Goaltender performance vs. salary

In the salary cap era, it’s important that teams spend their money wisely and in the last couple of years years, more GMs are apprehensive to give goaltenders a huge contract. It’s partially because goalies are a volatile position and lately, there are a lot of teams who use a tandem of goalies or change goaltenders year-after-year instead of having a true #1 who they invest a lot of money in. It’s all a matter of whether teams want to invest $4 mil+ on one player and that’s usually what teams would give a goalie they consider elite. I’ll get into what defines elite in a later post. Today, I’m going to look at which goalies have gotten paid big money in the last five years and see how their performance compares with it.

I took the accumulative even strength save percentage from every goalie who has played from 2005-2009 in the NHL and used that to find out their Goals Allowed Above Average, which would be the amount of shots a goaltender would stop above the league average. The league average was different in each season, obviously so I took the mean of the five different league averages to use in the equation to determine GAAA.  Then I found the mean of each goaltender’s GAAA to determine their average over the past five years. What I did then was plotted it on a graph with the goaltender’s combined salary over those five years. It came with some pretty interesting results. For this sample, I chose 50 goalies who were in the league as a starter for at least 2 years.

When first looking at the graph, you’ll notice a good chunk of goalies making under $7 mil from 2005-09 and some of them have been playing well (GAAA around 10 or higher). Some of them are young goalies playing on entry contracts and making the most of it (Pekka Rinne, Carey Price, Jonas Hiller). All three goalies were rewarded with new contracts for the 2010-11 season; (Rinne $6.8 mil/2 years, Price $5.5 mil/2 years, Hiller $18 mil/4 years). Hiller’s contract may have been higher due to him consistently putting up strong numbers while Giguere was hurt and he’s been in the Ducks system for years. Giving a rookie a contract extension is always a tough call because you never know how they will turn out. Sometimes you get someone like the three I mentioned who have continued to play well after being re-signed. Other times you’ll end up with an Andrew Raycroft. Great rookie season, earn extension and then never repeat that production. Thankfully, Raycroft only earned $6.4 mil so he didn’t cost his team(s) too much money.

The biggest screw-ups on here were the contracts given to Vesa Toskala and Pascal Leclaire. Teams who give big contracts to goaltenders for doing well in recent time. In Toskala’s case, he played well as a back-up in San Jose, signed with Toronto and put up slightly above average numbers, got an $8 mil extension and then plummeted. Despite injury problems, Leclaire was given a 3 year contract worth $11.4 million by Columbus after a great season in 2007. He was traded to Ottawa later in the season and has put up abysmal numbers there. The contract was a bad idea from the start since Ottawa owes Leclaire $4.8 mil this season. Yikes.

What sticks out the most to me on this graph is that dot by $25 million right at the zero point for GAAA. Want to know who that is? Jose Theodore. Aside from this season, every contract Theo’s received from has been over $4 mil despite putting up slightly above (or below) average numbers. Washington actually paid him $4.5 mil for 2years in 2008 to serve as a placeholder until their two younger goalies were ready to be called up. Does winning the Hart at the beginning of the decade give him more leverage or something? Regardless, he was a cheaper option than Cristobal Huet, a goalie being rewarded with a monstrous contract from the Blackhawks after playing well during the Capitals playoff run in 2008. That didn’t turn out so well. (GAA of 15 last season, worst in the NHL)

The worst one on here is probably Nikolai Khabibulin accumulating over $30 million dollars and only looking like a goalie who deserved that much in one of those years. Hey, that great 2008-09 season he had earned him a 4-year contract with Edmonton. He’ll add onto his total earnings for the next two seasons and is making about half as much as the $6.75 mil Chicago was paying him for many years. Winning the cup can get you big bucks even if you’re barely above the league average for the most part.

With all of the failures, there are some big signings which appear to be worth it. Roberto Luongo is the 2nd highest paid goalie in this sample ($30.2 mil) and he’s also second in total GAAA. He’s always been consistent with his performance every year even if I don’t think it will hold up for the entire 12 years of his contract. The goalie with the highest GAAA is Florida’s Tomas Vokoun, who is set to become a free agent this off-season and you can bet that he’s going to get a huge payday wherever he goes. Even in his mid-30’s, Vokoun has played on an elite level and for the past four years, he’s done it with a mediocre/bad Florida Panthers team in front of him. Teams who are the brink of contention and a young defense are going to be sending a lot of money Vokoun’s way. He’s one goalie who is worth the money and hype he gets. Goalies who are also in that category are Ryan Miller, Henrik Lundqvist and Tim Thomas (yes, I’m serious). Kiprusoff would be in here if it wasn’t for a terrible 2008-09 season. Another one I almost included was Martin Brodeur but it’s looking like he’s not an elite goalie anymore after this season. Same with JS Giguere and his last two seasons.

Some other observations:

– Dwayne Roloson is giving teams the most for their money. He’s been playing on cheap contracts for the past few seasons and stopping just about everything thrown his way. That’s pretty remarkable considering his age.

– If Kari Lehtonen could stay healthy, then he would be pretty damn close to a top-tier goalie. The numbers all work in his favor.

– Ilya Bryzgalov is not an elite goalie, at least not yet. He’s had a few amazing seasons followed by mediocre ones. Last year he had the 8th best season among starting goaltenders and this year, he’s on pace for much less impressive season.

– I’m pretty surprised that Colorado didn’t give Craig Anderson a bigger contract after looking at how well he played in Florida. I figured Colorado would be desperate for a #1 goalie and overpay someone but they got Anderson for a very good deal and he’s delivered so far.

– Turco probably belongs in the “overpaid” category, as well but he didn’t get a big contract from the Blackhawks this season so I digress.

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