Despite finishing the season with a record of 27-46-9 and a measly 63 points in the standings, the New Jersey Devils took some steps forward as a franchise in 2021-22. Jack Hughes took a big step in his development with 56 points in 49 games. Jesper Bratt broke the 70-point threshold for the first time in his career. Nico Hischier, Damon Severson, Jonas Siegenthaler and Yegor Sharangovich enjoyed career-best seasons and Dawson Mercer emerged with a 42 point campaign as a 20-year old rookie.
Unfortunately, all the progress the skaters made was negated by the worst goaltending in the NHL. By now, you know the story of what went wrong. Jonathan Bernier was brought in before last season to give Mackenzie Blackwood the veteran partner they thought they were getting a year earlier when Corey Crawford retired during training camp. Bernier was ok before a nagging hip injury ended his season in early December. Blackwood was solid for a stretch early in the season before his heel flared up. He was ineffective for a six week stretch and he went on IR until the final week of the season. With the Devils two NHL goaltenders on the shelf for the long-haul, they were forced to turn to castoffs from other teams and a pair of prospects who weren’t ready for the big leagues.
The end result was a unit that collectively allowed 3.68 goals per game (29th in the NHL) and saved 88.6% of the shots on goal (last in the league). According to Top Down Hockey, the Devils had minus 52.51 goals saved above expected between the seven goaltenders who played for them this past season. That’s not going to cut it.
Blackwood and Bernier are both signed for next season, but there is no way the Devils can “run it back”. Tom Fitzgerald knows he cant run it back. The former is coming off of two down seasons and the latter is recovering from hip surgery. Addressing the goaltending with an external addition is the Devils top priority this summer.
It’s also not good enough to simply be average in net, as John pointed out back in April. The Devils need good goaltending (and improve other areas of the roster, of course) if they want to take the next step to being a team that is contending for a playoff spot.
Gerard and I have spent the last six weeks covering the Devils RFAs and potential UFA targets but the one area we have not touched on yet is the glaring hole in net. Who will be available this offseason that the Devils can pursue, and what move or moves makes the most sense? Let’s dive into it.
Unrestricted Free Agents
Jack Campbell, Toronto Maple Leafs
We got some interesting news last weekend as the NY Post’s Larry Brooks reported the Devils are expected to be in on Campbell if he hits the market, and they might even try to trade for the pending UFA’s negotiating rights.
On the surface, pursuing Campbell makes a ton of sense. He’s arguably the top goaltender hitting the open market, and while he had a bit of a mid-season lull, he was solid overall in his first full season as the Leafs starter with a .914 save percentage and a -2.3 GSAx.
Campbell is a little older than you’d think at 30 years old, but he also doesn’t have a lot of tread on the tires as he has only played 135 NHL games to this point. There’s a reasonable chance he tops the 5.9M for 6 years that Phillip Grubauer got a year ago from the Kraken, which was the richest UFA contract for a goaltender last year. Toronto currently sits with $6.4M in cap space, so while they’ll presumably try to keep him, they’ll have to get creative elsewhere as they have other offseason business to address.
Darcy Kuemper, Colorado Avalanche
Kuemper, who will be entering his age 32 season, replaced Grubauer as the starting goaltender of the Stanley Cup Champion Colorado Avalanche this past offseason. He was excellent in the regular season with a .921 save percentage and a GSAx of 21.0. He wasn’t as effective in the playoffs with a .902 save%, but he also battled injuries and presumably wasn’t playing at 100 percent once he returned. Either way, he was good enough to get the Avalanche over the finish line and help them raise the Cup for the first time in 21 years.
The Avalanche will likely prioritize retaining Kuemper, as Pavel Francouz is more of a quality backup than a potential starter and they’ve already spent a lot of future draft capital to get this one Cup. He has certainly earned a raise from the $4.5M AAV he was making the last two years. Expect Kuemper to get a similarly lucrative deal to what Grubauer received last summer.
Ville Husso, St. Louis Blues
Husso, 27, emerged out of nowhere to post a .919 save percentage and a 13.5 GSAx in 40 games for the Blues, chipping away at Jordan Binnington’s playing time despite the latter being in the first year of a 6 year extension and a former Stanley Cup champion himself. Once the playoffs started, Husso struggled and was benched for Binnington until the veteran netminder suffered a series-ending injury against the Avalanche that forced Craig Berube to go back to Husso.
The Blues reportedly want to retain Husso, per Andy Strickland, but with a lot of teams having uncertainty in net, Husso might price himself out of a St. Louis return.
Keep in mind there is a connection here as Devils goaltending coach Dave Rogalski is the former Blues goalie development coach. Martin Brodeur, who previously recruited Crawford and Bernier to sign with the Devils, is a former Blues executive. Both of those men are very familiar with Husso and they’ve reportedly scouted him heavily according to Elliotte Friedman and Greg Wyshynski.
They scouted him deep into the playoffs. I think there's 100% smoke here.— Greg Wyshynski (@wyshynski) July 1, 2022
Marc-Andre Fleury, Minnesota Wild
Fleury is at the stage of his career where he’s going year-to-year and will only sign on with a team if they have a legitimate chance of winning a Cup next season. Neither one of those describes the Devils, who are looking for a little more stability in net than that.
Fleury had a respectable save percentage of .910 between Chicago and Minnesota, but his -17.6 GSAx was the 4th worst in the league behind Grubauer, Kevin Lankinen, and Karel Vejmelka.
It seems unlikely that Fleury would even want to come to New Jersey, but even if he did, this might be a case where the Devils should be the ones to say no. The Devils should be looking for more of a long-term solution in net than a goaltender who will turn 38 next year and is openly contemplating retirement.
Braden Holtby, Dallas Stars
We’re now getting into the portion of the UFA pool where we’re talking more about tandem partners and backups than starting goaltenders, but Holtby bounced back nicely in his first season in Dallas with a .913 save % and a GSAx of 0.7. Unfortunately, Holtby spent most of the second half of the season dealing with a lower-body injury, necessitating the need for the Stars to add Scott Wedgewood at the deadline for some insurance.
Dallas resigned Wedgewood to a 2 year deal for a $1M AAV to back up Jake Oettinger, so Holtby will be on the move again this summer, but I have a lot of questions regarding the medicals on this one and even so, Holtby is another short-term option.
The Best of the Rest of the UFAs
Penguins backup G Casey DeSmith might be a sneaky decent target for Tom Fitzgerald, with a .915 career save% over four seasons as he’s split time with Matt Murray and Tristan Jarry over his career. He also played brilliantly in his only career playoff start as he went toe-to-toe with Igor Shesterkin in the World’s Most Overrated Arena before suffering a core muscle injury that required season-ending surgery. David Pagnotta reported that the Penguins are trying to keep him, so we’ll see if he actually hits the open market.
Red Wings G Thomas Greiss has had a solid career, with his best work coming with the Islanders between 2015-20. Greiss struggled mightily in his second season in Detroit though with a .891 save % and a -13.5 GSAx. With him turning 37 in January, he could be close to the end of the line, and like with Fleury, the Devils should probably look elsewhere.
Canucks G Jaroslav Halak turned 37 last month and was only marginally better than Greiss with a .903 save % and a 0.0 GSAx. He’s in the career backup portion of his career and shouldn’t be seriously considered to fix the Devils goaltending woes.
Flyers G Martin Jones was his typical self in his first year in Philadelphia last season, which is to say he wasn’t great. His save percentage of .900 and GSAx of -9.4 does little to suggest that he’s the answer.
This leaves us with the “ex-Devils” tier. We’ve already touched on Wedgewood so we’ll cross him off the list with him staying in Dallas. Islanders goalie Cory Schneider played well for AHL Bridgeport last season and won his only NHL start against the Devils back in April, but he seems likely to continue in his “break glass in case of emergency” role he’s settled into with the Islanders organization if he doesn’t retire. Keith Kinkaid was brilliant in one NHL start for the Rangers this past season, but had a .904 save percentage in 37 games for AHL Hartford. He shouldn’t be under any real consideration for an NHL job. Eric Comrie, who was claimed off waivers by the Devils in 2020-21, played one NHL game for New Jersey, and was subsequently reacquired by the Jets on waivers, played well backing up Connor Hellebuyck this past season. He posted a .920 save percentage with 10.3 GSAx over 19 games. According to CapFriendly, Comrie is slated to be a Group 6 UFA since he didn’t accrue enough required games by the age of 25.
There are other UFA goaltenders available as well, a list that includes but isn’t limited to Pheonix Copley, Malcolm Subban, David Rittich, Kevin Lankinen, Collin Delia, Dustin Tokarski, Charlie Lindgren, Harri Sateri, and a pair of Devils UFA goaltenders in Jon Gillies and Andrew Hammond. None of these players should be considered the answer in net for the Devils.
Restricted Free Agents Who Might Be Available
Vitek Vanecek and Ilya Samsonov, Washington Capitals
Vanecek was the better of the two Capitals goaltenders in 2021-22 with a .908 save percentage and a -5.4 GSAx, while Samsonov had a .896 and -12.1 in those same categories. It should be noted that Samsonov was the better of the two in their first round playoff series loss to the Panthers and their explosive offense.
Washington is a veteran-heavy team that probably needs to upgrade in net if they want to squeeze one more Cup run out of this group. From a Devils perspective, I’d be more inclined to gamble on Samsonov’s theoretical upside if I had to choose between the two, but I don’t know that Tom Fitzgerald has the luxury of time to throw a Hail Mary like that and hope another young goaltender rebounds. Samsonov’s career stats look eerily similar to Blackwood’s in that he started his career with promise and has yet to duplicate that early success.
Alex Georgiev, New York Rangers
Georgiev is another young goaltender who looked promising in his early career, but has seen his stats go in the wrong direction. He finished this past season with a .898 save % and a -6.8 GSAx while backing up Vezina-winner Igor Shesterkin.
Larry Brooks mentioned that the Devils might have interest in Georgiev should he become unrestricted, which is why he earns a mention here. I don’t think Georgiev has a ton of trade value outside of maybe a 3rd round pick, but he should have enough value where the Rangers should be able to deal him elsewhere for something rather than not tender him a contract and lose him for nothing. Its also unlikely the Rangers do anything to help the Devils address their issues in net.
Kaapo Kahkonen, San Jose Sharks
The Sharks have a bit of a goaltending logjam with Kahkonen, James Reimer, and Adin Hill on the NHL roster. With San Jose dealing Jacob Middleton to the Wild for him at the trade deadline and him being their most recent acquisition, Kahkonen is the clear-cut favorite if you had to pick one of the Sharks goaltenders to be their guy moving forward.
Kahkonen posted a .912 save percentage last year and a 5.2 GSAx, with both of those numbers improving post-trade.
The Best of the Rest of the RFAs
Jake Oettinger is the standout name amongst the rest of the RFAs, but there’s zero reason for the Stars to consider trading their starting goaltender after he emerged this season as their #1 option and played brilliantly in a seven-game series loss to the Flames in the playoffs.
The rest of the RFA options is a rather uninspiring list that features a pair of Canadiens goaltenders in Samuel Montembeault and Cayden Primeau, Panthers #3 goaltender Jonas Johansson, Canucks #4 option Michael DiPietro, and Hurricanes goaltender Jack Lafontaine. If that last name sounds familiar, its because he made his NHL debut earlier this season in a 7-4 loss to the Devils while Carolina was going through a rash of goaltending injuries themselves.
Potential Trade Targets
James Reimer or Adin Hill, San Jose Sharks
Since we just mentioned the Sharks logjam, we’ll lump these two together here.
Reimer was the better of the two last season and in my opinion, is the more likely of the two to move since he’s older and signed for one more year at $2.25M. Reimer has been solid, but not spectacular throughout his career, and he was that yet again last year with a .911 save % and 0.1 GSAx. He also has a partial no-trade where he can block deals to five teams.
Hill was ok last season with a .906 save % and a -4.1 GSAx in 25 games. He’s signed for one more year at $2.17M, but after the Sharks gave up a 2nd round pick to acquire him from Arizona, they’ll probably want to see a little more from him before throwing in the towel, as Hill might be a perfectly acceptable 1B to Kahkonen’s 1A in San Jose.
Elliotte Friedman wrote in his latest 32 Thoughts that “It sounds like they (San Jose) prefer to keep James Reimer, although that’s not a guarantee”.
John Gibson or Anthony Stolarz, Anaheim Ducks
Gibson gets a mention here after Nick Alberga tweeted a few weeks back that he’s “open to being dealt”, even though Gibson denied through his agent that he’s looking for a trade.
Gibson would be a fantastic option to pursue…..if this was 2015-19 when he was a .922 goaltender and a perennial dark horse Vezina candidate. The problem is that he hasn’t been that goaltender for quite some time as he’s been a .904 goaltender the last three seasons. Gibson also posted a -14.3 GSAx last season and is signed for $6.4M for the next five seasons, so one could see why the Ducks might be having buyer’s remorse. He hasn’t been very good for awhile AND he has a bad contract.
Stolarz, a native of Jackson, NJ, was solid last season with a .917 save % and -1.0 GSAx. He’s also signed for one more year at $950,000. There isn’t any real reason for the Ducks to shop Stolarz at this time, as they could wait until the deadline to sell high or keep him for themselves if they think he’s for real.
Jake Allen, Montreal Canadiens
Allen is signed for one more year at $2.875M and was the best of the Canadiens netminders last season, posting a .905 and -2.2 GSAx. The Habs were really bad last year, but it wasn’t Allen’s fault. Allen is also another former Blues goaltender who Rogalski and Brodeur would be very familiar with.
Carey Price’s status moving forward may determine whether or not the Habs shop their veteran backup. None of the other goaltenders Montreal played last year looked like they’re ready for prime time, and Allen’s cap hit is friendly enough where they don’t really need to trade him to save money. Friedman went as far to say there are teams that think the Habs don’t want to move Allen, so keep that in mind. Price has said that he will prepare as if he’ll play next season, but he also recently underwent a “small procedure” on his bothersome knee.
Petr Mrazek, Toronto Maple Leafs
The Maple Leafs would surely love to dump the final two years and $3.8M AAV of Petr Mrazek on some sap after he posted a .888 save % and -11.6 GSAx in his first year in Toronto. Hopefully, Tom Fitzgerald isn’t that sap and if he does pursue a Leafs goaltender this offseason, its Jack Campbell and not Mrazek.
Seymon Varlamov, New York Islanders
The Islanders salary cap situation isn’t as dire as it has been in previous seasons, as they enter the offseason with $12.1M in space, most of their roster signed, and their most notable RFA being Noah Dobson. Still, $5M for one more year of Varlamov is a luxury, as Ilya Sorokin is the present and future in net for the Islanders. Their fans have been clamoring for a scoring winger for a few years now and they need to add better defensemen than Andy Greene and Zdeno Chara to their blueline as well.
Varlamov has been a good player for a long time and he was solid yet again last year with a .911 and 0.7 GSAx. Its possible Lou Lamoriello keeps both goaltenders again next year despite the high cost for Varlamov, as they don’t have a lot of good alternatives otherwise. Its also fair to question whether or not Lou would be willing to make a trade for the Devils where the Isles are being the sellers. It’s one thing to acquire Andy Greene, Kyle Palmieri and Travis Zajac for postseason runs. It’s another to help a division rival address their biggest weakness when you’re trying to get back to the postseason yourselves.
Robin Lehner or Laurent Brossoit, Vegas Golden Knights
Lehner’s season ended bizarrely with the Golden Knights and former coach Pete DeBoer. The Knights replacing DeBoer with Bruce Cassidy may smooth over any gripes Lehner had with the coaching staff at the end of last year, but Lehner has never been shy to say what’s on his mind and the level of trust between him and Golden Knights management might have been corrupted past the point of no return.
That said, its likely Lehner is back next year in Vegas. He’s signed for 3 more years at $5M and is coming off season-ending surgeries to his shoulder and knee. He played through a litany of injuries last year and his stats suffered as a result, but he still managed to post a .907 and 6.1 GSAx.
Vegas still views themselves as a Stanley Cup contender, so its unlikely they shop Lehner unless he asks out (Lehner can block trades to 8 teams this upcoming season). If Vegas did shop Lehner though, he’s a solid buy low candidate, health permitting.
As for Brossoit, Elliotte Friedman mentioned him as a potential trade candidate in his latest 32 Thoughts. Vegas shopping him makes sense, as they’d like to shave the $2.35M he’s slated to make next year off of their books, turn to Logan Thompson as the backup, and reallocate that money elsewhere. He wasn’t great last season with a .895 save percentage and -1.3 GSAx in an injury-plagued campaign, but had his moments in the previous three seasons in Winnipeg.
Cam Talbot, Minnesota Wild
Talbot earns a mention on this list not so much because of anything he did, but what the Wild will have to deal with the next three seasons with their cap situation. Next year, the Wild have $12.7M in dead cap charges for the twin buyouts of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter. As a result, the Wild (who already have $63.2M in cap commitments) traded Kevin Fiala to the LA Kings and may look to cut corners in other areas to save money against the cap the next few years.
Talbot was fine for the Wild last year with a .911 and -5.8 GSAx, but he will be 35 years old next season and the Wild thought enough of Talbot to go acquire Marc-Andre Fleury at the trade deadline last year. He’s signed for a reasonable $3.66M for one more year, so its certainly possible the Wild keep Talbot and replace Fleury with a cheap backup. Keep in mind though that Guerin has said that he’d like to retain both Talbot and Fleury.
Dan Vladar, Calgary Flames
Vladar is the youngest goaltender we’ve mentioned to this point and is signed for a team friendly $750k next season to back up Jacob Markstrom in Calgary. He posted a .906 and -3.8 GSAx in his first full NHL season.
Vladar might be a name we wind up revisiting down the road as the Flames have a top goaltending prospect in Dustin Wolf who just finished his first AHL season and played brilliantly for the Stockton Heat. There’s no real reason for the Flames to deal Vladar now to make room for Wolf unless they think the youngster is ready.
Hail Mary Options Who are Going Nowhere, but Let’s Talk About Them
Any Top Goaltending Prospect On Another Team
We’re lumping all of the top goaltending prospects together because we don’t really see any reason for their respective teams to move one of them. That list includes, but is not limited to, Spencer Knight, Yaroslav Askarov, Dustin Wolf, Jesper Wallstedt, Ukko-Pekka Luukonen, and Sebastian Cossa.
The one name on that list who is closest to being ready for a starter’s workload is Knight, who had a strong second half. I get the argument that Sergei Bobrovsky isn’t going anywhere any time soon and Knight will need a new deal after this season, but Knight isn’t going to make enough money on his second contract to necessitate a move. Its more likely Bobrovsky is bought out or traded at some point than it is the Panthers trade Knight.
Juuse Saros, Nashville Predators
Saros has been outstanding at the NHL level and finished third in the Vezina voting this past year. He saved 20.7 GSAx and is the single biggest reason why Nashville continues to be a fringe playoff team in the Western Conference.
Its highly unlikely the Predators shop Saros any time soon, as he has 3 years and $5M per remaining on his deal. Askarov just signed his ELC with the Predators and is a top prospect in his own right, but he still has plenty of work to do before he can think about supplanting Saros as the Predators starter.
Connor Hellebuyck, Winnipeg Jets
Hellebuyck is a fascinating name as he might have the most upside of anybody in this article. He’s a former Vezina winner and runner-up. His “down year” in 2021-22 is a .910 save % and he still saved 16.7 GSAx.
The Jets are a team in a bit of a transition with Blake Wheeler and Mark Scheifele’s names in the rumor mill. Pierre Luc-Dubois seems set on going to the market in 2024. The Jets may be staring a rebuild in the face whether they like it or not.
Hellebuyck is signed for 2 more years at $6.16M and despite the Jets not having an heir apparent in net, would have tremendous value in a trade. The problem is that trading him is the equivalent of waving the white flag for the next half decade, and there has been no inclination from Winnipeg that they’re ready to tear it down, let alone trade their franchise goaltender.
If Winnipeg ever did make him available, Tom Fitzgerald should be calling Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff on a daily basis until they agree to send him to Newark. Since that’s probably not happening though, Fitzgerald will need to look elsewhere this summer.
What Would We Do?
Tom Fitzgerald has to answer two questions when it comes to goaltending this offseason. First, are we looking for another short-term fix or are we trying to fix the position once and for all? Secondly, are we going to be a team that’s aiming for a top-tier goaltender, or are we going to be a team that eventually has enough talent where we can win with a Darcy Kuemper-type?
Gerard and I will rank our Top 5 options in order of preference of what we would do to address the position with a brief commentary on each.
Jared’s Top 5
- If available, trade for Connor Hellebuyck. I think the Devils not only need a good goaltender, but they need someone who can potentially go shot for shot, save for save in a postseason series against Igor Shesterkin or Andrei Vasilevskiy. Most of the goaltenders we laid out above can not do that. Hellebuyck can and the Devils have a good enough prospect pool to make a competitive offer IF Winnipeg shops him. The fact he only has two years of control remaining concerns me, but I’m confident enough that the Devils make enough progress in those two years where he decides to stay.
- Sign Jack Campbell for 6 years and $6M AAV. I’m picking Campbell over Kuemper since he’s a little younger and there’s less tread on the tires. I also think Campbell is the more likely of the two to change teams this offseason.
- Sign Darcy Kuemper for 4 years and $6M AAV. I think Kuemper carries more risk than Campbell since he’s older and has much more NHL experience, but I also think he’s better than what we saw in the postseason for Colorado.
- Sign Casey DeSmith for 3 years and $3.5M AAV. DeSmith has a good track record as a backup and if you were going to gamble on one backup goaltender who could potentially thrive with a bigger role, he’s as solid a pick as anyone. If I were DeSmith, NJ would be an attractive landing spot given the incumbents they currently have in place.
- Trade a 2023 3rd round pick for James Reimer, Cam Talbot or Jake Allen and kick the can down the road another year or until another option presents itself. None of these names are sexy, but they all have a consistent track record of being perfectly adequate in net.
Gerard’s Top 5
- Sign Jack Campbell for 6 years and $6M AAV. I like Campbell and agree with the projection/offer that Jared went with above. I think he’s an upgrade over what the Devils have been rolling out, especially if MacKenzie Blackwood still isn’t 100% or wants out. I’d rather toss money at a UFA than spend other assets if possible for my top choice, hence why Campbell comes in here on my list.
- Sign Ville Husso for 7 years and $5M AAV. Perhaps more of a roll of the dice, but I believe being in a 1A/1B situation with a chance to take the starter’s role could be appealing to Husso. He was given a true chance to show what he had this season and did well behind a defense than is arguably weaker than New Jersey’s. Husso also lines up age-wise with the Devils’ core better than some of the other options, giving him a bit of a boost in my rankings.
- Sign Darcy Kuemper for 4 years and $6M AAV. Kuemper is kind of a fallback option in case Campbell isn’t interested in New Jersey, re-ups in Toronto or seeks employment elsewhere, but honestly the Devils could do worse than a Stanley Cup winning goalie. My concern with Kuemper is that he could be looking for larger term coming off of said win. Additionally, I feel he is likely to go back to Colorado, so this option is really only available if things between him and the Avs fall through.
- Sign Casey DeSmith for 4 years and $2.75M AAV. While I disagree with Jared’s numbers a bit here for what it might take to bring DeSmith to New Jersey, I am in agreement of his analysis as to why he would be a fit for the Devils. He’s not the flashiest name out there, but he’s solid, has experience playing the teams in the division, and would give the Devils some solid years which would also allow the team time to find and develop a goalie of the future.
- Trade a 2022 4th round pick (at the draft) or 2023 3rd round pick for James Reimer. I like Reimer more than Allen or Talbot, hence only one name on my list for this option, but as Jared said, this is a one year solution in hopes of finding a long-term answer over the course of 2022-23 or in the summer of 2023. It won’t make the Devils much better, but anything is better than seeing Jon Gillies or Andrew Hammond again.
You’ve seen the list of potential options that we have laid out, over 50 in total. Now, lets hear from you on what the Devils should do in net. Who do you want to see them pursue? Should the Devils continue with the 1A/1B approach or try to aim higher with an unquestioned starter? Should they go short-term or long-term? Is there anyone we missed that you believe warrants discussion? Or perhaps we mentioned someone but didn’t give them a fair shake and you feel differently? Please feel free to leave a comment below and thank you for reading.
(all goaltender stats are courtesy of MoneyPuck unless otherwise noted)