I got a back up plan to the back up plan to back up my back up plan. ~ Big Boi
I'm not going to lie - when Don Brennan casually brought up the possibility that the Senators could consider bringing Patrick Lalime back into the fold as Craig Anderson's understudy next season, I died a little bit on the inside. That's not to disrespect anything that Lalime did in the five years that he played for the organization. Blessed by a strong Senators squad and by playing in the the pre-lockout era that turned a blind eye to obstruction, Lalime's numbers were pretty exceptional.
Of course if he were to return, it wouldn't bode well that every time an opposing player would streak down the left side near the top of the faceoff circle, fans would grimmace, squeal and/or wrench their bodies away from the action... but that's beside the point.
Thanks to the influence that Jonah Keri's The Extra 2% has had on me, my biggest contention with signing a Lalime or a veteran retread like him, is strictly because I would prefer to see a rebuilding Senators team roll the dice and invest in a player who could potentially step into a starter's role if injury happens to beset Craig Anderson (this is me, knocking on wood) and afford Robin Lehner the opportunity to play the lion's share of games with Binghamton.
In examining the unrestricted free agents who are out there, I was looking for goaltenders who exhibit some blend of these characteristics:
1) They're still relatively young (and hopefully have some upside).
2) They have pedigree.
3) At one point, they have posted some respectable NHL numbers.
4) Have the potential to thrive and develop some trade value that could land Ottawa a future asset.
5) Can afford a mask that does not look like in a 1980's hockey time capsule (see Martin Prusek, also see Glenn Healy).
6) Has the coordination to remove his equipment without the help of teammates.
Using Capgeek's free agent tracker, a number of players fit the criteria:
1) Mike Smith
Drafted by the Dallas Stars in the fifth round (161st overall) of the 2001 NHL Entry Draft, Smith did not break into the league until the 2006-07 season when he backed up Marty Turco. After his first campaign that saw him play in 23 games, Smith was dealt by the Stars 21 games into his sophomore season as part of the infamous Brad Richards deal.
Pros: He's on the right side of 30 (29 years of age) and shares the same name as the actor who portrays Bubbles on Trailer Park Boys. From Justin Goldman of The Goalie Guild, "Mike Smith would be a great fit in Ottawa because he's big, moves the puck way better than Craig Anderson and could push or overtake him. It's a good tandem."
Cons: Smith is coming off of a two-year contract that paid him an average of $2.2 million per season. With the last memories of Smith stemming from the Eastern Conference Finals, when he filled in admirably for Dwayne Roloson, he might not be in line for a significant pay cut. As such, he might be the most expensive option out there. (Note: Looking at Ottawa's favorable cap situation, this may not even be an issue.)
Looking at his peripheral statistics, his save percentage dropped for a second consecutive season. An odd trend considering that the Lightning had one of the better records in the Eastern Conference this past season.
2) Josh Harding
Drafted by the Wild in the second round (38th overall) of the 2002 NHL Entry Draft, Harding's somewhat of a forgotten commodity around NHL circles because he missed the entire 2010-11 season after tearing the ACL and MCL in his right knee during a preseason game in St. Louis last September.
Pros: The 27 year old goaltender is coming off injury and as a result, he should be an inexpensive option with something to prove. Much like Pascal Leclaire, his skillset isn't the issue here.
Cons: As I mentioned earlier, it will be almost one calendar year since Harding stepped into NHL action. How will he respond? And can he bounce back? In light of how the Leclaire era was a comedy of injuries, a Harding signing might not be the most well received in the nation's capital. According to Justin Goldman, "The problem with Harding is that, due to so many injuries and the excessive minutes given to Backstrom, very few GM's know what Harding is capable of doing when he's healthy. Backups need exposure and playing time in order to increase their role in the NHL. Harding hasn't gotten any of that. When he was healthy, he hardly played. When he was injured, nobody was talking about him because nobody had really gotten an opportunity to scout him."
3) Ray Emery
Drafted in the fourth round (99th overall) of the 2001 NHL Entry Draft, Emery's not an unknown commodity to Senators fans. Having led the Senators to their only Stanley Cup Finals appearance in 2007, Razor signed a 3-year extension that offseason that was supposed to pay him $9.5 million. After one season in which he was dogged by drug abuse rumours, off-ice incidents and had his attitude and work ethic questioned by the media, Emery's reputation looked like it was beyond repair. One year into his contract, Bryan Murray exercised a buyout and Emery spent the following (2008-09) season trying to salvage his young career in the KHL.
Having signed with the Flyers during the 2009 offseason, Ray looked was poised to be a comeback player of the year candidate, unfortunately his season ended after being diagnosed with avascular nevosis and undergoing extensive hip surgery. After an intense rehabiliation, Emery inked a two-way contract with the Anaheim Ducks and eventually got his opportunity to play once Jonas Hiller suffered a head injury.
Pros: As one of the three Masterton Trophy finalists, Emery's perseverence has landed him back in the NHL. As was the case when he was in Ottawa, if Emery has his head on straight, he's a good, athletic goalie. He can also chuck knucks which is sure to appease the Renfrew crowd (the windbreaker audience has money too y'know).
Cons: Time heals wounds but with the media and fan fervor, it's probably not the right environment for the maligned goaltender to come back to. Been there. Done that.
4) Thomas Greiss
Selected by the San Jose Sharks in the third round (94th overall) in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft, at 25 years of age, Greiss is one of the youngest goalies available in the UFA market .
Pros: Without a wealth of experience, Greiss should be cost effective. According to Justin Goldman, Greiss is "capable of being a #1 goalie in the NHL, let's hope his agent is working the phones."
And from Hockey's Future:
One of the top goaltending prospects to come out of Germany in recent years, Greiss was one of the top statistical goalies in the DEL. He plays a calm, focused game, and one of his strongest assets is his ability to read and anticipate plays. Because of this is he is usually one step ahead of shooters and is therefore able to rely on excellent positioning to make his saves. At 6’1 195 lbs, Greiss has good size and strength, particularly in his legs.
Cons: He may be one of the youngest players in UFA but he's also one of the least experienced. With only 19 NHL games under his belt, there's only a small body of work to analyze. He also has shared a locker room with Dany Heatley and Joe Thornton and knows what it takes to win.
5) Matthew Spezza
As an undrafted free agent, Matthew Spezza may not have the pedigree of some of the aforementioned goaltenders in this list but what he lacks in talent, he makes up for with his familiarity with the rigors of a NHL practice. You also can't overstate the fact that he has his own equipment.
|2002-03||St. Mike's Buzzers||OPJHL||11||0||6|
|2003-04||St. Mike's Buzzers||OPJHL||11||0||8|
|2005-06||St. John's Fog Devils||QMJHL||9||0||0||355||24||0||0||4.06||2||3||0||189||0.887|
Pros: Matthew has the bloodlines to be an effective player. As we've seen with his brother Jason, Spezza's get better with age. Any contract should be cost effective since he has already demonstrated that he'll work for free. He's also familiar with the shooting tendencies of Senators players, which is beneficial because most of them play on other teams right now. And much like his pursuit of a drunk driver/sexual assault assailant, Matt does everything at high speed.
Cons: In what seems like one of his few NHL goals, Matthew is one of the few Senators goaltenders who has been unable to seize the opportunity to get regular playing time in the wake of Leclaire's injuries. Simply put, his window may have closed. Yet, despite this fact, he has shown absolutely no qualms in complaining to coaches about playing time.