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Buyer's market for free-agent goaltenders

by Adam Schwartz / Vancouver Canucks
In recent years, NHL general managers have enjoyed a buyer's market when it comes to shopping for goaltending. That figures to be the case again this summer

With more talent than ever in nets around the League and a smaller number of teams looking for help, free-agent goaltenders have found fewer options -- and GMs looking for help have found themselves with more options.

This year's class of unrestricted free-agent goaltenders is deep. Seven of the top 10 have been starters at one point in their careers, including five who were their team's go-to guy for at least part of 2008-09.

Here are 10 of the best unrestricted free-agent goalies (listed alphabetically) who are set to become available when the free-agent market opens July 1:

Craig Anderson -- Anderson unexpectedly pushed incumbent starter Tomas Vokoun for the No. 1 job in Florida this past season. Vokoun eventually won the job back down the stretch, but Anderson proved that he is ready to take the next step. He earned the Panthers at least a point in 20 of 31 games this past season, winning 15 times, and had the third-best save percentage in the League at .924.

Though Anderson played just 31 games, it couldn't be said that he wasn't tested -- he faced 40 shots in nine of them.

Martin Biron -- Biron was Philadelphia's man between the pipes last season, but he faltered a bit in the playoffs and was outplayed by eventual Cup-champion Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury in the Flyers' first-round playoff loss. With the signing of Ray Emery, who spent last season playing in Russia, Biron likely will be looking for a new place to play if he hopes to remain a starter.

Although Biron didn't play as well this spring as he did in 2008 -- when he led the Flyers to the Eastern Conference Finals -- he has the skills to be a solid starter for a winning team.

Scott Clemmensen -- When future Hall of Famer Martin Brodeur was sidelined for the majority of the season with a torn biceps tendon in his left arm, many believed the New Jersey Devils would be lucky to make the playoffs. Instead, Clemmensen came to the rescue. The long-time NHL backup, who appeared to be doomed to spending the season in the minors, outplayed Kevin Weekes to earn the starting job and led the Devils to an Atlantic Division title by going 25-13-1 with an impressive .917 save percentage in 40 games -- before being sent back to the minors when Brodeur returned. He's likely to look for a place where he can play more than once a month.

Ty Conklin -- Conklin has become "Mr. Winter Classic," appearing in the Jan. 1 game in each of the last two seasons. Novelties aside, Conklin split time with Chris Osgood in the Detroit goal this season and had the best season of his career -- playing 40 games and posting 25 wins.

But with Osgood still clearly No. 1 in Detroit after starting every playoff game, Conklin could crave a larger role and explore the free-agent market -- and the Red Wings may opt to go with prospect Jimmy Howard as Osgood's backup. 

Manny Fernandez -- There is no shame in losing a battle for the starting job to a Vezina Trophy finalist, and that's exactly what happened to Fernandez in Boston, where Tim Thomas passed Fernandez to become the No. 1 goaltender -- earning a four-year contract extension in the process. With up-and-coming goalie prospect Tuukka Rask likely to serve as Thomas' backup next season, Fernandez, 34, figures to land somewhere else this summer. After playing just four games in 2007-08 because of a knee injury, Fernandez bounced back this past season with a 16-8-3 record and a 2.59 goals-against average, and he and Thomas shared the William Jennings Trophy.

Martin Gerber -- When Ray Emery signed in Russia last summer, the Ottawa Senators handed Gerber the starting role, with Alex Auld as his backup. But Gerber struggled mightily out of the gate and went 4-9-1 in 14 games, costing him the starting job. He eventually was placed on waivers and claimed by the Maple Leafs in March.

Gerber, who has won 30 games twice in his career and helped the Hurricanes to a Southeast Division championship in 2006, fared marginally better in Toronto, where he was 6-5.

Nikolai Khabibulin -- No free-agent goaltender has more on his resume than Khabibulin, topped by a Stanley Cup with Tampa Bay in 2004. He's has had an up-and-down career since then, but this past season was decidedly an "up" -- he led the Chicago Blackhawks to their first playoff berth since 2002 and got them to the conference finals for the first time since 1995. That came after be rebounded from three inconsistent seasons in Chicago, survived being placed on waivers at the start of the season (luckily for the Hawks, no one claimed him) and outplayed Cristobal Huet, last summer's big free-agent signing for the Hawks. But with a long-term investment in Huet, Chicago might opt to let the 36-year-old Khabibulin look elsewhere.

Manny Legace -- Legace began this past season as the starter in St. Louis, but lost the job to Chris Mason, who got red-hot down the stretch and led St. Louis into the playoffs for the first time since 2004. While the Blues surged, Legace passed through waivers and spent the last third of the season with Peoria in the AHL. That's a big drop-off for a goalie who played in the All-Star Game as recently as 2008. Prior to signing with the Blues, Legace played the best hockey of his career with the Red Wings, going 37-8-3 with a .915 save percentage and a 2.15 GAA in 2005-06. At 36, Legace is on the downside of his career, but he could turn into a bargain for a team that needs a reliable backup who could be a starter if needed.

Andrew Raycroft -- He's not the same player who won the Calder Trophy as the League's best rookie with the Boston Bruins in 2004 (29-18-9, 2.05 GAA, .926 save percentage), but Raycroft still has the talent to be a solid NHL goaltender. Playing behind better defenses might help -- after being traded from the Bruins to the Maple Leafs in June 2006, Raycroft went 37-25-9 in 2006-07, but was supplanted by Vesa Toskala the following season. He was dealt to Colorado last summer and split time with Peter Budaj on a team that finished last in the Western Conference. Raycroft hasn't had a save percentage above .900 since his rookie season.    
Dwayne Roloson -- Talk about an oldie but goodie -- at 39, Roloson played every game for the Edmonton Oilers down the stretch until the team was eliminated from playoff competition. Roloson didn't play his first NHL game until he was 27, so he doesn't have as much wear and tear on his body as his age might indicate. He played 63 games for the Oilers this past season, going 28-24-9 with at 2.77 GAA and .915 save percentage, showing he's far from finished. Roloson led the Oilers to the Stanley Cup Final in 2006 and has played in 63 or more games in two of the past three seasons.
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