Amongst the new details of the 2020-21 NHL season is an interesting temporary rule as it pertains to goaltending. Firstly, there are an unlimited number of goalies allowed to attend training camp, but a maximum number of 36 skaters permitted. Reason being NHL teams will be required to carry at least three goaltenders between the actual roster and ‘taxi squad’.
This should prove to be a boon for several young and old goaltenders alike. Many teams will look for a third or possibly fourth goaltender within the organization, but some will have to quickly find a viable free agent option. That said, there are four backstops that could get snapped up as veteran depth goaltenders for the upcoming season.
The list of available UFA’s is very, well, old. In fact, the top four likely candidates to be signed are well into their 30’s and by age include: Cory Schneider, Ryan Miller, Jimmy Howard and Craig Anderson. All of these players are in the last chapter of their NHL careers and might gladly take a sub-million dollar, short-term deal to be a the third option.
Schneider will never be the goalie that earned himself a 7-year, $42 million ($6 million AAV) contract. In this specific scenario however, he might make a great 3rd option. That is effectively what he has been doing with the Devils organization for the past three seasons – moving up and down from the big club to the AHL’s Albany Devils.
One specific team that will need some goaltending help are the Washington Capitals. The sudden loss of Hendrik Lundqvist puts the team even further behind the eight ball in the goaltending department. As it stands, the team has Ilya Samsonov listed as there only roster goaltender. Further, they are under a cap squeeze with zero, although they will get $1.5 million of Lundqvist’s salary back.
There is news that Schneider has already tentatively agreed to a deal with the New York Islanders, one that hasn’t been announced because of Mathew Barzal. We’ll see if that still comes to pass or he’s tempted should other teams start calling.
Another NHL veteran that might get quickly signed is 39-year-old Ryan Miller. He is another example of a player that might not have the same skills they once had, but to date has still never had a season save percentage under .900. He factored into 23 games with the Anaheim Ducks last season.
The Ducks struggled defensively, but Miller posted a respectable .907 (SV%), and 3.10 GAA. He also managed 9 wins, 6 losses, and 4 OTL. In fact, he has had more wins than losses in each of his last three seasons in Anaheim. He also brings a vast amount of experience and could be source of leadership for younger goalies within the organization. I expect Miller to be signed in short order.
Another 39-year-old veteran goaltender currently available is Craig Anderson. The Park Ridge, Illinois native has spent most of the last decade as a member of the Ottawa Senators. Despite his age, he has still maintained a heavy workload. Anderson factored into 34 contests last season, but played in 50 plus games the previous two seasons in Ottawa (2017-18, 2018-19).
His numbers are not as sharp as they once were, but he is likely a player that may have benefitted from extended layoff. One could argue that all three of these players, last members of non-playoff teams, might return a little fresher than when they finished in March.
Besides Washington, other teams needing some immediate goaltending depth are the Chicago Blackhawks, Philadelphia Flyers, New Jersey Devils, and Pittsburgh Penguins. Stay tuned on signings in the crease in what should be a busy early week of NHL activity prior to Christmas.
Another aging veteran who said he wanted to play the game until it was clear the game no longer wanted him, Jimmy Howard is looking for work. In any other situation Howard might be on a path to retirement. Now that teams need a third string goalie, there’s still hope he lands a deal just before the 2020-21 season starts.
This is an experienced goaltender with ties to multiple organizations. From the Edmonton Oilers Ken Holland to anyone that has worked with Steve Yzerman, someone might be willing to put Howard on their taxi squad.
There are worse ways to spend league minimum and even if he doesn’t play, he’s got to be a good voice to have around the locker room and the team at practices.
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