Where Will Bruins Turn If Anton Khudobin Leaves?
By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
Just what is the value of Anton Khudobin?
Well, that starts with acknowledging what a complete disaster the veteran Khudobin was under then-Bruins head coach Claude Julien upon his return to Boston on a two-year, $2.4 million deal signed in 2016. It was in the first half of his first season back in Boston after three seasons away that Khudobin posted a 1-5-1 record with an .885 save percentage under Julien. Khudobin was even waived down to Providence at one point.
Khudobin found a way to redeem himself under Bruce Cassidy, however, with a 22-7-7 record and .915 save percentage in a year and a half of hockey under Cassidy. And that .915 save percentage ranks as the 23rd-best in the NHL over that span.
He’s essentially priced himself out of a return to Boston as a result of that season-plus bounceback, too.
At least that’s the way you’ve been left to read a situation that started with the B’s admitting that they’d like to re-sign Khudobin, a month of silence, and then the acknowledgement that they’re letting Khudobin explore the open market.
Of course, this could all mean nothing if Khudobin, believed to want around $2.5 to $3-plus million per year, re-signs.
But in the (increasingly likely) event of a Khudobin exit, where would the Bruins turn?
In an offseason market loaded with backups of varying effectiveness, the Bruins’ lone internal option is Zane McIntyre.
Donning the Spoked-P for the third season in a row, the 25-year-old McIntyre was inconsistent in the AHL, with 26 wins, a .915 save percentage, and 2.52 goals against average in 47 games with Providence last season. It was a .015 percentage dip from his AHL-best .930 save percentage from the season before, and certainly opened the door for some doubt.
“[McIntyre] had an up and down year this year,” Bruins general manager Don Sweeney said at his end-of-year press conference last month. “Had some real good pockets of games where he was excellent and other games where some of the situations, he didn’t necessarily rise up to. He’s in the mix, certainly, to push for our group.”
It doesn’t help that McIntyre hasn’t really looked the part of an NHL goaltender in his appearances to date, with an 0-4-1 record and .858 save percentage in eight NHL games played (all in 2016-17).
And if the B’s have to reach outside the organization, it’s worth noting that their options are already dwindling.
Per The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun, Carter Hutton, whom the Bruins reached out to earlier this week, seems Buffalo bound. Jonathan Bernier is likely taking his talents to the Red Wings. And veteran Carolina goaltender Cam Ward is reportedly on his way to the Blackhawks. So there’s three names off the board already. And while you should be thanking your lucky stars that Ward is off to Chicago after somehow riding off his 2006 Cup run for over a decade, it’s not exactly much better now.
For argument’s sake, drop Jarsolav Halak and Robin Lehner off your board. They are the only two free agent goaltenders in this year’s class to play at least 50 games a season ago, and you have to think there’s somebody out there willing to deploy them as a platoon option at the very worst, which is something that won’t happen in Boston. And pay them accordingly for a such a role, which the B’s would not. (Not even for Halak, whom they had interest in before Khudobin’s resurgence in 2017.)
Both goalies, for what it’s worth, posted .908 save percentages this past season behind some downright ghoulish defenses.
So, you then move to the next tier, which features one-time starters such as Kari Lehtonen, Ondrej Pavelec, and Petr Mrazek.
Lehtonen is coming off his fourth straight season with a save percentage under .915, and the 34-year-old’s 15 wins for the Stars were his fewest since the lockout-delayed 2013 season. Pavelec, meanwhile, was signed to bring stability behind Henrik Lundqvist, but made just 12 starts, and once again missed significant time because of a knee injury. In fact, Pavelec has missed 67 games over the last three seasons because of various knee injuries. Signing him is just a fancy way of putting somebody on the long-term injured reserve. Mrazek, meanwhile, was traded out of Detroit due to his hot-and-cold play, and was somehow worse in Philadelphia, finishing his year with a 14-13-6 record and .902 save percentage between two teams.
Now, try not to charge the gate all at once here…
Of the three, though, the 26-year-old Mrazek would be the most appealing for a number of reasons. Above all else, he’d be cheaper than most options, you’d think, given the year he just put forth. He’s also young enough where there’s still some room for improvement, and he is just a few years removed from being a legitimate threat — and at one point winner — of a crease duel with Red Wings goaltender Jimmy Howard. Keep in mind it was Mrazek that nearly took the eventual East-winning Tampa Bay Lightning down in the first round in 2015 behind a .925 save percentage in a seven-game first-round war.
In a lot of ways, he represents the perfect low-risk, high-reward gamble for the Bruins.
But if the Bruins would prefer to go safe, they may decide that it’s time for another reunion, this time with Chad Johnson.
The replacement for Khudobin the first time around, Johnson is coming off a horrendous season in Buffalo, with just 10 wins and an .891 save percentage in 30 decisions. The year was a mentally trying one for the ex-Bruin, too, as he clearly battled through the emotional struggle that comes with playing for a team as utterly hopeless as the 2017-18 Buffalo Sabres.
“For a lot of games, for like 20 out of 29, it just seemed like a mess,” Johnson told The Buffalo News. “Things need to obviously change for a goalie to have success. You look at any team, if they play the way that we play … I think any goalie, whether you’re Pekka Rinne or [Andrei] Vasilevskiy, if a team doesn’t play a certain basic standard, it’s going to be a mess.”
The 32-year-old is hoping that recognizing his situation in Buffalo allows teams to look beyond his numbers. The B’s might recognize, it, sure, but they’d like for it to come with a discount like it did when they brought Khudobin back.
It wouldn’t be the worst play for the Bruins, either, as Johnson posted 18 wins and a .910 save percentage with the Flames two years ago, and (somehow) had a whopping .920 save percentage for the Sabres three seasons ago. Johnson would also probably enjoy a reunion with B’s goalie coach Bob Essensa, who helped put his game on the map with the B’s in 2013-14.
No matter how it’s sliced, though, it seems likely that a Khudobin walk leaves the Bruins with a cheaper, rehab project. For a position incredibly important when it comes to both making the playoffs and having an effective Tuukka Rask after Game 82.
Something that’s awfully tough to put a price on, as Boston shortcomings in 2015 and 2016 can confirm.
Ty Anderson is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Ty? Follow him on Twitter @_TyAnderson.