Not every NHL team is fortunate enough to have a franchise goaltender locked up. But that is not always a weakness in the salary cap era. One needs only look at the massive deal that Carey Price just signed to understand how expensive elite goaltending can be. Many teams spend less in net and operate with goaltending platoons and time sharing. And right now, it looks like the 2017-18 season will have plenty of goaltending battles to keep an eye on.
Brian Elliott and Michel Neuvirth – Philadelphia Flyers
- Combined AAV: $5.25 million
The Flyers must still be kicking themselves over trading Sergei Bobrovsky in the 2012 offseason. Philadelphia has been searching for an answer in the blue paint for half a decade now. General manager Ron Hextall is hoping that his new tandem of Elliott and Neuvirth can get the job done until Anthony Stolarz or another option is ready.
Elliott and Neuvirth have three years separating them in age, but they are both in a similar place in their career. Both are looking to prove that they are starting goaltender material after showing flashes of excellence in the past. But both goaltenders are also accustomed to splitting starts.
One more from Brian Elliott, on competing for playing time with Michal Neuvirth not being an issue for him pic.twitter.com/1DeLqqpzxB
— Adam Kimelman (@NHLAdamK) July 1, 2017
It’s worth noting that the Flyers re-signed Neuvirth in March, which proved to be the writing on the wall for Steve Mason’s future in Philadelphia. This could also be Elliott’s last NHL contract. He will be 34 at the end of this deal.
Steve Mason and Connor Hellebuyck – Winnipeg Jets
- Combined AAV: $6.35 million
Goaltending was a complete fiasco for the Jets last season. Hellebuyck led the way with .907 save percentage and 56 starts. That just wasn’t good enough. So GM Kevin Cheveldayoff signed a veteran goaltender in free agency.
Because of his two-year, $8.2 million contract, the starting job in Winnipeg is likely Mason’s to lose. But that doesn’t mean he won’t have competition. Hellebuyck is in the last year of his free agency and Michael Hutchinson is under contract through the end of the season.
If Mason stumbles, which he could do after years of having his ability questioned and tested in Philadelphia, Hellebuyck will be waiting to take the starting role that so many believe will be his eventually. But the change of scenery should be good for Mason. His underlying stats have always been impressive, and a new start might be just what he needs.
Antti Raanta and Louis Domingue – Arizona Coyotes
- Combined AAV: $2.05 million
Mike Smith is now with the Calgary Flames, and as a result, the starting role in the desert is up for grabs.
The Coyotes acquired Raanta from the New York Rangers in a blockbuster trade, so it is safe to assume that general manager John Chayka has big plans for him. On paper, this is bargain goaltending at its best. Raanta was arguably the best backup goaltender in the league last season, and Domingue has played in 70 games in the past two seasons for the Coyotes.
Regardless of what happens in Arizona, the Coyotes are going to get a lot of bang for their buck with this tandem. But right now the favorite to take the starting job is Raanta. The problem is he will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. And Domingue will be a restricted free agent. At least one of them could be receiving a multi-year contract to stay in Arizona.
Thomas Greiss and Jaroslav Halak – New York Islanders
- Combined AAV: $7.833
Do you know who the Islanders starting goaltender will be in October? No? Don’t worry, no one else really knows for certain either. And that is likely because we will see Greiss and Halak split starts until GM Garth Snow can find a buyer for Halak. Or until another off-ice meltdown.
The Islanders extended Greiss for three-years, $10 million in January. It seemed a reasonable contract given Greiss’ excellence the previous season and Halak’s banishment to the AHL. But he didn’t inspire much confidence after signing his new deal. Griess posted a .893 save percentage in the months of February and March, along with a record of 10-11-2. With a chance for a playoff berth, Snow recalled Halak. So you could say that the Islanders are back to square one, but with less cap space.
With defenseman Travis Hamonic gone, there will be a spotlight on the Islanders defense and goaltending this season. For Halak, it will be an audition to prove Snow wrong and maybe move on to another team looking for goaltending depth. For Greiss, it’s an opportunity to rebound and prove he was worth the investment. It’s hard to say who will end up with more starts for the Islanders.