Yesterday’s Daily Cup of Joe kicked off what could end up being a short series on possible goalie options over the next year or two. Part 1 featured to veteran trade possibilities in Frederik Andersen and Marc-Andre Fleury.
An important disclaimer that I will repeat is that I do not think the Hurricanes need to make a move in net to be competitive. Petr Mrazek and James Reimer were good enough or better in net in 2019-20, so returning with that duo plus Alex Nedeljkovic would not be a negative in my mind. That said, it is the off-season and exploring possible areas for improvement is in season.
Whereas yesterday’s Daily Cup of Joe looked at two veteran trade options, today’s installment considers two restricted free agent possibilities.
Braden Holtby with the Washington Capitals
Only a couple seasons ago, Braden Holtby was perennially among the top goalies in the NHL. Hidden a bit beneath the fact that the Capitals keep winning is the fact that Holtby’s level of play has dropped off a bit over the past couple seasons. He stepped down a notch in 2017-18 and 2018-19 and posted an .897 save percentage and 3.11 goals against average in 2019-20. Holtby figures to be seeking his last big contract for maximum dollars and term and will be 31 years old when the 2020-21 NHL season kicks off. In a normal market that sees a couple bidders and contract demands in the neighborhood of five years and $6 to $7 million per year, I would pass quickly. That is as much a comment on the poor risk/reward ratio for pricey long-term deals for goalies over the age of 30 as it an assessment of Holtby. But in an NHL world with a flat salary cap, multiple options available and probably not enough destinations for all of the goalies in the game of musical chairs, could a different reality emerge? If the buyer side of the market is not there, could Holtby be willing to take a short-term deal? If so, could he become a relatively low risk rebound bet? If I am Don Waddell and think I could get Holtby for only two years at something like $5.5 million per year, I would at least call my scouts for their opinion on Holtby and bandy the possibility around with the brain trust at 1400 Edwards Mill Road.
Jacob Markstrom with the Vancouver Canucks
The ups and downs of the playoffs can do strange things to teams’ and players’ futures. The young Vancouver Canucks making the playoffs probably a year or two early boosted the stock of goalie Jacob Markstrom. Then in the blink of an eye, Thatcher Demko standing on his head in the Vegas Golden Knights series might have made Markstrom expendable. Demko is six years younger at 24 and now ideally the Canucks goalie of the future. Demko does have one more year on his contract at a modest $1,050,000, so it might be possible for the Canucks to keep both, but signing Markstrom to a maximum type deal now seems less probable. Markstrom is coming off a strong 2019-20 campaign that him go 23-16-4 with a .918 save percentage. Like Holtby, Markstrom is just on the wrong side of 30 years old. His track record is not nearly as sizable as Holtby’s, but the positive is that he exited the 2019-20 season with a much better trajectory. As with Holtby, the question is if there will be offers for term and maximum salary or if instead the financial situation makes it a buyer’s market even for higher-end free agent goalies. I like Markstrom but not for a long-term #1 type of price.
Anton Khudobin with the Dallas Stars
Just like with Markstrom, 2019-20 success has significantly changed the evaluation of former Cane Anton Khudobin. He has followed up a strong regular season with a .930 save percentage in a backup role with an equally strong playoff run in a starting role after stepping in for an injured Ben Bishop. Based on his playoff high, I suspect that someone will overpay for Khudobin. He is 34 years old and has never been a #1 goalie at the NHL level for an extended period of time except when stepping in for injured starters. Could his upswing continue into 2020-21 and beyond? Certainly. But betting on a goalie who is 34 years old and has never played more than 37 games in a regular season to change role and increase workload at this stage of his career seems unlikely. I see him as a top option for his 2019-20 role as a #2 or maybe 1B goalie but really risky to transition to a true #1 role. So as much as I would love to see the quirky and jovial Khudobin back in Raleigh, I do not think it is in the cards.
What say you Canes fans?
1) Would you consider a long-term deal at something close to maximum salary for either Braden Holtby or Jacob Markstrom?
2) If not, would you consider playing in this higher end of the free agent market either if the expected weak free agent market makes one of them available for a shorter (two-year?) term at a slightly discounted price ($5.5 million per year?)?
3) Does Anton Khudobin’s playoff success entice you to consider him despite him being 34 years old and really only a backup at the NHL level? Aside from practicality of it, would you love to see Khudobin’s big personality back in Raleigh (only yes is an acceptable answer)?