NHL offseason 2013: Goalie market primed with potential opportunity

Jeff Gross

The trade of Jonathan Bernier could be the first of several offseason moves that involve a goaltender joining a new team.

Goaltending is expected to be a primary focus in the 2013 NHL offseason. Based upon reports, rumors and speculation, it's believed that top-tier talent will be available this summer, whether by free agency or trade. With this in mind, it's anticipated that movement will be coming over the next few weeks.

The process began in earnest on Sunday afternoon when the Los Angeles Kings formally announced that Jonathan Bernier had been traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs in exchange for Ben Scrivens, Matt Frattin and a conditional second-round draft selection. While Bernier is unproven, many believe that he has the potential to be a No. 1 goaltender in the league. This prospective production was strong enough to generate interest among several teams.

Bernier is a restricted free agent this summer, which will require Toronto to negotiate a new contract with the 24-year-old netminder. Assuming that process is a formality, the teams who were unable to acquire Bernier are still in the market for a goaltender.

The primary options available to those clubs likely include Buffalo Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller, Roberto Luongo of the Vancouver Canucks and unrestricted free agent Mike Smith.

Miller's availability appears to be a fluid situation. Reports have indicated that the Sabres are going to go through a complete restructuring of their organization, with a focus on developing through the draft. Miller is entering the final year of his contract in 2013-14 and will become an unrestricted free agent this summer. It's been portrayed that the Sabres will look to move Miller in the event that he won't sign a contract extension. Conversely, it's also been presented that re-signing Miller will be far too costly considering the expected rebuild.

The goaltender is likely a viable asset that could fetch a healthy return via trade. For a franchise like Buffalo, which has hinted that a youth movement might be in the works, someone of Miller's caliber could aide in acquiring draft picks and/or prospects that could help in a restructuring. Especially if he has no intention of returning beyond next season.

Luongo's situation is well chronicled. Both sides are interested in getting a deal done but have had a difficult time finding a willing partner. This is likely because Vancouver manager Mike Gillis has been asking for too much in a return and Luongo's contract is an unattractive attachment. Toronto was believed to be the best fit, but the acquisition of Bernier has complicated that.

In the event that Gillis can't find a trade, the team has the option of using a compliance buyout. Of course, that might not go over well with ownership and would be a waste of an asset.

Smith is the least complicated option given that he is a free agent. Of course, that's only if a team is comfortable with his contract demands, which are reportedly steep. Some believe that Smith might be inclined to remain with the Phoenix Coyotes given that head coach Dave Tippett has signed an extension with the team. Based on previous reports, it seems as though a combination of circumstance, salary and situation (the team's ability to ice a competitive team), are the most important factors to Smith and will ultimately sway his decision.

A wild card option could be Philadelphia Flyers netminder Ilya Bryzgalov. It's unclear what the Flyers are going to do with the goaltender. From a speculative perspective, it appears as though the situation is fluid. If the Flyers are presented with an opportunity that is appealing to them, Bryzgalov could be administered a compliance buyout. That opportunity could span from a new direction in goal to requiring cap space to add a skater.

Former Flyers goaltender and reigning Vezina Trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky is also a possibility. Bobrovsky is a restricted free agent this summer and negotiations have not progressed with the Columbus Blue Jackets. However, Columbus has made it clear that it has every intention of retaining Bobrovsky. This likely excludes him as a legitimate candidate this offseason. Of course, until Columbus finalizes a contract, it still leaves the door open.

Other potential options include unrestricted free agents Evgeni Nabokov and Niklas Backstrom. Both players played in 40-plus games last season, but are also older than 35. This leaves their teams, the New York Islanders and Minnesota Wild, with the option of pursuing new opportunities this offseason (however, both organizations have expressed interest in potentially retaining their services).

Other teams prospectively interested in goaltending could include the Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers, Florida Panthers, Philadelphia and Phoenix.

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