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.