It's never too early to look at next year's free agent group. Stability in the goalie position is the biggest need for the Blue Jackets, and unless the team makes a trade, it's not looking too great in free agency.
Leading the list are three names: Tomas Vokoun, Jonas Gustavsson, and Ray Emery.
Gustavsson is the most attractive of the group. Vokoun is closer to the end of his career than the beginning, and if he has a good run with Washington this year, would likely either stay with the Capitals or retire. Emery will probably bounce around to yet another team, and while I felt like this year would have been a great time for the Jackets to take a chance on him, I just don't see him as a fit anymore.
Gustavsson's stats are pretty decent this year after a weak season last year. He's 13-9-0 with a .906 save percentage and a 2.92 goals against average. Many see James Reimer as the future in Toronto, and it is unknown if Gustavsson would re-sign to potentially be a backup.
After that, it's a group of players that, while potentially serviceable, are exactly what the Jackets don't need if they're looking to make real progress. Players who have seen little to no action this year either due to ability or injury. Players that are, at best, an interesting option for a backup goalie. Those players include the likes of Scott Clemmensen, Antero Niittymaki, Dan Ellis, and Michael Leighton.
No matter how you slice it, this is a very thin group. The Jackets best option is likely to trade with a team that has a backup who deserves a starting spot. If the Jackets are lucky, they can find the next Craig Anderson stuck behind a Tomas Vokoun.
Cory Schneider is the obvious name to look out for, but a deal with the Canucks won't come cheap. Is there any chance the Boston Bruins trade Tuukka Rask? It's hard to say, but I don't think Tim Thomas is done yet.
The best off the wall trade option I can consider is Cam Ward. He's a Stanley Cup winner. A proven goalie that continues to collect decent stats even with the Hurricanes in the middle of a very disappointing season. It wouldn't be cheap to acquire him, but it would almost definitely be worth it. The Canes at one point expressed interest in Derick Brassard, so at least you have a starting point for the conversation. Brassard's improved play as of late can only help the Jackets. Clearly they would need to give up much more than Brassard, we're talking multiple players and/or picks, but it's a start.
Add Ward and better depth to a core of Rick Nash, Jeff Carter, James Wisniewski, Fedor Tyutin, and R.J. Umberger and start to see what a confident goalie allows these players to do. We saw what many of them were capable of when they could count on Steve Mason to make a big save. That won't solve all the team's problems, but it's a good start.