Free agency begins tomorrow morning, and Stars fans everywhere have their eyes locked onto one player — Anton Khudobin.
The backup goaltender had a career year in 2019-20. In the regular season, he led the league in save percentage with a .930 SV% in 30 games played, and was third in goals saved above average (GSAA) with 17.75 according to Hockey Reference. He then proceeded to become one of the best stories of the Stanley Cup playoffs, backstopping the Stars to 14 wins in 24 starts, just two shy of the 16 needed to win the Cup.
Without a shadow of a doubt, the Stars would not have made it as far as they did in the postseason without Khudobin. The Stars are a better team with him as part of their goaltending tandem alongside Ben Bishop. And yet it’s becoming more and more likely that Khudobin will not be returning to Dallas for the 2020-21 season.
A soon-to-be unrestricted free agent, Anton Khudobin is set to earn a huge paycheck thanks to his playoff performance. Many are projecting Khudobin to sign for three years at an AAV of $4 million or more in what is likely the last contract of his NHL career. To put things in perspective, Khudobin has never earned more than $2.5 million in a single season, and has never had a contract length of more than two years (excluding his entry-level contract).
Such a price tag might ultimately price Khudobin out of Dallas. Thanks to a flat salary cap as well as the economic impact of COVID-19 on Stars’ owner Tom Gaglardi, the Stars are facing a salary cap crunch heading into the 2020 offseason. When taking into account the new contracts needed for their RFAs, Dallas might simply not have enough money left over to afford Anton Khudobin.
Of course, the Stars could try to shuffle some money around via trade in order to make space, but the cap hit is arguably not the biggest concern for Dallas — term is.
The Stars already have their future starter in net, Jake Oettinger, knocking on the door to the NHL. In the ideal world, he would takeover backup duties for Ben Bishop in the 2021-22 season, meaning a one-year deal for a current backup would be ideal. To retain a goaltender of Khudobin’s caliber, the Stars would certainly be wiling to offer a second year, but anymore than that and you risk hurting Oettinger’s development by blocking his path to the NHL.
It’s unfortunate, but the reality is that Dallas is not willing to give Khudobin his best offer, which means he’ll likely be signing elsewhere come tomorrow:
There’s been some back and forth in the Anton Khubodjn negotiations but it sounds like the pending UFA goalie is leaning towards going to market after the Stars’ last offer. Door isn’t closed, however. Let’s see what next day or so brings.— Pierre LeBrun (@PierreVLeBrun) October 8, 2020
However, not all hope is lost — there are multiple reasons why Khudobin might end up staying in Dallas after all.
For starters, the goaltender market is a bit saturated this off-season. In free agency, highly accoladed veterans such as Braden Holtby, Henrik Lundqvist, and Corey Crawford are hitting the market. Matt Murray and Devan Dubnyk have already been traded to new teams, while Marc-André Fleury is still being shopped around.
With so many netmninders available, teams might not be as willing to throw money at the biggest names, instead settling for cheaper options. Factor in how many teams are facing salary cap situations similar to Dallas and the market for Khudobin might not be as strong as fans might think. It could very well turn out that the Stars’ have one of (if not the) best offers on the table for the Russian netminder.
And even if the money is there for the taking, you still can’t rule out the possibility of a hometown discount. Khudobin has loved his time in Dallas, as the Stars have cultivated a very tightly knit locker room. Not to mention the Stars have a strong chance at making another deep Cup run, and that — as this past postseason proved — Khudobin would be just one Ben Bishop-injury away from being the undisputed starter.
That may ultimately prove to be wishful thinking, but Khudobin is a man who beats to his own drum. Tomorrow will tell where that rhythm leads him.