Last July, the Rangers reversed course with their backup goalie plan when they signed Ondrej Pavelec to a one-year deal. Typically, Benoit Allaire has taken youngish goaltenders with upside remaining and helped them reach their potential. That upside has brought serious production to the backup goaltender position. With Pavelec, he was banking a guy who had NHL success being able to resurrect his career. A little bit of a different plan.
The results were mixed. Overall, Pavelec was fine and had some downright fantastic games in blue. However, injuries and long stretches where Alain Vigneault was not willing to play Pavelec somewhat derailed the original intention. Late in the season, a youngster named Alexandar Georgiev had a short cameo, indicating he was ready to get a longer look in the NHL.
Now, the Rangers’ intentions for this coming season have been made verbally clear; they intend to put a competitive team on the ice. Of course, the final roster after a (presumably) busy offseason will dictate whether or not that is actually true. However, when looking at what the organization could or should be looking to do has to be viewed through the lens of a quick turnaround on the re-build. There are a lot of variables regarding more central issues that we won’t be able to properly evaluate until at least the Draft, but the question I want to look at today; should the Rangers sign a UFA backup?
Henrik Lundqvist will start the 2018-2019 season at 36 years-old. By the time it ends, he will be 37. After a significant workload this past season, it is imperative that he be given absolutely no more than 60 starts next year. The theory behind a UFA signing would be allowing Georgiev to stay in the AHL and get the lion’s share of the playing time at that level to continue his development, while creating a layer of depth in case of injury or ineffectiveness. That’s all well and good, but the NHL backup still needs to produce. Let’s take a look at some upcoming UFA’s to see if there could be a new pet project for Benoit Allaire…
There are 21 goaltenders slated to become UFA’s this July. There are several we can weed out immediately: Scott Wedgewood (little to no upside, no track record at NHL level), Mike McKenna (career AHL’er), Jeff Glass (nice story, but no track record), Cam Ward (just no at this point), Christopher Gibson (no track record), Maxime Legace (no track record), Harri Sateri (no track record) and Antti Niemi (god no). While Allaire is a magician, he still needs reasonable upside to work with. Even though some of the younger guys have some upside, it would be a very quick turnaround to try to make them capable backups for 25-30 games.
So, that’s 8 out of 21 off the board. That leaves 13 available options. Let’s break them into tiers:
The Pipe Dream: Carter Hutton
While Hutton is 32 and shouldn’t command a huge contract in terms of money or years, he has played so well for the Blues the past two seasons he is definitely going to want more playing time. Unless his market really craters, there is no realistic scenario in which he ends up on Broadway.
The Upside Plays: Michael Hutchinson, Laurent Broissoit, and Eddie Lack
These guys all offer a mix of youth and upside. They all have a track record of (at least reasonable) success at the NHL level. I could envision all three being 25 GP, 2.50 GAA and .920 sv% guys with the right adjustments. Eddie Lack may be permanently broken, but if anyone can fix him, it’s Allaire. Think of this crew as somewhere in the middle of Raanta and Pavelec for a starting point.
The Veteran Backups: Andrew Hammond, Jonathan Bernier, Reto Berra, Anton Khudobin, Chad Johnson, Ondrej Pavelec.
These guys are going to be safest bets, both in cost and results. You more or less know what kind of production would get in them, with hopefully a little Allaire uptick. Nothing sexy here, just reliable small sample play. I think Bernier and Khudobin are your best bets out of this crew.
The Displaced Starters: Kari Lehtonen, Jaroslav Halak
Both of these guys turned in comparable production last year in the last years of big contracts. Both are in their thirties and we have no idea what their expectations for either role, cap hit or term looks like. They might both be happy to only be on their feet for 25 games on a one-year deal. They could also be looking to continue in a least a platoon role, who knows?
Either way, there is something for Allaire to work with here, but I don’t know if the risk is worth the reward.
As you can see, there isn’t many great UFA goaltending options this offseason. Personally, I fully understand the benefit of depth, but Georgiev is signed dirt cheap for two more years. You might as well take advantage of that nice cap hit before bringing in a guy at $1m+ not knowing if that investment will pay off the way your in-house option would at under $800k. Now, we aren’t talking huge numbers here, but I think I would be more confident giving 30 games to Georgiev next season than any of the guys on this list, save for Hutton.
The one thing I haven’t mentioned yet would be to try to get one of the guys with no track record listed above on a deal to play in the AHL. I think that would be my preferred route, and let Georgiev handle backup duties.
What do you guys think? Is Georgiev and Halverson enough depth? Should the Rangers bring in another depth guy? An NHL backup? Take a quick minute to vote. Have a great weekend!