The NHL draft commences Friday evening and concludes Saturday as the NHL offseason will be in full swing come the end of June. July 1st at noon marks the first minute that free agents can sign with new teams. There isn’t a myriad of talent available in unrestricted free agency like in year’s past, but there are still serviceable players out there that can aid a team both short-term and long-term. The Hockey Writers takes a look at the top five unrestricted free agent goalies, below.
2014-15 Stats: 36-14-4, 2.07 GAA, .929 SV %
Drafted by Edmonton in the first round of the 2004 NHL entry draft by Edmonton, Dubnyk unquestionably had his finest season of his career during the 2014-15 season. He played for both Arizona and Minnesota and finished second in the league with a .929 save percentage. The 29-year-old is the top UFA goalie on the market and holds a career save percentage of .914 over 6,764 shots against.
According to Michael Russo of the Star Tribune, Dubnyk’s camp is seeking at least five million annually and the Wild would like to sign him for four million per season.
“Like any pending unrestricted free agent, Devan controls the process completely,” Minnesota Wild GM Chuck Fletcher told the Star Tribune. “We can offer what we can offer, but ultimately he’ll decide what he wants to do. We respect that. He’s earned that right.”
“The longer it goes you don’t have a deal, the more aggressively you have to look at options. There are free agents, and at the draft, lots of trades transpire.”
There will unequivocally be multiple suitors for Dubnyk if he reaches free agency on July 1st. The elite goalies under 30 years of age are often restricted free agents like Braden Holtby and are unlikely to be signed to offer sheets, which is an extremely rare occurrence. Dubnyk is the prize of the goalie free agent class and will be paid accordingly.
2014-15 Stats: 31-23-7, 2.59 GAA, .914 SV %
Niemi is a free agent once again, after five seasons with San Jose. He’ll be 32 when he takes his spot between the pipes next season and is still capable of being a starter in the NHL. He racked up five shutouts last season for the Sharks and faced the ninth most shots on goal (1,811) in the league.
San Jose General Manager Doug Wilson is still interested in retaining Niemi, but the Sharks could deal his rights to an interested team prior to the draft on Friday.
— theScore (@theScore) June 20, 2015
“They would like to be here, but unrestricted free agency is a two-way street,” Wilson told NHL.com. “It has to be a match for us. But would they like to be here? I think they’ve answered those questions publicly. It’s just whether it fits for us and them and what the alternatives are for all parties involved.”
2014-15 Stats: 7-20-4, 2.98 GAA, .914 SV %
After the two big names listed above, the goalie free agent class this offseason takes a severe dip. Neuvirth and the following two names are likely backup net minders on a good team, or fringe starters on a bad team. No team should be signing these players to long-term contracts or spend a substantial amount of cash on annually.
It seems that Neuvirth has been around forever, but he’s just 27-years-old. He played for his third NHL team last year, following a trade from the Buffalo Sabres to the New York Islanders. He played just five games with the Islanders however, but for the entire season with New York and Buffalo Neuvirth recorded a .914 save percentage.
The Czech Republic native was originally drafted by the Washington Capitals in the second round of the 2006 NHL entry draft and experienced success in both the minors with the Hershey Bears at the AHL level and with Washington. However, he has never posted above a .915 save percentage in one full season. Neuvirth will provide some value for NHL teams still, but should be limited to back up duties.
According to his agent Patrik Stefan, Neuvirth still believes he can be a starting goalie in the NHL.
“The bottom line is Michal wants to and is ready to be a starter next season,” Stefan told Pro Hockey Talk earlier this month. “(Michael) will be one of the top goalies on the UFA list July 1st.”
“Garth [Snow, Isles GM] and I had a positive conversation regarding Michal coming back next season to play for the Islanders,” Stefan stated. “The Islanders are a well-built young team with a bright future. Although it was for short time, Michal enjoyed playing there and was impressed with the organization.”
2014-15 Stats: 15-9-3, 2.60 GAA, .912 SV %
Ramo is in a similar situation to Neuvirth listed above, still below 30 years of age and has posted near average numbers the past few seasons. It’s unlikely that he’ll re-sign in Calgary with Jon Gillies in their pipeline or that he’ll land a starting job in free agency. There are a few teams that could be intrigued by Ramo, including the Philadelphia Flyers and Buffalo Sabres among others.
“Looking at it from Ramo’s perspective, you would have to think that free agency is an intriguing option that would be difficult to pass up. Sure, he could re-sign in Calgary at a reasonable contract and battle with Hiller again, or he could test the market. Free agency always sees teams overspend, and with a weak goaltending market this summer, Ramo would get more money, and probably more playing time if he finds a better fit via free agency.” – Flame For Thought
2014-15 Stats: 18-26-2, 3.07 GAA, .904 SV %
Enroth is the youngest of the five goalies listed and has already appeared in 131 NHL contests. His career save percentage of .909 won’t blow anyone away, but it’s worth considering for a team looking to get younger in net. Enroth is still at a young age where he could improve significantly if he signs with a team that can develop him correctly.
The former Buffalo Sabres 2006 draftee posted less than satisfactory numbers last year, but it’s important to note that Enroth had a save percentage of at least .911 the three years prior to last season.
“Enroth seems to want to test the free agent market, and the Stars seem fine with that. They are not about to outbid themselves before they see what the market is, but they will probably keep conversations open and keep Enroth as a possible player (especially if they trade Lehtonen any time soon). Enroth is a good goalie with potential, and he’d probably get a chance to show that potential in a tandem with a goalie who is looking for a chance to be a No. 1 like Karri Ramo or Antti Niemi. If the Stars decide to ride with Lehtonen, Enroth would likely only return as a well-priced backup.” – The Dallas Morning News
The list of viable free agent goalie options is undoubtedly slim, but the both Dubnyk and Niemi are good options and can be starters on contending teams. Drafting and developing goalies is crucial nowadays for any team looking to build a perennial Cup contender and it certainly is affirmed when you look at the limited options available this offseason.