Anton Khudobin was an exemplary backup goaltender for the Bruins the last two years.
Though such a commodity is valuable in the NHL, it appears he will not be back.
General manager Don Sweeney said Friday he expects the 32-year-old Khudobin to sign a contract elsewhere when the NHL’s free agent market opens Sunday.
“I think the goaltending one is going in a different direction at this point,” Sweeney said, all but confirming that the team and its reliable reserve couldn’t come to an agreement on a raise.
Khudobin, who earned $1.2 million the last two years, went 16-6-7 with a 2.56 goals-against average and .913 save percentage last season.
Now in need of someone to spell Tuukka Rask for those 25-30 games, the Bruins could turn to experienced hands such as Jaroslav Halak (Islanders), Robin Lehner (Buffalo), or Kari Lehtonen (Dallas).
Lehtonen, the Finnish former No. 2 overall pick (Atlanta, 2002), seems the most reasonable fit of those, albeit at a steep discount from his expiring $5 million tag.
The 34-year-old Lehtonen started in Dallas for seven years (and four in Atlanta before that) before losing the job last year to offseason acquisition Ben Bishop. In 37 games (30 starts), Lehtonen was 15-14-3 with a .912 save percentage and 2.56 GAA.
That workload would suit Boston well, with Lehtonen’s countryman Rask at his best playing 55-60 games.
Potential landing spots for Khudobin could be Dallas (where his Russian pal Alex Radulov has settled in), Chicago, or St. Louis.
The backup goalie herd appeared to be thinning Friday, as multiple reports had the top available candidate, Carter Hutton of St. Louis, connected to Buffalo, Jonathan Bernier (Colorado) heading to Detroit, and Cam Ward (Carolina) to Chicago.
None of the fresh-faced netminders who attended Boston development camp — Providence-bound Dan Vladar, Maine sophomore-to-be Jeremy Swayman, and OHL Oshawa’s Kyle Keyser — are likely to see NHL action this coming season.
Asked how important NHL game experience is for a backup, Sweeney said, “Very. It ranks at the top of the list. I think Anton did a fabulous job. We need to make sure we’re satisfied in that area. It’s a priority for us.”
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If the Bruins are still a part of the John Tavares sweepstakes, Don Sweeney won’t say. Sweeney himself may not know where the Bruins stand.
The Boston general manager, speaking at Warrior Ice Arena Friday, after the Bruins finished a four-day prospect development camp, was far more eager to discuss players who may not make the roster for several years, if at all, than this year’s top free agent prize.
“I’ll have ample opportunity to answer all those questions,” Sweeney said. “I’ll take all the time in the world.”
Time is ticking in the Tavares sweepstakes. As of Sunday, the Islanders captain could sign a deal worth more than $80 million for at least seven years. He and his agent, Pat Brisson, granted six teams the opportunity to pitch them in Los Angeles this week: the Sharks, Stars, Lightning, Maple Leafs, Islanders, and Bruins.
TSN reported that Tavares was still deciding as of Friday afternoon, and that teams may begin hearing later in the day whether they were in or out.
The Athletic reported that Tavares would target either the Sharks or Maple Leafs if he left Long Island.
Sweeney, who wooed the 27-year-old All-Star Tuesday in Los Angeles with coach Bruce Cassidy and president Cam Neely, wouldn’t say how talks went.
“Lots of time to follow up on that at the right time,” he said. “We were there. You are right.”
Bruins center Patrice Bergeron, a Team Canada teammate of Tavares (gold in Sochi 2014, and World Cup 2016), was a little more forthcoming. He told TVA Sports in Quebec Friday that he contacted Tavares about a potential reunion.
“I talked to him to answer all the questions he has about Boston,” Bergeron said in French. “I’ve been playing here for 18 years and it’s like my home away from home. I told him about the city, the organization, and our teammates.
“Now the ball is in his camp. We know it must have been an eventful week for him.”
Bergeron added that he hopes his initiative “had an impact. He’s a good person. I have only positive things to say about him. On and off the ice.”
To land Tavares (37-47—84 last year), Sweeney would have to move salary, most likely that of second-line center David Krejci (three years left at $7.25 million). Sweeney said he was confident he’d be able to make the numbers work if need be.
If Tavares lands elsewhere and Krejci remains in the fold, Sweeney wants a second-line scorer to fill the hole left by Rick Nash (uncertain about his future). One rumored option: New Jersey free agent Michael Grabner (27 goals last year), a better fit in a third-line/penalty-kill role, but a competent middle-sixer.
“We’ve talked to other players to continue to add depth to our group,” Sweeney said.
“I think we feel pretty comfortable that some of our players have emerged to be able to handle some of those things. You remember Anders [Bjork] started up there.”
Until prospects reach full bloom in the NHL, Sweeney said, “you always sort of have your eye on an element that is known.”
Few forwards are surer commodities than Tavares, who would join veterans Bergeron, Zdeno Chara, and Brad Marchand to solidify the Bruins core.
On Sunday, Sweeney will discuss what did or did not happen.
The quiet wait continues.
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Sweeney on the 34-year-old Rick Nash, who won’t sign anywhere July 1 and may retire: “I respect the hell out of the decision he’s made. Whether that means it’s going to change between now and whenever, I still respect it.” . . . Defenseman Urho Vaakanainen, playing on a North American rink for the first time, may have looked a little too comfortable this week. “He’ll need to understand how much more competitive things get,” said Sweeney, echoing player development coordinator Jamie Langenbrunner’s call for more urgency from the 2017 first-round pick (18th overall). “It’ll start in rookie camp and training camp. Everybody goes through that. He’s coming over for the first time. He’s played against men for two consecutive years, so he recognizes it. But it ramps up. That’ll be the message going back for him.”
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When talk turned from Tavares to prospects, the first player Sweeney mentioned was center Jack Studnicka, whom he said “stuck out again during camp.” Studnicka, focused on adding weight to his 6-foot-1-inch, 171-pound frame this summer, will have a shot to make the roster if he plays a heavier game. As he proved as captain of OHL Oshawa, he can score (22-50—72 line in 66 games) . . . Sweeney shot down a report that second-round pick Axel Andersson would play for the OHL’s Kitchener Rangers, who selected him Thursday in the CHL’s import draft. “Indications are he’ll play in Sweden,” the GM said . . . Sweeney said he remains in contact with the Bruins’ other free agents, including bottom-six forwards Riley Nash, Tommy Wingels, and Tim Schaller (all unrestricted), restricted free agent center Sean Kuraly, and depth defenseman Nick Holden (UFA).
Matt Porter can be reached at email@example.com.