Aside from a new coach, Brad Treliving’s biggest acquisition this offseason will be finding the team a goaltender. Not only does the organization have no established NHL netminders signed for next year, Calgary also suffered from some of the worst goaltending in the league this past season. It’s fair to say that lacklustre puck stopping was a primary factor in the club’s disappointing.
The good news is goaltenders are relatively plentiful. Every year a handful of decent goalies is available via trade or free agency because the demand for them is relatively low.
The bad news is the Flames have a few obstacles to overcome: firstly, their cap situation is restrictive given pending raises to Mark Giordano, Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau. Secondly, they have to be cognizant of the development of Jon Gillies, who is still considered a high-level goaltending prospect despite losing his first pro year to injury. Grabbing an aging and relatively expensive incumbent might make things difficult down the road if Gillies proves to be NHL capable.
So what are the Flames’ options? To start, they could make a blockbuster trade.
The Big Trade
Treliving can eschew his cap and Gillies concerns and opt to make a big splash to solve his goaltending woes this summer. There should be more than one big name goalie available for trade and the Flames likely have the assets to make it happen.
Trade Pieces: sixth overall, multiple second rounders (35, 53, 55), Joe Colborne, Rasmus Andersson, Brandon Hickey, Andrew Mangiapane, Oliver Kylington, Mark Jankowski, Emile Poirier.
Big Trade Options: Pittsburgh (MA Fleury, Matt Murray), Tampa Bay Lightning (Ben Bishop, Andrei Vasilevskiy).
Both the Penguins and the Lightning have difficult decisions to make in net. Not only do they have capable youngsters pushing their incumbents (Matt Murray and Andrei Vasilevskiy), but they risk losing a goalie in the upcoming expansion draft.
As such, both organizations may be highly motivated to move a puckstopper this offseason. In both cases, the older guy is likely to be the one on the trade block (although a sufficiently high offer may be able to pry the younger, cheaper option out of their hands).
The Pittsburgh Penguins
Once upon a time MA Fleury was a pretty mediocre starter, but he has established himself as an excellent goalie over the last five years or so for the Pens. There are concerns though: the former first overall pick is now 31 years old and his cap hit of $5.75M stretches until 2019 (three more seasons).
Matt Murray is much younger and less tested. He was an unimpressive prospect during his draft year but has been lights out since turning pro – finishing as one of the best goalies in the AHL for two years running before usurping Fleury during the Pens’ current playoff run.
Murray is more of a gamble, but he’s also 10 years younger and an order of magnitude cheaper than Fleury ($575k). As a result, it would take a lot more to pry the youngster out of the Pens’ hands now.
The Tampa Bay Lightning
Towering Ben Bishop is one of the reasons the Lightning have become contenders in the East. Since being acquired from the Senators in 2013, Bishop has consistently put together above average seasons as Tampa’s starter. In fact, he was named a finalist for the Vezina trophy this season.
Bishop is a couple of years younger than Fleury, but he’s also marginally more expensive at $5.95M. That price tag is actually set to go up after next year because Bishop will be a pending free agent. If he puts together another Vezina-caliber season, expect Bishop to be asking for north of $7M. His upcoming payday is another reason the cap-strapped Lightning might be looking to move on.
Andrei Vasilevskiy is a former first round pick who was tabbed as Tampa’s goalie of the future when he was chosen in 2012. He had above average numbers in the KHL as a teenager and has spent the last couple of years capably backing up Bishop.
Like Murray, Vasilevskiy is younger and cheaper but less tested. All signs point to him having a future as a quality NHL starter, but he remains a bigger question mark than Bishop.
Who To Pick?
Assuming for now that Pittsburgh and Tampa will only shop their incumbents, here is how Fleury and Bishop compare:
Two very similar players in terms of results the last three years. Bishop is closer to his prime age and isn’t signed long term, which gives him an edge in terms of being slightly less risky. Fleury has been excellent but his deal stretching to age 34 is cause for concern. If he falls back to average or worse, he will be basically untradable at nearly $6M per year.
On the other hand, the Flames risk trading a lot for Bishop only to have to either flip him at the deadline or see him walk away in free agency after a single season.
What Will It Cost?
Fleury being older and having lost the starting role to Murray recently might make him the cheaper option to acquire. In that scenario, it’s possible the Flames could package some second round picks and prospects to get the deal done (two 2nds + 4th + Rasmus Andersson?).
Bishop, as a 28-year-old Vezina candidate, may cost more. The last comparable trade was Cory Schneider in in 2013 for the Devils’ ninth overall pick. The Flames, at sixth overall, have a similar caliber of trade asset. Would it be enough to get Bishop? Is it too much of a gamble from a Flames perspective?
One or both of MA Fleury and Ben Bishop may be put on the auction block this summer. They both have long histories of being excellent goalies and could likely solve the Flames’ starting problems in one fell swoop. Nevertheless, there are concerns and risks associated with both guys and the price to acquire either may be prohibitively high.