Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Follow the Money

A lot of people put stock in what NHL general managers have to say about different players and goalies around the league. It makes sense that these talent evaluators should have a better than average ability to rate hockey players, the problem is that few are going to go on record as being critical of anybody, and sometimes it's difficult to tell if a quote is a bland nicety or a real endorsement. Furthermore, nobody knows a player better than his own team's management group, but in almost all cases they are going to support the player in any kind of a public setting. Vezina voting gives us some indication, but there remains a difference between rating the best goalie of a particular season and the best goalie in general.

When you want to know what people really think, and not just what they say they think, it is usually better to focus on actions than words. That's why I think there is some value in looking at the size of the paycheques of goalies around the league. As with any numerical ranking, it's often good to bring in some outside knowledge to inform the rankings (insane longterm deals, home-town discounts, ELC/RFA/UFA years, salary inflation, to name but a few things that have an impact), but at the end of the day nobody pays anybody millions of dollars a year without expecting significant performance in return. And on the flip side, a general manager can go on for as long as he wants about how the goalie on his winning team is underrated and mentally tough and makes the big saves and is a great teammate, but when he refuses to open the purse strings come free agency time that is a stronger indication that his objective viewpoint is something altogether different.

Using Hockey Zone Plus and Cap Geek, I was able to put together career salary histories for most of the experienced starting goalies since 1990, and then applied a factor to adjust for the league average goalie salary in each season.

Here are the total adjusted earnings figures:

1. Patrick Roy, $76,550,000
2. Dominik Hasek, $55,510,000
3. Ed Belfour, $54,840,000
4. Martin Brodeur, $51,000,000
5. Mike Richter, $49,830,000
6. Curtis Joseph, $49,000,000
7. Tom Barrasso, $36,720,000
8. Nik Khabibulin, $35,340,000
9. Olaf Kolzig, $33,200,000
10. Sean Burke, $32,560,000
11. Jose Theodore, $27,410,000
12. Roberto Luongo, $27,280,000
13. J.S. Giguere, $25,430,000
14. Felix Potvin, $24,520,000
15. Kirk McLean, $24,400,000
16. Bill Ranford, $23,450,000
17. Chris Osgood, $22,940,000
18. Evgeni Nabokov, $21,320,000
19. Marty Turco, $20,920,000
20. Miikka Kiprusoff, $20,350,000

Contract timing and the adjustment factors make it unlikely that this list would come out with a perfect ranking, but it still comes out surprisingly well, especially when you look at tiers rather than specific rankings. The top four are correct, although admittedly very few people would put them in that order. Mike Richter shows one of the flaws of this method, that a goalie who was entrenched for a long time on a large market team with a spend-happy GM is likely to get paid disproportionately to everyone else. It's not too hard to make the argument that Joseph's repeated free agency paydays from several different franchises are more impressive than Richter cashing in on the '94 Stanley Cup run.

Barrasso, Khabibulin, Kolzig and Burke were a solid group of goalies that make up the next tier. Jose Theodore is the surprising leader of the the younger group of goalies, although this is the last year he will be ranked ahead of Roberto Luongo. Luongo projects to end up in Joseph/Richter territory by the end of his lifetime contract in Vancouver, and quite possibly higher depending on your assumptions of salary inflation.

The other interesting guy to point out is #17 on the list. If Chris Osgood was really the #2 goalie of the last decade, as some claim, then he needs to immediately sue his agent for gross malpractice. I think the reality is that, in the vote done with their owners' dollars, the league's general managers just weren't all that impressed by Osgood.

Here's a measure of peak effectiveness, each goalie's best 5 consecutive years in adjusted salary:

1. Dominik Hasek, $29,650,000
2. Patrick Roy, $29,271,000
3. Curtis Joseph, $25,297,000
4. Mike Richter, $23,424,000
5. Ed Belfour, $21,884,000
6. Nik Khabibulin, $21,726,000
7. Martin Brodeur, $21,103,000
8. Olaf Kolzig, $20,926,000
9. Roberto Luongo, $20,651,000
10. Tom Barrasso, $20,328,000
11. Jose Theodore, $18,719,000
12. Marty Turco, $16,580,000
13. Miikka Kiprusoff, $16,201,000
14. J.S. Giguere, $15,915,000
15. Kirk McLean, $15,888,000
16. Evgeni Nabokov, $15,793,000
17. Bill Ranford, $14,604,000
18. Henrik Lundqvist, $14,484,000
19. Tomas Vokoun, $13,705,000
20. Sean Burke, $13,536,000

This time Hasek beats out Roy for the top spot, with the two of them both well clear of the field. I think it's safe to say that Nikolai Khabibulin has had some pretty good representation over the years, while Brodeur likely left a good chunk of change on the table because he preferred to play in New Jersey. A few current goalies are slowly creeping up this list, in a couple of years Henrik Lundqvist will be just outside of the top 10.

Just one caveat, the adjustment is likely over-correcting for post-lockout goalies. With a maximum salary level, with more goaltending talent around the league and with restricted free agents getting paid big dollars earlier than ever before, there is no longer the huge salary disparity between the top veterans and the newcomers that was seen in the late '90s.


Agent Orange said...

CG: Have you considering compiling this information as a % of total team payroll?

As you mentioned some of the guys on this list have an advantage of playing in big market which increases their numbers.

I would expect consideration of total team payroll would be an area where Hasek would really shine.

Situations where a team could only spend a limited amount of money (say $40 million) and put $6 mill of that into their goalie would be a high indicator of what a GM thinks of a goalie. Contrasted to some of the pre-cap Leafs/Wings/Rangers teams who were getting up in the high $60's for payroll.

Just a thought.

The Contrarian Goaltender said...

% of payroll could make some sense if you are trying to figure out the most valuable goalie, sure, but I'm not sure it would that helpful if we're trying to identify the best goalies. There is a reason why the best teams in the league specifically went out and paid big money to get guys like Hasek and Belfour to play on their teams. Those guys didn't immediately become worse netminders the moment they pulled on a Red Wings or Stars jersey.

That's why I don't think % of payroll would be the proper metric for this analysis, although I agree it could tell us quite a bit about how certain teams were built.

Agent Orange said...

GMs work within the confines of their budget. What % of that budget they are willing to give to their goaltender tells us more than the base number.

"Here's a measure of peak effectiveness, each goalie's best 5 consecutive years in adjusted salary:

1. Dominik Hasek, $29,650,000
2. Patrick Roy, $29,271,000"

Roughly $6 mill/year each. At the face value it would look like their GMs both considered them very important.

I don't know the payroll numbers for these guy's careers but for the sake of round numbers lets say:

Sabres: 45 million
Aves: 60 million

% of Team payroll
Hasek: 13%
Roy: 10%

It would appear Hasek is more valuable. This is especially important when you consider the way the NHL handles RFA. A guy like Hasek ($5-6 mill/year) would force a team to give up a number of very high compensatory picks if they signed him as a RFA. This limits how much a player can benefit from a bidding war from the big money teams.

Cognition said...

"GMs work within the confines of their budget. What % of that budget they are willing to give to their goaltender tells us more than the base number."

You're basing that on a misunderstanding of economics.

This might be the case if each goalie could only ever play for one team for their entire career and the only alternative was leaving hockey, but in a market, even if you're selling to someone with little money, it's indicative that you couldn't get more from the competitors with more.

Say team X has a 40 million dollar budget and team Y has an 80 million dollar budget.

Team X offers goalie A 5 million and goalie B 4 million.

Team Y offers goalie A 7 million and goalie B 6 million.

Goalie A signs with team Y for 7 million so goalie B has to sign with team X for 4 million.

Goalie B has a higher percentage of his team's salary despite being offered less by each team.

Host PPH said...

in my opinion I think that sometimes the NHL general managers have to stop thinking in the way they normally do and listen to the fans

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