The song has barely begun, but already the music is ready to end. And the teams scrambling for a solution to their struggles in goal could soon find themselves on the losing end of this high-stakes game of musical chairs.
The free agency period doesn’t begin until July 1, but another potential target was taken off the market on Tuesday. Minnesota goalie Josh Harding re-signed with the Wild, inking a three-year deal that Michael Russo of the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported to be worth $5.7 million for an annual cap hit of $1.9 million.
Harding was arguably the top pending unrestricted free agent goalie scheduled to hit the market this summer. While he’s been a backup playing 117 games over parts of six seasons with the Wild, he has the potential to become a starter. He just turned 28 on Monday and has a career 2.65 GAA and .916 save percentage.
Harding’s goal is to become the No. 1 in Minnesota, but he will have to supplant Nicklas Backstrom to do that. Backstrom, 34, has one year remaining on his current deal with a $6 million cap hit.
The pickings are slim on the UFA market for teams like Toronto, Columbus and Chicago that are looking for help in goal. The likes of Scott Clemmenson, Martin Biron, Chris Mason, Dan Ellis, Al Montoya and Johan Hedberg are now the cream of the UFA netminding crop, and each of them are better served as options in a backup role.
The goalie market is pretty barren beyond the UFA supply as well. Tim Thomas could have been an attractive trade option, but has chosen to take the year off. Tampa Bay beat the rush and acquired a potential new starter in a trade for Predators backup Anders Lindback, who was blocked in Nashville by Vezina finalist Pekka Rinne. Pittsburgh also picked up insurance for Marc-Andre Fleury by trading for Tomas Vokoun‘s rights and signing him to a two-year deal.
That leaves Roberto Luongo, and the 10 years remaining on his albatross of a 12-year, $64 million deal, as a potential trade target. Perhaps Minnesota would be willing to part with Backstrom now that the Wild have locked up Harding. Jonathan Bernier could be a possibility with little chance of overtaking Conn Smythe winner Jonathan Quick in Los Angeles, but the Kings have given no indication that they are willing to part with their talented backup.
That could put teams with restricted free agents goalies like Carey Price, Cory Schneider and Tuukka Rask in danger. Few teams have utilized offer sheets to go after RFAs, but this lean goalie market may entice a GM to risk the wrath of his colleagues by trying to poach a player off a rival’s roster to try to find a solution to the most important position on the ice.