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Free Agency and Trades; Ranking the Available Goalies Market

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Pittsburgh Penguins trade, Matt Murray, Robin Lehner, Braden Holtby

Vegas Golden Knights goalie Robin Lehner was traded for middling-starter value months ago at the NHL trade deadline. Lehner has not only supplanted Marc-Andre Fleury as the Vegas starting goalie, but he has also pushed Vegas into the Western Conference Final with three shutouts in their seven-game Round Two victory over the Vancouver Canucks. The interest around Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Matt Murray also seems to be growing into an auction with more and more interest fueling a Penguins trade.

PHN expects a quick resolution. A Penguins trade should happen in the coming weeks, now that all teams with interest, including the Colorado Avalanche who were eliminated by the Dallas Stars on Friday, have begun their offseason. Colorado is now free to pursue Murray.

An industry source told PHN their interest has not diminished since they began discussions in February.

However, the goalie market is flooded, which complicates the Penguins trade hopes. The market has become a high-stakes poker game, in which neither buyer nor seller can overplay their hand. Eleven free agent goalies have starter experience, and approximately six goalies on the NHL trade block.

NHL Trade Market and Free Agent Goalie Power Rankings

1. Robin Lehner (UFA)

Vegas acquired Lehner in a three-team deal at the NHL trade deadline. The Chicago Blackhawks received struggling young goalie Malcolm Subban, second-tier prospect Slava Demin, and a second-round pick.

Last summer, Lehner signed a one-year $5 million deal with Chicago after leading the New York Islanders into Round Two. However, Lehner has publicly said he’s done signing short contracts to prove his value. His playoff performance speaks volumes, too.

2. Matt Murray (Trade candidate)

The surging interest in Murray vaulted him ahead of others on the list. His regular season was a series of peaks and deep valleys. He finished the regular season with an .899 save percentage but reclaimed the Penguins net before the pandemic pause.

There appear to be several serious suitors or interested parties, including Colorado and the Toronto Maple Leafs. Word of other parties is speculative but includes Minnesota, Ottawa, Edmonton, and Calgary.

Murray is a two-time Stanley Cup winner and by far the youngest goalie on the list. The 25-year-old goalie may yet reach his peak, which adds to his Penguins trade value.

3. Braden Holtby (UFA)

The Washington Capitals have their heir apparent, Ilya Samsonov, ready and waiting. Holtby, the 2018 Stanley Cup-winning goalie, will most likely receive some hefty interest on the UFA market. He will soon turn 31, which puts him in his goalie prime. However, Holtby also struggled to an .899 save percentage this season.

Holtby would have been the prized free agent, if not for the emergence of Lehner. Of course, if Vegas re-signs Lehner, Holtby may draw even more interest.

4. Frederick Andersen (Trade Candidate)

After four straight opening-round dismissals, the Toronto Maple Leafs need to make changes. Despite four solid seasons, and a so-so 2019-20, Andersen is on the block. His save percentage dipped to .909 this season, and he may need a change of scenery.

Multiple media reports link Toronto to the Penguins. Toronto GM Kyle Dubas may try to flip Andersen and acquire Murray.

5. Marc-Andre Fleury (Trade Candidate)

What to make of the Flower? He slumped this season to a 27-16-5 record with a .905 save percentage. He’s 35, and there is concern that one of the most athletic goalies in NHL history is reaching the end. In two playoff starts this year, Fleury’s playoff stats belie his spectacular performances.

Pending the Vegas decision to re-sign Lehner, Fleury would be a late entry onto the NHL trade market and could create waves for a team looking for a veteran starter or a shepherd for a young goalie. Fleury is the current active leader among goalie wins, and his personality can loosen the tightest locker room.

Fleury has two more seasons with a $7 million cap hit. And yes, we’re curious it is even remotely possible that a Penguins trade could bring Fleury home, too.

6. Jacob Markstrom (UFA)

The big Vancouver goalie has not cemented his status as an elite starting goalie and thus resides in that tweener world between the best and the rest. This season, Markstrom set a full season career-high with a .918 save percentage.

Markstrom was also solid in the Vancouver playoff run, which ended Friday night, but an injury forced the goalie out of the final four games of the Vancouver Round Two series against Vegas. Thatcher Demko stole the show after Markstrom was injured and was spectacular.

Vancouver has been waiting for a few years for Demko to take the net. His breathtaking playoff performance (.985 save percentage) in the losing effort likely means he’ll finally get the chance.

7. Antii Raanta (Trade Candidate)

The presumed Arizona starter has been unable to stay healthy. Injuries kept Raanta out of the desert crease and allowed Darcy Kuemper to assert himself as the starter.

Arizona is in a mess after GM John Chayka tried to interview for the New Jersey Devils job secretly and is now out of a job. Arizona is close to the cap but short on talent and results. So, changes are coming.

Raanta is starting goalie quality. He posted a 15-14-3 record, but a .921 save percentage in 33 games. The 31-year-old has one season remaining with a $4.25 million cap hit. He will be a UFA after next season.

8. Joonas Korpisalso / Elvis Merzlikins (Trade Candidates)

Korpisalo took over the Columbus Blue Jackets net after Sergei Bobrovsky bolted to Florida for $70 million. Columbus has three goalies, including Korpisalo, Merzlikins, and Matiss Kivlenieks, so one is expendable.

Korpisalo, 26, won the July training camp competition and started the NHL postseason. He was reliable, if not spectacular, as Columbus beat Toronto in the Qualifying Round and put up a brave fight against the Tampa Bay Lightning in Round One.

Merzlikins, 26, excited the team and fans with his enthusiastic personality and puck stopping ability. In 33 games, Merzlikins had a healthy .923 save percentage.

Merzlikins’ two-year, $8 million contract kicks in next season, and Korpisalo will make $2.8 million. Columbus does not have to trade either, but the possibility exists.

Remaining Options

9. Anton Khudobin (UFA)

The Dallas puck-stopper is a prime 1A candidate whenever his solid playoff run ends. Khudobin is in the Dallas Stars net as starter Ben Bishop is injured. He is 34, so it would be a short-term contract. He had a .930 save percentage in 30 regular-season games behind Bishop.

10. Thomas Greiss (UFA)

The professional 1A goalie was able to give New York Islanders starting goalie Semyon Varlamov a breather in the playoffs and chip-in a couple of wins. Greiss, 34, has also pushed Varlamov this season, but Greiss is not a bonafide starter.

11. Corey Crawford (UFA)

It seems Crawford has been in Chicago forever. At 36-years-old with three Stanley Cups, Crawford should remain a Chicago Blackhawk until the end.

12. Jimmy Howard (UFA)

Howard, 36, played behind a terrible Detroit team this season, and his statistics bore that out. His .883 save percentage will scare away suitors, but perhaps he still has more to give, and playing with a better team could bring that out. Howard is headed for a 1A or backup role somewhere.

13. Henrik Lundqvist (Trade Candidate)

The New York Rangers have a full house with two younger and ready to start goalies. Lundqvist, 38, has a difficult choice ahead. If he wants to continue his NHL career, it’s probably elsewhere or as a backup in New York.

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