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By The Numbers: The Goaltending Market

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The Hurricanes will be looking for at least one NHL caliber goaltender in free agency this summer. Here’s a look at some of the top options.

The Carolina Hurricanes caught lightning in a bottle with their goaltending last season. But the clock has struck midnight on a seemingly perfect situation in net as both Petr Mrazek and Curtis McElhinney will be testing free agency. They’re certainly both still an option, but we have to consider the fact that other teams may be more willing to throw longer term or bigger money at those guys than the Hurricanes are, with goaltending prospect Alex Nedeljkovic potentially poised for a transition to the big club.

We know what our former goaltenders bring to the table, so I won’t be talking about those unrestricted free agent goaltenders who have previously worn a Hurricanes jersey (sorry to those of you out there looking for an in-depth Cam Ward free agency profile).


Sergei Bobrovsky

The two time Vezina winner will hit the UFA market and likely be looking for big money and term.

NHL: Carolina Hurricanes at Columbus Blue Jackets Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Vital Statistics *

Bobrovsky
Bobrovsky
Age 31.76
2018-19 Cap Hit $7.43 Million
Save Percentage .918%
Goals Allowed Average 2.46
High Danger Save Percentage .853%
Goals Saved Above Average -1.94
High Danger Goals Saved Above Average 1.19

As the third-highest paid goaltender in the NHL last season, Sergei Bobrovsky is by far the biggest fish in this UFA class. Whoever lands him will be paying big dollars with term for the front half of his contract and shouldering a considerable amount of risk in the back half of the deal. His numbers standout significantly among the rest of the group, and his two Vezina Trophies will only make his payday larger. There has been some discussion about his playoff reliability in the past, but I think his first and second round performances this season have put that argument to rest.

Bobrovsky is the biggest-name goaltender to hit UFA in a long time — this man is going to get paid, and the market hinges on where he decides to settle. But I really don’t think Carolina should be the team to dish out the contract. He will be looking for the type of term that will carry him into his mid to late 30’s, and there’s plenty of data out there to support the notion that goaltenders universally decline after their 30th birthday — a milestone that Bobrovsky reached prior to the start of last season. Pair that with the fact that the front office doesn’t seem to be jumping at the opportunity to sign a “starting goaltender” to a contract with significant term, and this one seems very unlikely.


Semyon Varlamov

A lower profile Russian goaltender is also on the move.

NHL: Carolina Hurricanes at Colorado Avalanche Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Vital Statistics

Varlamov
Varlamov
Age 31.16
2018-19 Cap Hit $5.9 Million
Save Percentage .919%
Goals Allowed Average 2.48
High Danger Save Percentage .820%
Goals Saved Above Average -0.93
High Danger Goals Saved Above Average -2.13

The Varlamov era in Colorado appears to be coming to a close. The team has invested in Philipp Grubauer as their future, and they signed Pavel Francouz to a one-year deal in late May.

Varlamov is the second-highest paid goaltender in the UFA class and has some solid experience as a starting goaltender. He has proven that he’s still got the juice, but I’m sure that a lot of clubs are hesitant to throw lengthy term at him based on the fact that he’s had some concerning injury and consistency problems in his game over the past few seasons. This might actually play to Carolina’s advantage, as it seems like they will be looking to get a solid “1A” type goaltender on a shorter term in order to cater to the emerging Nedeljkovic.

That being said, there’s going to be plenty of other teams pushing hard for him and likely offering him the starters crease. Florida and Columbus seem to be frontrunners (all dependent on the Bobrovsky situation), but I’d like to think that Carolina has a decent chance to land Varlamov if that’s the direction they decide to go in.


Mike Smith

The veteran is looking for a new contract after a tough season in Calgary.

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-Colorado Avalanche at Calgary Flames Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

Vital Statistics

Smith
Smith
Age 37.26
2018-19 Cap Hit $5.67 Million
Save Percentage .906%
Goals Allowed Average 2.53
High Danger Save Percentage .816%
Goals Saved Above Average -2.86
High Danger Goals Saved Above Average -11.77

Coming off of a rough go of it at the age of 37, Mike Smith is a goaltender that I wouldn’t expect Carolina to be interested in. He seems to have little upside, but if there is a bright spot, it’s that he had a decent run in the playoffs with a .947% Save Percentage in Calgary’s quick five game appearance against in the first round.

If the rumors are in fact true and Carolina has some level of interest in Smith, then it speaks to the front office’s intention to get a proven NHL goaltender on a short term deal. He has been a pretty average NHL goaltender for a number of years, and his performance dip during the regular season last year has been linked to a Bill Peters’ system that seems to make goaltenders look bad — a phenomenon that we’re very familiar with in Carolina.

A return to Calgary isn’t ruled out, but the team is somewhat cap tight with a lot of good young players to sign. While I can’t say Smith would be my first choice among this UFA pool, there’s reason to believe that he would be serviceable in a platooning role next season. But of course, signing a declining goaltender in unrestricted free agency at the age of 37 is always a gamble.


Cam Talbot

The former starter comes off of a down year split between Edmonton and Philadelphia.

NHL: Washington Capitals at Philadelphia Flyers Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Goaltender #2

Category Alex Nedeljkovic Elvis Merzlikins
Category Alex Nedeljkovic Elvis Merzlikins
Record 7-2-2 5-3-2
Save % .930 .912
GAA 1.96 2.91

Cam Talbot is an interesting case in the sense that I think he’s a lot better than his numbers would indicate over the past few seasons. He’s been playing on a dumpster fire of an Edmonton team, and he had little success after a midseason trade sent him to a noted goaltending killing market in Philadelphia.

That said, his regression over the past two seasons is concerning, especially if you’re a team searching for a starting goaltender in the high risk free agency market.

He has been linked to another Alberta team in Calgary, and there appears to be a decent chance he signs up for the starting job there.

Talbot is an attractive option for the Hurricanes in the sense that they likely could get him on a relatively reasonable deal with respect to both money and term. He may end up being a bargain for the team that lands him given the fact that he’s shown the ability to be a solid goaltender and his recent slump has come on two pretty bad defensive teams.


Robin Lehner

The triumphant Robin Lehner could be exploring free agency next week.

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-New York Islanders at Carolina Hurricanes James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

Robin Lehner

Lehner
Lehner
Age 27.92
2018-19 Cap Hit $1.5 Million
Save Percentage .935%
Goals Allowed Average 1.91
High Danger Save Percentage .846%
Goals Saved Above Average 16.59
High Danger Goals Saved Above Average 5.35

I’ve included Robin Lehner despite his indication that he doesn’t intend to explore free agency. He was one of the most uplifting stories in the NHL last season, and his numbers were exceptional on a good Islanders team.

I wouldn’t be too concerned if I were an Islanders fan, but Lou Lamoriello may be hesitant to throw high money and/ or term at him after one year in New York. I’d be surprised if a deal doesn’t get done since he’s very happy there and enjoyed great success with the team last season. But if Lehner does hit free agency, he would become one of the most coveted in the class. This is an interesting one to keep an eye on.

*All statistics at 5-on-5.