Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender Garret Sparks did not have an ideal season in 2018-19. After his disappointing performance, the Leafs are reportedly exploring options that would see Sparks leave Toronto.
Sparks is not an ideal option for teams looking for a number one goalie. He finished this season with a .902 save percentage through 20 games played. His performance at the NHL level has not been encouraging, but he could be worth a look for teams who are in need of a new backup.
Columbus Blue Jackets
Sergei Bobrovsky is long gone. The Blue Jackets’ star goalie is set to hit free agency and it is all but confirmed that he is leaving Columbus. Putting his condo up for sale immediately after being eliminated from the playoffs is probably a pretty good indicator.
Keith Kinkaid is also an unrestricted free agent. The Jackets acquired Kinkaid at the trade deadline, fortifying their team between the pipes. If he decides to sign elsewhere the Blue Jackets will be without a viable option at goaltender.
They will likely look to the free agent pool to replace Bobrovsky’s production as the starting goalie but a deal with Toronto could set up Columbus with a backup. The Blue Jackets have limited options without making moves this offseason.
Without going outside their organization their only remaining options are Joonas Korpisalo and Elvis Merzlikins. Korpisalo has disappointed in his time in the NHL and Merzlikins has no experience in the NHL to speak of. The move could make sense for a team that is lacking internal options.
Mike Smith has played his last game in Calgary. The Flames goaltender is 37 years-old and split time with David Rittich as the team’s starting goaltender last season. Calgary is in a position to make Rittich their sole starting goalie and that means they will likely be in need of a new backup.
Jon Gillies and Tyler Parsons are both in the Flames system but Calgary may want a backup with more NHL experience. Gillies has played in 12 NHL games dating back to the 2016-17 season, while Parsons has played in none. For reference, Sparks has played in 37 NHL games including 20 last season.
It is not impossible that Calgary re-signs Smith to a short-term deal. Smith has said that he is interested in returning to the city, but a return may not line up with the goals of the team. If Rittich is going to continue to develop he will require more playing time. If the Flames acquire Sparks they will be able to start Rittich the majority of the time, while paying only $750,000 for their backup goalie.
The Panthers are in a complicated spot as next season approaches. They have been linked with Bobrovsky and are currently tied up with goaltenders Roberto Luongo and James Reimer.
Reimer is likely on his way out of town, as his $3.4 million cap hit is not conducive to being able to sign a top free agent goalie. TSN has reported that Florida is working on moving Reimer’s contract. He currently has two years left on his contract and is reportedly not likely to be bought out.
Luongo is in facing a different situation. The 40-year-old netminder is being moved out of his starting role. If he returns to the team it will be in a backup role, while he has publicly stated that he is considering retirement. If he decides to call it a career the Panthers will need a new option for a backup goalie.
Sparks could be a cheap option if the Panthers find themselves without Luongo and Reimer. If Bobrovsky signs with Florida he should account for a minimum of 60 starts per season. This would leave Sparks with a similar workload to what he faced in Toronto of around 20 games.
A number of things would need to happen to see Sparks head to Florida, but it is not impossible for him to be a Panther next season.
New York Islanders
Similar to how the Blue Jackets are facing the pending free agency of Bobrovsky, the Islanders are faced with the potential departure of Robin Lehner. The 27-year-old signed a one year contract with the Islanders last offseason.
Lehner had a breakout season in New York after personal issues had plagued his career in Buffalo. He is currently a Vezina Trophy finalist having finished the season with a .930 save percentage in 46 games played.
After making only $1.5 million this season, Lehner will be set for a big pay increase. The Islanders have a number of players set to become unrestricted free agents this offseason. This means they will have a number of roster spots to fill in addition to Lehner’s spot. They could bring him back on a larger contract with the cap space they have gathered but they could also be forced to go with Thomas Greiss as their starting goalie next season.
Greiss and Lehner split time as the Islanders starting goalie last season, with Greiss playing in 43 games. He has one more year left on his contract with a $3.33 million cap hit. None of the team’s minor league goalies are ideal options to jump to the NHL level, so Sparks could be a viable option for one season.
The Oilers have Mikko Koskinen for three more seasons. Beyond him, they have no goalies ready to step into the role of Edmonton’s goalie as a starter or as a backup. They will need another goalie before the start of next season, so Sparks could be as good an option as any for a team that is strapped for cap space.
Koskinen is going to earn $4.5 million in each of the next three seasons. That cap hit combined with the salaries of Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, and Milan Lucic are going to make it very difficult for Edmonton to spend significant money to bring in any kind of free agent.
Bringing in Garret Sparks on his modest $750,000 salary could be the Oiler’s best option for a cheap backup. They need only be cautious that they do not sign him to a massive extension by mistake.
Chicago is in a pickle with regards to their goaltending situation. Corey Crawford has been stricken with health issues for the last two seasons. He may or may not bounce back next season but he only has one year left on his current contract.
Cam Ward was signed to a one year contract last offseason. It is unlikely that Ward returns to the team after he posted his worst save percentage since the 2006-07 season at .897. At 35 years-old, Ward will likely have to find another team to continue his NHL career.
Sparks could supply an option for the team to figure out the status of their goaltending. With Sparks contract coming due at the end of next season, the Blackhawks would have time to make a decision on the future of Crawford without committing long-term to another goalie. After next season the team will know if it is time to move on from Crawford at which point they will be able to sign or trade for a new starting goalie without any other goalie contracts standing in their way.
The Philadelphia Flyers set an NHL record by starting eight different goalies in one season in 2018-19. The Flyers goaltender carousel finally came to a stop with Cam Talbot being the final different goalie to start for the team. It was highly touted prospect Carter Hart who should be Philly’s goalie of the future.
The problem is he will likely be tasked with being the team’s goalie of the present as well. Hart will turn 21 years-old in August and expecting a young player to carry the majority of the team’s goaltending load is unreasonable. He will need someone to back him up next season.
Sparks would be a possibility for the Flyers if they are interested in giving Hart a bigger workload. Sparks appeared in 20 games last season and could be used in a limited role. If Philadelphia wants to dive in with Hart they could bring in Sparks to provide limited relief for the young stopgap.
Phillie could decide to go with a more veteran goalie to back up Hart. There are options if that is the direction they want to go. Mike Smith, Keith Kinkaid and Curtis McElhinney could all sign short term deals and provide some veteran leadership while Cam Talbot, Brian Elliot and Michal Neuvirth could all possibly resign.
The Carolina Hurricanes managed to make it to the Eastern Conference Final with a goalie tandem that made a combined $2.35 million last season. Petr Mrazek and Curtis McElhinney lead the Hurricanes to the playoffs despite neither being the team’s highest-paid goalie.
Now that the playoffs are over, both Mrazek and McElhinney’s contracts are set to expire. Both will be unrestricted free agents and have earned themselves pay raises for next season. Scott Darling is the only goalie under contract with Carolina through next season. He was waived in November of 2018 and appeared in 14 games with the Charlotte Checkers.
Mrazek or McElhinney could return to the team next season but neither is a guarantee. Mrazek is only 27 years-old and could fetch a big contract as a starter elsewhere in the league. McElhinney is 36 years-old and realistically only has a few more years left to make his money. He should take advantage of his stellar play and could earn a contract too rich for Carolina to afford.
Sparks could step into their role as the Hurricane’s new backup if both Mrazek and McElhinney walk. Carolina will likely need to sign another starting goalie if all faith has been lost in Darling. Sparks could fill a backup role and cover at least 20 games but should not be looked at to play a larger role.