The NHL Trade Deadline passed without a lot of goaltending movement, but one move on March 1 is bound to have a significant effect on the annual offseason game of goalie musical chairs.
The Vegas Golden Knights can now start building their team, and though they won't be allowed to make agreements to claim or not claim a player in the NHL Expansion Draft until the season is over for the team they are negotiating with, there is little doubt what Vegas decides will impact the goalie market.
So, with the caveat the expansion draft is a complicated matrix, let's take a look at some of the top options.
Vegas must select one player from each of the 30 NHL teams to fill a roster of at least 14 forwards, nine defensemen and three goalies during the expansion draft, which takes place from June 18-20, with the selections revealed June 21. Each NHL team can protect one eligible goaltender and must expose one, which makes for some interesting decisions.
The most intriguing involves the Pittsburgh Penguins, who are obliged to protect Marc-Andre Fleury because of a no-movement clause in his contract, which would leave Stanley Cup-winning rookie Matt Murray exposed and an obvious pick. The Penguins have time and ways after their season ends to protect Murray, whether it's trading Fleury and getting a goalie back to expose (none of Pittsburgh's other goalies are eligible), or simply making a deal with Vegas not to pick Murray. Either way, no one expects the Penguins to expose their 22-year-old starter.
So, who does that leave?
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BACKUPS WITH NO. 1 UPSIDE
Washington Capitals backup Philipp Grubauer tops most lists in the NHL goaltending community. The 25-year-old has No. 1 upside with a .927 save percentage and three shutouts in 17 appearances behind Braden Holtby, and Golden Knights director of goaltending Dave Prior was the Capitals goaltending coach when Washington picked Grubauer in the fourth round (No. 112) in the 2010 NHL Draft.
Not far behind is Columbus Blue Jackets backup Joonas Korpisalo. In addition to a .919 save percentage in 38 NHL games, the 22-year-old has great size and reach at 6-foot-3, a fast-developing technical game, and elite-level patience on his skates. Korpisalo also does not require waivers to be sent to the American Hockey League next season, which could be an important factor, because Vegas can keep two goalies in the NHL, and there's not much point selecting one in the expansion draft if there is a risk of losing him on waivers.
New York Rangers goalie Antti Raanta also could be an option as a backup capable of carrying a starter's load for short stints. Raanta, 27, has a $1 million salary next season but can become an unrestricted free agent afterward.
VETERANS WITH STARTING EXPERIENCE
Though some might wonder about the need for a veteran, in addition to the value of experience as a No. 1, Vegas does need to select at least $43.8 million in salary in the expansion draft (60 percent of the $73 million NHL salary cap).
Other than the Penguins, the Detroit Red Wings may have the most interesting conundrum with Jimmy Howard, Petr Mrazek and Jared Coreau all eligible. Howard has two seasons left on a contract with a salary cap charge of $5.3 million according to CapFriendly.com, and was having a bounce-back season after making tactical adjustments, with a .934 save percentage in 17 games before a knee injury. Though most expect Mrazek to be protected, the Red Wings could trade Howard to Vegas and retain salary in exchange for protecting Mrazek and Coreau.
Florida Panthers veteran Roberto Luongo is another intriguing possibility. James Reimer, who was signed as a 1-B option behind Luongo last summer, would be among the favorites for selection but few expect he'll be exposed. That leaves Luongo, who is top-five in NHL wins, playing at a high level, and has a track record as a mentor for younger goalies but turns 38 before the season ends and is signed for five more seasons.
Other experienced options who may be available include two goalies drafted by Washington under Prior: Semyon Varlamov of the Colorado Avalanche and Michal Neuvirth of the Philadelphia Flyers.
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Why would the Flyers expose Neuvirth, who some thought might be targeted by Vegas as a free agent on July 1, after signing him to a reported two-year, $5 million contract on March 1?
Philadelphia's other option is to expose 6-foot-6 prospect Anthony Stolarz, who has added value because he doesn't require waivers until 2018-19. Even with a deep prospect pool behind him, most expect the Flyers to protect the 23-year-old.
Linus Ullmark of the Buffalo Sabres is similarly enticing as a 6-foot-4 prospect who doesn't need waivers until 2018-19.
Boston Bruins prospect Malcolm Subban also has a skill set that fits Prior's past preferences, but he has to clear waivers next season. So do Anton Forsberg of the Blue Jackets and Garrett Sparks of the Toronto Maple Leafs, who are each top-five in the AHL in save percentage this season.
Of course, a lot can change. Vegas could wait for free agency to fill spots on their goaltending depth chart, and the Capitals or Blue Jackets may expose a forward or defenseman with more value to the Golden Knights than Grubauer or Korpisalo. But one thing is clear: With the addition of the expansion draft, there will be more than enough goaltender movement this offseason to make up for the lack of it at the trade deadline.