Goaltending is voodoo. It’s often hard to peg which goalies are the real deal without an established track record, which makes the offseason free agent and trade market fascinating. Every team wants good goaltending as its a huge key to success and hope new acquisitions can bring stability between the pipes. Last offseason many teams made goalie changes in an attempt to improve their squad to mixed results. Some goalies have played above expectations, some have offered mild returns and some haven’t worked out.
Played above expectations:
Thomas Greiss – New York Islanders
Greiss was signed to a two-year, $3 million contract last offseason. The German netminder posted great numbers in 45 games as a backup with Phoenix and Pittsburgh with the eighth-ranked .931 even strength save percentage > 1000 minutes from 2013-15 – a small sample size but worthy of a flier at such a cheap price. Greiss upped his stellar play with a 19-10-4 record, a 2.29 goals against average and a .938 even strength save percentage, helping the Islanders stay in playoff contention, despite three recent losses.
He was playing better than now-injured Jaroslav Halak and gets to prove he’s a starting goaltender himself. New York should feel comfortable with him filling in until Halak is healthy.
Michal Neuvirth – Philadelphia Flyers
Michal Neuvirth had been a revelation for the Flyers until going down with a season-ending lower-body injury. He rejuvenated his NHL career after signing a two-year, $3.3 million deal with Philadelphia after a so-so season split between the Buffalo and New York in 2014-15. Neuvirth was tied for the Flyers lead with 17 wins in 31 games, posting a 2.28 goals against average, and a .931 even strength save percentage. The 27-year-old was a perfect backup goalie, pushing Steve Mason and giving Philadelphia a chance every night he started. His injury should have an impact on the Flyers, who sit just outside a playoff spot.
Martin Jones – San Jose Sharks
In desperate need of fresh blood, the Sharks paid a big price for Jones, sending a first-round pick and prospect Sean Kuraly to the Los Angeles Kings for the netminder – promptly signing him to a three-year, $9 million deal. General manager Doug Wilson was banking Jones outstanding numbers in a small 34 career game sample size being indicative of his ability as a starting goalie. So far, that gamble is correct, but Jones hasn’t been incredible. Jones leads the league with 59 appearances, tied for third in NHL with 35 wins with a 2.26 goals against average and a .925 even strength save percentage, which places him 25th among the 45 qualifiers. Jones has been one of the least tested goalies in the league, facing the fourth-lowest 26.24 shots against per sixty minutes, as the Sharks have given up the fifth-lowest 23.6 scoring chances against per sixty. Jones was overworked, so acquiring James Reimer certainly helps that issue. Jones has gotten better as the season went on and has put the Sharks in great position, even if he’s just been solid.
Robin Lehner – Buffalo Sabres
The Buffalo Sabres got decent goaltending in last year’s tire fire of a season. Still, general manager Tim Murray knew he needed to upgrade the position and add stability for the future, and did so when acquiring Robin Lehner from the Ottawa Senators for a first-round pick. Buffalo had to wait to see Lehner in action, as he suffered a lower-body injury in the opener of the season which shelved him for almost three months. Since returning Lehner has shown glimpses of being the solution long-term for the Sabres, posting a 5-9-3 record, with a 2.47 goals against average and a .927 even strength save percentage. The six-foot-five Swede has the perfect build for a goalie and is still only 24-years-old. Buffalo is out of contention for the playoffs, but the club can see what they got in Lehner as the season plays out – the early results are promising.
Cam Talbot – Edmonton Oilers
Talbot was a small sample size All-Star and one of the most coveted goalies available when the Oilers acquired him from the New York Rangers on draft day for three draft picks. Talbot got off to a horrific start with the club, posting a .888 even strength save percentage in his first 13 games, losing his starting job to Anders Nilsson. The trade looked to be a bust, but Talbot has come on strong in the last few months. In his last 37 starts, he’s posted a .929 even strength save percentage, despite facing 30.67 shots against per sixty in that span. On the season, Talbot is 19-24-4 with a 2.50 goals against average and a .922 even strength save percentage. Those numbers aren’t exceptional, but Talbot gets full marks for playing behind the atrocious Oilers d-corps, and turning around his season. The Oilers see a future with him, signing him to a three-year, $12.5 million deal. Talbot’s at least shown he deserves another season as the starting goalie with a competent team in front of him.
It hasn’t worked out:
Eddie Lack – Carolina Hurricanes
When the Hurricanes acquired Lack for the small price of a third round and seventh round pick from the Vancouver Canucks, I wrote the team “scored one of the best deals of the offseason” – which turned out to be 100% wrong. Lack has been flat out bad for the Hurricanes, as the team would likely be better positioned in the playoff race without Lack and Cam Ward’s less than stellar play. Lack is 11-12-5 on the season, a 2.68 goals against average and a .912 even strength save percentage, which is 40th out of the 45 qualified goalies > 1000 minutes. Lack has played better January onwards with a .919 even strength save percentage, but that’s still poor. His play may ultimately cost the Hurricanes a playoff spot.
Antti Niemi – Dallas Stars
The Dallas Stars are one of the best teams in the NHL with a Western Conference-leading 95 points, a feat they’ve accomplished with horrendous goaltending – ranking 29th in the NHL with a .915 even strength save percentage. You could see what the Stars were trying to accomplish when they signed Niemi to a three-year, $13.5 million deal to be co-starting goalie with Kari Lethonen. Both had tangible starting experience, and the thought process was, at least one of them would have to break through for the club. That hasn’t happened.
Niemi, while much better than Lehtonen, hasn’t been great, with a 21-12-5 record, a 2.76 goals against average and a .925 even strength save percentage. It doesn’t help the Stars defense is a work in progress, but if the team got anything resembling above average goaltending, they’d be right up there with the Washington Capitals for best record in the NHL, instead, their mediocre goaltending is holding them back – even if they’re one of the league’s best teams. The Stars are stuck with Niemi for two more years, which is the biggest reason the deal is awful.