It may seem like the NHL’s trade deadline on Feb. 24 is ages away. But with most teams officially at the quarter mark of the season, it’s becoming time for them to take stock of their position and start to decide whether they want to be buyers or sellers. A particularly loaded draft with top prospect Alexis Lafreniere will provide added incentive for non-contenders to recognize their standing and sell accordingly.
With that in mind, there are a number of goaltenders on one-year contracts or in the final year of longer contracts who might potentially make sense as trade targets. While goalie trades are becoming rarer in recent seasons, there are a number of otherwise-strong teams who might be in the market for a netminder this season. So who might be on the move? Let’s take a look at the goalies in a contract year and whether they might get dealt.
Let’s start with a few aging veteran goaltenders who might have a final shot at the Stanley Cup if traded to a new team.
Jimmy Howard of the Detroit Red Wings seems to be perpetually part of this discussion. The Red Wings are a struggling team in recent seasons, and currently, sit last in the entire NHL with just 17 points in 24 games (the most played by any team other than the Calgary Flames). That makes them as obvious a seller as anyone, but the question is, will teams be calling about Howard?
In hindsight, last season was probably the Red Wings’ best opportunity to trade Howard. He had a strong campaign, especially early, and was rumored to be a target of the St. Louis Blues before they found traction with Jordan Binnington.
This season Howard, 35, is struggling mightily. Due to some combination of his team’s poor play and age limiting his ability, he’s sunk to an .883 save percentage (SV%) and a 3.98 goals against average (GAA). He also has minus-9.27 goals saved above average (GSAA), the fifth-worst mark in the league.
If interested teams call the Red Wings about Howard, they almost certainly will be willing to part with him for assets, even though his replacement isn’t obvious.
Honorable Mention: Craig Anderson
We could do another section on Craig Anderson, 38, of the Ottawa Senators, but it would be almost identical to the one above. Anderson has had significantly better numbers behind a Senators team that is surprising naysayers, but still, at that age, with a .901 SV% and a 3.11 GAA, teams are likely to look elsewhere for their solution in net.
Trading for Ryan Miller at the trade deadline hasn’t worked out well in the past. In fact, it was the Blues’ lack of success after acquiring Miller in 2014 that has reportedly been a factor in steering general managers away from goalie trades in recent seasons. But could Miller learn from his mistakes and contribute to a contender this season?
Miller’s numbers are stronger than the two other goalies we’ve discussed, though in very limited work. He’s played just five games but is 3-0-2 with a SV% of .919 and a 2.61 GAA, as well as 2.79 GSAA. Thanks to their strong goaltending tandem, the Anaheim Ducks are sitting in the middle of the Pacific Division with 23 points in as many games.
It’s obvious that John Gibson is the Ducks’ present and future. So in what may be the final season of his career, will Miller want one final chance at Stanley Cup glory? And will there be a team that has a spot for him? This is a trade that just might happen if the pieces fall into place.
There are a few teams that will have to make contract decisions for both of their goaltenders by season’s end. Will they choose to move on from one or both goalies before the offseason?
Penguins: Murray and Jarry
The Pittsburgh Penguins are faced with another goaltending-Sophie’s Choice just a few seasons after choosing to jettison Marc-Andre Fleury to the Vegas Golden Knights to keep promising youngster Matt Murray. Now, Murray is the inconsistent veteran — though still very young at just 25 — and Tristan Jarry is the up-and-comer challenging for his spot.
In just five starts on the young season, the 24-year-old Jarry is posting much better numbers than Murray but has never started more than 23 games in an NHL season. Both goalies are in the final season of their contract, with each likely expecting significant raises in the upcoming season. Penguins fans could well see one of their goalies leave before the season ends, or at the very least in the offseason, to clear up the contract situation a bit.
Blackhawks: Lehner and Crawford
The Chicago Blackhawks owe their goaltending tandem a combined $11 million this season, but both netminders are in the final season of their contracts. The Blackhawks’ signing of Robin Lehner to a one-year contract this summer was one of the surprises of the offseason, but the reigning Jennings Trophy winner is proving that he’s not a one-hit-wonder with 10.99 GSAA so far this season.
Corey Crawford hasn’t been quite as strong but has still been more than adequate with 2.30 GSAA and a .914 SV%. The Blackhawks need to decide who will be their future in net. Are they willing to let Crawford walk and commit to Lehner long term? Or is the emotional pull to Crawford too strong?
Whatever their decision, both goalies are poised to be free agents at the end of the season, and the Blackhawks certainly aren’t contenders. They would be wise to choose a favorite and try to trade the other. There would likely be interest in either Lehner’s recent dominance or Crawford’s Stanley Cup experience.
The Big Fish
There are two pending-UFA (unrestricted free agent) goaltenders who rise above the others as interesting trade targets, though neither is obviously on the move.
Vancouver Canucks’ goaltender Jacob Markstrom has been resurgent in recent seasons, and would certainly be an interesting trade chip if the Canucks wanted to move him. He isn’t posting quite as strong numbers this season as last but is still performing well, with a .909 SV%, 2.85 GAA, and 0.69 GSAA.
In the long term, the Canucks’ future clearly rests with one of Thatcher Demko, who is already performing well in the NHL, and Michael DiPietro, two of their top prospects and two of the best goalie prospects in the entire NHL. But the Canucks are third in their division. Would they be willing to move on from Markstrom and ride Demko to the finish line?
It’s not necessarily likely, but a Markstrom move might actually happen. Demko is showing himself to be the real deal as many have expected for a long time. Yes, general manager Jim Benning made this a must-win season by surrendering his first-round pick in the trade for J.T. Miller. But the Canucks still have a long and bright future ahead. If someone offers enough for Markstrom to help them stay competitive this season and build long term, they may commit to the Demko era sooner rather than later.
The Canucks’ situation is similar to that of the Washington Capitals, except that Braden Holtby’s career numbers make him the biggest potential fish on the market. Still, Ilya Samsonov looks ready to step into the starting role sooner rather than later, and Holtby is past 30 and in the final year of his contract. Could the Capitals shock the world and trade the former Vezina and Jennings Trophy winner before the trade deadline?
As juicy a story as it would be, the honest answer is probably no. The Capitals currently sit in the lead for the Presidents’ Trophy, and as good as Samsonov looks, he likely isn’t ready to shoulder the full load of a playoff push at just 22-years-old. Holtby has been there before, and while his numbers aren’t amazing this season (.904 SV%, 2.98 GAA), the Capitals would likely rather ride his experience and take their best shot at another Stanley Cup, even if it means risking losing Holtby in the offseason.
This is the NHL and anything can happen. A team could always blow the Capitals away and force their hand. But don’t hold your breath hoping your team might land Holtby. There are a number of other quality trade chips (including some not covered here like Brian Elliott and Cam Talbot) that might make better, and cheaper, alternatives for your team.
Stephen Ground is an author with The Hockey Writers and is co-host of the Two Guys No Cup Podcast. He enjoys studying the numbers and providing fresh looks at various stories.