The Goaltender Conundrum

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Contextualizing Carey Price’s new contract amongst other NHL goalies

Just a few weeks ago, Carey Price signed one of the most lucrative NHL deals of the salary cap era. The long-time Montreal Canadien and native of British Columbia reached an agreement with the only franchise he’s ever known. The contract will keep Price as a Hab until the summer of 2026 with an AAV of $10.5M. This is an 8-year deal for a total value of $84M (plus the $6.5M he’s still owed for the 2017-18 seasons that appears in his current contract) that will end with Price playing at almost 40 years of age. Only 16 goalies achieved this feat since 2000. Just 12 surpassed the 20 games played mark in those seasons.

A lot can be said of this deal, both in favor and against it and from a wide range of angles. If something about it is true and a fact, is that it is unique in terms of netminder contracts. A deal like Price’s has never been issued to a goalie. While they fill one of the most important positions in the rink, it’s hard to think of positive reasons the production of any goaltender should be so highly valued. In order to test this (production versus value), we can start by looking at the closest contracts to that of Carey Price’s signed by goalies. Note that I tweaked the parameters at CapFriendly.com’s comparable contract finder just so the AAV, the contract length, and the cap hit as a percentage of the ceiling are the most weighted attributes. Furthermore, I removed all deals shorter than six years in length.

There are only eight deals with a similarity over 30% to Price’s contract. Of those, only Lundqvist’s deal comes truly close to the real thing at 71.6% similarity. These listed contracts were also signed after or during the 2012-13 season, which speaks about the inflation of prices and the rise of the salary cap. No deal fell short of the $4M mark, but that is an interesting value to explore in terms of value/production given the difference between that number and Price’s or Lundqvist’s.

We can start delving deeper into our initial subset of goalies by looking at their careers prior to the signing of their deals in terms of games played, plus we can also take a look at their Goalie Point Shares (GPS) at the time of the signing.

Looking at the combined data from the 2011-12 to the 2016-17 seasons, the average GPS for starting goalies around the NHL comes at an 8.3 value. All the goalies listed in the table above were clearly meant to be starters on their respective teams when they signed their contracts, but even with that only 5 of the 9 found –including Carey Price– surpassed the average mark for starters in that span. With this presented information, the Minnesota Wild appear to have the best deal with Devan Dubnyk at $4.3M AAV. Dubnyk is averaging the second-best GPS of those comparable, although with a much smaller sample size of games played.

Dubnyk’s deal may look interesting while compared to those already presented. The true gems of the NHL at the net are to be found among some players not listed here and not even close to being comparable to Carey Price in terms of the money teams paid for them. This is key to understand how Montreal may have gambled a little bit with this signing. Price will be too old in just a few years already, let alone the last seasons of his deal, and probably not produce near what his deal will indicate just by its mind-blowing numbers.

Again, from 2011 to the end of the 2016-17 season, only Henrik Lundqvist (66.8) have accumulated greater GPS value than Carey Price (63.3). That correlates with the price both New York and Montreal paid for their goalies. Behind them, we find Tuukka Rask (60.8) and Mike Smith (59.8). The twist here is that both Lundqvist and Price reached that production making around $7.5M AAV and $4.5M AAV, while the other three only forced their teams to pay them $4M AAV, $3.5M AAV. It may not look as much of a difference, but over a contract that spans six to eight years those differences can turn into multiple millions that could potentially be allocated to other roles and position players on the roster, making it easier to build a contender.

As always, the best deals and relations between production and money are those belonging to rookies and short-experienced guys on entry-level deals. Given that this is not the case and we’re discussing sure-fire proved netminders, huge contracts were the thing we should be expecting, as is the case. The problem is, paying big dollars to a certain player, and probably much less a goalie, may not be the best approach while signing them contract extensions given the relatively small difference between top-tier and mid-range goaltenders.

In order to back up this last statement, we can look at Save Percentages over the same 2011-2017 period of time, limiting the sample to that of goalies with at least 275 games started during that span (around 46 GS per season). Carey Price comes out on top of everyone with a SV% of .923, making his case for the contract handed to him by the Canadiens. Following him, we find Schneider (.922), Rank (.922), Lundqvist (.921) and Holtby (.921). Some of these players reached those numbers while making considerably less money than the Price-Lundqvist pair, not to mention the other 12 names of goalies found under those parameters. Of those 12, none falls short of a .912 SV% while not getting top-money (at least not to Price’s extent) from their franchises.

In summary, we could say “the Price is right” given Carey’s production over the past few seasons. The value he has provided to Montreal both on and off the ice, but there always are other, cheaper, options available in the goalie market that would produce at a similar level by less money than the most recognized netminders would make on the open market. It is only about finding those gems early in their careers, as as years pass by it will be inevitable to pay a surplus for their rights.

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