Photo: David Zalubowski / AP
This was an off season where goalie movement was truly a carousel, with many goalies switching teams through either the expansion draft, free agency, or trades. In fact, several teams replaced their entire goaltending corps. And not just the very bad teams, as would generally be expected.
Over a third of the starters from last year’s rosters will not be starting the year with the same team they did last season. When injuries and retirement are considered, this number grows to nearly one half. This is an off season where you need a scorecard or a supersized Excel spreadsheet to keep track of where the goalies have gone.
Nobody is overly surprised when consistent bottom feeders, like the Arizona Coyotes and the Buffalo Sabres, plan to use a wholly new tandem in goal this season. However, it’s a much bigger surprise when many of the strongest contenders from last season have a new number one goalie or even a whole new goalie tandem.
Here are the most notable changes in goaltending that took place during the 2021 off season.
Unleash the Kraken – In Goal and You Say Good-Bye and I Say Hello Again
When the Kraken was unleashed on July 21, as in unleashed to choose players in the Expansion Draft, one of their first orders of business was to choose goaltenders, with an eye on choosing a number one goalie, a good backup, and a waiver-exempt goalie prospect who could be shuffled between the Kraken and their AHL farm team, as needed.
With those objectives in mind, they chose Chris Driedger, Vitek Vanecek and Joey Daccord. Driedger was slated to be the Kraken’s number one goalie. Vanecek was slated to be his backup, while Daccord was the waiver-exempt goalie prospect.
Driedger had performed well with the Florida Panthers during 2020-21, in a platoon situation with Sergei Bobrovsky, and had a much better season than Bobrovsky. However, because Driedger was an impending free agent and since Bobrovsky had a long term deal, complete with a no movement clause, Driedger was not protected and thus, the Kraken chose him and signed him to a new contract within their exclusive negotiating window.
But their plans in goaltending changed – rapidly.
The Kraken signed Philipp Grubauer, the number one goalie for the Presidents Trophy winning Colorado Avalanche, as a free agent, since the Avalanche could no longer afford to keep him. So, now the Kraken no longer needed Vanecek, so they sent him back to the Washington Capitals in exchange for a draft pick the Capitals had acquired earlier.
Vanecek was not even on the Kraken roster long enough to have planned the move of his belongings to Seattle. He had time to write his farewell messages to the Capitals and their fans, but was soon saying “Hail” to everyone again. With the return of Vanecek, the Caps’ goaltending tandem is the same as it was last year. Meanwhile, Seattle now had a different and more mature product of the Washington Capitals goalie factory after signing Grubauer and returning Vanecek.
Photo: Getty Images
Avalanche of Moves
As everybody knows, the Colorado Avalanche won the Presidents Trophy for 2020-21. Nobody was too surprised that they re-signed team captain Gabriel Landeskog to a new contract. However, since they signed Landeskog to a long and expensive contract extension, they could no longer afford their Number one goalie, Philipp Grubauer, who was also an Unrestricted Free Agent.
To fill that vacancy, the Avalanche ultimately traded for Darcy Kuemper, formerly of the Arizona Coyotes. For backup goaltending options, they have Pavel Francouz, who was injured most of last season, and Jonas Johansson, who they had acquired at the trade deadline.
Photo: David Zalubowski / AP
What Happened In Vegas Didn’t Stay in Vegas
The Las Vegas Knights decided they no longer wanted Marc-Andre Fleury in their crease, so they traded him to the Chicago Blackhawks for basically nothing. Fleury found out about the news via Twitter. This was certainly an unexpected development, given that he had won the Vezina Trophy for 2020-21. But then again, there had already been rumors prior to the 2020-21 season that the Golden Knights wanted to move on from Fleury and have Robin Lehner be their number one goalie.
Photo: Getty Images via The Athletic
The Knights also obtained a new backup goalie by signing Laurent Brossoit, who had spent the last three season with the Winnipeg Jets, as a free agent.
Trading Places Among Carolina, Toronto, and Detroit
Frederik Andersen had been the Toronto Maple Leafs’ number one goalie for many years. But finding a capable backup for him was an elusive pursuit for the Leafs. Anderson himself was less effective during the 2019-20 season and was even worse in 2020-21. Due to injury and ineffectiveness, he was ultimately displaced as the Leafs’ number one goalie by Jack Campbell, whom the Leafs acquired before the 2020 trade deadline. Andersen was allowed to leave the team in free agency. They had acquired a backup, David Rittich, at the 2021 trade deadline. However, Rittich himself became a free agent, too. So the Leafs were in need of a backup for Campbell.
Photo: Sports Illustrated
Meanwhile, in Raleigh, the Carolina Hurricanes began the 2020-21 season with Petr Mrazek and James Reimer as their goalie tandem. The only problem, neither could stay healthy. Thus, prospect Alex Nedeljkovic, who they earlier waived and went unclaimed, got the opportunity in goal and earned the number one job. The Canes, fearing they would have to pay Nedeljkovic, a restricted free agent, traded him to the Detroit Red Wings, acquiring Jonathan Bernier, another impending free agent goaltender, and a draft pick. Mrazek and Reimer themselves both left the Hurricanes in free agency.
Now the Canes needed another goalie, since their other options were scattered to the winds in free agency (Reimer with the San Jose Sharks and Bernier with the New Jersey Devils). Therefore, they signed Antti Raanta, who had been with the Arizona Coyotes the past few seasons and was plagued with injuries during his tenure there.
Sharknado in San Jose
After goaltender Martin Jones had three consecutive seasons of posting sub .900 Save Percentages, the San JoSe Sharks decided to buy-out the last three seasons of his contract. They acquired Adin Hill from the Arizona Coyotes and signed James Reimer in free agency to be his backup. Reimer had been the backup to Jones when the Sharks had made their run to the Stanley Cup Finals back in 2016. Meanwhile, Jones signed a contract with the Philadelphia Flyers, a destination that is generally a graveyard for goalies, where he is expected to be the backup for Carter Hart.
Stockpiling Stars in Dallas
After the Vancouver Canucks bought-out the last year of Braden Holtby’s contract, Holtby went to Dallas and will presumably back up Anton Khudobin. The report is that Bishop is still too injured to play. That would be the ultimate irony. A former workhorse like Holtby whose resume includes a Stanley Cup victory backing up a former career backup. The Stars even have one more goaltender in the mix, Jake Oettinger, who was a rookie last year and played almost as many games as Khudobin. If Bishop returns to health, the Stars will have more goalies than they know what to do with and teams needing goaltending help at the trading deadline, if not before, will contact the Stars.
Lots of Moving Bruins in Boston
With Tuukka Rask an unrestricted free agent for the Boston Bruins and not available to start the season due to surgery, the Bruins signed goaltender Linus Ullmark, formerly with the Buffalo Sabres. Is Ullmark hoping for a “worst to first” season, as the Sabres were the worst team of 2020-21 and the Bruins are a perennial contender with Stanley Cup aspirations? The Bruins also have a prospect, Jeremy Swayman, who has compiled Save Percentages in college hockey, AHL hockey, and NHL hockey that are far better than NHL norms. So will it be possible for Ullmark to make his own mark in the Bruins’ crease?
Photo: Getty Images
Jaroslav Halak, the Bruins’ backup for the last several years, joined the Vancouver Canucks as their backup to replace Braden Holtby. The Bruins shipped out their other main goaltending prospect, Dan Vladar, to Calgary.
There is the possibility that Boston could re-sign Rask after he recovers from his injuries.
Singing in Nashville About A Finished Finn and a New One Starting
After over 15 years, Pekka Rinne, the Predators long time goalie, announced his retirement from the NHL. He is now finished or, given the fact he’s from Finland, we could say Finnished. But never fear, the Predators are not finished with Finns. Juuse Saros, also from Finland, is now their Number one. They had already transitioned most of the workload to him and he played for the Predators in the 2021 playoffs rather than Rinne. There is one obvious difference between them. Rinne was extremely tall, as in 6’5”. While Saros is relatively small for modern goalies, standing only 5’11”. David Rittich, most recently the backup goalie in Toronto after being the number one goalie in Calgary, will backup Juuse.
The Sabres are Buffaloed Again
The Buffalo Sabres lost their number one goalie, as Linus Ullmark left in free agency for greener pastures in Boston. Their backup goalie, Connor Hutton, left in free agency and signed with the Arizona Coyotes. Their choices for goal are Craig Anderson, who is aging and was the number three used only out of desperation by the Washington Capitals last season, and goalies who have never been the number one anywhere. In assessing their goaltending situation, it appears that Shane Wright, the current top-ranked prospect for the 2022 NHL Entry Draft, will be calling Buffalo his new home beginning in 2022.
Speaking of Arizona, their goaltenders will be Hutton and a prospect from the Czech Republic named Josef Korenar, who was acquired when they traded Antti Raanta to the Sharks.
A Pearl of Great Price in Montreal
Recall how Carey Price had performed so well in the playoffs that he almost single handedly carried the Montreal Canadiens to the Stanley Cup Final after pulling upset after upset after upset. But then it developed that he needed knee surgery, which contributed to the Canadiens exposing him to the expansion draft and the Kraken not taking him. He is backed up by Jake Allen.
King is Not Dead But Gone
Henrik Lundqvist announced his retirement from hockey. He had missed the entire 2020-21 season due to needing heart surgery to repair a heart valve. He had worked hard to come back but, due to chest pains, it was inadvisable to continue playing.
By Diane Doyle