Ever since the Curtis Joseph/Dominik Hasek/Manny Legace goaltending triangle just before the NHL lockout, the Detroit Red Wings have been cycling an assortment of cheap and largely unremarkable goaltenders through their crease. Legace, Osgood, Conklin, Howard; with the exception of a single half-season from a declining Hasek the Red Wings haven’t had a single goaltender distinguishable from the usual mix of 1A/1B types available in each summer’s free agent bargain bin.

I recycle the Ken Holland quote from this post over and over again because it’s brilliant and it shows a depth of understanding that the vast majority of not just fans and commentators but also NHL general managers seem unable to reach. The Red Wings G.M., on why he cheaps out on goalies:

My feeling is if you can get one of the five or six best goalies in the league you can spend the money. We can’t get into those guys, and the difference between the eighth goalie in the league and the 15th goalie, it’s a big difference in money. It’s not a big difference in performance.

I have the feeling that Holland’s underselling it, because he’s never entered the playoffs with a better-than-average (i.e. top-15) starter. In any case, here’s a quick chart looking at the 10 highest cap hit goalies in the league, and whether they’ve been worth the money this season. Blue for yes, red for no.

Player Cap Hit (MM) Good/Bad
Henrik Lundqvist 6.875 The best part of a struggling Rangers’ team
Roberto Luongo 6.75 One of the league’s best goaltenders
Ryan Miller 6.25 Vezina candidate has been Sabres’ MVP
Jean-Sebastien Giguere 6 Outplayed by cheap backup Jonas Hiller
Niklas Backstrom 6 Has struggled since the departure of Jacques Lemaire
Miikka Kiprusoff 5.833 Rebound year for previously disappointing Finn
Marty Turco 5.7 Below average goaltender has been fighting to hang on to his spot
Tomas Vokoun 5.7 Underrated veteran has been excellent
Cristobal Huet 5.625 Outplayed by Antii Niemi at a fraction of the price
Evgeni Nabokov 5.375 On pace for the best season of his career

Six for 10. Those aren’t numbers that a G.M. necessarily wants his owner to see; imagine the conversation:

G.M.: I need $5.5 million to sign us a legitimate, top-10 NHL goaltender.

Owner: What are the chances that your guy is going to live up to the contract?

G.M.: Well, going by this season there’s a 60% chance that your investment will give us a top-10 starter, and a 40% chance that he’ll implode and we’ll replace him with some random European kid/generic backup, at which point he’ll be a salary cap boat anchor.

Owner: Let me just grab my pen to sign that cheque…

I don’t think there’s any arguing the fact that Holland (a minor-league goaltender who had an NHL cup of coffee as a player) is right about goalies, and the fact that general managers continue to sign decidedly average players to big money contracts (for a recent example, see Ward, Cam) boggles my mind. It’s the single greatest area of inefficiency in the cap era, and many of them don’t seem to learn from their mistakes (for a recent example, see Ferguson, John Jr.). Every single year, some cheap and hitherto unknown backup or some veteran, undrafted European goaltender shows up in the NHL and outplays an assortment of the money guys; it seems to me that it makes a lot more sense to run with a capable looking tandem and a good AHL goalie, as Detroit has done, and hope that one of the three catches fire in any given season.