Wednesday, January 19, 2022

The ten most successful midseason goalie trades of the cap era, ranked

You can’t trade for a good goaltender during the season.

It’s become conventional wisdom in the NHL’s cap era, and it’s not hard to see why. If your team finds itself needing a goaltender, you’re almost by definition dealing from a position of weakness, so prices will be high. And the market is never all that exciting, for the simple reason that contending teams aren’t trading their goalies, and bad teams are usually bad because their goaltending stinks to begin with. So if find yourself needing an upgrade in net, you’re better off waiting for the offseason.

You’re hearing it again this year, as teams like Edmonton, Buffalo and Colorado could be in the market for a goalie, and teams like Boston, Columbus or Dallas could be shopping one. You’d think there could be a match there somewhere, but apparently not, we’re told. Reigning Vezina winner Marc-Andre Fleury? Sure, it sounds nice in theory, but those deals just don’t work out in the middle of a season.

The classic example is Ryan Miller. He was a fantastic goaltender, one who won nearly 400 games while building a resume that might get him into the Hall of Fame discussion. He won a Vezina in Buffalo, had a solid run in Vancouver, and finished his career as a dependable veteran option in Anaheim. But in the middle of all of that, there was the 2013-14 season, when the Sabres made Miller the rare star goaltender to hit the midseason trade market. The Blues won the bidding war, only to see Miller struggle down the stretch on the way to a first-round exit that spelled the end of his brief stint in St. Louis. The deal is widely viewed as a bust for the Blues, and as the cautionary example that midseason goalie trades are futile.

Except… what about when they’re not?

We can listen to GMs complain about how hard their job is, and we can hold up the Miller trade to prove them right. But the reality is that there have been several mid-season goalie trades during the cap era that worked out just fine. A few of them worked out great.

That seems like the sort of thing that calls for a ranking. So today, we’re going to look back on ten mid-season goalie trades that worked out best for the team making them. We’re looking for NHL goalies here, not prospects, which is to say that we want guys who played at least one big league game for each team that year. Trades only, not waivers (sorry Ilya Bryzgalov and Michael Leighton). And we’ll look at both the immediate impact a trade had on that season as well as whether the guy stuck around.

We’ll count down ten through one, based on a strict criteria of me just making this up as I go. And we’ll start with one that I didn’t even remember until I started digging into the research…

10. Cristobal Huet to Washington in 2008

The goalie: Huet was always a longshot to have an NHL impact. He was drafted in the seventh round in 2001 at the age of 25, and had a couple of solid years with the Kings. But a trade to the Habs during the 2004 offseason opened the door to more playing time, and he ended up leading the NHL in save percentage during the 2005-06 season. He was named to the all-star team in 2006-07, and was on his way to another strong year as the 2008 deadline approached.

The trade: With a young Carey Price emerging, the Canadiens sent Huet to the Capitals for a second-round pick.

The results: Huet took over the Caps’ starter job from a struggling Olaf Kolzig and played well enough down the stretch to get them into the playoffs by two points. They’d go on to lose to the Flyers in seven in the opening round, although Huet was fine. There was no long playoff run and Huet left as a UFA in the offseason, so this deal was hardly earth-shattering. But you could make a good case that it was the difference between the Capitals making or missing the playoffs.

9. Mike Smith to Tampa Bay in 2008

The goalie: Long before he was the 39-year-old expected to save the Oilers season, Smith was a promising 25-year-old goalie with 44 career appearances. He’d played well, even making the all-rookie team in 2007.

The trade: On the very same day as the Huet trade, the Stars included Smith in a package that also featured Jussi Jokinen, Jeff Halpern and a pick to pry Brad Richards and Johan Holmqvist away from the Lightning.

The results: Smith struggled when he first arrived in Tampa, but established himself as the starter for most of the next three years. In all, we won over 100 games for the rebuilding Lightning, helping them get back to the playoffs. He’d depart as a free agent in 2011, leaving the Lightning with a need for a new long-term goaltender that they’d end up addressing a little later in this list.

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