Should the Canucks add a goaltender in free agency?

Jim Benning has a lot on his plate this off-season: determining the Canucks’ draft board, re-signing key restricted free agents, and deciding which unrestricted free agents to target to upgrade and support the Canucks’ lineup. One of the areas of the lineup that may need an upgrade, which would have been laughable just one year ago, is in net.

The prospect of acquiring a goaltender in free agency was raised during an interview with Benning on Sportsnet 590 and he didn’t shy away from the possibility. “We’re going to look at every avenue we have to make our team competitive,” he said, before giving Eddie Lack a vote of confidence. “For a first-year goalie last year, he had a good season, and we hope that he can take it to the next step this year.”

Hoping that Lack can be a reliable starter is not the same as believing he will be, so adding a veteran number one goaltender on a short-term contract to give Lack more time to develop as a backup is worth considering. That’s just one of three scenarios, however, that could see the Canucks adding a goaltender in free agency. They could also add a goaltender to platoon starts with Lack or upgrade their backup role currently occupied by Jacob Markstrom.

Let’s look at the players available in free agency that would fit these scenarios and whether its worth it for the Canucks.

VETERAN NUMBER ONE
Options: Ryan Miller, Jonas Hiller

Lack was superb as a backup for Roberto Luongo, but struggled down the stretch when asked to carry the starter’s load. If you are concerned that this is indicative of how he would perform as the go-to starter over a full season, then upgrading to an experienced number one goaltender makes sense.

There are basically just two options in free agency for this type of goaltender: Ryan Miller and Jonas Hiller, both of whom have proven themselves over multiple NHL seasons and in international tournaments.

I wouldn’t consider Martin Brodeur, who is too far past his prime and hasn’t even been an average goaltender over the past four seasons, let alone a legitimate number one. He would also potentially add unnecessary drama. I also would avoid Tim Thomas, both because of his history with the Canucks and because missing an entire season in 2011-12 seems to have had a detrimental effect on his play.

The biggest issue here is that going this route likely means spending a large chunk of the Canucks’ available cap space that might be better spent on a forward to upgrade the first or second line. After all, the main benefit to trading Roberto Luongo was losing his contract. Using that money to sign another goaltender seems to be a poor use of resources.

The other issue is that neither Miller nor Hiller are likely looking for a short-term deal. Both are likely aiming for a long-term contract to carry them through the end of their careers and there are enough teams looking for a solution in net — the Islanders, Flames, Jets, and, ironically enough, Sabres come to mind — that they’re likely to get what they want. Unless the Canucks want to commit significant cap dollars to a goaltender already past 30 and potentially on the decline, this option doesn’t make much sense.

PLATOON
Options: Devan Dubnyk, Evgeni Nabokov, Thomas Greiss, Alex Stalock

Perhaps you think that Lack is ready to be a starter, but not for 60+ games. In that case, you want to add someone more reliable than Jacob Markstrom or Joacim Eriksson to split starts with Lack.

There are many options, both veterans and younger players with potential, for this role. Nabokov is a risk after an off-year with the Islanders and because of his age at 38, but he’s still capable of starting 30-40 games. This would depend on his willingness to take a lower contract and move back to the west coast, however.

Greiss has significantly less experience, but has very good career numbers. He put up a .920 save percentage in 25 games for the Coyotes last season and has a career save percentage of .915. He would likely welcome a chance to start more games and shouldn’t be too expensive.

Stalock only has one season as a backup under his belt, but it was a good one, putting up a .932 save percentage in 24 games for the Sharks. He has very good AHL numbers and would give the Canucks a strong, young tandem in net. The Sharks may want to re-sign Stalock, however, with an eye towards him replacing Antti Niemi in two seasons.

Then there’s Dubnyk, who faced a lot of criticism in his time in Edmonton. It’s hard to judge a goaltender playing behind that defence, but I tend to think Dubnyk is underrated. He’s had more good seasons than bad ones and may be willing to accept a lesser contract for a chance to rejuvenate his career.

The benefit of this approach is being able to go with whoever’s playing best during any given stretch of games and improves the Canucks’ goaltending depth in case Lack isn’t able to be a number one goaltender in the future. The risk is having a goaltending controversy again after the Canucks’ just rid themselves of one. Still, two inexpensive goalies splitting starts is about as uncontroversial as a controversy gets.

BACKUP UPGRADE
Options: So many, you guys. So many.

Upgrading their backup seems to be the Canucks’ biggest need at the goaltender position. Markstrom’s superb AHL stats and international success have not translated to the NHL as of yet and Eriksson could probably use another season of starting in the AHL before he’s ready to make the jump to the big leagues. It’s certainly possible that Markstrom’s issues are correctable under the tutelage of Rollie Melanson, but it may not be worth risking.

Ideally, the Canucks would add an older veteran with a lot of experience, who could be relied upon to start more games if Lack struggles and provide mentorship for the young Swede otherwise. There are basically five goaltenders in free agency who fit the bill: Nikolai Khabibulin, Tomas Vokoun, Ilya Bryzgalov, Ray Emery, and Jean-Sebastien Giguere.

Khabibulin is 41 and missed almost all of last season with an injury. Vokoun missed the entire season after undergoing surgery for a blood clot in his pelvis. Giguere is retiring. That leaves Bryzgalov and Emery, who don’t exactly ooze the qualities you look for in a mentor.

So, that’s probably not going to work. The other option is a career backup who is likely to be more reliable than Markstrom or Eriksson. There are many backups available, including Al Montoya, Jason Labarbera, Joey MacDonald, and Curtis McElhinney.

One benefit to going with a career backup is that they’ll be cheap, potentially cheaper than Markstrom’s $1.2 million contract or Eriksson’s $925,000. That would give the Canucks a little more room under the cap to upgrade at forward. A career backup can also be easily sent down to the AHL if one of Markstrom or Eriksson impresses during training camp or with Utica, giving the Canucks some flexibility.

The biggest risk, however, is that Lack falters as a starter. Without a more proven goaltender behind him, the Canucks could be in trouble.

My personal preference would be to target Greiss or Stalock to split starts with Lack. If neither are available to the Canucks, adding someone like Montoya or Labarbera to battle for the backup role with Markstrom or Eriksson seems to be a smart choice.

28 comments

  1. Naturalmystic
    June 2, 2014

    You are out of your mind if you think Dubnyk is a good signing. He might have played in front of a porous defense but the guy gave up one terrible goal after another. He is a back up goalie at the NHL level, nothing more.

    VA:F [1.9.16_1159]
    Rating: +5 (from 11 votes)
    • JDM
      June 2, 2014

      Put me in the camp of totally in favour of a Devan Dubnyk signing for 1 year at less than $1M. Guy has no value right now, and is much better than he looked last year. It’s really a no-risk signing with the potential to have decent upside. He’s a guy who has no confidence right now, and if you can give that back to him he’s at least NHL average.

      VA:F [1.9.16_1159]
      Rating: +2 (from 10 votes)
      • PB
        June 3, 2014

        The risk is that he would see some time on the ice. He is terrible.

        VA:F [1.9.16_1159]
        Rating: +3 (from 7 votes)
    • Canucks gm
      June 3, 2014

      Yep I agree. Dubnyk is a scrubnyk.

      If I were the canucks gm. I would trade for john Gibson of the Anaheim ducks. Kesler for Gibson. He’s young and so solid and getting paid peanuts.

      VA:F [1.9.16_1159]
      Rating: -6 (from 6 votes)
  2. will
    June 2, 2014

    Please.

    Please.

    Not Ryan Miller.

    Ryan Miller is not good. Ryan Miller is not worthy of a long term contract. Ryan Miller is not worthy of ‘elite’ goalie status. It’s funny to me that guys like Miller or Jimmy Howard are mentioned when talk of the best goalies in the NHL come up. If they were Canadian they would get crapped on the same way Roberto (Team Canada won in spite of him) Luongo seems to.

    VA:F [1.9.16_1159]
    Rating: -2 (from 18 votes)
  3. gretchen grouse
    June 2, 2014

    I’m Gretchen Grouse the Grammar geek
    Concerned with how we write and speak:
    One goes with “ ‘whomever’s’ playing best,”
    To which akidd may well attest,
    And Mooney knows the reason why:
    An English Major as am I.

    And “who can be relied upon”
    Should be, “on whom we can rely.”
    Again we have a sine qua non
    ‘Tis better writers not defy.
    And since we’ll not have Lui back,
    It’s Dubnyk now and Eddie Lack.

    VA:F [1.9.16_1159]
    Rating: +3 (from 21 votes)
  4. Ann Bunburry
    June 2, 2014

    I’ve heard that Peter Budaj is a great teammate and competitor, and after the way that Dustin Tokarski played in relief of Carey Prince during the THIRD round of the NHL playoffs, I don’t think anyone can really blame Montreal if they let Budaj go and give the backup job to Tokarski next season. Budaj would probably be a good fit in Vancouver… and his regular season stats show that he can beat elite teams like the Boston Bruins. So, if Budaj is indeed available, that’s who I would target to backup Lack, if I were part of the Canuck’s management team. And of course, the Habs kind of owe the Canucks for Dale Weise, right?

    VA:F [1.9.16_1159]
    Rating: +15 (from 15 votes)
  5. Art
    June 2, 2014

    Greiss is a good, solid backup. I Always liked him with the Sharks. My personal opinion is that Stalock will stay in San Jose, and take Niemi’s job much sooner than two years from now. He’s a stud.

    VA:F [1.9.16_1159]
    Rating: +6 (from 6 votes)
  6. BBoone
    June 2, 2014

    The young tandem option has real upside if both play well as you have created a tradeable asset when you decide who gets the number 1 promotion. Moreover internal competition is always good when dealing with equals.

    VA:F [1.9.16_1159]
    Rating: +3 (from 3 votes)
  7. Beata
    June 2, 2014

    I’ve heard rumors that Craig Anderson might leave Ottawa this summer. I wouldn’t count on that happening, but if the Senators do decide they want to trade him, he could be a great #1 and mentor for Lack.

    I personally don’t think he’s actually going to leave, but the Canucks might want to keep an eye on him just in case.

    VA:F [1.9.16_1159]
    Rating: 0 (from 2 votes)
  8. pigeonbutt
    June 2, 2014

    I believe that that the Canucks should put a premium this coming season on development, not on making the playoffs, and instead treat the playoffs as a positive symptom of successful development.

    This means utilizing cap space and term on a younger skater with minimal expenditure on a goalie. Get an older, career back-up looking for a 2 year contract on the cheap. Treat Lacks as your #1 but with far more sane deployment than he received last year.

    Let Lack get a feel for the season. Let Gaunce, Fox, Horvat, Shinkaruk etc have a full year in the AHL (with Markstrom and Ericksson competing for their #1). Give Kassian, Jensen, Corrado and future 4th liners like Archibald and Lain more responsibility.

    If the goaltending falters don’t make a kneejerk trade or signing, especially if the problem has been amplified by a shaky team operating with young players and a new coach. Allow Lack to fight through and see what his compete level is like.

    Above all else, accept the fact that this following year can very possibly mean missing the pl,ayoffs. However, it allows a new management and coaching team the needed time to assess their pool of talent without the pressure of needing to make the post-season. It gives the young players a larger role to develop. It allows the team to take the page on a full #1 goalie after enough time to be certain that Lack is not or will not be ready. And if it means another high draft pick to add to the surge of youth on its way then there is nothing wrong with that.

    I truly believe the Canucks can make the playoffs, but it’s important that it isn’t their philosophical prerogative. This franchise is at a critical point of self assessment and, in my opinion, chasing the playoffs by adding heavy “win-now” contracts is extremely toxic to their future.

    VA:F [1.9.16_1159]
    Rating: +23 (from 25 votes)
    • Chris the Curmudgeon
      June 3, 2014

      I don’t believe Horvat is eligible to play in the AHL. I may be wrong but I think because of his birthday it’s NHL or back to junior for him.

      I’ll also point that I don’t think the Canucks will want to completely abandon the win now mantra. As it is, they have a number of players who are in mid- or late primes of their careers (Garrison, Hansen, Kesler and Edler the former, Sedins, Burrows, Bieksa and Hamhuis the latter) and as much as almost all of those players took a step back last season, Tortorella will shoulder a lot of the blame for that and the new management will want to try to do the best they can with that group. Consider too that many of those players have no-trade protection, meaning that the Canucks core is going to be on the older side for a few years. By all means, they should do everything they can to “retool” the team, but recognize also that they will be doing this in large part to first supplement the current core, and only later to supplant it.

      VA:F [1.9.16_1159]
      Rating: +3 (from 3 votes)
      • pigeonbutt
        June 3, 2014

        I completely forgot about Horvat’s age. That is somewhat unfortunate as I believe he’s outgrown the OHL but could use more time before the NHL.

        I believe we’re pretty much on the same page – of course the Canucks should not abandon the will to win it all, and it shouldn’t be expected that the veterans just roll over.

        However, those no-trade clauses have their own use in this “development” scenario. Simply put, it acts as a filter for the current core:
        The young players should be given a generous leash and allowed to compete against the Chris Higgins’s of the team for ice-time.
        It may come to be that certain players are unhappy to see their ice-time drop a couple minutes and are more receptive to trades.
        Players that want to stick with the team work extra hard to prove last year was an anomaly, and push the team forward while encouraging young players that this is the attitude needed at the NHL level.
        Players that continue to funk and refuse to waive their no-trade clause see their ice-time greatly depreciated and are used as an example that a contract is not an excuse to stop pushing and no one is defaulted their position.

        I genuinely believe that this team has not had enough internal competition, both through lack of prospects and through a low tolerance for giving young players a chance.

        I do not believe this current team can win the Stanley Cup. However, I think that with proper leadership this team can be fundamental to the franchise’s future. There are some very hard-working and intelligent members of this team and getting them to buy in and lead this transitionary phase would be massive. Shaking out a few players who reveal their heart is not fully with the franchise is only a positive in my mind.

        VA:F [1.9.16_1159]
        Rating: +4 (from 4 votes)
        • Chris the Curmudgeon
          June 3, 2014

          Interesting take, and I do generally agree. I will say that I think most of the core is made up by good character guys who will work hard no matter what, and honestly I don’t feel that a lack of effort has been to blame for the decline in the team’s fortunes.

          I also think that unfortunately there are a few players the team pretty much needs to improve and who can’t be shuffled to the sidelines. The Sedin twins have to be factors over the next couple of years, for example. Alex Edler is untradeable and makes way too much money for the team to just eat. Same with Burrows. Kesler might grouse at a rebuild, but he’s also a trade candidate anyways, plus he’s such a fierce competitor regardless of whether or not he stays.

          I think internal competition is a good thing and has been a little lacking, but there are limitations to counting on it to make any tangible difference, as I see it. One is that when you have a team of veterans, there is often very little room for improvement in them. Chris Higgins is who he is, he’s a hard worker with some skill who belongs in the 6-8th forward spot on a team. No number of young players pushing him will make him much better. Lazy veterans who are on the bubble anyways might be threatened by a youth infusion, but the Canucks core has a lot of middle of the roster veterans who are hard-working but whose deficiencies are in skill. Booth, Hansen, Higgins, Richardson, etc, none of those guys is lacking in effort. Internal competition isn’t going to knock off a Sedin or a Burrows (who are also plenty hard-working). Another issue with the concept of “earning your ice-time” is that even if some players are seen as showing less effort, their skill set means they’re not replaceable. It’s tempting to bench a star winger (Alexei Yashin seems like an archetype here) for not performing, but no number of high energy 4th liners can replace the offence he’ll pitch in, so the team gets worse by not just working around his effort problems.

          I think the best thing the team can do is to expand the lineup that actually gets ice back to 4 lines and 3 pairings, like it was before Torts. All of the best teams nowadays are actually trying to maximize value at every roster spot, and not just throwing away the 4th line for goons and guys who can’t actually compete. Where Tortorella ran the Sedins and Kesler into the ground last season, he could have used some of that ice time to try to develop guys like Jensen (earlier in the year), Kassian and Schroeder. Not to mention that the team’s depth in guys who could actually take regular shifts was a previous strength that was wasted last season. This year, I’d say try playing the twins 17 minutes a night, the second line (with or without Kesler) about the same, and then give 14 and 12 minutes or so to the 3rd and 4th lines respectively. If Kesler isn’t traded, figure the Sedins, Burrows, Kesler, Jensen and Higgins will probably get top 6 minutes. Matthias, Kassian and Booth could be a solid 3rd line and could definitely handle 14 a night, then why not give 12 minutes a night to Horvat on the 4th line? Better than trotting Sestito out there for 5 minutes a night (and pretty much making his linemates useless too). That way, you have a team that doesn’t looked bagged by February, you develop your depth, and you get players to buy in knowing that they’re actually helping the teams and doing more than just keeping the bench warm.

          VA:F [1.9.16_1159]
          Rating: +4 (from 4 votes)
    • Frank
      June 4, 2014

      I think that your suggestions are all very reasonable. I think that Linden has already stated for the record that they should be in a position to compete for a playoff spot and that ownership will want to see revenue from playoff dates.

      So as much as it would be nice to take a year or two to develop the young guns and make the push for a playoff later, I think that the reality is that there will be pressure from management, from the coaches, from the fans, from ownership and from the players themselves to get back to playing in May.

      If the players can rebound and play to their career averages, that might be enough to get them in as an eight seed.

      VA:F [1.9.16_1159]
      Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
  9. Max
    June 2, 2014

    Bryzgalov. With Tortorella gone the canucks need a go-to entertaining press-conference guy. Who could possibly be better?

    VA:F [1.9.16_1159]
    Rating: +9 (from 9 votes)
    • Lemming
      June 2, 2014

      I like you. I like you a lot. Brzy would be so very entertaining…

      As long as they don’t sign Dubnyk. Has everyone forgotten how long he was the starter in Edmonton, and how many times he’d give up awful goals? Please, please, not Dubnyk.

      VA:F [1.9.16_1159]
      Rating: 0 (from 2 votes)
  10. Matt
    June 2, 2014

    The Islanders signed Halak – they’re not in the market for a goalie.

    VA:F [1.9.16_1159]
    Rating: +2 (from 2 votes)
    • Daniel Wagner
      June 3, 2014

      Good point. I somehow missed that bit of news.

      VN:F [1.9.16_1159]
      Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
  11. iain
    June 3, 2014

    off topic for this post, but since there is no smoke about coaches, not even rumours this week, do we suppose that John Stevens is getting the gig right after the SCF?

    VA:F [1.9.16_1159]
    Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
    • Lemming
      June 3, 2014

      No rumours or news = definitely John Stevens.

      Airtight.

      VA:F [1.9.16_1159]
      Rating: +3 (from 3 votes)
  12. chuggo fizzins
    June 3, 2014

    What is going on with Climie? I thought he and lack were both considered goalies of the future. Is he hurt, or did he just not develop the way he was expected to?

    VA:F [1.9.16_1159]
    Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
    • Daniel Wagner
      June 3, 2014

      Climie has never been the goalie of the future for the Canucks, as he’s a 31-year-old AHL journeyman with the Chicago Wolves. You’re likely thinking of Joe Cannata, who had a decent year backing up Joacim Eriksson with the Comets last season. He posted a .907 save percentage (Eriksson’s was .911), which basically puts him right around average for AHL goaltenders, I believe. Notable goalies with save percentages around .907 in the AHL last season include Scott Clemmensen, Richard Bachman, and Joey MacDonald, all of whom have seen time in the NHL during their careers.

      He’s an RFA, so needs to be re-signed this off-season, and will compete for the number one job with Utica again next season. He’s fourth on the depth chart right now and will likely never be more than AHL depth, but he’s still just 24 and could get some time up with the Canucks if they face some significant injury troubles.

      VN:F [1.9.16_1159]
      Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
      • Chrìs
        June 3, 2014

        I think it’s time for joe to try a different franchise. We should sign a old man to play back up and be a good guy in the dressing room. Let markstrom and ericksson battle for time in the ahl and see if they can push each other to the next level. I don’t think joe cannata can do that.

        VA:F [1.9.16_1159]
        Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
  13. Andy
    June 3, 2014

    Given how Toronto has crapped all over him, am I the only one that sees James Reimer as the perfect goalie fill in? Faced league high amount of shots, Toronto’s probably selling low on him, and more incentive between him and Lack to prove their abilities.

    VA:F [1.9.16_1159]
    Rating: +2 (from 2 votes)
    • Daniel Wagner
      June 4, 2014

      I really like Reimer, but he’s an RFA, so the Canucks would ned to trade for him or give up draft picks to sign him. Not sure if the Canucks want to give up too many assets at this point.

      VN:F [1.9.16_1159]
      Rating: +2 (from 2 votes)
      • Andy
        June 6, 2014

        Considering how NYI just traded a 5th (that turns into a 4th if they resign him) for Dan Boyle’s exclusive rights, I’ve some hope that we’d offer a low-hanging draft pick for the chance to sign him.

        Heck, trade either Booth or Garrison away and see if we can pry away some young talent like Kadri or Gardiner in the meantime.

        VA:F [1.9.16_1159]
        Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
  14. BBoone
    June 9, 2014

    The Canucks could do worse than the Enterprise command group . James T as head coach
    Spock ” up in the booth ” on analytics and x o stuff , Scottie with Jim squeezing the bench for every last ounce of effort and of course Bones successfully tricordering both Kesler and Booth to zero man games lost to injury.
    Beam them all up if you ask me.

    VA:F [1.9.16_1159]
    Rating: -1 (from 1 vote)