Second Prize in a Beauty Contest: looking at free agent goalies

Over the years, the Nashville Predators have been blessed with some pretty solid backup goaltenders, such as Chris Mason, Dan Ellis, and even Pekka Rinne for a time. However, the upcoming season sees the roster with no viable option to dress behind Rinne, the clear starting goalie. There's a strong possibility that David Poile is comfortable heading into camp with three rookies vying for the spot, so this may all be for naught. 

The free agent market is not without choices, however, so we'll take a look at who might be available after the jump.

The Candidates

Jose Theodore

#60 / Goalie / Free Agent

5-11

185

Sep 13, 1976

Why: The most experienced of the crop, Theodore has won the Hart and Vezina Trophies for his work in the crease (while with Montreal). Yes, that's right - he won the league MVP and best goaltender in the same year. Granted, that was over seven years ago - but if what we're looking for is someone who Barry Trotz can trust completely in the event of a Pekka Rinne injury, then Theo's the best bet. He's coming off a stint with the Washington Capitals, where he received the majority of the starts in front of young goalies Semyon Varlamov and Michal Neuvirth. Theodore posted solid numbers in a 30 win season. I'd show you, but the SB Nation statistical widgets remain out of order.

Why not: With all the experience and awards comes a certain attitude. The reigning Masterton Trophy winner, Theodore is in no way a bad presence - but he is going to come to a team feeling like he could and perhaps should be the starting goalie. It remains to be seen how much bearing his experience and previous job will have on his next contract, but the Predators would have to keep it in mind operating on a limited budget.

Wade Dubielewicz

#31 / Goalie / Free Agent

5-10

185

Jan 30, 1979

Why: He'd be cheap. That's about the only thing I can think of. This is not someone I trust. Oh, and one other reason: he's not Vesa Toskala.

Why not: In digging through the archives of SBN's Minnesota Wild blog, I found their season ending grades for 'Dubie'. Consider: 

Dubie was brought in to be a veteran backup in case of injury, unfortunately when called upon, he failed miserably. In fact, in pre-game warmups, it often appeared that the Wild were shooting on an open net. He was so bad, in fact, that even when Todd Richards wanted to give either Backstrom or Harding a rest when they were nursing injuries, he couldn't risk putting Dubie on the ice. Sure, it's a ridiculously small sample, but that 85.3% save percentage is the stuff of ECHL misery. Needless to say, Dubie won't be back.    

Antti Niemi

#31 / Goalie / Free Agent

6-2

210

Aug 29, 1983

Why: He's young, has a Stanley Cup ring, and would undoubtedly get along well with fellow Finn Pekka Rinne. While Niemi didn't steal many games in the playoffs, he was just good enough to get by, which very often is all thats needed.

Why not: The same things that might make Niemi a good fit also make him the wrong player for the need. His youth, ring, and arbitration award mean that his next deal will likely be between $2-3 million. After backstopping the Blackhawks to a Cup, he deserves a shot at a starting job - which he wouldn't get behind Rinne, who is clearly the better goalie.

Manny Legace

#34 / Goalie / Free Agent

5-10

200

Feb 04, 1973

Why: Legace is a proven NHL player coming off a good season backing up Cam Ward in Carolina and occasionally taking over starter's duties. He saw action in 28 games, and posted a .907 save percentage and 2.81 GAA. At only $500,000 last year, David Poile could easily work Legace under the budget with no problems. From Canes Country's exit analysis:

Beating out Michael Leighton to get the back-up position when Ward returned a month later, Legace went on to be a reliable presence when Ward was again sidelined with back problems in February. The veteran's play was in fact a key to the impressive run of wins by the Canes as they attempted a comeback in the second half of the season. He put together a remarkable stretch of five consecutive wins defined by a 1.59 GAA, .941 save percentage, and Carolina's first and only shutout of the season.    

Why not: At Legace's age, durability comes into question. If Rinne were to go down, can he handle the night in, night out workload? And if he stayed healthy, would he stay consistent? While Manny is a known commodity, his advancement in years brings perhaps more questions than answers. 

The Verdict

While I don't doubt that Jose Theodore or Manny Legace could help the Predators in the short term, the risks and cons seem to outweigh the rewards and pros. At this point, I'm semi-firmly in the camp that the Predators should take their three young goalies (Mark Dekanich, Chet Pickard, and Anders Lindback) into training camp to see if one can prove his worth at an NHL level. If that proves foolhardy, then by all means, invite a veteran to camp. Till then, wait and see. What do you think? Should Nashville roll the dice with the rookies, or find a more suitable solution outside the organization?

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