With Ryan Miller’s departure to Anaheim looking like a foregone conclusion, the Canucks will have a massive hole to fill between the pipes next season. They’ll be looking for either someone who can comfortably slot in to a starter’s role, or an insurance policy on Jacob Markstrom, who has never started more than 33 games in a single season.
There’s a dearth of big-ticket goaltenders on the market this summer, but there should be more than a few decent netminders looking for cheap short-term deals. Here are 5 that make sense for the Canucks:
Steve Mason’s taken an unusual path for NHL starter. After winning the Calder Trophy with the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2008-2009, Mason put up abysmal numbers for the remainder of his tenure in Columbus before being traded to Philadelphia during lockout-shortened 2012-13 season.
Mason finally hit his stride in Philadelphia, usurping starter Ilya Bryzgalov as the team’s number one netminder, earning a three-year, $12.3 million contract extension and posting a save percentage above league average in three straight seasons.
Mason looked to be due for a massive contract this offseason, but his play fell off the rails en route to a disappointing season that saw him post a .908 save percentage and fall out of favour with the Flyers.
Since re-igniting his career with the Flyers, Mason has pretty consistently performed at an above-average level for a starting goaltender, so it’s more than likely that his most recent stint is nothing more than a blip on the radar. There’s no doubt in my mind that he’s the best netminder available this off-season, but unfortunately, if reports are to be believed, his camp is not interested in a deal with Vancouver:
Been told the #Canucks called the agent for goalie Steve Mason yesterday but were told they wouldn't be in the mix.
— Rick Dhaliwal (@DhaliwalSports) June 29, 2017
In contrast, reports have connected the Canucks to Buffalo Sabres backup goaltender Anders Nilsson, who could be an intriguing option to split starts with Jacob Markstrom next season.
Nilsson posted an impressive .923 save percentage in 23 games with the Sabres this season, but has finished with numbers well below league average in each of his prior stints in the NHL. There’s a chance Nilsson’s most recent season could be a mirage, but he’ll come cheap and should be worth the risk on a short-term deal.
Nilsson made headlines in December 2016 when he donned a mask emblazoned with a gay pride flag along the back, standing in stark contrast to fellow Sabres netminder Robin Lehner. Nilsson’s progressive nature and Swedish heritage could make him a good fit on a team that features fellow Swedes and vocal gay rights advocates in Henrik and Daniel Sedin.
It was only a few years ago that Jonathan Bernier was looking like an emerging star with the Toronto Maple Leafs. The wheels have fallen off the wagon since then, and Bernier looked as though he may have been on his way out of the league towards the end of the 2015-16 season, but he appears to have righted the shift following a decent performance as a backup in Anaheim where he finished the season with a .915 save percentage in 39 games.
Bernier’s ceiling is probably lower than some of the other goaltenders available on the open market, but he’s been capable of handling a starter’s load in the past and could be a good option to split starts with Jacob Markstrom and give the Canucks a fall-back option if he falters.
The Flames struggles in net were well-publicized last season, but Chad Johnson’s been a solid backup goaltender throughout his career, averaging a .915 save percentage over 137 games. Johnson is the least intriguing option on this list in my opinion, but he’s a relatively safe choice. If he can continue his trend of posting solid numbers as a backup he can help hold down the fort long enough for the Canucks to seek a more permanent option.
Brian Elliott, on the other hand, looks like a great buy-low bet this offseason. In contrast to teammate Chad Johnson, Elliott’s season in Calgary was considered a massive disappointment, despite the fact that both goaltenders posted an identical .910 save percentage.
The pet theory of many in the hockey media about Elliott over the past few years is that his stellar numbers prior to signing in St. Louis were the product of the Blues’ system, but that’s a massive oversimplification. While it’s true that the Blues did a fantastic job of limiting high-danger shots while Elliott was in net, that isn’t enough to explain the massive dip in Elliott’s numbers. Jake Allen only posted a .915 this season as the Blues’ starter, which indicates that Elliott was at least partially responsible for his good seasons in St. Louis.
While it’s unlikely that Elliott can reproduce the level of success he’s had in the past, a bounce-back campaign in 2017-18 seems like an inevitability, and one the Canucks would be wise to capitalize on.