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At some point in the next 10 months, Henrik Lundqvist will become the highest-paid hockey goaltender on the planet. There’s also an outside chance the AAV for his potential eight-year contract with the New York Rangers will be the highest for any player in the league, regardless of the position.

Lundqvist, at this moment in time, is the best goaltender in the NHL. That is clearly an opinion, but one that is impossible to dispute. Jonathan Quick of the Los Angeles Kings can be part of the discussion, as long as he’s willing to sit quietly and accept that Lundqvist’s body of work is far more impressive. Tuukka Rask of the Boston Bruins is allowed to hang out in the waiting room but should be invited into the discussion after this season.

The pressing issue with Lundqvist’s contract – and really, that of all long-term contracts in every sport – is that by the time the contract reaches its final few years, Lundqvist will be nothing near the elite player he is now. Time is a serial killer, methodically destroying our bodies until we are food for worms. There is no stopping it. Sure, Lundqvist will still be sickeningly handsome when he’s 39, impregnating infertile women with only a glance from his piercing blue eyes, but his ability to stop NHL players from scoring goals will be severely diminished.

Lundqvist is 31 years old, and assuming he signs an eight-year contract, will be 39 when the deal expires. History shows goaltenders cease to be effective north of 36, so there could be a lot of dead years on Lundqvist’s contract at $9 million per season, and even with a salary cap that will considerably rise between now and then, that’s a lot of dead weight that will be impossible to completely remove from the roster.

Martin Brodeur and Dominik Hasek are arguably the two best goaltenders in the history of the NHL. Brodeur’s last truly effective season was 2009-10, when he was 37 years old. Yes, he reached the Stanley Cup Final in 2012, but he finished 34th out of 45 eligible goaltenders in save percentage that season, behind the likes of Semyon Varlamov and Ilya Bryzgalov.

Hasek, however, had more positive results as he aged. He had a pair of terrific seasons in 2005-06 and 2006-07 with the Ottawa Senators and Detroit Red Wings, respectively. Hasek finished second in save percentage in 2005-06, the one caveat being he made just 41 starts in his age 39 season.  With the Red Wings the following season, Hasek finished 13th in save percentage as the team’s primary starter and reached the Western Conference Final.

It wasn’t entirely a fountain-of-youth story for Hasek, as retirement and a severe groin injury limited him to 14 games during his age 37 and 38 seasons. It’s also worth mentioning that Hasek didn’t make his NHL debut until he was 25 and didn’t become a starter until he was 28, minimizing the wear and tear on his body.

So really, no matter how you slice it, no matter how you want to rationalize Lundqvist’s upcoming contract, it’s going to be a very bad deal after, at best, five seasons. It’s why it’s very possible the Rangers are insisting on a seven- or six-year deal.

Considering the Rangers fancy themselves smack dab in the middle of a Stanley Cup window – the decision to not buy out Brad Richards is evidence of that – the really important issue to consider is the type of goaltender Lundqvist will be during the first half of the contract.

Chances are, he won’t be nearly as good as he has been the past three or four seasons.

The lockout-shortened 2013 season makes comparisons difficult and perhaps even unfair, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a better three-season (non-dead puck era) run than the one Lundqvist enjoyed from 2011-2013. In total, Lundqvist had a 2.11 GAA, .926 save percentage, was a finalist for the Vezina Trophy the past two seasons and won it in 2012.

It may slip under the radar, but it’s worth noting that Lundqvist ascended to his current status of NHL’s Best Goaltender under the coaching of John Tortorella, who Lundqvist sort of helped to get fired.

Playing behind a team that was conditioned to propel their bodies in front of shots with reckless abandon and without care for their own physical well being, Lundqvist enjoyed his best NHL seasons. It’s not as though Lundqvist was a slouch before Tortorella arrived in New York, but it’s fair to say that playing in his ex-coach’s system is a big reason why he’s on the verge of a massive payday.

Here’s a look at Lundqvist’s season-by-season even-strength save percentage and where it ranked him among goalies who started at least half their team’s games:

2012-13 — .937 (4th)
2011-12 — .933 (4th)
2010-11 — .930 (8th)
2009-10 — .929 (4th)
2008-09 — .920 (14th)
2007-08 — .922 (13th)
2006-07 — .931 (4th)
2005-06 — .929 (5th)

After Tortorella showed up, Lundqvist went from a good goaltender to an elite goaltender and he wasn’t exactly trending that way in 2007-08 (inexplicable Vezina finalist status aside) and 2008-09. Should Lundqvist regress to his immediate pre-Tortorella numbers under new coach Alain Vigneault, which wouldn’t exactly make him the worst goaltender in the NHL, it instantly makes paying him $9 million per season seem a little suspect.

Of course, the idea behind hiring Vigneault is he will loosen the reins in an effort to get more offense from the Rangers, and that by itself will lead to Lundqvist’s numbers taking somewhat of a dip, which is fine if the Rangers compensate by scoring more. But if it turns out Tortorella was playing the perfect system for the talent the Rangers possessed and the offense doesn’t improve, Lundqvist falling from his elite level with fewer teammates blocking shots will be devastating to the Rangers’ overall success, leaving them with a “good” goaltender making “elite” money.

As with any contract, teams are paying for future performance based on past performance with the idea that the future performance can be reasonably repeated for the duration of the deal. But in Lundqvist’s case, it seems especially dangerous to think he will remain the game’s best goaltender as soon as this upcoming season.

Three questions: RFAs, America’s best pizza, Teemu Selanne

Dave
Why do you think there are so many unsigned RFAs right now? Do you think they will all be signed? Will there be holdouts? What about offer sheets? Thanks.

Christopher

The obvious answer for the sheer number of quality restricted free agents that are unsigned is the lower salary cap. Teams have less money to spend and are therefore finding it hard to pay players what they deserve. Some players are unsigned because they believe they are getting unfair deals, others are unsigned because they lack the proper leverage to get a fair deal.

It’s a guarantee that at least a few of these unsigned RFAs won’t be in camp, and it’s very likely a couple will be holdouts when the season starts. And offer sheets may as well not even exist. Yes, there are some poachable players out there, but the thing about offer sheets is a player has to want to sign one. The Blues will match anything Alex Pietrangelo signs, so there’s no point. Derek Stepan, to me anyway, is the most poachable player. If a team signed him to a deal at $5 million per season, the Rangers would be screwed. But, a team isn’t going to do that and Stepan likes where he is, so again, there’s no point in offer sheeting a guy 95 percent of the time.

Hi Dave
Did you see this story about San Diego and Las Vegas being the top cities in America for pizza? As a New Yorker, I’d love to know your thoughts on this, which I am sure are angry ones.

Cathy

First off, not a New Yorker. Born in New Jersey, live in New Jersey. There’s a difference. Second off, people should stop using TripAdvisor if they are advising people that Las Vegas is a go-to destination for pizza. I’ve never had pizza in San Diego, but I’ll go ahead and assume it’s terrible. Truthfully, I’ve never had a good slice of pizza outside of north Jersey or Manhattan, unless you count the pizza soup stuff they sell in Chicago, which is terrific but only vaguely resembles what pizza should be.

Hockey players eat pizza after games. I’ve never seen a player eat deep dish, therefore, by rule, deep dish isn’t pizza.

Dave,
Does Teemu Selanne come back this year? Will he be a Duck or go somewhere else?

Tom

Personally, I think he showed a lot of signs of being…I don’t want to say done, but very close to it last season. Reading about how he’s considering a third option beyond retiring or playing for the Ducks — playing for a new team — makes me think he wants to come back, and may want to do so in a Daniel Alfredsson style of switching teams for a better shot at winning a Stanley Cup. But he’s more likely pulling a Martin Brodeur and introducing a third party to up his price, but the Ducks don’t have much room to pay him as it stands now. And the way the Ducks’ roster looks today, they could easily get by without him.

Personally, I think it’s Anaheim or nothing and considering the Ducks are coming off a season in which they had the third-most points in the NHL, he’ll give it one last try with the Ducks.

Comments (5)

  1. This is going to be fun. They are going to give him all the cap and still need to find a way to sign 15 more guys in 2014. This isn’t the middle of the Rangers cup window, 13-14 is the last year. All their young talent will be up for new, higher contracts and they won’t have room for everyone. If Lundqvist gets 9 Mil they will have $40 mil in cap hit for 7 signed players. This team is going to implode.

  2. With the new CBA, what happens to Lundqvist’s cap hit if he retires at 36 or 37?

    • If his salary is evenly spread over the eight years, the cap hit will simply disappear when he retires. The changes in the new CBA were designed to recover the benefit teams enjoyed by paying a lot of salary in the early years of a contract but lowering the annual average (and cap hit) with cheap years at the end.

    • If Lundqvist were to retire at 36 or 37 his cap hit would be entirely removed from the books. There’s only 2 reasons that there would be any carry-over cap hit for a retired player, and neither would be applicable for Lundqvist. Those 2 reasons, and why they won’t apply to Lundqvist are:

      1) The 35+ contract rule. If a player is 35 or older at the start of a contract (not when he signs it, but when it actually goes into effect), the cap hit stays on the books for the duration of the contract length even if the player retires. Lundqvist is 31 and entering the final year of his current contract, when his next contract goes into effect he will be 32 and thus not subject to the 35+ rule

      2) The cap-recapture rule, aka the Luongo rule. This rule applies to players/teams that signed long-term, front-loaded, back-diving contracts under the old CBA. Teams that have players on back-diving contracts are saving against the cap while the player’s salary is higher than his cap hit. For example, Brad Richards’ 9-year deal with the Rangers carries a cap hit of $6.67M, but in the first 2 years of it he earned $12M per season in actual salary and this year he will earn $9M. That represents a total cap savings of $13M for the first 3 years of his deal – $33M in actual salary minus $20M in cumulative cap hit. If he retires before that cap savings is made up by way of his playing out the last few years of his contract where the salary paid is significantly less than the cap hit, the Rangers will be penalized with a cap hit to make up for the cap savings they enjoyed. Again though, this is not a rule that will effect Lundqvist in any way. The new CBA does not only include a cap on contract length, it also severely limits both year-to-year and overall salary variation for the life of the contract. The cap recapture penalty will only affect contracts signed under the old CBA, as ones signed under the new one cannot be designed to circumvent the cap with league-minimum years at the end.

      So basically what this all boils down to is that if Lundqvist does retire 5 or 6 years into his new deal, his cap hit should come off the books entirely. However, the flipside is that it is now far less likely for a player to retire with a few years left on a long-term contract. With the backdiving contracts under the old CBA, the vast majority of the contract’s total value is paid out over the first 1/2 to 3/4 of the deal, the last few years are at or near league minimum simply to lower the overall cap hit. For example, if Luongo were to retire with 3 years left on his contract, he’d have already been paid $60.4M of the $64M total value of his contract, nearly 95% of it. He can walk away knowing that he’s only leaving 5% of his contract’s total value on the table despite having played only 75% of its length. Lundqvist, or anyone else who signs a deal under the new CBA, won’t have that same luxury as they cannot receive such a large percentage of their earnings up front and thus would be less likely to retire before playing out most if not all of the contract.

  3. Let’s get to the important part of this article. As a fellow New Jersey resident, I think that you’re misrepresenting the rest of the world. Sure, the world outside of North Jersey-to-New York City can’t live up to our level, but really, they’re not terrible. They’re just not incredible. As for Chicago…their pizza is incredibly delicious, but it’s just so different than normal pizza. It’s pizza in the sense that there’s dough, cheese, and sauce, but it operates on an entirely separate definition of pizza.

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