There are plenty of players in the trade market this season who could have a major impact on the playoffs. Bo Horvat to the Islanders was the first of those, an offensive centre having a career year heading to a playoff bubble team that has the worst offence and power play in the league since the holiday break.
Wherever Timo Meier goes, an offensive boost is sure to follow — as well as a looming $10 million qualifying offer that could complicate the process. Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews will boost expectations wherever they land, and Ryan O’Reilly won the Conn Smythe after the last time he was traded. Jakob Chychrun will set the tone for an acquiring team this season and another two and should bring a haul back to Arizona, and an Erik Karlsson trade would really wow us.
But one thing was missing from our trade candidates list on Jan. 9 (to be updated Monday!): a goaltender.
We’ve had two trade deadlines through the flat cap period and a total of one impactful goalie was moved on or around either deadline: Marc-Andre Fleury and his expiring contract going from Chicago to Minnesota. The Blackhawks got a second-round pick for him.
Even before the pandemic deadlines, the last few times a notable netminder was traded the return wasn’t overflowing. Robin Lehner, for instance, was traded to Vegas for Malcolm Subban, a prospect and a second-round pick. When Jack Campbell was moved to Toronto along with Kyle Clifford, the Los Angeles Kings got Trevor Moore and a couple of thirds. Fleury was previously traded to Chicago in a salary dump. Montreal got Jake Allen for a third-rounder and two sevenths.
The goalie market isn’t really for the seller it seems, but one thing that’s become clear over the past few years is that maybe you need depth at this position for the playoffs the same way you need to be seven or eight deep on the blue line. Remember last season when the Penguins had to dig deep into their depth chart to turn to Louis Domingue, who played in six of their seven-game series against the Rangers? The Carolina Hurricanes turned to unproven rookie Pyotr Kochetkov in Games 2 and 3 of their opening round series, and then again in relief in both Games 6 and 7 for Antti Raanta as Frederik Andersen was out with injury.
Yes the Canes have three capable goalies when healthy this season, but rather than have one pop up on a list of trade candidates, it probably makes sense for them to keep them all. That might go for a team like Buffalo, too.
And so we wonder how teams may act with this position at the trade deadline.
Because of what happened last season, and since Tristan Jarry was hurt twice in January and Casey DeSmith had an .877 save percentage in the month, the Penguins are a team that could be looking to add to the position. There’s some question in Toronto, too, where Ilya Samsonov has taken over the top job, but Matt Murray is injured again. Could they seek depth, as they did by acquiring David Rittich in 2021, or maybe something more?
The goaltending market doesn’t have the same depth of skill as the other positions, nor does it have any surefire trade candidates. And yet, who’s to say someone won’t need a third string goalie to steal a few games this post-season?
Or does the fickle nature of the position leave you questioning if you even need to pick someone up at all? Maybe your third stringer would do just fine and be a positive story, as Kochetkov was last year.
Here are five netminders you might hear about in trade buzz leading up to the March 3 deadline who could have some measurable impact if moved.
Karel Vejmelka, Arizona Coyotes
January was a turbulent month for Vejmelka, who allowed four goals or more in five of his nine starts, but closed out the first half with a shutout win. He has a 13-17-4 record, .907 save percentage and 3.19 GAA behind a Coyotes roster that ranks 30th in expected goals per 60 minutes. But, measured on MoneyPuck.com’s Goals Saved Above Expected, Vejmelka ranks eighth in the league.
Vejmelka has potential, is 26, and signed at a manageable $2.75 million cap hit for another two seasons. You might not be acquiring him to be your playoff Game 1 starter, but how about as a backup or tandem option who also gives you some certainty at the position past 2022-23?
Joonas Korpisalo, Columbus Blue Jackets
After back-to-back sub-.900 save percentage seasons, Korpisalo was shut down in March last season due to hip surgery, and he didn’t play an NHL game again until Nov. 5. But since then he’s somewhat re-established himself and has been Columbus’ best at the position with an 8-9-3 record and .908 save percentage. The 28-year-old is on an expiring contract that counts for only $1.3 million against the cap and with 23-year-old Daniil Tarasov pushing for playing time and Elvis Merzlikins in Year 1 of a five-year contract with trade protection, the timing seems right for GM Jarmo Kekalainen to try and scoop an asset or two.
During a sneaky good 2021-22 season, there was some speculation Reimer could have been a trade target at last year’s deadline, when he still had an extra year of control on a contract paying $2.25 million against the cap. This season Reimer has taken a step back and ranks 80th of 87 goalies in MoneyPuck’s Goals Saved Above Expected stat. So maybe it’s even less likely he’ll move now, but since he’s a pending UFA the Sharks might just want to flip him for a draft asset and retain the necessary cap.
There is still some wonder if the Senators could act as a buyer this trade deadline, and their four-game winning streak heading into the break will fuel that fire. Still, the Sens are six points out of a playoff spot and need to jump over four teams to get there right now, so they may still have to make some seller’s decisions.
Enter Cam Talbot, their 35-year-old starter who is set to be a UFA in July. He’s been about league average this season with a .905 save percentage, but was injured making a pad save in a game about a week ago. If Talbot returns with enough time left before the trade deadline to show he’s healthy and can contribute down the stretch, he could be one to watch unless the Senators view him as an own-rental in a hopeful playoff charge.
Thatcher Demko, Vancouver Canucks
While some of the other names on this list are “sell” candidates, Demko is a different conversation. The Canucks won’t be “selling” Demko. That is, it doesn’t appear they are trying to move him, or that it’s even a priority. For this to happen, the market would need to be just right, and an eyebrow-raising, can’t-say-no offer might have to materialize.
There is a lot to unpack with this player. First, Demko is currently out with a hip/leg injury and hasn’t played a game since Dec. 1. That follows a “minor procedure” on his knee over the summer and a rough start to his 2022-23 campaign. Demko has allowed at least four goals in nine of his 15 starts this season and ranks 83rd of 87 goalies in MoneyPuck’s Goals Saved Above Expectation. Still, his performance in the 2020 playoff bubble and the two consecutive strong seasons that followed show Demko clearly could return to form as a reliable No. 1.
And while acquiring Demko would be a long-term addition given his $5 million contract goes through 2025-26, any team — especially those who need him to contribute right away — might want to see how he performs coming back from this injury. It’s been suggested Demko might be attractive to a playoff team like Los Angeles, or Pittsburgh, but Buffalo could also be an interesting fit, too.
The other thing about trading Demko is that it would leave the Canucks without any obvious successor at the position, unless it somehow comes back as part of the deal. The Canucks have indicated at every press event that they are not going to tear down the roster for a ground up rebuild, and moving Demko might be that kind of move.
“That’s the white flag move if you decide to trade Thatcher Demko,” Daily Faceoff’s Frank Seravalli said Tuesday on Canucks Central. “If they decide to trade Demko it’s full scale rebuild and I don’t have any indication yet that’s a path they’re going to go down. I think it’d be crazy to not consider all your options given where you’re at, but from everything they’ve said publicly we don’t have any indications they’re ready and willing to do that.”
If the Canucks are going to move on from Demko, they have to get a great return. At the moment, they might not be selling high, but everything should be on the table in that market right now.