If your team is in need of a backup goalie, or a player that's capable of at most sharing the No. 1 duties, this year's group of free agents has a few decent options.
If your team is one of the (very) few still in need of a starter? Sorry, but you're probably out of luck.
It's already been pretty well established this year's group of free agents is pretty thin once you get past the top three or four players (Zach Parise, Ryan Suter, Alexander Semin, Shane Doan). That's especially true when it comes to the available goalies. Fortunately for NHL teams there's only a small handful of clubs still in the market for a goalie, whether it be a starter or a backup.
The two best players at the position that would have been eligible to hit the open market this summer -- Tomas Vokoun and Josh Harding -- have already been signed to new contracts, pretty much taking away whatever starting-caliber talent there was at the position in free agency. Vokoun, after spending last season with the Washington Capitals, had his free agent rights traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins then immediately signed a two-year contract extension. Harding, having been a backup in Minnesota for his entire career, decided to re-sign with the Wild and stay with a team that he was comfortable with and in a city he seems to enjoy.
Those two signings have left the pool of available goalies on the shallow side.
New Jersey Devils goalie Martin Brodeur is technically the biggest name on the unrestricted free agent list, but I'm not going to include him in the rankings at this point for two reasons. First, we're still not entirely sure he's going to be back next season. Second, if he does come back it's hard to imagine him playing for another team that isn't the New Jersey Devils (kind of similar to the Teemu Selanne situation in Anaheim when we ranked the forwards on Wednesday).
Yes, he's a free agent, but is he really an option for any other team? It seems doubtful. Impossible, even.
After that, you're down to a bunch of guys that probably profile better as backups than starters. Teams in the market for a starter (and that list would probably include only Columbus and Toronto) might have to search for a trade partner, whether it be for a veteran like Vancouver's Roberto Luongo or a young up-and-comer like Los Angeles Kings backup Jonathan Bernier.
As for the free agents that will be available starting on Sunday...
1. Scott Clemmensen
2011-12 stats: 30 games, 2.57 goals against average, .913 save percentage
2011-12 cap hit: $1.2 million
Potential suitors: Toronto Maple Leafs, Philadelphia Flyers, Florida Panthers
Yes, Scott Clemmensen is probably the best goalie option in free agency at this point, and he's probably a bit better than you think.
Over the past four years he's been consistently around the league average mark when it comes to his overall save percentage, and was part of a platoon system in Florida this past season with Jose Theodore that finished the season with the ninth best save percentage in the NHL.
Given the other alternatives available right now, that's not bad.
He would be an excellent backup for any team, especially a contender (New York? Perhaps a return to New Jersey? Nashville?) and a solid fit in another situation like the one he was in with Florida this past season. How about a team like the Toronto Maple Leafs?
The Leafs are one of the few teams that could still be looking for a starter, or at least a guy to share the role, and their only in-house options at the moment are youngsters James Reimer and Ben Scrivens. Even league-average goaltending would be a substantial upgrade in net for Toronto, a team that's been near the bottom of the league at the position over the past seven years.
Prediction: I hate making predictions on free agents because teams put so much misinformation out there before July 1. It also only takes one crazy offer from one desperate team to screw everything up. So I'm simply going to go with what I would do, knowing full well it's a long shot. If I was the Toronto Maple Leafs, I'd look into Clemmensen as a cheap, veteran option to split time with Reimer. He would upgrade the position and should at least give them more of a chance compete than Jonas Gustavsson did on most nights last season. Teams like the Flyers, Predators and Devils are more likely destinations, and perhaps even a return to Florida if the Panthers aren't ready to give Jakob Markstrom an NHL role this season.
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2. Johan Hedberg
2011-12 stats: 2.23 goals against average, .918 save percentage
2011-12 cap hit: $1.25 million
Possible suitors: New Jersey Devils, New York Rangers, Nashville Predators, Philadelphia Flyers
Johan Hedberg has managed to carve out a nice career for himself.
A decade ago he was buried in the San Jose Sharks farm system (behind guys like Evgeni Nabokov, Miikka Kiprusoff, Vesa Toskala) and was given a surprising chance during a late season playoff run with the Penguins after he was acquired at the 2001 trade deadline. He caught fire, established himself as an NHL-caliber goalie, and has been in the league ever since, consistently able to find work. Over the past two years he's been playing behind Brodeur in New Jersey, playing some of the best hockey of his career even as he approached his 40th birthday.
Obviously you're not getting any sort of a long-term solution here, and he's probably not a guy you want playing more than 30 games in a given season, but he's one of the more reliable backups in the league.
Prediction: A return to the Devils would be a wise move for both sides.
3. Martin Biron
2011-12 stats: 2.46 goals against average, .904 save percentage
2011-12 cap hit: $875,000
Possible suitors: New York Rangers, Nashville Predators, Philadelphia Flyers, Detroit Red Wings
Biron spent the past two seasons in New York backing up Henrik Lundqvist and giving him an opportunity to get more rest than at any other point in his career. Is it a coincidence that Lundqvist had two of his best seasons the past two years? Maybe. Maybe not. Either way, the Presence of Biron allowed Lundqvist to play fewer than 70 games in each of the past two seasons, something that he had done just one other time in his career (his rookie season).
During the 2010-11 season Biron was outstanding in his backup role but saw his production decline a bit this past season.
Prediction: A return to Philadelphia to serve as the backup for Ilya Bryzgalov.
4. Dan Ellis
2011-12 stats: 2.72 goals against average, .911 save percentage
2011-12 cap hit: $1.5 million
Possible suitors: Nashville Predators, Detroit Red Wings
Dan Ellis had a great start to his career in Nashville, leading the league in save percentage as a rookie, and proved to be a reliable backup for a couple of years after that.
Prior to the start of the 2010-11 season he signed with the Tampa Bay Lightning and was supposed to share the workload with Mike Smith. Unfortunately for Ellis and the Lightning, he had a brutal start to what proved to be the worst season of his career and was eventually traded to the Anaheim Ducks. He's never come close to matching his rookie performance, and his save percentage has always been just below the league average mark.
Prediction: How about a return to Nashville, the team he had his most success with, to backup Pekka Rinne. Nashville is in need of a backup after trading Anders Lindback to Tampa Bay earlier this summer.
5. Jonas Gustavsson
2011-12 stats: 2.92 goals against average, .902 save percentage
2011-12 cap hit: $1.35 million
Possible suitors: Winnipeg Jets
Jonas Gustavsson's career in Toronto never equaled the hype that came along with his free agent courtship when he made the jump to the NHL from Sweden three years ago.
His run in Toronto ended with a .900 save percentage in 107 games and he was always consistently well below average across the board. He's still only 27 years old, so I guess there's still a chance he could reach some of that potential but he hasn't yet shown it (or anything close to it) at the NHL level.
Prediction: The Jets gave up a 2013 seventh-round draft pick to acquire his free agent rights during the NHL Draft weekend, so they obviously have an interest in him.
They're still in need of a backup goalie to play behind Ondrej Pavelec (who just signed a rather large contract this past week) and it's hard to imagine another team having that type of interest in him. I'll say it's the Jets or bust when it comes to his NHL prospects this season.
The next five
6. Chris Mason
7. Brent Johnson
8. Al Montoya
9. Dwayne Roloson
10. Alex Auld