For his entire 11-year career in the NHL, Anton Khudobin has been a backup goaltender. Then, this summer, he got his chance to shine. With the oft-injured Ben Bishop ruled "unfit to play" for most of the 2020 Stanley Cup playoffs, Khudobin took over the No. 1 role for the Dallas Stars.
Khudobin had never started a postseason game before August. But in 25 starts in the bubble in Edmonton, Alberta, Khudobin picked up 14 wins, along with a .914 save percentage, becoming a cult hero during the Stars' run to the Stanley Cup Final. Though he ended the season on a high, his future is murky. Khudobin signed a two-year deal with the Stars in 2018 at $2.5 million per season -- twice what he was earning his two previous seasons as Boston's backup -- and that deal is expiring.
"As far as the two years, I wish it was about a five-year deal now," general manager Jim Nill said during the playoffs. "Would have been nice. But good for Anton. He's earned this right. I hope we can get him back, because he's a big part of our team."
Khudobin has become the poster boy for what is sure to be a fascinating few weeks on the goaltending carousel. Never have so many quality goaltenders been available via free agency or the trade market. The list includes three Vezina Trophy winners, three multiple Stanley Cup winners and plenty of capable backups such as Khudobin ready to step in or step up to a bigger role.
While the market is saturated, the need for goaltending has also never been greater. Andrei Vasilevskiy, who started every game of the Lightning's Stanley Cup Final run, is the outlier. More and more, teams are shying away from typical workloads and are using a 1A and 1B split. This summer's tournament only highlighted that; by the second round, six regular-season backups were de facto No. 1s.
"It's become a two-goalie league. That's been the case for the last few years, given the parity. There's not many 70-game goalies anymore, if any at all," Oilers general manager Ken Holland said. "And with the 2020-21 season, there's a real possibility it's going to be even more compressed than normal. Three games one week, four the next, playing almost every second day. The more games you play in a shorter period of time adds up to more injuries. You get that, and you need more depth."
These are just a few factors GMs must consider when shaping their rosters this summer. Other constraints include the salary cap staying flat at $81.5 million, and the expansion draft taking place next summer for Seattle -- leaving many teams scrambling to get their proverbial ducks in order. How it all plays out is anyone's guess, but here's a look at the landscape, from the teams that should be shopping for netminders to the candidates available as free agents or via trade.