2010 Goalie Free Agents: Winners and Losers

Nabokov found himself in the wrong spotlight after not having a chair when the music stopped.

Evgeni Nabokov $24M/4yr in KHL – Loser? I will admit I’m a Nabby fan so I hate applying that label to him but despite signing a $6M/year deal he’s out of the NHL and may never be back.  Did agent Don Meehan give him the right advice given the glut of goalies available and many GM’s publicly stating they don’t want a high-paid goalie?  Is that too easy of a question in hindsight?  Nabokov’s comment at a Russian press conference “priority number one right now is to play out this year and then we’ll see…” suggests his KHL deal includes an escape clause if the Flyers a desperate NHL team comes calling.  When the Sharks let Nabokov walk I thought he would have fared better if he’d won a cup in San Jose, but then look what happened to this year’s Cup-winning goalie.   Looking back it seems like taking one year and a big pay cut from the Sharks would have been the right move… that is if the Sharks even offered that.

After initially appearing to be a UFA Loser it now looks like Turco new what he was doing all along.

Marty Turco $1.3M/1yr in Chicago – Winner.  After the Sharks announced they were parting ways with Nabokov I really expected Turco to end up in San Jose, despite rumors he’d sign with the Flyers.  Turco stated at the announcement of his signing that he’d targeted the Blackhawks before last season even ended.  Should we assume the Blackhawks were doing the same regardless of how things worked out with Antti Niemi?  Regardles, why does Nabokov get a loser tag for a $24M deal and Turco is labeled a winner for his huge salary cut?  It simply comes down to who will be playing for the Stanley Cup next May and we know it won’t be Nabby.

Niittymaki's new Sharks gear will better match his homeland's jersey when he suits up for Suomi.

Anterro Niittymaki $4M/2yrs in SJ – Winner. Looks like Niittymaki was not a re-sign target for new Tampa GM Steve Yzerman but now he goes from Florida to the two-time regular season leader in the West.  Similar palm trees but completely different hockey cultures.  The Sharks let Nabokov walk so they could re-sign their big guns up front and depending on what’s left after the fire sale in Chicago, Niittymaki has a legitimate chance of playing for the Stanley Cup next year.  Now the question being asked is “will he be competing with Cup-winning goalie Niemi when training camp opens?”

Mason was set to re-sign with the Blues when his deal was hijacked by the Halak trade.

Chris Mason: $3.7M/2yrs in ATL – Winner. He had the rug pulled out beneath him in his negotiations with the Blues but will now end up on a team that is rebuilding quickly and will give him a legitimate chance of being the starter.  Worst case scenario, all things being equal, he splits time with Ondrej Pavelic.  Best case scenario is he continues to win games his team shouldn’t and the Thrashers bounce back after their summer reboot.

Niemi came a long way from being a zamboni driver. How far will he have to go to get another NHL job?

Antti Niemi$2.75M in arbitration – Loser, for now.  Niemi and his agent knew the Blackhawks’ cap situation as they negotiated a new contract for the RFA goalie and, to be fair to Niemi, he was deserving of a raise after helping the Hawks win the Stanley Cup.  But the key word in that sentence, at least in the eyes of Hawks’ GM Stan Bowman, is “helping” and not “leading” the Hawks to a Cup.  Looks like Bowman was paying attention to his dad when he was growing up and was thinking a couple steps ahead by quietly negotiating with Turco the same time he was talking about re-signing Niemi.  Hopefully Niemi doesn’t end up driving a zamboni again and lands back in the NHL next season.  Sharks?  Flyers?  Habs?

Bolts' new goalie Dan Ellis leads the goalie brigade on Twitter.

Dan Ellis: $3M/2yrs in TB – Winner. Good guy, good contract, good Twittering goalie.  Yzerman has a plan that was good enough to get Martin St. Louis to extend his commitment so my guess is Ellis was given a pretty honest lay of the land (or crease) and what type of chance he’ll have to compete with Mike Smith for the #1 spot.  I’m still scratching my head as to why Montreal traded for Ellis’ rights just a couple days before UFA Frenzy as it appears they never made a real attempt to sign him.

Jose Theodore: Loser.  To be crystal clear that label is applied only to Theodore’s employment status.  The Masterton winner is anything but a loser.  With two good young goalies locked up in DC, Theordore has no choice but to wait for the phone to ring or pack his bags for Europe.

Michael Leighton: $3.1M/2yrs in PHL – Winner.  I think most observers expected the Flyers to either grab Nabokov for big bucks or Turco for slightly fewer dollars.   I’m not sure even Leighton expected to wake up July 2nd with this kind of security.

Johan Hedberg: $1.5M/1yr in NJ – Winner. I don’t know if staying in Atlanta was the Moose’s priority but he’s now on a consistent contender and one of the best-run franchises in sports.  If the Devils can limit Martin Brodeur to 55 games knowing Hedberg is holding the fort the other 27 games, Brodeur will reach the playoffs the most rested he’s been in years.  That + Lamorello’s management = best shot Hedberg will ever have at the Stanley Cup.

Martin Biron: $1.75M/2yrs in NYR – Winner.  Biron didn’t have a great season in Long Island and after how long it took for him to get a contract last summer I’m sure he was thrilled to be the first signing of the day on July 1st.  It will be interesting to see how willing Henrik Lundqvist is to reduce his workload and share the crease to Biron.  Hopefully the Rangers are looking across the river at the Devils’ new tandem and thinking along the same lines.  It’s less money than Biron was making on the Island but at least he won’t have to spend any of it on moving to another city.

Ray Emery: Loser.  Retirement?   Back to Russia with love?   Emery needs to heal his body then audition to show that he’s still capable… similar to his time in the KHL a couple years ago, but at least this time it’s just a physical test rather than a mental one.  That of course assumes his hips, groin and knees are in complete working order.

Andrew Raycroft: $1.3M/2yrs in DAL – Winner.  It was clear to everyone in the league that Cory Schneider had outgrown the AHL and it was time for the Canucks to elevate him to the big club on a full time basis.  That meant there was no chance of Raycroft staying in Vancouver, which is too bad because one of the highlights for me last season was watching Raycroft come in for Luongo and lead the Canucks to a comeback win over the Leafs… in Toronto… in front of a national TV audience.  It’s pretty low pay and a long way from his Calder Trophy year in Boston but at least it’s not Siberia the KHL.

Alex Auld: $1M/1yr in MTL – Winner winner chicken dinner.  Anyone who had an opinion thought Biron was going to Montreal to be Carey Price’s backup and mentor.   But then Montreal strangely traded for the rights to Ellis.  And then it only took 14 minutes for Biron to sign with the Rangers.  So it looks like nobody shared this Biron-to-Montreal idea with the Habs.  Auld gets $1M to be a backup in a city where hockey is important every day of the year and 100% of the pressure is on Price to prove he’s worthy of being handed the #1 spot while making Jaroslav Halak expendable.  Other than the average temperature in Montreal in January what’s not to like for Auld?

Flyers:  Loser.  It would be a mistake to think they got to the Finals last year on talent alone.  Good luck played a huge part and now they’re going into next season with the same tandem that everyone was so uncertain about at the end of the regular season.  Perhaps they didn’t have the cap space for Nabokov or Turco but once again the Flyers leave themselves short in net.

Devils:  Winner.   Brodeur will be fresh for the playoffs and if anything happens to him, knock on wood, Hedberg can carry the load.

Canadiens:   Loser.  Yes, Auld was a winner with his deal but does his play over the past two years force Price into the net for 65+ games, ready or not?  Not to mention the Habs still don’t have their declared number one under contract yet for next season.

Antti Niemi Stanley Cup - featured


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