Frederik Andersen ain’t what he used to be, and he’s going to be a free agent this off-season. The Leafs will be against the cap and also have to work on re-signing Zach Hyman, and also have Morgan Rielly as a UFA the following year. They’re going to have to replace a bunch of their one-year free agents like Spezza, Thornton, and Simmonds even if one or more of them do re-sign.
Suffice it to say, the Leafs are in a dill of a pickle when it comes to what to do about their goaltending next year. Ideally, they want a goalie who will be able to keep them competitive as a potential Stanley Cup contender, without being that expensive so they can also keep guys like Hyman. Jack Campbell is nice (literally and figuratively), but he’s not exactly tested as a number one with a heavy workload. Ideally, they would get a guy who is better than Campbell, young, and making a bit less than what Freddie is now.
If they can find a young goalie who’s good but blocked by other contracts or goalies, like Grubauer or Raanta or Talbot in years past, that would be ideal. So let’s see if we can find anyone like that.
Nedeljkovic is 25 years old, a smaller goalie at 6’0”, and is having a bit of a coming out party this year for the Hurricanes with a .926 sv% in 10 games. He’s been filling in for Petr Mrazek since he’s been hurt, splitting time with James Reimer and outperforming him. The fact that he’s young, relatively inexperienced but starting to show he can maybe stick it as a goalie in the NHL means he would be relatively cheap but also a bit risky.
The biggest problem? Carolina has both of their main goalies (Mrazek and Reimer) coming off the books as UFAs this year. The fact that Nedeljkovic would be young, and RFA and cheapish makes it less likely that the Hurricanes give him up.
Jake Oettinger is potentially a better option, for a few reasons. He has the size people seem to love in goalies (6’5”), he’s even younger at 22 years old, he has even better numbers in the AHL for his career so far (albeit in 3 fewer seasons), and he is absolutely blocked in Dallas by Ben Bishop and Anton Khudobin who are both under contract under after 2022/23.
He’s getting time in the NHL while Bishop recovers from injury, and has a .913 sv% in 15 games. His age and performance so far may make it costly to acquire Oettinger, and in fact the Stars may prefer to try and trade either Bishop or Khudobin instead to keep him around. But if I were the Leafs I would absolutely be calling them about Oettinger.
Perhaps the easiest younger goalie who has a more recent track record of success in the NHL is Florida’s Chris Driedger. He’s 26, 6’4”, he was originally drafted by the Ottawa Senators, but he’s been rocking a .927 sv% in 27 NHL games the past two years. What can make him easier to acquire is that he’s a UFA after this year.
Florida has Bobrovsky’s massive contract, they also have three youngish and goodish goalies outside of Driedger, and they have phenom Spencer Knight not far away from finishing his NCAA career. His UFA status means the Leafs just have to pay money to acquire him, which will make him more expensive in terms of cap hit but less costly in terms of picks or prospects.
Cal Petersen is the elder statesmen of this group. He’s 6’1” and 26 years old, and has 35 games across three seasons under his belt with a .923 sv%. That’s the good part.
The bad part is that the LA Kings are a bit thin on goalie beyond him and the aging carcass of Jonathan Quick. They’re also already starting to get competitive again, and have some good young prospects in their AHL system who may start joining their NHL roster this year and next. They apparently are looking to off-load Quick if they can (lol good luck with that), and I’m sure they’d much rather keep Petersen around. Still, can’t hurt to ask!
Bonus Option: Linus Ullmark
Ullmark is 27 years old, 6’4”, and doesn’t quite fit the same mold as far as potentially blocked goalie. But he’s in a similar situation as Driedger as a pending UFA, and has by far the most experience of anyone else on this list — 109 games across 6 seasons for Buffalo, with a .912 career sv% that has risen thanks to a .915 last year and a .919 this year... on the SABRES. He will likely be the most expensive as far as cap hit goes, since he already made $2.6 million this year. But if he can be had for under $4 million? Him and Campbell may make a good 1A/1B duo that’s relatively inexpensive.
ONTO THE LINKS
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