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Looking for a free agent goalie this summer? Go for a backup

Mar 2, 2011, 5:34 PM EDT

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While the Ilya Kovalchuk Saga dominated the biggest headlines during last summer’s free agent months, the most surprising storyline involved NHL teams closing up their pocketbooks when it came to free agent goalies. Really, the only netminders who signed good deals that summer were restricted free agents such as Carey Price, Steve Mason and Jaroslav Halak. Halak was the only one of the three to sign with a different team to boot.

Judging by Craig Custance’s top five UFA goalies list, there won’t be many options for hockey teams searching for a No. 1 goalie. Especially when you consider the fact that the Coyotes would fall apart without Ilya Bryzgalov and Breezy actually might not find a better fit than Dave Tippett’s stingy defensive system, either.

(I’d also strongly advise the Senators to re-sign Craig Anderson. Like, now.)

Then again, there really aren’t that many teams looking for a top goalie at this point. If the Blackhawks manage to keep Corey Crawford and the Maple Leafs decide that James Reimer is their goalie of the present as well a the future, the list of teams looking for a starter probably boils down to: the Lightning, Avalanche, Islanders and Panthers.

Yet there’s one other goalie-related trend developing in the league: it seems like there’s a bit of a Renaissance in the backup position. From sturdy veterans such as Brian Boucher and Brent Johnson to surprise starters such as Crawford to surprisingly successful reclamation projects like Jose Theodore and Andrew Raycroft, No. 2 guys have been saving the day for many NHL teams. Just look at how well the Devils are doing with Johan Hedberg – and conversely, how over-worked Ryan Miller is since the Sabres don’t trust Patrick Lalime – and it’s clear that a dependable backup is one of the most underrated assets in the league.

Sure, these guys aren’t the netminders you want leading your team during Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals, but they might give your starter crucial rest to get there. Here’s a quick list of some of the best backup goalies (or should-be backups) who will be available this summer:

There are also three wild card options if teams want to roll the dice: Marty Turco, Jean-Sebastien Giguere and Ray Emery. Even Peter Budaj and Martin Gerber might have a shot at being halfway competent.

Looking over that list of goalies, let’s put this simply. Barring injuries, your team’s GM won’t have any excuse for riding a workhorse starter for 31 straight games next season. Maybe you can’t find a home run in the goalie market (unless you’re lucky enough to land Tomas Vokoun or Bryzgalov), but it’s better to hit for average rather than power in free agency in general.

Long story short, no team should be without backup in the 2011-12 season.

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