Free Agency – The Backup
“The Backup” sounds like a bad parody of the movie “The Hangover” but it’s the tag that belongs to whoever rides the pine behind Luongo. That being said, it’s not a tag many goaltenders want to bear because that tag comes with the expectation of probably as few as 10 games during the regular season and the unfortunate expectation of being a benchwarmer.
Jason Labarbera has already left via free agency and is now a member of the Coyotes, and Sanford is not likely to sign with the Canucks. In the event that Luongo signs a contract extension the smart thing would be to package Schneider away in a deal for a top 6 forward, or anything, so long as his value isn’t waste down on the farm. Barring Luongo playing all 82 games, the Canucks are going to need a backup.
This year’s draft crop of goalies was week, and it looks like the free agent pool of affordable, potential back up netminders is nearly just as dry. With that being said though, there are some interesting possibilities out there for the Canucks to explore which might be better than either Sanford or Labarbera. The short list of backups on my free agent wish list is: Antero Niittymaki, Marc Denis, Kevin Weekes, and Stephen Valiquette.
The likelihood of Niitymaki taking a backseat to Luongo is slim, but as a free agent available for backup he would be my first choice if the Canucks played a goalie that didnt shoulder a 70+ game load. Between Denis and Valiquette I’m sure the Canucks can find a solid back up. Kevin Weekes’ performance in relief of Brodeur will likely warrant him a large pay increase which puts him out of the price range the Canucks will be looking in.
Denis proved in Columbus that he was able to be the starter and if called upon to play only 15 games I think he would shine. His price tag is low and the Canucks can use all the cap space they can get towards defence and offence. Valiquette is another possible option for the Canucks. He’s at the younger end of the goalies in this year’s free agent pool and at 6 foot 5 he’s a big body to fill the net.
Both Valiquette and Denis come in the same price bracket as Sanford/Labarbera so as a substitute they would make great replacements and fit in with the Canucks cap space. With all that in mind, the goalie issue is probably about 6 months premature though as it all hinges on Luongo and his decision on the future.