Last summer the New York Rangers faced the difficult task of replacing Antti Raanta in free agency after he was shipped to Arizona as part of the Derek Stepan deal. Gorton filled that hole by signing Ondrej Pavelec. At the time, the logic behind the Pavelec signing was that the former starting goaltender might help reduce Henrik Lundqvist’s workload. As we all know, that is not how things worked out last season.
Now, Pavelec is an unrestricted free agent and Lundqvist is another year older. So, on paper, it looks like there’s room for another goaltender in New York or Hartford. Jeff Gorton was asked about the team’s goaltending situation heading into free agency on June 25. and his response was pretty ambiguous.
“At free agency we’ll go in and see what the prices are and the availabilities. But, at the same time, we do like Mazanec a lot, and Georgiev — from last year — showed a lot. Those are two guys we’re looking at as well. So, we’re looking, we’ll see what’s out there, but we’re pretty happy with those two.”
Gorton might be happy with Mazanec and Georgiev, but he can’t be too thrilled with prospects Brandon Halverson or Chris Nell. Both goalies left a lot to be desired playing in the ECHL and AHL last season. There’s a chance that the front office wants to see if Halverson, 22, is ready to backup Mazanec in Hartford, but it’s hard to know where things stand with the former second round pick.
The good news is that Alexandar Georgiev exceeded everyone’s expectations with his play last season. It’s also important to note that the Rangers re-signed Wolf Pack starter Marek Mazanec in June. However, the Rangers should consider adding another goalie in free agency or on a PTO when training camp arrives. Ideally, that goaltender should be able to compete with Mazanec for starts or challenge Georgiev for the backup role at the NHL level.
Why go through the trouble of bringing in another goaltender? The last thing that the Rangers need to do is run Lundqvist into the ground again. If this organization wants to increase his chances of being a valuable asset two or three years from now, they need to protect him from his own desire to play 65 games in a season. Adding another goalie to the mix means adding some insurance — and a little insurance for the benefit of Hank to help hold the fort until Igor Shestorkyin
So, who’s still out there? Honestly, the pickings are pretty slim.
Ondrej Pavelec, 30
The Rangers would know exactly what they’re getting in Pavelec. The veteran netminder was inconsistent last season, but when he was on his game he was a lot of fun to watch play.
Bringing Pavelec back for another year makes a lot of sense on paper. He’s at the stage in his career where he’s no longer considered a starter, but his lengthy experience with that role means he should be capable of shouldering a heavier workload than most backups. It’s also worth mentioning that the Czech spent a good chunk of time in the AHL in 2016-17, so if he loses the battle for the backup role to Georgiev, an AHL assignment won’t be new to him.
Steve Mason, 30
Obviously, things didn’t work out for Mason in Winnipeg last year. The Jets dealt him to Montreal on June 30. The Canadiens bought him out on the same day, making Mason an unrestricted free agent.
Canadiens today announced the buyout of Steve Mason’s contract (2,733,333$M over next two seasons). Mason was placed on unconditional waivers on June 30. He was acquired via a trade from the Winnipeg Jets on June 30.— Canadiens Montréal (@CanadiensMTL) July 1, 2018
Mason is only two years removed from being a starting goaltender with a .918 save percentage with the Flyers. However, his 13 game sample size from last season and his injury history spell out “proceed with caution” for his potential suitors. The right-catching goalie is intriguing, but he likely isn’t a great fit in New York.
Kari Lehtonen, 34
Lehtonen seemed to flourish in his new role as a backup in Dallas last season. Well, flourish is a pretty strong word. The Finn finished the season with a .912 save percentage — his best performance in four years.
Lehtonen knows he is going to finish his time in the NHL as a backup, and at this point even that is something of an uncertainty. The veteran might be interested in a change of scenery after a rocky tenure in Dallas, even if that means spending some time in the AHL.
Cale Morris, 22
Morris is an unrestricted college free agent. The undersized goalie posted a .944 save percentage behind a strong Notre Dame team last season. That number alone makes him worth a look.
Cale Morris of Notre Dame officially named Mike Richter Award winner as top goalie.— College Hockey News (@chnews) April 7, 2018
Chris Dilks, from SB Nation’s College Hockey site, wrote about Morris’ role with the Irish and his potential NHL future back in February.
The thing that stood out to me the most was that his balance and body control is exceptional. The toughest save for any goalie to make is moving in one direction and having the make save in the other direction. Morris isn’t only quick moving side-to-side, he’s also able to separate his upper body from lower body and still be able to make that save while moving in the opposite direction. Again, he’s not facing a lot of desperate scramble situations, but he always looks very calm and poised in the net.
Is Morris ready to leave Notre Dame to play hockey in the AHL? Gorton and Chris Drury won’t know until they ask him. Do the Rangers have room for another goalie contract on the books? Well, both Halverson and Nell have one year left on their deals. And if Gorton doesn’t feel strongly about Halverson being ready for the AHL next season, adding a college free agent to step into that role might be the best option.
Salary cap information courtesy of capfriendly.com