Jake Oettinger did not have a contract with Dallas for much of the summer, but as a restricted free agent he knew he would be playing for the Stars this season.
With that certainty in mind, Oettinger watched with fascination as other goaltenders shuffled around the NHL.
”It’s crazy,” he said. ”I’m just a hockey fan, too, so it’s fun. I love free agency and all that stuff to see where guys go.”
While Oettinger has a No. 1 job going into a season for the first time, Eight other teams are expected to have new starting goalies, and 23 veterans are with new teams, just one fewer than 2021. It’s the second consecutive offseason hockey’s most important position has been overhauled across the league.
After Darcy Kuemper backstopped the Avalanche to the Stanley Cup, they had too many other players to re-sign and not enough salary cap space to bring him back.
So Joe Sakic and the front office turned their attention to bringing in a third starter in as many years, trading draft picks to the New York Rangers for Alexandar Georgiev, who backed up Vezina Trophy winner Igor Shesterkin last season.
”Alex, he was a priority for us,” said Sakic, the general manager of the year who is now Colorado’s president of hockey operations. ”He’s a guy that from our scouting to our analytics department that we all see a lot of upside. And he’s proven it that when he’s staring and playing a lot of games, that’s when he’s at his best.”
Georgiev, who signed a $10.2 million, three-year contract, will share time with Czech veteran Pavel Francouz but is the clear starter.
The 32-year-old Kuemper, too expensive for the Avalanche to retain, signed a $26.25 million, five-year deal with Washington after Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan committed to changing his team’s entire picture in goal.
”Then obviously you start getting excited for the new chapter, another new adventure,” Kuemper said.
The Capitals also added Charlie Lindgren as Kumeper’s backup and hope to make another long playoff run after four consecutive first-round exits since winning the Cup in 2018. Bringing in the goalie who most recently did it is not a bad first step.
”It’s a team that has won it recently,” Kuemper said. ”And I think we have a good chance of winning it here. Once you kind of get that taste of winning, you want to do it again.”
VEGAS GOLDEN KNIGHTS
Vegas was an unexpected participant in the annual goalie go-round after Robin Lehner’s hip injury got to the point that a doctor didn’t think he’d be able to make it through the season without surgery, which in turn knocked him out for the season.
That revelation didn’t come until August, a month after the shuffle was complete.
”The timing of the injury took away the possibility of being involved in free agency or, really in a lot of respects, the trade market that takes place usually around that same time,” general manager Kelly McCrimmon said, adding the Golden Knights will go with the tandem of Logan Thompson and Laurent Brossoit.
Brossoit missed camp with his own injury, and Vegas acquired Adin Hill from San Jose as insurance. It’s a bit of a risk to roll with Thompson and his 20 games of NHL experience, but the front office likes a lot about the 25-year-old.
”He made a real good impression in a short sample at the end of last season,” McCrimmon said. ”We’re really excited and intrigued by his talent, his upside, his competitiveness.”
Coming off a trip to the Western Conference final that was a roller-coaster ride of goaltending, the Oilers needed to do something with 40-year-old Mike Smith injured and not expected to be able to play. They added well-traveled Jack Campbell, who had one excellent and one not-so-excellent postseason with Toronto.
”Obviously, Campbell helps a lot,” Edmonton captain Connor McDavid said. ”Not to say that I thought goaltending was an issue, but obviously just a little bit more solidified for the long term I think is always a good thing.”
Campbell is the Oilers goalie for the long term after signing for $25 million over five years, backed up by Stuart Skinner.
TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS
After a fifth consecutive loss in their opening playoff series, the Maple Leafs have most of their core back from 60-goal scorer and Hart Trophy winner Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner to captain John Tavares and William Nylander.
But GM Kyle Dubas shook things up in net by letting Campbell leave in free agency, trading Petr Mrazek to Chicago, acquiring Matt Murray from Ottawa and signing Washington castoff Ilya Samsonov. Murray, who backstopped Pittsburgh to back-to-back titles in 2016 and ’17, is looking to reinvigorate his career after a rough stretch with the Senators.
”Whoever we were going to bring in was going to be a good goalie,” Toronto defenseman Morgan Rielly said. ”We’re a good team and we have high expectations for ourselves and Murr is exactly that. Two Cups and the experience of playing on a Pittsburgh team that was very good, he’s a great addition.”
During their busy offseason, the Senators moved on from Murray and replaced him by acquiring Cam Talbot from Minnesota after the Wild opted not to bring him back along with Marc-Andre Fleury. It seemed to be the last real piece Ottawa needed to contend after also acquiring winger Alex DeBrincat and signing veteran forward Claude Giroux.
”It created all this hype and excitement for the season,” captain Brady Tkachuk said.
That excitement took a hit when Talbot was injured during the preseason. He’s expected to miss at least the first month of the season, leaving the net to Anton Forsberg and waiver pickup Magnus Hellberg.
With Devon Levi electing to spend one more year at Northeastern and Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen still needing time to develop in the minors following several injury-shortened seasons, the Sabres filled their goaltending needs by signing Eric Comrie in free agency and convincing 41-year-old Craig Anderson to put off retirement for at least one more season.
The 27-year-old Comrie’ has just 28 NHL appearances, including a career-high 19 backing up Connor Hellebuyck in Winnipeg last year.
”We really felt the body of work he’s put in, the age’s he’s at, when you mesh it all together, we just feel like he’s in a position in his career where he’s ready to take the next step,” Sabres GM Kevyn Adams said. ”Now he has to go earn that and prove that.”
Long removed from winning the Cup three times in six years, the Blackhawks are delving into a long-term rebuild.
Gone are Kevin Lankinen and Collin Delia, replaced by Mrazek and Alex Stalock. Chicago was happy to upgrade from a second-round pick to a first by taking Mrazek’s contract from the Leafs.
”We needed a goalie, and Petr had a tough year, but we think he’s an NHL-caliber goalie,” GM Kyle Davidson said. ”We’ve got a guy that can come in and give us solid NHL starts and NHL quality starts.”
AP Hockey Writer John Wawrow in Buffalo, New York, contributed. Follow AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno
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