This guy any good? I don't know, but Tampa could have got him, or somebody like him, for cheaper than they did.

Of the five simple principles outlined by Gabriel Desjardins on how the Los Angeles Kings won the Stanley Cup, the easiest to adhere to and the most obvious rule is “do not overpay for goaltending.”

Goalies fluctuate every season. Goalies are inconsistent, and goalies are weird. Goalies are the answer to the old riddle “what do you call the guy who hangs out with hockey players?” Goalies used to face shots with unprotected faces and throw up between periods. Goalies are sometimes obnoxious and crazy.

Two of the best goaltenders this game has seen, Tim Thomas and Patrick Roy, we have found to be totally volatile human beings. One day they’re the city’s hero, the next day they want out.

Not only that, but teams that pay the most for goaltending missed out on the playoffs, or, if you spin that the other way, teams that missed the playoffs spent more on their goaltending. Cam Ward, Miikka Kiprusoff, Ryan Miller and Nicklas Backstrom are not necessarily bad goaltenders, but is it worth it for their teams to pay them those millions when guys right off the free agency wire in Brian Elliott and Mike Smith put up similar numbers?

Los Angeles, Florida, Detroit, Washington, Phoenix, all these teams got competent-to-great goaltending for pennies on the dollar and all made the playoffs. Last season, the Tampa Bay Lightning spent more on their combination of Dwayne Roloson, Sebastien Caron and Mathieu Garon than any of those teams and never found the right guy.

While Tampa didn’t spend as much as the average non-playoff team, obviously bringing back Roloson wasn’t a big decision to make this summer. Roloson, a year after a strong playoff run, was awful and porous and that team was knocked out of games very early on.

I think Steve Yzerman understands that paying a lot of money for a goalie is a fool’s errand. Instead of looking to trade for a major goaltender like Roberto Luongo, Cory Schneider, sign an offer sheet to Carey Price or Tuukka Rask, he instead opted to look in the bargain bin. There he found Anders Lindback, a 24-year old goaltender with 28 career starts and made $875,000 last season.

Yzerman knows he’s not going to break the bank signing Lindback, which gives him more room to spend to shore up his team’s defence or, saves him money if he’s on a strict team budget. Lindback, who has a career .914 save percentage, has just as good of a chance as any goalie of being the next Mike Smith.

But you can overpay for a goaltender by trade just as much as you could signing on the dotted line. I find it hard to believe that Lindback was the only guy that the Lightning were considering from that “potential starter, slightly used” stock. We’re looking at piles of goalies in there: Leland Irving, Iiro Tarkki, Eddie Lack, Jeremy Smith, Ben Scrivens or Richard Bachman. All of those guys were restricted free agents, and you think one of them could have been had for a price less than two second round draft picks.

The other thing to consider is that if you’re going to try to exploit an economic advantage by keeping that cap figure for your goaltender low, why not sign Lindback to an offer sheet? It’s unlikely that the Predators would go too high to match whatever Tampa Bay was willing to sign him to: anything between roughly $1.7M and $3.4M would have cost the Bolts a single second-round pick.

If Lindback doesn’t want to sign the offer sheet, then go on to the next guy. Of the restricted free agents above, surely only Scrivens or Bachman fit into the longterm plans of the team that holds their rights.

I understand that offer sheets aren’t a way of doing business, but for a team like Tampa Bay, it ought to exploit every competitive advantage they can find. A similar thing happened last year when the Colorado Avalanche traded a first and a conditional second round pick for Semyon Varlamov, and then signed him to a contract that would have cost the team a second rounder alone had he been poached by an offer sheet.

The extra pick that Colorado gave up turned into the #11 overall pick in this season’s draft. While that isn’t a danger for the Lightning since they know which picks in the top 60 they’re giving up, it’s still better to have two top 50 picks than one, especially since the ones they’re giving up come sooner than the one they’d have given up had they, again, simply signed Lindback to an offer sheet.

In this vein, the Lightning overpaid for a goaltender.

Playing by the rules shouldn’t be frowned upon in hockey. If you can’t beat ‘em in the boardroom, you can’t beat ‘em on the ice. If teams don’t like the fact that their players will be available when their contracts expire, they ought to make the unwritten rule a written rule this summer when the Collective Bargaining Agreement is re-negotiated and not allow teams to sign players to offer sheets.

Comments (14)

  1. What salary are they paying him?

  2. What a terrible overstatement. Smith and Elliott were bargain bin free agents, therefore any bargain bin free agent could possibly do what they did? You imply that there isn’t anything more to it, that goaltending is essentially 100% random. Guys like Smith and Elliott are found because smart teams identify goalies that had the wrong coaching/system/defense in front of them, and then out the right coaching/system/defense around them. And comparing Irving, Tarkki, Lack, Smith, Scrivens & Bachman (combined 38 NHL appearances) to two guys who were highly thought of at one point, had extended chances as a starter for bad teams, then hit free agency in their 20′s is not even close to an apt comparison. This summer there isn’t really a guy who fits that mold, with Dan Ellis being the closest. And while he isn’t cheap, I bet you could pick up Steve Mason for a couple used pucks, and he is a MUCH better comparison to Smith/Elliott.

    • From one Derrick to another… Thank you!

    • If you could pick up Steve Mason for “a couple of used pucks” and he would be a better comparison to Smith/Elliott’s potential, wouldn’t that suggest that Cam’s not making a “terrible overstatement”?

      As for Smith and Elliott, Elliott was never highly regarded (hence why he was a 9th round pick, hence why he’s played on three teams in five years, hence why he cost very little on the market), and Smith was highly regarded before bombing out in Tampa Bay.

      Statistically speaking, the bigger overstatement is how much a system will influence a goaltender’s play. The returns on scoring chance data are suggesting that scoring chances are very strongly related to shots-against in general, which in turn is a proxy statistic for possession. The relationship between shots-against and goaltender save percentage? Nil. Nada. And that’s over tens of thousands of shots of data over the last five years.

  3. I’m afraid I don’t agree with this one Cam and I feel it doesn’t quite mesh up with you article on picks recently.

    The Bolts needed an upgrade in between the pipes immediately and as you said, Yzerman isn’t crazy enough to saddle himself with a contract like Luongo’s.

    What other viable upgrade routes did he have? He’s got a team that’s only one year removed from a good playoff run so trading a decent player away is just going to leave them weaker somewhere other than in goal.

    As Derek pointed out, Steve Mason might have been available for the proverbial bag of pucks but you’ve got to imagine his confidence is shot to hell.

    So, what options did Yzerman have available to him? Maybe Ben Bishop of Ottawa but that’s about it. I couldn’t think of another NHL-ready goaltender who might be available.

    The likes of Schneider or Bernier are probably going to be too pricey (picks/talent wise) so while I think he’s taken a gamble on the relatively unproven Lindback, I don’t think he overpaid.

  4. Leland Irving, Iiro Tarkki, Eddie Lack, Jeremy Smith, Ben Scrivens or Richard Bachman are all AHL goalies. Tampa has Tokarski and Janus in the minors if they were going to follow this logic. They wanted a young goalie with AHL experience. While giving up picks might be somewhat expensive in a certain light, there was also no guarantee that the player they picked would turn into an NHL caliber player. They also did not have to part with a first rounder. That would not have happened had they gone after say Bernier (A lot of articles indicate that it would take at least a 1st rounder to gain his services). You would have also likely had to give up some top end prospects to gain Bernier. Again he just gave up extra picks, which are never a guarantee. Rather hold onto too my two top 20 picks than risk it on a goalie that has as much chance as lindback to become a starter.

  5. If anything, the lighting won this trade. The bolts were able to get a goalie who, by some accounts, has just as much talent and potential as Rinne for just 2 second rounders. Tampa is not by any means over paying as you would suggest. I get your offer-sheet suggestion, but as a GM, you need to keep your options open and if you start sending out offer-sheets for teams RFA’s, you are going to lose any respect you had amongst your peers and maybe lose out on potential trading partners because of your reputation.

    • Offer sheets do not work in this league. That’s why it very rarely ever happens. Think about it. You’re arguing that 2 first rounders is overpayment yet at the same time saying sign him to an offer sheet for pretty big money. You’re still gonna pay one way or another. So say you do sign an offer sheet for 1.4 mil, do you really think the preds wouldn’t match that in order to not lose him for 1 measly pick. Well they would so you’re dead wrong on this one.

      • Reading is a great skill to have, you should try it sometime. What you are implying I said is the complete opposite from what I wrote. I see Cam’s view, but I don’t agree with it at all and think it’s a poor idea.

  6. No, Tampa didn’t overpay for Lindback..

  7. Lindback put up Niemi type numbers while playing behind one of the best defensive units in the NHL. Tampa’s defense system is woefully inferior to Nashville’s. Granted, Lindback had a very small sample size last year since he only played in 16 games, and of those only started 10, but the numbers do not inspire a lot of confidence. The goalies you cited in Elliot and Smith went from porous defensive teams to tight defensive systems and their numbers improved. Is it not logical to assume that with Lindback going from a tight defensive system to a porous one his numbers are only going to get worse?

    Also, I heard that Nashville did not trust Lindback and that was why Rinne was the league leader in games started, can anyone confirm if this is accurate?

  8. Even cheaper route? Call up Tokarski and sign Jeff Zatkoff or Cedrick Desjardins (or both) and never look back. Lindback has VERY limited NHL experience on an NHL team that has a reputation for overcounting, so really you’re banking on a 24-year old who’s played pretty well in the SEL when you can spend next to nothing on a 25- or 26-year old who’s played well in the AHL for 3-odd seasons (and in Tokarski, a 23-year old who’s coming off a great AHL season). Roll three goalies or send Tokarski down, see if one of Zatkoff/Desjardins can handle the keys to the car, and if not you have Garon/Tokarski as contingency plans. That 37th pick could’ve given you a very good shot at drafting Malcolm Subban, or at the very least Oscar Dansk, if you were concerned about getting goaltending prospects in the system.

  9. From what I have been reading this draft is the worst draft in 12 years…so maybe giving up the picks is not as valuable as getting Lindback???

  10. Very nice article, totally what I was looking for.

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