Maple Leafs trade and free agent targets: Ranking 16 goalies for Toronto

It’s been a long time since the Maple Leafs crease felt this unsettled.

Even last offseason, when it felt likely Frederik Andersen would go elsewhere in free agency, the Leafs at least had Jack Campbell around for another season to fill half the crease.

With Campbell’s return uncertain and Petr Mrazek’s contract a problem that will (likely) need to be expunged somehow, it’s not clear who the Leafs will have in net when they start the 2022-23 season.

It’s also unclear who will be coaching the Leafs’ goalies. The lack of a goalie coach is a void that free agents potentially interested in coming to Toronto are curious about, as it will impact their decision on whether or not to sign. Free agent goalies are also pondering the fact the Leafs are somewhat limited in how much cap room they have to allocate to the position.

For the second straight offseason, we scoured the league for the likeliest candidates to play goal for the Leafs on both the trade and free agent markets and ranked them all using our patented Goalie Algorithm™. Potential starters were grouped into one section. The backup and tandem types are in another.

Unlike last offseason, the Leafs will likely need two goalies, not one.

Our algorithm consists of five weighted categories:

Ability: This is a measure of how good the goalie projects to be.
Cap impact: What impact will adding this goalie have on the Leafs’ cap?
Pedigree: Does this goalie have a track record of success?
Upside: How good can this goalie be?
Acquisition cost: Do the Leafs have to give up something to get this goalie. And if so, how much?

This means that a goalie with slightly lesser ability might still rank higher than one with a minimal cap hit, for example.


Potential Starters

7. John Gibson

Status: Under contract for five more years, $6.4 million cap hit

The upside here could be high. It wasn’t long ago John Gibson was legitimately one of the top goalies in the league. He likely would have nabbed a spot in Team USA’s crease had NHLers gone to the 2022 Beijing Olympics. And yet, the risks are real and obvious, too. Gibson has been a .904 save percentage goalie for the past three seasons. He’s had injury issues. And of course, there’s the contract: Five more years, with what’s currently the fourth-highest cap hit of any goaltender next season – $6.4 million. Would the Ducks eat some of that money? Gibson is also known, fairly or not, as a different sort of personality. The Leafs might wonder how he’d fit with their team under the spotlight in Toronto. Chris Johnston has reported that the Leafs aren’t interested in Gibson for whatever reason, so maybe we can cross him off entirely. And, yet, given the lack of clear potential No. 1s out there, he may have to at least be considered.


John Gibson’s contract makes him a risky possibility, albeit with high upside. (Gary A. Vasquez / USA Today)

6. Jordan Binnington

Status: Under contract for five more years, $6 million cap hit

Are the Blues still committed to Binnington after last season, when he lost his starting job (before regaining it again) to Ville Husso? Do they prefer – and are willing to pay – Husso now instead? If it’s the latter, maybe the Leafs can pry Binnington, a product of the Toronto suburbs, out of St. Louis and have him lock down their crease for the foreseeable future. Should the Leafs be willing to take on a contract that long and pricey? You can make a case that Binnington is worth the bet. (Although his cap hit and long-term commitment keep him lower in the rankings.) He’s already backstopped a Stanley Cup winner (2019), and in the three seasons before last, he ranked third in the NHL in goals saved above expected at five-on-five, trailing only Connor Hellebuyck and Gibson.

5. Ville Husso

Status: UFA

Feel like a bit of a gamble? Husso may be your guy. He’s coming off a strong season for the Blues, one that saw him swipe the No. 1 job from Binnington during the regular season. Husso posted a top-10 five-on-five save percentage (.926) and stopped 13 goals more than expected overall, a figure on par with Vezina Trophy finalist Juuse Saros. Husso is 6-foot-3 and more than 200 pounds, and he’s only 27. There’s upside potential here. Husso has played a grand total of 57 NHL games though, 40 of which came this season. Should the Leafs hitch their Stanley Cup wagon to someone so inexperienced? It would be quite a bet, that’s for sure. Husso is believed to be seeking more than $4.5 million a season with some term. If his price tag ends up slightly lower, on a three- or four-year deal, maybe he’s worth that bet?

4. Jack Campbell

Status: UFA

The biggest selling point for the Leafs might be plain old familiarity. While Campbell remains something of an unknown when it comes to upside, and whether he can in fact lead a crease over 82 games and a long playoff run, the Leafs at least know who he is and how well he fits onto their team. That counts for something. Maybe not enough though when factoring in the much higher price tag he’ll be eyeing in free agency. To sign Campbell, Toronto is going to have to contend with teams like the Devils, who could be far more aggressive with term and dollars to upgrade in goal.

3. Darcy Kuemper

Status: UFA

You could argue Kuemper should top this list. Based on ability, he does. Kuemper finished among the league’s best with a .921 save percentage during the regular season and has performed pretty consistently over the years (albeit in sometimes limited duty). He figures to be the No. 1 goaltender available in free agency (if the Avs don’t sign him first) and should demand more than $5 million a season on a long-term deal.

Goals saved above expected (2021-22)

Should the Leafs be the team to step up and pay it? It would be a large commitment at an unpredictable position to a guy who will be 33 when the 2023 postseason rolls around. Another consideration: Kuemper has started more than 30 games in a season only twice. His track record as a No. 1 is limited. As maybe the best goalie in a crowd of uncertain options (assuming he goes to market), the Leafs will have no choice but to seriously inquire.


Darcy Kuemper is due a big payday this offseason. (Ron Chenoy / USA Today)

2. Marc-Andre Fleury

Status: UFA

Fleury was No. 1 on our goalie target rankings last summer, and he remains an intriguing fit again this offseason. He didn’t perform quite as well last season as he’s shown in the past, although most of it came with a Chicago team that misfired badly. Fleury will be 38 in November, so the Leafs would be looking at a short-term fix with tons of experience and expertise. He, after all, did win his first Vezina Trophy only two seasons ago.

After last season, the price might be manageable: Evolving Hockey projects a $4.7 million cap hit on a two-year deal. We know the Leafs like Fleury after they heavily pursued him in a failed trade deadline deal. And given conversations with sources around the league, we believe Fleury would be willing to come to Toronto, as he aims to join a contending team with his next (and perhaps final) contract.

The Leafs will have competition for his services, but there is a fit here that could make a lot of sense.

1. Semyon Varlamov

Status: Under contract for one more season, $5 million cap hit

Varlamov checks a lot of boxes.

Most important of all, he remains a very good – and largely consistent – goalie. At 34 years old, he’s performed well in both the regular season and playoffs.

Semyon Varlamov’s last 5 seasons

Season GP SV% GSAx

2021-22

31

.912

3.7

2020-21

36

.929

9.8

2019-20

45

.914

1.3

2018-19

49

.909

-8.7

2017-18

51

.920

5.7

In fact, Varlamov has actually performed a little better in the postseason in his career (.919 save percentage) than in the regular season (.916). He backstopped the Islanders to the brink of the Stanley Cup Final in 2020. (They lost in six games to Tampa.)

Also appealing: There’s no long-term commitment, with just one season on his deal. And the price point is reasonable for a goalie of Varlamov’s calibre.

While Varlamov can’t just be plucked in the free-agent fields like other goalies on this list, it typically doesn’t cost much at all to trade for a goaltender, especially one on an expiring contract. (Fleury cost Chicago almost nothing last offseason.) The Islanders have a very good No. 1 goalie in Ilya Sorokin and have defenceman Noah Dobson to re-sign this offseason along with other holes to fill. They could definitely use the cap space trading Varlamov would offer.

This could be a win-win for the Leafs and the team run by their former GM, Lou Lamoriello.


Potential backups and tandem types

9. Matt Murray

Status: Under contract for two more seasons, $6.25 million cap hit

We went deep into the weeds of a Murray acquisition earlier this month. In short, if he’s bought out by the Senators, Murray would make some sense as a No. 2 joining the Leafs as a low-priced free agent. Otherwise, his acquisition would be highly questionable.

8. Alexandar Georgiev

Status: RFA

A pure upside play. Georgiev has played about as many NHL games (129) as Jack Campbell (135). He’s only 26 though. Of course, he hasn’t been nearly as effective as Campbell while playing a supporting role in the Rangers’ crease (.908 career save percentage). Maybe the Leafs, and whomever is ultimately charged with overseeing the goaltending department, believes there’s a better goalie in there somewhere. Feels like a stretch, especially with Georgiev in need of a new contract. Evolving Hockey projects something similar to his last deal: Two years, $2.43 million cap hit.

7. Casey DeSmith

Status: UFA

He’s not some up-and-comer: DeSmith will be 31 in August. And at a position that’s increasingly prioritized size, he’s not particularly big at 6-foot and 181 pounds. Still, DeSmith could be a decent (and cheap) No. 2 for the Leafs, someone who starts 25-30 games in service of a more established No. 1. DeSmith has a .915 save percentage in 96 career NHL games.

6. Jonathan Bernier

Status: Under contract for one more season, $4.125 million cap hit

Hip surgery ended Bernier’s season last year. That’s a not-so-small red flag for a 33-year-old with a lengthy injury history who’s 6-foot, 185 pounds and pulling down over $4 million on the cap for next season. The only way a Bernier reunion makes any sense at all is if the Devils want to retain some of his money and the Leafs instill him as their veteran No. 2.

5. Jake Allen

Status: Under contract for one more season, $2.875 million cap hit

Allen makes a lot of sense for the Leafs as either a backup or tandem type – if, that is, the Canadiens retain some of what’s remaining on his contract. The 31-year-old has been a perfectly respectable goalie over a decade-long NHL career (.911 save percentage). Allen was once a No. 1 in St. Louis, so he boasts the kind of starter’s experience that’s sometimes necessary out of a No. 2. At worst, he could give the Leafs 30-odd games during the regular season and offer some sense of security in the playoffs, where he’s started 23 games.


Jake Allen could be a decent short-term tandem option for the Leafs. (Charles LeClaire / USA Today)

4. Braden Holtby

Status: UFA

The days of Holtby starting 50 games a year and contending for the Vezina are almost certainly over. In fact, he may even opt to retire this offseason, with his 33rd birthday not far off and some hard miles on the chassis.

That said, Holtby showed last season he can provide stability in a support role and do it for a fairly low price. (Evolving Hockey projection: One year, $1.44 million cap hit.) He had a .913 save percentage in 24 appearances for Dallas last year before missing the last 26 games and postseason with a lower-body injury.

Question No. 1 if the Leafs decide to inquire on Holtby: Is he healthy?

3. Jonathan Quick

Status: Under contract for one more season, $5.8 million cap hit

Here’s what we know about Quick:

1. He’s got as much big-game experience as any goalie out there, performing expertly, for the most part, in two Stanley Cup runs with the Kings.

2. He’s among the better goalies of his generation, with six top-10 finishes in Vezina voting.

3. Quick can still be a pretty effective goaltender when healthy. He’s also 36 going on 37 and close to the end of a career that’s already 15 years long.


Is Jonathan Quick too pricey for the Leafs? (Gary A. Vasquez / USA Today)

There’s also that contract. But get the Kings to retain half on what’s left and Quick might be an okay short-term solution. He’s still probably good for 40-plus games a year (he’s played at least that many in each of the last four full seasons), though at what level is uncertain. Quick was among the league leaders in goals saved above expected last season. In the three seasons prior, he posted a .896 save percentage. Now, those were for so-so Kings teams. Maybe with the Leafs, an underrated squad defensively, he can deliver again in a tandem role.

2. James Reimer

Status: Under contract for one more season, $2.25 million cap hit

Reimer is coming off his busiest season yet in the NHL: He started a career-high 46 games for the Sharks — only one fewer than Campbell managed for the Leafs — and performed fairly well (.911 save percentage).  In fact, over the past three seasons, Reimer’s .911 save percentage is tied for 20th league-wide (minimum 70 starts) – just behind Andersen (.912) and Campbell (.913). He’s 11th in that stretch in stopping nearly 11 goals more than expected. Reimer is best suited to play as part of a tandem, or as a backup, at this point, though. The upside isn’t exactly high, and it’s reasonable to wonder about relying on Reimer in the playoffs, where he’s started only 10 times (seven with the Leafs in 2013). Pair him with another tandem type and do you have goaltending good enough to win a Stanley Cup? That’s debatable, at best. The rebuilding-ish Sharks have Adin Hill under contract next season and young goalie Kaapo Kahkonen in the mix, so they do have some reason to deal Reimer.


Red Wings starter Alex Nedeljkovic would be an intriguing option if made available. (John E. Sokolowski / USA Today)

1. Alex Nedeljkovic

Status: Under contract for one more season, $3 million cap hit

Do the Red Wings have any desire to move Nedeljkovic one year before he hits unrestricted free agency? He’s their 26-year-old No. 1 goalie – their only goalie signed for next season – and coming off an okay second full NHL season, so maybe not. If, however, GM Steve Yzerman wants to pursue a longer term option this summer (Michigan native Campbell for instance), or nab an asset for the Wings rebuilding project, the Leafs might want to take a look. Nedeljkovic was a Calder Trophy finalist with the Hurricanes two seasons ago, rocking the party with a .932 save percentage. His numbers predictably fell off with a much lesser squad in Detroit last season (.901).

Like others on this list, Nedeljkovic would be a gamble, given his limited resume. He’s also on the smaller side – at 6-foot, 203 pounds. The commitment is short, though, and the cap hit is minimal, so as one half of a tandem approach, Nedeljkovic should be an option. He’s got some upside, too.

Then again, the Leafs could have had him last summer – he cost the Wings only a third-round pick – so maybe he’s not in their wheelhouse. But the Leafs have vowed to approach the way they look at goaltenders differently this offseason and will have new staff onboard in that department.


Honourable mentions

Karel Vejmelka, ARI (signed an extension in March); Chris Driedger, SEA (questionable contract and long-term injury); Philipp Grubauer, SEA (extremely questionable contract).

(Top photo of Semyon Varlamov: Jayne Kamin-Oncea / USA Today)

Stats and research courtesy of Natural Stat Trick, Evolving Hockey, Hockey Reference, and Cap Friendly

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