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Frank Seravalli

TSN Senior Hockey Reporter

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‘Round and around we go, when it stops, no one knows.

Hear that? It’s the NHL’s annual game of goalie musical chairs.

The music has been playing since the league’s free agent interview period officially opened on Sunday, and netminders are scrambling to find the few empty seats before it stops – likely well before Free Agent Frenzy on Canada Day.

(Deals can’t officially be inked until July 1 at 12 noon ET. Wink, wink.)

“I honestly believe that the goaltending market will be sorted out very soon,” one prominent agent said on Monday. “I’m thinking we’ll have a very clear picture in the next 24 to 48 hours of what it will look like.”

So, what does the goaltending market look like?

There is no question two-time Vezina Trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky is the alpha dog, operating in a different stratosphere than the rest of the pack. He is the Florida Panthers’ clear No. 1 priority this off-season – which has been one of hockey’s worst-kept secrets for months.

Bobrovsky, 30, checks in at No. 3 on TSN Hockey’s latest Free Agent Frenzy ranking – the third part of the trio of Columbus Blue Jackets atop the board.

He is coming off an incredible end to what was previously a disappointing contract year. Bobrovsky carried the Blue Jackets to the playoffs, going 10-3-0 down the stretch with four shutouts and a .946 save percentage, before leading Columbus to its first-ever series win with a shocking sweep of Tampa Bay. 

There were rumblings during the season that Bobrovsky may be looking for Carey Price money. The Panthers are seemingly the only team out there able to pay that freight.

But as Erik Karlsson found out when he re-signed in San Jose, it only takes one.

Bobrovsky is expected to visit the Panthers’ brass this week, where new coach Joel Quenneville will also try to pitch his teammate Artemi Panarin on a package deal.

Below Bobrovsky on the pay scale, teams say the dollars have been difficult to estimate since Mikko Koskinen signed a three-year, $13.5 million extension in January. Multiple teams have cursed that specific contract as one that has made their chase more expensive than anticipated.

Robin Lehner is the next goaltender on the list at No. 10. The Masterton Trophy winner’s camp has reportedly said he is not interviewing with other teams, focused solely on staying with the New York Islanders.

So if Bobrovsky is pencilled in to Florida, and Lehner is staying on Long Island, that’s two seats gone in the game.

That leaves the Edmonton Oilers, Calgary Flames, Carolina Hurricanes, Philadelphia Flyers, and Blue Jackets in search of a starter – or at least a goalie to play in tandem with their current guys.

The Oilers reportedly expressed interest in pending UFA Petr Mrazek from Carolina. New GM Ken Holland knows Mrazek well from his time in Detroit, he could work well in tandem with Koskinen. Free agent Mike Smith, coming off an impressive playoff series in Calgary, also made 310 starts for Dave Tippett in Arizona.

Smith, 37, has also interviewed in Carolina. If the Hurricanes don’t keep Mrazek or Curtis McElhinney, who both played in their run to the Eastern Conference final, then Smith could fit in tandem with either Alex Nedeljkovic or newly acquired Anton Forsberg sharing the load.

Cam Talbot finished his season in Philadelphia. The Flyers have remained in touch with Talbot, and he was pitched on a new team on Monday, but the smart money is on Talbot returning to Alberta … to join the Flames. Talbot could join Calgary on a one-year, “prove it” contract.

That leaves the Flyers searching for someone to help guide rising sophomore Carter Hart and one more chair left in Columbus vacated by Bobrovsky. 

Semyon Varlamov, Michal Neuvirth, Keith Kinkaid, Brian Elliott and Chad Johnson are among the other free agents hoping to land in a spot before the music stops.

Stay tuned.

Here is TSN Hockey’s Top 50 pending unrestricted free agents ahead of July 1’s Free Agent Frenzy:

 

The Top 50

 
RK Player Team Pos Age GP G PTS 17-18
1 Artemi Panarin CBJ LW 27 79 28 87 $6M
2 Matt Duchene CBJ C 28 73 31 70 $6M
3 Sergei Bobrovsky CBJ G 30 62 2.53 .913 $7.43M
4 Tyler Myers Wpg RD 29 80 9 30 $5.5M
5 Anders Lee NYI LW 28 82 28 51 $3.75M
6 Joe Pavelski SJ C 34 75 38 64 $6M
7 Marcus Johansson Bos LW 28 58 13 30 $4.58M
8 Jake Gardiner Tor LD 28 62 3 30 $4.05M
9 Mats Zuccarello Dal RW 31 48 12 40 $4.5M
10 Robin Lehner NYI G 27 46 2.13 .930 $1.5M
11 Gustav Nyquist SJ LW 29 81 22 60 $4.75M
12 Anton Stralman Tam RD 32 47 2 17 $4.5M
13 Micheal Ferland Car LW 27 71 17 40 $1.75M
14 Corey Perry Ana RW 34 31 6 10 $8.63M
15 Ryan Dzingel CBJ LW 27 78 26 56 $1.8M
16 Brett Connolly Wsh RW 27 81 22 46 $1.8M
17 Brandon Tanev Wpg RW 27 80 14 29 $1.15M
18 Joonas Donskoi SJ RW 27 80 14 37 $1.8M
19 Ben Chiarot Wpg LD 28 74 5 20 $1.4M
20 Colin Wilson Col LW 29 65 12 27 $3.94M
21 Wayne Simmonds Nsh RW 30 79 17 30 $3.98M
22 Ron Hainsey Tor RD 38 81 5 23 $3M
23 Petr Mrazek Car G 27 40 2.39 .914 $1.5M
24 Patrick Maroon StL LW 31 74 10 28 $1.75M
25 Semyon Varlamov Col G 31 42 2.87 .909 $5.9M
26 Ben Hutton Van LD 26 69 5 20 $2.8M
27 Carl Gunnarsson StL LD 32 25 3 7 $2.9M
28 Alex Chiasson Edm RW 28 73 22 38 $650K
29 Brian Boyle Nsh C 34 73 18 24 $2.55M
30 Mike Smith Cgy G 37 42 2.73 .898 $5.67M
31 Cam Talbot Phi G 31 35 3.4 .892 $4.17M
32 Curtis McElhinney Car G 36 33 2.58 .912 $850K
33 Derick Brassard Col C 31 70 14 24 $5M
34 Valtteri Filppula NYI LW 35 72 17 31 $2.75M
35 Deryk Engelland VGK RD 37 74 2 12 $1.5M
36 Jordie Benn Mtl LD 31 81 5 22 $1.1M
37 Richard Panik Ari LW 28 75 14 29 $2.8M
38 Noel Acciari Bos RW 27 72 6 14 $725K
39 Jason Pominville Buf RW 36 73 16 31 $5.6M
40 Ben Lovejoy Dal RD 35 71 2 9 $2.67M
41 Adam McQuaid CBJ RD 32 50 3 7 $2.75M
42 Jason Spezza Dal C 35 76 8 27 $7.5M
43 Dion Phaneuf LA LD 34 67 1 6 $7M
44 Pierre-Eduoard Bellemare VGK LW 34 76 6 15 $1.45M
45 Patrik Nemeth Col LD 27 74 1 10 $2.5M
46 Dan Girardi Tam RD 35 62 4 16 $3M
47 Magnus Paajarvi Ott LW 28 80 11 19 $900K
48 Michael Del Zotto StL LD 29 42 1 10 $3M
49 Luke Schenn Van RD 29 26 0 2 $800K
50 John Gilmour NYR LD 26 5 0 0 $650K
 

 

Contact Frank Seravalli on Twitter: @frank_seravalli