Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Era of Bargain Goalies

After the past offseason, I feel like I should be changing my handle to The Not-Quite-So-Contrarian Goaltender. A number of NHL teams came around to what stat guys have been preaching for a while now, that you shouldn't commit big bucks to the position because there is little margin in goaltending these days and the supply of decent goalies currently exceeds the demand.

Given the economic realities and the nature of the game at the moment, it is simply the smart team-building move to avoid committing big cash to any goalie that hasn't already demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt that he is a difference-maker. That's not great news for the financial plans of goaltenders or prospects aspiring to make the NHL one day (perhaps leading to a lot more Dan Ellis Problems), but that's just the way it is. That message is spreading around the league, from the Hawks walking away from Antti Niemi to the Sharks cutting ties with Evgeni Nabokov to the Canadiens choosing to trade rather than pay their playoff hero Jaroslav Halak.

I've seen some dismiss this as merely the typical rush to copycat the most recent Stanley Cup winner, but I'd certainly dispute that argument. The signs of a goalie glut have been there for a while now, and it's been 7 seasons since a team won a Cup with a Hall of Fame goalie. The five starting goalies with championship rings since 2006 have an average post-lockout save percentage of .906. The league average over that period has been .907.

Average goaltending is good enough these days for a team that has quality in the rest of their roster. Given that, it's not at all surprising that the market price of goalies has been dropping in the salary cap era. The blueprint for many teams is to invest in the guys up front to try to assemble a lineup that can outchance the opposition. That alone should be enough to get into the playoffs and maybe even win a round or two against a weaker opponent, and from that point it's just a matter of crossing their fingers and hoping to get the hot goaltending and/or shooting luck needed to get their hands on the Cup.

I've been busy over the summer working on the Hockey Prospectus annual and other projects, but should be back on a regular posting schedule with training camps starting up around the league.


Derick said...

What do you think of the interesting situation in San Jose? Who should they go with, was it a bad idea to sign two goalies, will they trade one, etc.?

Bruce said...

Welcome back, your contrariness! I've missed you.

Curious to hear your opinion on the Steve Mason signing.