is familiar with Ward, and with Matt Murray taking an indefinite leave from the organization due to personal matters, the Penguins might take a look at bringing in an experienced hand who can get the job done for the time being.
Robin Lehner, Buffalo Sabres
Lehner has had a tough time since arriving in Buffalo. It started with an injury that cost him most of his first campaign as a Sabre, and after finding his game in his second season with the organization, Buffalo’s 2017-18 has gone off the rails. Thought to be a season of potential growth, the Sabres are instead in the league basement staring down another top draft pick. Lehner has done his best to help get Buffalo on track, but he’s only managed to post a .910 SP and 2.94 GAA. Still, he has No. 1 potential and his .918 SP over his 113 games with the Sabres shows promise. In the right situation, the 26-year-old could blossom.
Admittedly, Lehner doesn’t fit the template of a true rental. Sure, his contract, which carries a $4-million cap hit this season, is set to expire, but Lehner is a restricted free agent, not unrestricted, so he’s not exactly counting down the days until he hits the open market and he wouldn’t be coming aboard for only a few months before heading out of town. Thus, a team bringing Lehner aboard would likely be doing so with some long-term planning in mind.
Petr Mrazek, Detroit Red Wings
Again, Mrazek doesn’t exactly fit the bill as a rental given he’s an RFA, but the 25-year-old is on an expiring deal — the final campaign of a contract worth $4-million annually — and in desperate need of a change of scenery. After a pair of strong campaigns in his first two extended looks as a Red Wings, over which time he compiled a .920 SP, 2.35 GAA and seven shutouts across 83 games, Mrazek was heralded as the future in the Red Wings crease. Unfortunately, things have since fallen apart. Over his past two campaigns, Mrazek boasts a mere .899 SP with a 3.12 GAA and three shutouts. That’s backup territory and all signs point to Detroit no longer seeing Mrazek as the future. After all, they left him exposed for the Vegas Golden Knights’ taking at the June expansion draft.
The thing is that it’s difficult to write Mrazek off just yet. While he’s been inconsistent this season, he’s shown flashes of brilliance and the form that made him a stud prospect. Take his 36-save shutout over the Edmonton Oilers, his stellar outing against the New York Islanders in December or his recent shutout of the Chicago Blackhawks, in which he stopped all 27 shots that came his way. What Mrazek needs, though, is a chance to start anew. The deadline could give him that opportunity, and given what he’s shown in the past, it wouldn’t be all that surprising were he to rediscover his game elsewhere.
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