With the NHL draft in the rearview mirror, all focus has shifted to the NHL Free Agent Frenzy. This year’s free agent pool is considerably deeper than past years and all 31 NHL franchises should be busy on Sunday.
In particular, the New York Islanders, Chicago Blackhawks, Ottawa Senators, Carolina Hurricanes, and Buffalo Sabres are in the market for a goalie. Not to mention all the other teams in the NHL that are looking for a goalie that may not be as obvious.
Here is Last Word on Hockey’s list of the top 5 UFA goalies on July 1st.
Top 5 UFA Goalies
5. Robin Lehner
The former first-round pick wasn’t qualified by the Buffalo Sabres and is looking for a new crease to protect. Last season Lehner went 14-26-9 in 53 starts with a .908 save percentage and 3.01 goals against average. Lehner has never reached his potential, struggling to a career record 72-97-35 with a .915 save percentage and a 2.82 goals against average in 205 starts. Any team looking for a low risk-high reward option, that has the potential to be the next Devan Dubnyk, could look at a relatively cheap option like Lehner.
Jonathan Bernier, much like Petr Mrazek, had a ton of potential coming into the league but his recent seasons have solidified him as a career backup. Last season with the Colorado Avalanche, Bernier started 34 games posting a 19-13-3 record with a .913 save percentage and a 2.85 goals against average. Bernier could be a great fit for a team that is looking for a veteran back-up.
3. Petr Mrazek
In 2011-2012, following his performance at the World Junior Championship, Mrazek was widely considered one of the best goalies outside the NHL. Unfortunately the 26-year-old never reached his potential with Detroit and was shipped off to Philadelphia around last year’s trade deadline for two draft picks. His play in Philadelphia wasn’t very good, posting a 6-6-3 record in 15 starts with a .891 save percentage and 3.22 goals against average. But a team might still take a gamble on him, because his play with Detroit before being traded was encouraging. In 18 games, Mrazek was 8-7-3 with a .910 save percentage and a 2.89 goals against average. Last season Mrazek had a cap hit of $4 million, and any team that signs him can expect a significant pay cut when its all said and done.
After 12 seasons in Carolina, it appears Cam Ward’s time in North Carolina has come to an end. The 34-year-old netminder’s best days are probably behind him, but in 43 games last season the former first round pick proved he can still be a reliable goalie in a lesser role. He finished with a 23-14-4 record, a .906 save percentage and 2.73 goals against average. For teams looking for a 1B or a solid 2A goalie who is a proven veteran, Cam Ward should be one of their first calls.
The 32-year-old Thunder Bay native isn’t going to be your starter, but he’s one of the most versatile and consistent backups in the league. He might even be able to handle a platoon role. In the last two seasons in St. Louis, Hutton started 47 games and appeared in 62, rocking a .923 save percentage and 2.23 goals against average. Whenever Jake Allen couldn’t cut it as the starter, St. Louis knew they had a dependable backup they could turn to. Hutton is coming off a two-year deal that carried a $1.125 million dollar cap hit, and can expect a big raise.
CHICAGO, IL – APRIL 06: Carter Hutton #40 of the St. Louis Blues spits water during a break against the Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center on April 6, 2018 in Chicago, Illinois. The Blues defeated the Blackhawks 4-1. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)