Having two dependable goalies is a luxury for the stretch and playoffs, but six NHL teams may be wise to deal one of theirs.
Not many NHL teams have the luxury of a bonafide workhorse goalie like Martin Brodeur used to be for the Devils. Looking down the list, more and more clubs have more or less split their games between two netminders. This keeps goalies reasonably rested and hopefully healthy for the playoff run, but as the Feb. 29 trade deadline nears, the viability of keeping two 1A's could be called into question. Below we look at six teams that could have a goalie conundrum on their hands. Games played is listed in brackets for each.
• Cam Ward (32) and Eddie Lack (22) – Carolina Hurricanes
Ward and Lack are neck-and-neck in save percentage (.905 and .904, respectively) but Lack’s ability to handle the net during Ward’s recent injury absence (three wins and two shutouts in his last four games) could lead to Ward leaving Carolina as a UFA this summer. His cap hit this season is $6.3 million, and with his no-trade clause it's unlikely that the right deal will present itself at the deadline. Plus, if the Hurricanes continue their push for the playoffs, it might be wise to stick with two capable goalies. But with the 28-year old Lack locked up at a cap hit of only $2.75 million for the next two seasons, it’s tough to imagine a scenario where Ward stays on in Carolina and willfully accepts backup duties.
• James Reimer (25) and Jonathan Bernier (22) – Toronto Maple Leafs
I wrote about these two earlier in the season and declared Reimer Toronto’s clear No.1. And that was before Bernier struggled horribly and was sent to the AHL. Not much has changed here. Reimer is still outperforming Bernier, who did finally get his game together. Reimer is tied for second in the NHL in save percentage (.932) and, at 27, looks to have matured into the dependable goalie the Maple Leafs have long wanted him to be.
However, injuries have hampered him (as well as Bernier for that matter) at times this season, but that shouldn’t detract from the main issue at hand: Leafs management has been slow to buy in on Reimer, but this season should have eradicated any doubts. The impending UFA will likely be locked up for a decent term. Bernier will be a tough sell to other teams at the deadline, but the potential that comes with a fresh start in a new locale might be enough to convince someone to take on his $4.15 million cap hit next season if he can be had for a mid-range draft pick. What’s more, making this trade would be a clear sign to Reimer that he owns the net in Toronto.
• Connor Hellebuyck (23) and Ondrej Pavelec (15) – Winnipeg Jets
There’s been some chatter lately about Pavelec hitting the trade market after 22-year old Hellebuyck stepped up admirably (.924 save percentage) when Pavelec went down with an injury on November 21. When you throw 25-year-old Michael Hutchinson—who had a breakout season in 2014-15—into the mix, things are starting to look very crowded in Winnipeg’s net.
Trades seem to be on the way for the disappointing Jets, who have so far failed to build on last season’s playoff appearance. If Andrew Ladd or Dustin Byfuglien or both are on the move, could the dressing room handle losing Pavelec as well? The market for pricey goalies isn’t great, so perhaps Hutchinson could move at the deadline. The veteran Pavelec has a $3.9 million cap hit in the final year of his contract. A “show me” season with the Jets in 2016-17 isn’t out of the question. Penalty-prone Winnipeg can ill afford to sacrifice quality goaltending, but a decision is coming.
• John Gibson (21) and Frederik Andersen (25) – Anaheim Ducks
If the Ducks are serious about making a playoff run, they still have to address their lack of offense. It’s come around but there is still a need for a depth forward. Frederik Andersen is as good a piece to dangle as any right now. His .918 save percentage through 25 games could be enough to entice an Eastern Conference team that is looking for a capable backup (perhaps Pittsburgh, given Marc-André Fleury’s playoff woes that creep up now and again) and it’s about time that Anaheim goes all-in on Gibson, who has seemed destined to become their no. 1 goalie. His goals-against average leads the league (1.91). Anton Khudobin is still available with the AHL’s San Diego Gulls, so there is an opportunity for a move to be made here, most likely involving Andersen.
• Jimmy Howard (19) and Petr Mrazek (33) – Detroit Red Wings
Mrazek has been one of the most pleasant surprises in the NHL this season. He’s currently tied for second in save percentage (.932) and tied for third in GAA (2.03). But the 31-year-old Howard, with a cap hit of just under $6 million for the next three seasons (and a no-trade clause for the next two), probably isn’t going anywhere given his age and price tag. So he becomes a very expensive backup. Mrazek is 23 and an RFA at the end of this season. You could make the case that given his relative lack of experience (only 40 NHL games before this season), Mrazek may be prone to regression next season. But how could GM Ken Holland really walk away from the kid’s potential?
He can’t and likely won’t. It will take a mountain to move Howard during the off-season if that option is on the table. Meanwhile, Mrazek will likely get a bridge deal. The Red Wings have always been patient and will likely roll with this combo again next season just to be sure. But if it plays out like it has so far this season, 2016-17 will be the one to keep an eye on in Detroit.
• Louis Domingue(18), Anders Lindback (18) and Mike Smith (22) – Arizona Coyotes
The three-headed monster in Arizona has appeared in at least 18 games apiece this season, but Domingue and Lindback have shouldered the load since Smith had surgery on a core muscle injury on December 15. The 33-year-old Smith and his $5.6 million cap hit until 2018-19 likely aren’t going anywhere. After this season, Domingue is an RFA and Lindback is a UFA. Domingue has so far earned the net and Lindback’s stats (.896 save percentage) don’t do much to inspire confidence. He’s made relief appearances in the Coyotes’ last two games, but this is the big picture: Lindback has suited up with four different NHL teams since the start of the 2013-14 season. It’s doubtful the Coyotes make a play to keep the 27-year old at the end of the season. If they can’t get anything for him at the deadline, is the KHL next?