Regardless of the reason, whether because a franchise lost their goaltenders to free agency or they explicitly chose to reshape their backend, there was a plethora of transactions centred around the role this past summer. Although not every move has caused the desired ripple effect for the respective roster, some acquisitions already stand out as the type that can propel an organization’s plan in an unparalleled manner.
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Having maintained their momentum up to and beyond the quarter-season mark of 2022-23, with performances that place each among the league’s elite in one way or another, it’s become increasingly clear that these five netminders stand out among the rest as the best offseason acquisitions.
Detroit Red Wings: Ville Husso
Following a streak of playoff appearances between 1990-91 to 2015-16 that included four Stanley Cup championships, the Detroit Red Wings have yet to return since. Working through a rebuild, they’ve finished 25th, 27th, 28th, 31st, 27th, and 25th respectively in the years that followed. Though, Steve Yzerman wasn’t the type of athlete to settle for anything less than success so it should come as no surprise that he maintains that mindset as a general manager (GM).
Although it seemed that Alex Nedeljkovic was set to be Detroit’s go-to for years to come, given that he compiled the most starts and best stats out of their goaltending group in 2021-22, Yzerman clearly wasn’t content putting so much stock in one athlete. Especially when a rising superstar like Ville Husso became available.
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For whatever reason, despite drastically outperforming his colleagues in 2021-22, the St. Louis Blues neglected to include Husso in their future plan. An apparent failure to properly assess talent, which Yzerman was more than happy to take full advantage of when he acquired the 27-year-old for next to nothing.
“We certainly like the season that Ville had coming in and solidified the tandem with Alex,” Red Wings general manager Steve Yzerman said, “I think we’ve got two guys that we can put in the net every night and give us a reasonably good chance to win.”
Not only has Husso done a masterful job of fitting in with a new franchise, but he’s also repeating his efforts of stealing the spotlight over his team’s crease. Nedeljkovic’s inability to gain any sort of meaningful moment thus far in 2022-23 opened up the door for Husso to walk right through. Instead, Husso chose to run and he hasn’t looked back.
Playing twice as much as Nedeljkovic to this point in the campaign, Husso has certainly earned being prioritized. His .916 save percentage (SV%), 2.56 goals-against average (GAA), 5.8 goals saved above expected (GSAx), and three shutouts offer a drastic upgrade over the lesser metrics his counterpart has been able to accumulate.
It’s not an overstatement to proclaim that Husso has been a major factor with regard to Detroit’s ability to battle among the best this year after barely keeping afloat in the Atlantic Division last season. The fact that the Red Wings are currently 11-4-4 with him in their net offers more than enough evidence to support that claim.
As the goalie leading their way toward potentially sneaking into the postseason, Husso deserves recognition as a franchise-altering add. Naming him anything other than their No. 1 at this point would be nearly as big of a mistake as the one St. Louis made when they let him go.
New Jersey Devils: Vítek Vaněček
Like Detroit, the New Jersey Devils were once known as a perennial playoff presence. After a 24-year run that spanned four separate decades, which included 21 postseason appearances and three Cups, the Devils were finally forced to face a less fruitful reality. One that stems from their defeat in the 2011 Stanley Cup Final, as they’ve struggled to remain as relevant ever since.
Following four and a half seasons of mediocrity under Ray Shero’s leadership, the organization decided to transfer the GM title to Tom Fitzgerald midway through 2019-20. A move that has begun to pay off in ways that seemed unimaginable a short while ago. Especially given New Jersey’s 28th overall finish in 2021-22.
Yet, with an offense that ranked near the middle of the pack, that they had the fourth worst goals against pointed to a greater concern. After starting seven different goalies through 2021-22, who collectively earned a 3.52 GAA and .886 SV%, New Jersey’s netminder strategy required refining.
Illustrating an impressive ability to recognize that another franchise’s trash could turn into treasure for his own, Fitzgerald wisely sought out Vítek Vaněček when the Washington Capitals failed to recognize what they had in the former second-round pick.
Vaněček helped the Capitals accumulate a 41-22-10 record over the past two campaigns, yet their minds were seemingly made up when it came to determining that he was part of a problem that needed fixing in Washington. Good thing for the Devils, Fitzgerald saw him as a solution.
“That was our goal from the get-go was to add to the position because of the circumstance with injuries and really depleting our depth, to be frank,” Devils general manager Tom Fitzgerald said. “We don’t want to go through that again. I wouldn’t wish that on my worse enemy. However, it’s been a goal from the get-go and there are options and options get limited, so then you’re trying to find really what’s best and you got to put your best foot forward and make a deal for a guy, and we’re fortunate to land Vitek this morning. “
Such foresight has certainly paid dividends thus far in 2022-23, as Vaněček is currently 12-2-1, with a .916 SV%, 2.30 GAA, two shutouts, and a positive GSAx. His efforts also played a big part in New Jersey’s month-long undefeated streak, as Vaněček earned 10 of their 13 wins with a .932 SV%, 1.68 GAA, and 5.75 GSAx during that span.
As the Devils continue to write their script as one of the biggest surprise storylines of 2022-23, a potential rise to first overall is far more realistic because of Vaněček. Any questions surrounding who would own New Jersey’s No. 1 title as the season began have now been answered quite confidently.
Seattle Kraken: Martin Jones
Not much can or should be expected from an expansion franchise in its inaugural season. What the Vegas Golden Knights accomplished in 2017-18 was very much the exception, rather than the rule. Simply stated, the 2021-22 Seattle Kraken achieving anything close to Vegas’ initial success was beyond unlikely. Yet, that doesn’t mean that Ron Francis had to be content with how poorly the NHL’s newest team actually performed.
When you slap together a lineup of misfits, who have had limited time to create any sense of cohesion as a group, it’s fair to anticipate that struggles will ensue. That the Kraken owned the third-worst record last year, having lost twice as much as they won throughout their initial campaign, was a logical outcome.
Regardless of any influence that those stolen in the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft were able to have on their previous cities, that experience wasn’t guaranteed to translate in the same manner under drastically different circumstances in Seattle.
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Despite both Philipp Grubauer and Chris Driedger having appeared to be on the uprise before becoming the Kraken’s first tandem, neither maintained that momentum in 2021-22. Collectively, they set a 3.06 GAA, .894 SV%, and -35.3 GSAx.
Hoping to legitimize Seattle’s place in the league, Francis knew that goaltending depth was going to be crucial so he signed Martin Jones via free agency. What’s more, where most may have overlooked Jones given the veteran’s recent track record, Francis and Seattle’s new goalie coach Steve Brier had faith in the 32-year-old’s ability to accomplish more.
“We certainly had Steve look at different videos on [available] goaltenders to give us opinion. Steve’s got a lot of time for Martin in the way he’s played. There’s probably a few things maybe he wants to work on or tweak [of Jones’ approach]. But Steve’s excited about the possibility of working with him. We’ll see how things go moving forward. But it’s good to have a goalie coach excited to work with the players and talking with the goalie [they want to work with]. So far so good.”
You don’t become one of the league’s most respected names, let alone a Hall of Famer, without having an elevated understanding of the game. Clearly, Francis’ ability in that regard has bled into his efforts as Seattle’s GM as acquiring Jones has proven to be a pivotal move for his organization.
With Grubauer out early on in the campaign, Jones was available to be called upon. He made good on the opportunity, going 8-3-1 with a .914 SV%, 2.25 GAA, and 5.24 GSAx in Grubauer’s absence.
That said, it’s relevant to note that Jones’ overall numbers thus far don’t sparkle as beautifully as those earned by the others on this list. He currently has a .888 SV%, 2.97 GAA, -1.4 GSAx, and one shutout. However, his 12-5-2 record can’t be ignored, nor can the fact that he’s the only Seattle goalie with more than two victories at the moment.
As the Kraken continues its climb toward the top spot in the Pacific Division, looking to the netminder that has attracted the most success just makes sense. Francis seeing in Jones what others failed to has helped elevate Seattle’s status that much quicker.
Toronto Maple Leafs: Matt Murray & Ilya Samsonov
While it’s no secret that the Toronto Maple Leafs have dominated the regular season in recent years thanks to a skill-first build, the fact remains that their core of stars has yet to win when it matters most. As their window to do so continues to close, yet to witness his roster construction earn a First Round victory, GM Kyle Dubas had a fairly straightforward task at hand this offseason. Improve his team, however possible.
Although Jack Campbell had enjoyed a record-setting rise to stardom as the Maple Leafs’ most recent starter, Dubas was forced to revisit Toronto’s goaltending game plan when it became clear that Campbell was not going to re-sign with the organization. He also opted to trade Petr Mrázek at the 2022 NHL Entry Draft, risking a reality that involved having no NHL-ready goalies within Toronto’s lineup.
Until he acquired two-time Stanley Cup winner Matt Murray, who the Ottawa Senators were so happy to give away that they included picks and retained part of his salary in the exchange. A deal Dubas couldn’t pass up, recognizing Murray’s potential.
“What he did in Pittsburgh five years ago, and then the way that he played in the back half of (this past) year to kind of show that that’s still there,” said Dubas, who ran Murray through a series of medical exams Sunday before signing off on the deal. “Knowing the character of the person always helps. Having a previous experience with him always helps. But if not for that pedigree and what he’s accomplished and what he’s showed, then it wouldn’t be a fit.”
Murray’s time in Ottawa definitely caused a blemish on his resume, having gone 15-25-3 while setting a .899 SV%, 3.23 GAA, and -12.7 GSAx through 2020-21 and 2021-22.
So far, a change of scenery has helped. Beyond struggling through his debut in Toronto and an early season injury, Murry is now performing among the league’s best. Of goalies who have started at least 10 times, Murray is eighth in GAA with a 2.50, fourth in SV% with a .926, and ninth in GSAx with a 7.8.
Murray’s 7-1-2 record suggests that Toronto’s gamble has been paying off. What enhances that return further is that they’re also seeing a similar type of redemption story play out with Ilya Samsonov, all the while.
Like Vaněček, Samsonov was also pushed aside by the Capitals in an attempt to reset their goaltending strategy. Despite having also accumulated a winning record and modest metrics during his three seasons in Washington. Fortunately for the Maple Leafs, such disregard amplified the former first-round pick’s readiness to bet on himself in 2022-23. A level of confidence that Dubas was happy to infuse into Toronto’s locker room.
“He really wanted it to be a one-year kind of show-me, bet-on-yourself type deal, which is not always common with players coming off of this shock of being non-QO’d when he wasn’t expecting it,” Dubas said. “That was impressive to me.”
At a bargain salary of $1.8 million, while only having to commit to one year of service at the time, Dubas providing Samsonov with the laneway to prove his worth in Toronto offered a narrative that could work to the advantage of all involved. And it has.
Despite suffering an injury of his own, which forced the 25-year-old out of action for most of November, Samsonov has more than compensated with the playing time he’s been granted thus far in 2022-23. 8-2-0 with one shutout, his 1.87 GAA and .933 SV% place him among the NHL’s best in both regards. Meanwhile, his 8.1 GSAx is equally as impressive.
Initially entering a scenario in which their comparative play was going to determine Toronto’s starter on any given night, that both Murray and Samsonov were sidelined separately offered an unexpected twist to that narrative. Being granted the bulk of the workload while the other was out, each had a clear canvas on which to display their capabilities.
With both now back in action, it puts the Maple Leafs in an advantageous position wherein they don’t have to determine which goalie is outperforming the other. Rather than fixating on who will start any specific game, Toronto can rest assured that both members of their new duo are capable when called upon.
This tandem has quickly become one of the most effective in the league. Choosing to sign Murray and Samsonov as Toronto’s 1A/1B for 2022-23, Dubas deserves credit for drawing it up as such.
Best of the Best By Season’s End
Whether or not the 2023 Stanley Cup will be hoisted by any athlete mentioned within this list is yet to be seen. What has been established with more certainty, though, is that Husso, Vaněček, Jones, Murray, and Samsonov have each influenced their new team in ways that make it easy to name them the best offseason acquisitions.
With that said, it’s only fair to point out that there is still plenty of hockey left to be played in 2022-23. So much so that, hypothetically, any or all of these netminders could find themselves facing a dramatic enough in-season regression that their results no longer warrant such recognition.
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Yet, given the impression they’ve each established thus far, it seems safe to presume that this group will remain intact by season’s end. When it comes time for the NHL to award its annual hardware, don’t be surprised if you hear anyone from this collective being called up to the stage.