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Duff: Goalie picture may be different next year

by Brian Duff
Forgive me for being on the goaltending tangent once again, but on the heels asking who was the best last week – and being no closer to answer -- I thought it might be time to look ahead and see how the goaltending landscape may change between the end of 2009-10 and the start of 2010-11.

The summer of 2009 saw four teams opt to use free agency as the route to get themselves a new No. 1 goalie. Edmonton committed to 36-year-old Nikolai Khabibulin for four years and $15 million. The Islanders turned to former Oiler Dwayne Roloson, 39 at the time, on a two-year, $5 million deal, knowing full well that Rick DiPietro was a ways away from returning. As an added insurance policy, they added 32-year-old Martin Biron. Colorado went younger and cheaper in Craig Anderson, 28, for $3.6 million over two years. And Philadelphia went the one-year way with Ray Emery, who at 26 was pushing to re-establish himself in the NHL after a season in Russia.

Depending upon how the injury issues play out for Emery and Khabibulin, Philadelphia and Edmonton could well be looking for help in the crease again come this July. But who might they be bidding against, and how deep will the talent pool be?

Washington is poised for a long run this spring, but if it doesn't play out as they hope, and with Jose Theodore's deal coming off the books, the Caps could be a buyer.

Ironically the best teams in the West are in a similar spot. San Jose desperately needs a long playoff run, and they'd love to renew their commitment to Evgeni Nabokov after some playoff success. But if that doesn't happen, Nabokov can become an unrestricted free agent July 1.  

Chicago remains contractually obligated to Cristobal Huet for two more seasons, but an early ouster could force a change in the Windy City.

Ottawa  would be disappointed if neither Brian Elliottnor Pascal Leclaire stand up come April and May, but both are under contract for another season which could limit Bryan Murray's desire for change.

At this point, Atlanta has no one locked up for 2010-11. Kari Lehtonen was dealt away, Ondrej Pavelec is a restricted free agent, and Johan Hedberg, the best of the bunch this season, could hit the open market at age 37, although there seems to be a sense of loyalty on both sides where “The Moose” is concerned.

Is Mike Smith the man to lead the Lightning? With one year remaining on his contract at $2.4 million, but unable to escape injuries and inconsistency; he could be the target of a buyout if the club wants to make a bigger splash at this position.

Chris Mason's contract expires at the end of June in St. Louis, while Ty Conklin has one year to go. It's looking like no playoffs for a fourth year in five, and while goaltending hasn't been the biggest problem, it may be an area the Blues opt to make over.

Dallas already made a deal to get Lehtonen, but the potential restricted free agent still needs to be signed. It's hard to imagine the Stars going in a different direction after the push to get him in February.

So, who might be available should these teams, or any others be interested?

The unrestricted class could include the aforementioned Nabokov, Theodore, Mason, Hedberg, and Emery (health permitting), along with Marty Turco, Vesa Toskala, Dan Ellis,   Antero Niittymaki and the surprising Michael Leighton

The restricted class beyond Lehtonen, not surprisingly, appears to be far more interesting.

Carey Price and Jaroslav Halak can't continue as a tandem in Montreal, can they?

Antti Niemi in Chicago? A big part of the future, or a moveable asset?

Josh Harding in Minnesota; 26 in June, he needs to spread his wings somewhere else.

And what of this “Monster” character in Toronto? Have the Leafs seen enough to invest in a longer-term deal? Or does someone else believe Jonas Gustavsson to be worthy of an offer sheet?

Suffice it to say, a lot of these decisions have not yet been made.
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