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Sunday, February 12, 2012

Goalie Gonna Need Some Shades!

The hockey trade winds are blowing strong and there is also a lot of talk about players who will be free agents this summer. The media and fans are trying to predict what will happen but there are so many possibilities that much of it is purely guesswork. However, we can be sure that one team is going to go for a goalie and most likely by signing an unrestricted free agent this summer; or, perhaps even a restricted free agent (although there is only one that may be let go by their team). As the title of this article indicates, the goalie will be going to a place where he can enjoy the sun, and that place is Tampa, Florida. The Lightning are really suffering in net and, barring a miracle, they will miss the playoffs, which is a far cry from last year when they took the Bruins to Game 7 in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Could Lightning GM Steve Yzerman trade for a goalie? There is a rumor that he is interested in Jonathan Bernier of the Kings, and I think that it would be an excellent move to get Bernier despite the tough year that he has had thus far. Bernier is only 23 years old and the Kings have not played him enough this year. Not playing him has damaged his confidence, and subsequently his development has been hindered. However, the Kings know that he is valuable and they would want one player and one or two draft picks as well (depending the Round and year or years). That being the case, I believe that Yzerman is more likely to wait and sign one of the unrestricted free agents that will be available this summer. We are going to take a look at the unrestricted and restricted goalie free agents that Yzerman has before him, and we will be able to see who he would try to land. However, first I would like to describe the situation that Yzerman has gotten himself into because then you will fully understand his dire need of a solid goaltender.   

Yzerman made the mistake of not making much of an effort to keep Mike Smith, and of course we know that Mike is doing very well in Phoenix. Yzerman had decided to give Dwayne Roloson a one-year contract and is paying him a whopping $3 million this year, which is far too much for a 42 year old who lets in too many easy goals. Honestly, Roli is playing brutal this year and has a .882 Save Percentage, a 3.65 Goals Against Average, and only 1 shutout. Truth be known, he has not posted outstanding numbers since he was with the Wild in the 2002-2003 and 2003-2004 seasons. The Lightning’s “back-up goalie” (who has played more than Roli) is Mathieu Garon and he has been “average.” He has a .902 Save Percentage, a 2.92 Goals Against Average, and only 1 shutout. And, at 34 years of age Garon is no spring chicken either. Finally, I must add that Yzerman decided not to take the top goalie prospect in the 2011 draft, John Gibson, but instead opted for three forwards and then had his next pick in Round 6 and finally selected a goalie. Gibson went early in Round 2 to Anaheim, who really needs him, but not near as bad as the Lightning need a goalie. So, missing on Gibson was another mistake by Yzerman. All said, he has forced himself into a position where he simply has to get an experienced goaltender. Below are the unrestricted and restricted free agents that are before him. 

UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENT GOALIES

1. Jonas Gustavsson – Toronto

2. Martin Biron – New York Rangers

3. Chris Mason – Winnipeg

4. Antero Niittymaki – San Jose (playing in the AHL right now)

5. Martin Brodeur – New Jersey

RESTRICTED

1. Tuukka Rask – Boston

2.  Cory Schneider - Vancouver

In my opinion, Yzerman is going to do whatever he can to sign Jonas Gustavsson who is currently with the Leafs. Gustavsson is 27 years old and his stats in 30 games this year are:  a .909 Save Percentage, a 2.75 GAA and 3 shutouts.

If Yzerman strikes-out with Gustavsson he is likely going to go for Martin Biron who is currently with the Rangers. Biron is getting up there in age, at 34 years old, but he is playing the best hockey of his career. In 14 games his has a Save Percentage of .919, a GAA of 2.03 and 2 shutouts.

If Yzerman does not get Biron, he will then likely go for Chris Mason. Mason is 35 years old and has played 15 games this year for the Jets. He has a Save Percentage of .913, and GAA of 2.26 and 2 shutouts.

Yzerman also has the option to get Antero Niittymaki. Niittymaki played for the Lightning in the 2009-2010 season, and in 49 games he had a .909 Save Percentage. He was traded to the Sharks and played 24 games last year but this year he was demoted to the Shark’s AHL team. He would definitely be the least expensive of the goalies available. Niittymaki is 32 years old and he would be a decent NHL back-up goalie if he put more dedication into his game.   

Finally, for unrestricted free agents, Martin Brodeur is available and he indicated last month that he is probably going to play next year. He will be 40 years old in May. Yzerman should have learned his lesson in paying Roli a lot more than he was worth so I highly doubt he will make the same mistake again.

Now, what about the two restricted free agent goalies?

Yzerman will not likely have an opportunity to get Tuukka Rask from Boston, because the Bruins would be insane to not keep the 24 year old. Thus far this year in his 20 games he has a Save Percentage of .932, a GAA of 2.01 and 3 shutouts. Tim Thomas has one more year on his contract and the Bruins will rest their hopes with Rask and not Thomas because Tim is already 37 years old. Thomas’ contract is good for one more year after this one and his contract allows the Bruins to trade him by this July. The Bruins would not trade him to the Lightning, but wouldn’t it be something if Thomas ended up with them the following year!

Will Yzerman try to get Cory Schneider? Schneider might be available because the Canucks have brainwashed themselves into thinking that Luongo is one of the best goalies in the league, and they just might convince themselves that they can’t trade the guy. If a team wants Schneider they will pay dearly for him, and besides the contract they will have to pay the Canucks compensation in the form of draft picks. If I was the Canucks I would trade Luongo this year as soon as possible and then sign Schneider to a big long-term contract. Too bad the Canucks did not unload Luongo on Philly last year because the Flyers were willing to open their bank to get a goalie, and they in fact did so in behalf of Bryzgalov: giving him a 9 year deal worth a whopping 51 million! That contract is hard to bloody believe considering his total collapse last year (when he was with the Coyotes) in the first round of the playoffs against the Red Wings! The Wings won four straight and it was one of the worst playoff performances by a goalie that I have ever seen. Furthermore, Bryzgalov had never proven himself to be more than average, and in fact the Ducks had put him on waivers and that is when the Coyotes picked him up. Yes, Bryzgalov was pretty good last year in regular season, but it was because free agent status was coming and he was putting in more effort. Also, he had a pretty good defensive team in front of him. By the way, Schneider’s numbers for this year are:  21 games, a Save Percentage of .928, a GAA of 2.27 and 2 shutouts.  

It will be extremely interesting to see which goalie is going to be buying some shades and enjoying the sunshine in Tampa, not to mention the satisfaction of having a bank account overflowing with money.  

TJ Stanley