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Photo Credit: © Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

Four Potential UFA targets that could replace Jacob Markstrom

As Jacob Markstrom and his team continue to rise in the standings, so too does the dollar value on his next contract. With the 30-year-old UFA set to hit the open market, speculation on the cost of Markstrom’s next contract has ramped up. Popular consensus is that Markstrom can expect five to six million on a four or five year term, but The Atheltic’s  Rick Dhaliwal speculated that the AAV of a potential Markstrom deal could exceed $6 million.

There’s no denying that he’s earned that money based on his performance this year. He’s made significant strides in his game during his time in Vancouver and has regularly stolen games for his club this season. It’s unlikely the Canucks would be in a position to win their division without him as their starter.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that a long-term commitment is in the team’s best interests, however. The Canucks’ brass has a history of cap mismanagement and with extensions looming for the team’s two best players, it’s clear that Jim Benning will have to navigate carefully and save money where he can. Handing out a contract to Markstrom near the speculated dollars and term would give him less wiggle room to do so.

As the team continues to negotiate with Markstrom’s camp, they’re also likely to at least explore potential replacements. There haven’t been any reports that the team intends on letting Markstrom walk, but reviewing their options on the free agent market would be due diligence for any team’s front office.

With that in mind, it’s useful for fans to take stock of who will be available this summer. While reviewing the goalies set to be on the open market, it’s important to keep in mind that the benefit to this route is saving money. This means that signing expensive goalies like Braden Holtby or Robin Lehner won’t be considered in this piece, as it wouldn’t allow the Canucks to save. Instead, let’s take a look at goalies who are poised to make considerably less, but could still tandem well with Demko for one or two seasons.

 

Anton Khudobin, 33, Dallas Stars

Current contract: $2.5M AAV for 2 years

Season Stats: .927 SV%, 2.30 GAA, 4.62 GSAx (goals saved above expectation)

Khudobin’s played arguably his best hockey in these last two seasons with the Stars and could be a great value find. In 2018-19, he formed a solid tandem with Ben Bishop, playing 41 games with a .923 SV%. He’s improved on those already solid numbers through 20 games this season. Khudobin’s 8th best GSAA/60 adds another impressive layer to his statistical profile, which is better than Markstrom’s. Of course, it helps to play in one of the more defensively sound systems in Dallas.

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goals saved above average

Via ChartingHockey.ca

Khudobin is capable of playing well in tandem, as a starter, or as a backup. He’s proven to be comfortable with those roles for stretches over the course of his career, including in Dallas. There’s value in having a veteran with that confidence and flexibility.

Considering his age and success during his current contract, a short term deal with a small increase to his AAV is probable. This addition to Vancouver could come with a great bang for their buck.

 

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Thomas Greiss, 34, New York Islanders

Current contract: $3.33M AAV for 3 years

Season Stats: .925 SV%, 2.43 GAA, 7.13 GSAx

Greiss will see his three year deal expire at season’s end and will look to use the Williams Jennings Trophy he won in 2018-19 and his terrific statistical profile over the last two seasons to earn a raise.

Greiss will likely have a number of suitors on July 1, but the fact that Greiss has played behind a team coached by Barry Trotz could cause some GMs to question his true ability. The Islanders play a defensive system that allows a lot of low percentage shots from the outside. They have regularly lost the shot-share battle, but have found team success while doing so. It’s quite likely that the Islanders’ emphasis on snuffing out high-percentage shots has inflated his numbers, which makes him a difficult goalie to evaluate.

As teams consider bringing Greiss into the fold, they’ll have to decide how much to weigh Trotz’s system against his long history of above-average performance. Even a drop off from William Jennings-calibre numbers and the 3rd-best GSAx/60, the team that signs Greiss could still find themselves with a great goalie.

More than any other free agent goalie, teams may have to rely on his numbers before Barry Trotz came to Long Island. In the three seasons prior to Trotz, Greiss was a starter for two, posting excellent .925 and .913 save percentages. The third season saw him struggle to put up an .892 SV% as a backup.

Greiss will be highly sought after this summer and is due for a raise, which means the Canucks may pass on his services, but he’s still worth keeping an eye on this summer, if nothing else.

 

Corey Crawford, 35, Chicago Blackhawks

Current contract: $6M AAV for 6 years

Season Stats: .910 SV%, 2.96 GAA, 5.63 GSAx

Seeing Corey Crawford in a Canucks jersey would look odd to a lot of fans, but that doesn’t mean it would be a bad fit for either side. He is in his final year of a six year deal, he’s making six million and the aging former Cup champion looks poised to go to market on July 1. The Blackhawks have yet to lock down a starter for next season, but it’s more likely that they’ll opt to re-sign Robin Lehner over the 35-year-old Crawford. Lehner is younger and he’s played well for the Hawks in his show-me contract year.

What could make the acquisition good is Crawford’s hunger for the opportunity to play as a starter or tandem in a 1A-1B situation. He will be taking a significant pay cut on his next deal and will likely have to take a one-year term. His history of post-concussion symptoms which put his career in jeopardy in 2018 appears to be behind him, but it’s a factor that won’t be left out of the equation. For that reason, he could be seen as the most high-risk, high-reward goalie available.

On the plus side, he’s still performing like an above-average NHL goaltender. In his 25 games played he’s posted a decent SV% and a terrific 5.63 goals saved above average. Even more impressive is his 0.279 goals saved above expectation per 60, which is 7th best league-wide. In other words, he’s been able to post a respectable SV% while saving more goals than the average goalie would against the quantity and quality of shots faced despite playing behind Chicago’s porous defence.

 

Jaroslav Halak, 34, Boston Bruins

Current contract: $2.75M AAV for 2 years

Season Stats: .918 SV%, 2.47 GAA, -3.51 GSAx

Halak has been very reliable in Boston, playing nearly half the games since his arrival. Last season he played 40 games, posting a .922 SV% and a 2.34 GAA, which were superior to the numbers posted by the Bruins other goaltender, Tuukka Rask. As expected, his numbers have dropped from last season’s impressive level, but he’s still managing to play nearly 50% of the Bruins’ games.

Halak’s numbers with the Bruins have been underrated, but that could also be due to the system he’s found himself in. The Bruins play well defensively and an indication of that is Halak’s impressive SV% and GAA despite a -3.51 goals saved above average. Behind a Canucks’ defence, one would have to assume his SV% and GAA would dip. However, if it’s not by much, the Canucks can easily live with the decline.

The Bruins will likely want to retain his services, but if they’re serious about bringing Torey Krug back, they may look to save money on the backup position. This wouldn’t work with Halak’s looming raise. Not much has been speculated about his next contract, but it’s unlikely we see him take a pay cut.

While it’s clear that the Canucks would like to bring Markstrom back into the fold, his increasing price tag doesn’t make it easy. This could force the Canucks to dip their toes into free agency to find a short term replacement as they continue to see what they have in Demko and Mikey DiPietro. Doing so comes with risk, but it also comes with the significant upside of added cap flexibility moving forward.