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Free Agency Grades: Goaltenders

Updated: Oct 20, 2020

As a disclaimer, the following grades are from the perspective of grading the deal for the team, not the player. I will address the quality of the deal for the player within the discussion.

Jacob Markstrom

6 years/$36 Million with the Calgary Flames

Grade: B+

This is a good signing for the Flames, and it would’ve been great if they had gotten the deal done for less term. This is a great deal for Markstrom; getting a six-year term and the highest average annual value (AAV) and total contract amount at the position is excellent for any player.

It seems like the Flames haven’t had stability at the goaltending position since Mikka Kiprusoff, who last played a starter’s share of games for the organization during the 2011-2012 season. Goaltending is so important in the NHL; you can’t win consistently in this league without a quality netminder. Markstrom was widely expected to be the most coveted player at this position on the market and the Flames were the team I projected would land him. Suring up this position will be a big boost for Calgary, and should allow them to continue to build with their current core of offensive talent in Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, and Matthew Tkachuk.

Robin Lehner

5 years/$25 Million with the Vegas Golden Knights

Grade: B

This, similar to Markstrom with the Flames, is a good deal for the team and a great deal for the player. Lehner was due for a payday, and has been for a couple years. He played brilliantly for the Islanders on a one-year deal, then in Chicago on a one-year deal (he was traded to Vegas mid-season) and continued his play with Vegas into the postseason. He is an excellent player who makes any team he is on better.

Vegas already has Marc-André Fleury on their roster for two more seasons at $7 million per season. Had they been able to move Fleury, this deal would have received an A for the team. Having $12 million tied to goaltending, in a year with a flat salary cap, is far less than ideal. Having Lehner signed for the foreseeable future is great for the team, but when you factor in more than just Lehner, the deal raises some concerns.

*The schedule for the 2020-2021 season has not been released as of the writing of this article. If the schedule is as condensed as many expect, having the two netminders that Vegas does will be a major advantage over most other teams in the league. Both will need to play a lot and, when healthy and playing well, there may not be a better tandem in the NHL than Lehner and Fleury.

Braden Holtby

2 years/$8.6 Million with the Vancouver Canucks

Grade: A

Vancouver could not have scripted a better deal; they get a veteran goalie to pair with up-and-comer Thatcher Demko on only a two-year deal. There is no long-term commitment, the money is reasonable, and Holtby can be left exposed for the Seattle Kraken’s expansion draft prior to the 2021-2022 season.

For Holtby, this could not have been the deal he was expecting to sign a year ago. Sergei Bobrovsky and Carey Price had recently signed massive deals worth $10 million plus annually. Many expected his deal would be at least six years at a similar AAV. Fast forward a year and everything changed. Holtby struggled in his final season with the Capitals in which he split time with rookie Ilya Samsonov, who outperformed the veteran, and a global pandemic cut off the league’s revenue and caused the salary cap to remain flat. The result is a two-year deal making less money than he did on his last contract with the Capitals.

The Canucks should be ecstatic with this signing and are in great shape going into the 2020-21 season with two strong goaltenders who can split time and set Vancouver up to contend.

Anton Khudobin

3 years/$10 million with the Dallas Stars

Grade: C+

This grade is no indictment on Khudobin as a player; he has proven his value in this league. However, going three years on a deal with a 34-year-old who is best fit as a 1B who splits time with another netminder is not the best thing for long-term roster construction. If the Stars could have signed Khudobin for two years, the grade would have been much higher.

This is a great deal for Khudobin; he gets a nice raise from $2.5 million annually to $3.33 million and got the third year of the contract. This was likely his last big contract, so good on him for finding the term that he did.

He is a great fit with Dallas, but the prospect of paying a 37-year-old backup over $3 million in the final year of the deal is far from ideal. That wouldn’t be ideal in normal circumstances, but throw in the uncertainty surrounding the economics of the sport in the near future and the deal looks even worse.

The only way this deal could be improved is if the Stars were to move on from Ben Bishop in the next two years, leading to a tandem of Khudobin and Jake Oettinger splitting games later in the contract.

Cam Talbot

3 years/$11 million with the Minnesota Wild

Grade: C

This deal was a major surprise. Talbot has, for the most part, been solid in his career. The confusion I have comes not only from the contract, but from the fact the General Manager Bill Guerin stated that Talbot is the new starter for the Wild. Alex Stalock, who took over for Devan Dubnyk last season, played quite well. This could still be the case, especially with the potential for a condensed schedule, but it would make much more sense for the Wild to use these two in a 1A/1B split rather than a true starter and backup.

As with many of these signings, great deal for the player. Talbot gets a nice three-year term and gets a higher AAV than Khudobin who, statistically, has been one of the best goalies in the NHL over the past couple of seasons. Talbot is younger, though, which likely made him more appealing to the Wild.

Henrik Lundqvist

1 year/$1.5 Million with the Washington Capitals

Grade: A

This is an ideal signing for both the team and the player. The Capitals pair an established veteran, who many believe can still play and play well, with their goaltender of the future, Samsonov. The young netminder will be able to learn from one of the best to ever play the position, who is thought of as a consummate professional. Samsonov will also be able to learn about how to excel off the ice, whether in training and video, or on the road and in the community. The deal is only for one year, so there is essentially no risk for the Capitals, and potentially a major reward.

It’s a great deal for Lundqvist for a few reasons. He signs on the east coast, so he remains close to his family and home in New York. He is with a team that has a chance to win; Washington may not be the Stanley Cup favorite, but they expect to be in contention. Most importantly, he is going to get to play. He is not going to be a traditional backup, especially with the expectations of the schedule. This is going to be a 1A and 1B tandem, and there is nothing preventing Lundqvist from being the 1A if he plays better than Samsonov. Washington is not going to let Lundqvist play an overwhelming majority of games, because they recognize the importance of Samsonov’s development, but the veteran will have plenty of chances to play this season.

Corey Crawford

2 years/$7.8 Million with the New Jersey Devils

Grade: B

This is a solid signing for the Devils, and for Crawford. Similar to Holtby with the Canucks, Crawford will be paired with a young netminder in Mackenzie Blackwood, who is the future in goal for New Jersey. Crawford showed last year that he can still play well in this league, and will be a nice compliment for Blackwood. The possible condensed schedule has been mentioned a lot as it has major implications for goaltenders, and the Devils are set up well with the signing of Crawford.

The two-year term, just like Holtby, is ideal for the team. The Devils will protect Blackwood from the expansion draft and leave Crawford available. If he is selected by Seattle, they take on the final year of the contract; if not, New Jersey has a quality backup going into the 2021-2022 season where it would make sense to expand Blackwood’s role further.

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