Free-agent goaltending market always in a state of flux

Chris Mason and Marty Turco will probably be the most intriguing players in the goaltenders’ free agent marketplace this summer and yet it’s impossible to know today whether that’s a good or bad situation.

The market for defensemen and forwards is always strong and predictable and the goaltending market is always in a state of flux.

An unrestricted veteran defenseman such as Dan Hamhuis or Joe Corvo knows there will be a place for him on some team. But an unrestricted goalie has far less certainty because the goalie market is highly volatile.

There are 30 No. 1 goaltender jobs in the NHL and 30 backup jobs. Right now, at least 22 or 23 teams are reasonably set in net and that number could easily be 26 or 27 when you factor in salary cap constraints and playoff performances.

Evgeni Nabokov is unrestricted, and what the San Jose Sharks do with him undoubtedly centers on what happens in the postseason. Likewise, the Washington Capitals wouldn’t likely be in the market for a new No. 1 if Semyon Varlamov does the job in the playoffs.

If the Chicago Blackhawks were dumped by the Nashville Predators, they might wish they had different goaltending. But they really aren’t in the salary cap position to spend more money on goaltending.

A case can be made that new Atlanta Thrashers GM Rick Dudley might consider a fresh start in net, but his lower payroll probably would make it difficult for him to jump headfirst into free agent goaltending.

If the St. Louis Blues don’t re-sign Mason, they would be looking for a goalie. It seems as Philadelphia will be in the marketplace. How about Ottawa or Tampa Bay? With no new GM in place in Tampa Bay, it’s simply difficult to project.

Another factor working against unrestricted free-agent goaltenders is that teams are reluctant now to hand out long-term deals to goalies because since the introduction of the salary cap five years ago there have been instances of $5 million goalies ending up on the bench because the No. 2 has beaten them out. That happened this season in Boston where rookie Tuukka Rask is now the playoff goalie and Thomas sits with a $5 million cap hit.

With that in mind, top unrestricted goalies might only be receiving one- and two-year offers.

Mason, 33, has attractiveness, and the Blues might re-sign him before the draft. His career save percentage of .914 and goals-against average of 2.54 are almost identical to Buffalo goalie Ryan Miller. Mason made $3 million last season, and he’s going to want a raise.

Turco certainly will land somewhere. He turns 35 just before the season, but his save percentage improved this season and he still handles the puck extremely well. He would seem to be a good fit for a veteran, contending team like Philadelphia.

Another intriguing goalie is Dan Ellis. He beat out Mason in Nashville and forced Mason to be dealt to St. Louis where Mason further established himself. Now Ellis is second chair behind Pekka Rinne in Nashville, and he’s probably hoping a change in venue will allow him to be a No. 1.