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Top NHL UFAs by position: Looking at the 10 best goaltenders available

During the lead-up to NHL free agency opening on Oct. 9, we’re taking a look the top UFAs at each position. Today, we’re breaking down a rich class of goalies who could be on the move this off-season.

When was the last time we had a crop of UFA goalies this strong? And that’s not even including those who could be on the trade block as general mangers look ahead to the Seattle expansion draft following the 2020-21 season.

Would-be UFA Robin Lehner, initially the No. 1 goalie on our list, set the market Saturday morning with the signing of a five-year, $25-million extension that keeps him with the Vegas Golden Knights. After signing back-to-back one-year deals and excelling on three different teams within the past two seasons — and putting up incredible playoff numbers both years, too — Lehner is now able to settle into a market for the long haul.

So, who’s up next?

With a handful of bona fide starters and several veterans still in line for those looking to take the tandem approach, the goalie market is poised to be busy this fall.

1. Jacob Markstrom
2019-20 team: Vancouver Canucks | Age: 30
2019-20 stats: 23-16-4, 2.75 GAA, .918 SV%, 2 SO in 43 GP
2019-20 cap hit: $3.67M

Markstrom and the Canucks are in a tough spot. There’s an understatement.

Both goalie and management have made it clear they’d like to keep the partnership going, but a flat cap, impending expansion draft, and emergence of youngster Thatcher Demko present clear obstacles in inking the veteran to a long-term pact.

Giving him the job security of a no-move clause means exposing Demko to Seattle, and that feels like a definite nope for the Canucks. Signing him without that NMC will no doubt cost a little extra against the cap — especially considering he’s got the leverage of being able to land it on the open market after another MVP-like season that saw his stock rise exponentially.

Re-signing Markstrom and playing out 2020-21 with an elite tandem will require some creativity on Benning’s part — most likely a trade — if he’s to keep both netminders out of reach of the Krakens’ grasp by season’s end.

2. Braden Holtby
2019-20 team: Washington Capitals | Age: 31
2019-20 stats: 25-14-6, 3.11 GAA, .897 SV%, 0 SO in 48 GP
2019-20 cap hit: $6.1M

A decline in his own performance, combined with the elite play of his peers like Lehner and Markstrom, places Holtby in unique territory this free agency — he’s won’t be the most coveted netminder of the crop, but he’ll no doubt be a much-sought after man considering his track record of success (headlined by a Stanley Cup just two years ago).

It’s likely we’ve seen the last of Holtby in Washington, but he’s still very much a No. 1 in this league and would likely benefit from a fresh start as the Capitals turn to their rookie, Ilya Samsonov, going forward.

3. Anton Khudobin
2019-20 team: Dallas Stars | Age: 34
2019-20 stats: 16-8-4, 2.22 GAA, .930 SV%, 0 SO in 30GP
2019-20 cap hit: $2.5M

With the exception of those in Tampa Bay, you really can’t not be a fan of Khudobin right now. The veteran was thrust into the spotlight this post-season after Stars starter Ben Bishop was sidelined, and Khudobin backstopped Dallas all the way to the Stanley Cup Final.

Every year, we learn and re-learn the importance of having a solid backup goalie (1B is probably a better description) — both in terms of getting a team to the playoffs and then keeping them there. While age will likely halt any long-term talks, term will probably be the key for Dallas to keep him in the fold considering Khudobin’s stock has never been higher. So high, in fact, that it’s possible he just played himself right out of Dallas’ budget.

4. Corey Crawford
2019-20 team: Chicago Blackhawks | Age: 35
2019-20 stats: 16-20-3, 2.77 GAA, .917 SV%, 1 SO in 40GP
2019-20 cap hit: $6M

The Blackhawks are intent on keeping Crawford in their crease, with general manager Stan Bowman telling reporters he’s “optimistic” he’ll be able to re-sign his No. 1 goalie.

“In every situation, I’m always looking on the bright side,” Bowman said, via the Chicago Sun-Times. “But until something comes to completion, I just don’t know. We still have time on our side here, and that’s what we’re working through. We’re realistic that it’s a possibility [he will become an unrestricted free agent], but that’s not what we’re focused on.”

His $6-million seasons are in the past, but as we saw during a short playoff run in the Edmonton bubble, Crawford’s still got plenty of good hockey in him and at this point in the Blackhawks’ rebuild, it makes little sense to move on from a qualified No. 1.

5. Thomas Greiss
2019-20 team: New York Islanders | Age: 34
2019-20 stats: 16-9-4, 2.74 GAA, .913 SV%, 0 SO in 30 GP
2019-20 cap hit: $3.33M

The Islanders have gone with the goalie-tandem approach the past five years with Greiss, pairing him first with Jaroslav Halak for three years followed by Robin Lehner in 2018-19 and then Semyon Varlamov in 2019-20.

Varlamov is the clear starter on Long Island — he’s under contract for the next three seasons at $5 million per year, and got the majority of playoff starts throughout New York’s post-season run this summer.

6. Cam Talbot
2019-20 team: Calgary Flames | Age: 33
2019-20 stats: 12-10-1, 2.63 GAA, .919 SV%, 2 SO in 26 GP
2019-20 cap hit: $2.75M

Considering the fate of the 2019-20 Flames, the roster that hits the ice in 2020-21 is probably going to have some key differences. But does that mean a new netminder?

Talbot said this week, via the Calgary Sun, that he’s hopeful he’ll receive an offer from the Flames brass ahead of Oct. 9.

“My status hasn’t really changed,” he said. “I’m still hopeful we can work something out with Calgary before the 9th hits, but I know they have a lot of other guys to re-sign, too.”

With the Flames this year, Talbot recorded his best goals-against average since his second season in Edmonton, and matched that year’s save percentage while playing second string to David Rittich.

“As of right now, there’s been maybe one line of communication so far — just saying, ‘Hey, I want to be back,’ and that they want me back. But no formal offers or anything like that just yet,” he said. “We’re hopeful for one within the next few days. They said that they’d get back to us. So hopefully there is going to be one coming. But as of now, there hasn’t been.”

7. Henrik Lundqvist
2019-20 team: New York Rangers | Age: 38
2019-20 stats: 10-12-3, 3.16 GAA, .905 SV%, 1 SO in 30 GP
2019-20 cap hit: $8.5M (bought out)

It’s the end of an era in New York, as the Rangers’ buyout of the final year of King Henrik’s contract makes official their plan to move forward with two young netminders.

So, where does that leave Lundqvist? Sportsnet’s Mike Johnston put together a list of intriguing potential options, should he opt to extend his career a few more seasons, with an emphasis on winning and the ability to mentor a young netminder in a crease-sharing role.

There’s not a hockey fan out there who doesn’t want to see The King crowned as a Stanley Cup champ before he hangs up his skates for good.

8. Mike Smith
2019-20 team: Edmonton Oilers | Age: 38
2019-20 stats: 19-12-6, 2.95 GAA, .902 SV%, 1 SO in 39 GP
2019-20 cap hit: $2M

Like the Flames, the Oilers have struggled to find the No. 1 netminder that can backstop this offensive team into an era of strong contention. It looks like Smith, unfortunately, was not the answer. Smith put up sub-par numbers in Edmonton and continued his troubling trend of falling flat in the post-season.

9. Craig Anderson
2019-20 team: Ottawa Senators | Age: 39
2019-20 stats: 11-17-2, 3.25 GAA, .902 SV%, 0 SO in 34 GP
2019-20 cap hit: $4.75M

It was confirmed late last month that the Ottawa Senators won’t be making an offer to Anderson, their primary goalie of the past decade. Anderson told reporters he intends to continue his career and has been training all off-season with that in mind.

10. Aaron Dell
2019-20 team: San Jose Sharks | Age: 31
2019-20 stats: 12-15-3, 3.01 GAA, .907 SV%, 0 SO in 33 GP
2019-20 cap hit: $1.9M

The 2019-20 season was not kind to the Sharks, who struggled mightily in many areas — especially in net, with the tandem of starter Martin Jones and Dell, who served as backup for the second fourth year.

After starting out strong in his first two NHL seasons in 2016-17 and 2017-18, Dell’s numbers took a nosedive the past two years. It looks like a fresh start for both goalie and team is in order.

More goaltenders to watch: Jimmy Howard, Louis Domingue, Ryan Miller

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