Friday, July 2, 2010

Game of musical chairs for NHL's masked men


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A casual observer sees Evgeni Nabokov and Marty Turco headlining the goalie market and wonders how in the world the two big name guys are still unemployed? But this isn't all that strange as winds of philosophical change appear to be sweeping through the NHL's fraternity of general managers.

The salary cap system allows for only so many big contracts, and after watching a pair of bargain busters in Antti Niemi and Michael Leighton battle for the Stanley Cup last month it's become crystal clear that teams can win a championship in this League without spending through the roof on a goalie.

Instead of re-signing Nabokov or turning their attention to Turco, likely a less-expensive option, the San Jose Sharks Thursday gave a reported two years and $4 million to Antero Niittymaki. They plan on using him in a tandem with Thomas Greiss, and together they'll cost less than what Nabokov wants.

It's a leap of faith, yes, but it's a cheap one and it allowed Sharks GM Doug Wilson to re-sign Patrick Marleau and Joe Pavelski while saving money for Devin Setoguchi.

Tampa Bay GM Steve Yzerman chose to give a reported $1.5 million per year to Dan Ellis so he can duke it out with Mike Smith for the No. 1 job. Yzerman gave the big money to Martin St. Louis in a four-year contract extension and then signed Pavel Kubina Friday for two years at a reported $7.7 million.

The Atlanta Thrashers tabbed Chris Mason for two years at a reported $3.7 million to be the buffer for Ondrej Pavelec, who still might not be ready to assume a No. 1 job in the NHL.

Perhaps even more surprising, the Philadelphia Flyers may also be set in goal with Leighton and Brian Boucher coming back as a tandem. GM Paul Holmgren reportedly gave low-ball offers to Nabokov and Turco, and when they didn't bite, he gave Leighton a deal that will pay him $1.5 million for two years.

So where does this leave Nabokov and Turco?

That still remains to be seen (Philadelphia may still be an option), but there doesn't appear to be a great demand for proven winners who are 35-years-old, especially not when most teams appear to have their goaltending situations set already.

One report had Nabokov's agent talking about options in Russia and's Pierre Lebrun posted on his Twitter account Thursday morning that Turco's agent told him it could take "three months" for him to find the right fit.

New York Rangers:
Henrik Lundqvist is the unquestioned No. 1, but the Rangers hope they gave him some relief by signing Biron Thursday to be the backup. Lundqvist played in 73 games this past season and his backups (an unsuccessful mix of Steve Valiquette, Chad Johnson, Matt Zaba and Auld) went a combined 3-6-1.

Biron is excited at the opportunity to work with Benoit Allaire, who he knows from his teenage years in Quebec. Lundqvist will be the happiest guy in the room if Biron can successfully start 20 or so games. That would help the Rangers considerably should they get to the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

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