Crazy goalie contracts

"Now I will be able to afford socks."

In the past week, $93M has been delegated to NHL goaltenders. It’s been as good of a week for goalies as for Adam Oates, as teams have begun to lock up their most important players, two of them to long, gaudy contracts that are sure to not provide any value.

It started off with Ondrej Pavelec, signing a 5-year, $19.5M deal from a position of zero leverage. While a number of Winnipeg writers are sure that Pavelec is a budding star with the Winnipeg Jets, the numbers are less generous. Pavelec was 18th in the league in even strength save percentage, or EV SV%, at .917, four points below the league average at .921. Last season, his first as a starter however, he was tied for 8th, but it was the only year out of his four in the league where he’s been above league average goaltending.

Winnipeg was a 51.26% team in Fenwick Tied, rendering them a positive possession club who more frequently out-shot and out-chanced their opponents. They were the highest non-playoff team in this measure, and only logically missed out on the playoffs due to the fact they were out-goaltended most nights.

Now, I watched a lot of Jets games this year, and while Pavelec made a number of awesome saves, he was also caught out of position frequently, spent too much time watching the play, and afforded himself little chance on good offensive possessions. Jets fans have been watching AHL goaltending for about ten years now, and, credit to him, Pavelec would be a very good goaltender in the AHL. At the NHL-level, it’s a very risky move because you’re betting that Pavelec will perform like he did in one of his four years… for five seasons. This deal could create a lot of headaches down the line.

Allan Walsh then went on record breaking my brain, saying that “Tuukka Rask is going to hit $3 million. Cory Schneider is going to hit $3 million. There’s a new wave of goalies taking over No. 1 starting jobs in the NHL from the older guard. Between those goalies, statistically and in experience at a No. 1 goalie, Pavs should be slotted under Price”.

There’s little you can argue that would suggest that Pavelec is a better option between the pipes than Tuukka Rask, but the Bruins somehow locked Rask up to a 1-year, $3.5M deal. This deal is expertly reasonable, giving a chance for a young goaltender who put up a .929 EV SV% last season, and a .925 in his one year as a starter, to prove himself. This is still a “win now” year for the Bruins, so getting good goaltending ought to be more of a priority than locking up good goaltending.

Rask is still a restricted free agent next off-season, which means that Chirelli will get another chance to overpay for a goaltender, but in a vacuum, Rask’s $3.5M salary cap hit is excellent value for a goaltender that has proven over and over an ability to make saves at even strength and give quality opportunities for his team to win.

It’s the same sort of deal that Los Angeles Kings’ goaltender Jonathan Quick was on. He held a $1.8M cap hit, won the Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe, and cashed out, signing a ridiculous 10-year, $58M deal. The excellent goaltending the Kings received last season was made even better because it came for so cheap, but with a cap hit larger than any Stanley Cup-winning goaltender to this point, the Kings may not have the flexibility to spread dough around.

It’s true that the salary cap has increased a bundle in the last few seasons, but paying a lot of money and giving a long term a starting goalie has worked out in one instance: Henrik Lundqvist, and even his team-level success is suspect as the team has won just two playoff rounds since the contract began paying out in 2009. They also missed the playoffs in 2010.

But Lundqvist is the best in the business, consistently putting up good numbers behind a team that has seen very little stability as Glen Sather continually tinkers with his roster, signing stars, then trading them away when they get too pricy.

What makes Quick’s deal different is that last season was arguably his first really good year in the NHL, and the Kings are stuck with him, for better or for worse, for 11 seasons. Predicting goaltending is tough. It’s true that Quick is tied for fourth in save percentage in the last two seasons, but where is the guarantee that will last for long? How many goaltenders on this list are still the top of their craft? Rick DiPietro? Marc-Andre Fleury?

Quick was as instrumental as any King in this recent Stanley Cup, but if his 10-year deal works out, it would be the first for any goalie signed for more than six. The Vancouver Canucks have sourced on Roberto Luongo going into year three of 12 in his deal. Ilya Bryzgalov’s is looking like an awful bet after just one of nine. Rick DiPietro, well, he’s played an average of 28 games a year since signing his. Marc-Andre Fleury has the second to lowest save percentage of any regular starter since signing his, and the only one behind him is Miikka Kiprusoff, who is himself entering year five of six of his long-term, big-money deal.

Like Chiarelli, Mike Gillis signed his young goaltender Cory Schneider to a very reasonable 3-year, $12M deal that comes with some risk. While Schneider’s EV SV% numbers have been very good over two seasons at .933 and .931, he has yet to play the regular, wear and tear minutes of an NHL starter. He has played very good when starting consecutive games and did so on a number of occasions this past season in Vancouver.

The only way this deal doesn’t work out is if Schneider spectacularly flames out and ends up being a below-average goaltender. If he continues to play like he has so far in his career as a regular starter, he’s a steal, but he also gives the Canucks some flexibility by not being locked up to a 12-year deal. If he regresses a tad and plays like an above-average goaltender as opposed to a spectacular one, he’s providing value, as his cap hit will no doubt be about the league average for goaltenders, and probably in the lower half for starters.