- Pierre LeBrun, NHL
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The 2010 NHL free-agent market opens at noon ET Thursday. Here's a look at the top goaltenders who are set to become available:
Finished 2009-10 season with: San Jose Sharks
2009-10 salary: $6 million
Breakdown: Time for a fresh start after spending his entire NHL career with San Jose. You can argue both sides of the coin with the Russian netminder. You can point out he's had three consecutive 40-plus win seasons and posted a career-high .922 save percentage this past season. Or you can recall his nightmare Olympic quarterfinals tilt against Canada as well as his disappointing Western Conference finals against Chicago.
Nabokov would be a nice fit in Philadelphia (an upgrade from what was there in 2009-10), which is why the Flyers approached him this past weekend after receiving permission from San Jose. Still, it looks as though Nabokov will look at all his options on the market. And don't forget his age. He's one year younger than the dreaded 35-and-older rule (the one where the entirety of a contract counts against the salary cap even if a player retires), so that makes him more appealing to teams. No matter where he lands, he'll be taking a pay cut, at least in the NHL. If he's lowballed come Thursday, we're told the KHL could be another option for him.
Finished 2009-10 season with: Dallas Stars
2009-10 salary: $5.4 million
Breakdown: Turco got the lowball treatment from the Flyers during draft weekend; he was offered $2 million per year and declined. That's not to say Turco wouldn't love to play in Philly, but you can't blame him for wanting to see his full market options. Turco posted a respectable .913 save percentage this past season despite playing for a Stars team full of holes on defense. He has plenty of hockey left in him and, from conversations with ESPN.com during the past month, sounds eager to prove as much.
But because of the overloaded goalie market, the low number of starting jobs and suitors that don't have a lot of cap space, Turco is also headed for a pay cut. His priority, he told us, is to play for a winning team. We love the San Jose Sharks as a fit, but they don't want to spend a lot of money in goal. We'll see whether there's a meeting of the minds Thursday and whether the Flyers come calling again. Like Nabokov, Turco is free of the 35-and-older rule.
Finished 2009-10 season with: St. Louis Blues
2009-10 salary: $3 million
Breakdown: No one was more shocked by the stunning acquisition of Jaroslav Halak than Mason, whose agent was trying to hammer out a new deal. Instead, after reportedly turning down $3.7 million per season in the last offer from St. Louis, Mason finds himself on the market, and he might not find that kind of money given the competition for jobs. But he is a really good goalie, as underlined by his career-high 30 wins this past season, and that was on a nonplayoff team. Like Nabokov and Turco, he avoids the 35-and-older rule, which should work to his advantage. He's established himself as a reliable starting goalie and would be a nice fit in a place like Tampa Bay if the price is right.
Finished 2009-10 season with: Montreal Canadiens (via Nashville)
2009-10 salary: $2 million
Breakdown: After he was beaten out of a starter's job in Nashville by Pekka Rinne, Ellis and Dustin Boyd were traded to Montreal for Sergei Kostitsyn. Montreal now has until noon ET on Thursday to sign Ellis. He doesn't have the NHL experience of the high-end veteran netminders competing with him on the market, but his 49 wins and .912 save percentage during the past three seasons suggest a netminder who can do the job when given a chance. Ellis told ESPN.com two weeks ago he was hoping that his willingness to come cheap might be his niche in finding a new home. He's an intriguing choice because apparently the price will be right.
Finished 2009-10 season with: Philadelphia Flyers
2009-10 salary: $600,000
Breakdown: The Flyers met with Leighton's representative at the draft this past weekend in Los Angeles; there seems to be some level of interest in bringing him back, even though Philadelphia also spoke with the Turco and Nabokov camps. Just what exactly do we really know about Mr. Leighton? Is he the goalie who posted an impressive .918 save percentage in the regular season with the Flyers and shut down the Canadiens in the Eastern Conference finals? Or is he the journeyman goalie who was lit up like a Christmas tree by Chicago in the Stanley Cup finals? In the end, he's surely done enough to earn himself a raise, no matter where he plays next season.
Finished 2009-10 season with: New York Islanders
2009-10 salary: $1.4 million
Breakdown: His leverage on this year's market is hurt not only by the intense competition for jobs but also by the numbers he put up this past season (.896 save percentage and 3.27 goals-against average). In his defense, he kept a tremendous attitude in what was a less-than-ideal situation within a crowded crease also shared at times by Rick DiPietro and Dwayne Roloson. And the team in front of him wasn't grand. Don't forget, this is the same goalie who won 59 games in two seasons as a starter for the Flyers before the 2009-10 campaign. We believe Biron still can do the job in net. Maybe the Sabres could give the overtaxed Miller more of a rest with Biron in the fold in Buffalo. (Biron still lives there with his family.)
Finished 2009-10 season with: Washington Capitals
2009-10 salary: $4.5 million
Breakdown: After posting back-to-back 30-or-more win seasons in Washington, the veteran must make way for Semyon Varlamov and Michal Neuvirth. The former Hart and Vezina Trophy winner did a decent job with the Caps but unfortunately is likely to be better remembered for losing his starter's job in both of his playoff years with Washington. He's in for a pay cut this summer.
Finished 2009-10 season with: Tampa Bay Lightning
2009-10 salary: $600,000
Breakdown: Niittymaki had a strong first half on a bad Tampa team this past season but faded down the stretch. The one thing he did prove is he's free of the hip problems that had plagued him in the past. New Lightning GM Steve Yzerman held contract talks with Niittymaki's agent, Larry Kelly, during the past few weeks, but a deal did not materialize. Given the glut of goalies on the market, Yzerman is probably wise to see what's out there. Niittymaki did enough this past season to warrant a raise.
Finished 2009-10 season with: Calgary Flames
2009-10 salary: $4 million
Breakdown: Here's a candidate for the biggest pay cut in the NHL this summer. It's possible that spending three seasons playing behind one of the NHL's most brutal hockey teams in Toronto shattered his confidence, but whatever the reason, this Finnish netminder has lost his mojo. He did look respectable in Calgary late in the season after escaping Toronto, but his stock has plummeted. He's in for a serious adjustment once the market opens.
Finished 2009-10 season with: Atlanta Thrashers
2009-10 salary: $1.175 million
Breakdown: Amazingly, the veteran goalie posted a career-best .915 save percentage this past season. But at 37, teams will be wary. Still, he's a popular teammate and a solid backup. He's worth a one-year deal around $800,000.
Pierre LeBrun covers the NHL for ESPN.com.
The 2010 NHL free-agent market opens at noon ET Thursday. Here's a look at the top goaltenders who are set to become available.