Howard/Niemi’s contracts and how they might affect the Caps

If there’s anything I love more than hockey, it’s breaking down goalie stats and two goalies were signed to pretty significant contracts and I can’t help but think that they are quite similar, too. Those two goalies being Antti Niemi and Jimmy Howard. Niemi was re-signed by the Sharks for 4-years on a $15.2 mil contract, which has a cap hit of $3.8 while the Wings locked up Howard for the next two years for $5.50 mil, which is a $2.25 cap hit. I can’t help but think that the Sharks overpaid for Niemi after seeing how much Howard got. Let’s compare the two goalies.

Both are 27 years old and were essentially first-year NHL-ers last season. Here’s how they compare statistically the last two seasons;

Year GP GS EV SAVES GA EV SA SAVE % GAAA /1200 z score
CHI Niemi 2009-10 39 35 746 64 682 0.914 -3.8 -6.1 -0.12
SJ Niemi 2010-11 44 44 1030 74 956 0.928 7.6 8.9 0.24
Howard 2009-10 63 61 1503 112 1391 0.925 9.3 7.4 0.14
Howard 2010-11 49 49 1152 97 1055 0.916 -5.7 -5.9 -0.16

Niemi’s regular season numbers with the Hawks aren’t impressive at all, but he had 7 shutouts and a few very strong games in the playoffs last season which earned him popularity with Chicago fans. That and he saved them from the awful play of Cristobal Huet. However, was Niemi really that good last year or was he just riding a strong defense? The numbers point to the latter. All of Niemi’s even strength numbers were below average and the Hawks D allowed the fewest shots per game in the NHL last season. The most amount of saves Niemi had in a game last season was 35. It may have been the reason the Hawks opted to re-sign Niklas Hjalmarsson and let Niemi. He has been very good this year, though but is one season of good play enough to warrant a 4-year commitment and a $3.8 cap hit? I thought the Sharks learned their lesson with Nabokov (granted, this contract isn’t nearly as big as his). Winning the cup can get you a big payday, just ask Nikolai Khabibulin.

I felt the Wings overpaid for Howard slightly but $2.25 for only 2 seasons isn’t that bad of a cap hit and Howard was great last season. His play has fallen off quite a bit, though but some of that has to be related to the Wings giving up more shots than they did last season (9th in shots allowed last season compared to 15th this season). Still, I thought he would get about $1.5-2 mil at most because he’s had only one good season in the NHL followed by a down one. I can see why they wanted to reward him for carrying a huge workload last year while Osgood was ineffective.

How does this relate to the Caps? Semyon Varlamov is a RFA at the end of the season and we’re going to have to work out a new contract with him sooner or later. Michal Neuvirth’s already signed for $2.3 million for two years after this season (Cap hit of around $1.15 mil I believe) so Varlamov’s contract will probably something identical to that. Possibly more since he has playoff experience and a higher ceiling. Looking at his stats, how much would you give him?

Varlamov 2009-10 26 23 591 42 549 0.929 5.7 11.6 0.23
Varlamov 2010-11 24 22 553 39 514 0.929 4.8 10.4 0.29

So, we have a goalie that can put up above-average numbers when healthy but the problem is that he hasn’t been able to stay off the IR. Do we want to give an injury prone goalie Antti Niemi money or should we play it more safe? Either way, when he comes back and how he does down the stretch will probably determine his new contract.

In a later post I’ll try to see which goalie has the edge come playoff time.

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