When the Carolina Hurricanes traded a third-round pick to the Chicago Blackhawks for the rights to Scott Darling, the N.H.L.’s goaltender carousel started spinning.
After Carolina signed Darling to a four-year, $16.6 million deal, the Dallas Stars sent a fourth-round pick to the Los Angeles Kings for the rights to Ben Bishop and signed him for $29.5 million over six years. Carolina and Dallas were willing to give up picks to get the jump on what Hurricanes General Manager Ron Francis called an interesting off-season to shop for a goalie.
“There’s two different paths you can look at,” Francis said. “One is certainly who’s going to be available on July 1 and what it may take to get them, in terms of years and in terms of salary. And then the other option is you’re looking at who might be available, in terms of teams not wanting to lose a goaltender in expansion and willing to make a trade, and what it costs you to get that player.
“When we looked at everything and studied things, we thought this was the best viable option for us.”
It looks brilliant now ahead of a goaltender shuffle expected to occur during the next several weeks leading to the Vegas Golden Knights’ expansion draft on June 21, the N.H.L. draft a few days later, and the beginning of free agency on July 1.
The Golden Knights, the Calgary Flames, the Philadelphia Flyers and perhaps even the Winnipeg Jets and the Colorado Avalanche are in the market, with the Pittsburgh Penguins veteran Marc-Andre Fleury, the Washington backup Philipp Grubauer and a handful of others in the mix to fill vacancies.
Fleury led the Penguins to the Eastern Conference finals, but with Matt Murray entrenched as the goalie of the future, he could still be traded — and his value has never been higher. Fleury wields power with his no-trade clause that could allow him to choose his destination.
Grubauer said he has no choice where he goes, but as a restricted free agent, he has some control and could be headed to Vegas. The Golden Knights will have 48 hours to negotiate with any unrestricted or restricted free agents left unprotected for the expansion draft, and Grubauer, a 25-year-old German, had a 2.05 goals against average and .926 save percentage in 24 games this season and is widely considered ready to be a starter.
“He’s an outstanding goalie,” Washington Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby said. “What I think I’ve seen from him, the last year especially, his talent is N.H.L. talent, but a lot of guys have that. His mental game, his mental prep — every game he was in, he was never out of it, mentally.”
Grubauer and Darling could follow an established path of understudies who turned into starters, one blazed by the Edmonton Oilers’ Cam Talbot, who has thrived since backing up Henrik Lundqvist with the Rangers; and the San Jose Sharks’ Martin Jones, who took them to the Stanley Cup final a year ago after being Jonathan Quick’s backup in Los Angeles.
Much like Grubauer, the 28-year-old Darling has improved the mental side of his game as Corey Crawford’s backup with the Blackhawks, and he believes he has the talent to start.
“I’m confident because I’m excited about it, and I’m going to do everything in my power to learn how to be the best starter I can be,” said Darling, who is 6 feet 6 and had a .924 save percentage last season.
The current Rangers backup, Antti Raanta, who has a year left on his deal at a low $1 million salary-cap hit, has shown he can be successful, too, and has been mentioned as an option for Vegas. So have Grubauer and Philadelphia Flyers goaltender Michal Neuvirth because of close ties to Vegas General Manager George McPhee and its goaltenders’ coach, Dave Prior.
“There’s a lot of other guys on the market, too, that could possibly go out there, so it’s not just me,” Grubauer said. “George drafted me, so they know what they probably get.”
Vegas’s decisions in goal could have as much of a domino effect as Carolina getting Darling and Dallas locking up Bishop. The Flames made the playoffs with Brian Elliott and Chad Johnson, who are soon to be free agents, and could go younger with the prospect Jon Gilles, look to Fleury, or move in another direction.
Winnipeg has the young players Connor Hellebuyck and Michael Hutchinson, and Colorado has Semyon Varlamov and Calvin Pickard but could shake things up in net to speed up the process of returning to playoff contention. The Flyers will likely move on from the Neuvirth and Steve Mason, but the former Philadelphia goaltender Ron Hextall, who is now the team’s general manager, seems fine with patching things up until one of Philadelphia’s top prospects (Carter Hart, Alex Lyon or Felix Sandstrom) is ready for the N.H.L.
Published at Wed, 17 May 2017 04:52:08 +0000