An in-depth look at the season of Michal Neuvirth

During every month of the 2009-10 season, the people over at Habs Eye On The Prize took a very detailed look at the performances of the two Montreal Canadiens goaltenders at the time; Jaroslav Halak and Carey Price. It was a really good way to look at which goalie had been performing better within a certain month and since we had our own goaltending controversy of our own in Washington this season, I thought it would be a good idea to do the same with Michal Neuvirth and Semyon Varlamov. Since I’m compiling and displaying data over a full-season, I can only do one goalie at a time other wise this post would be very overwhelming but having a detailed look at a goaltenders season is never a bad thing. Let’s start with Neuvirth since he had more playing time.

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Dear Devils fans, shut up.

With the big contracts given to Christian Ehrhoff and Brad Richards in the past few days (both of which are awful deals, ftr.), I’ve been hearing an outcry of fans of the New Jersey Devils who are complaining about these deals being cap circumvention in the same way that Ilya Kovalchuk’s proposed contract was. While it’s no doubt that these two deals are heavily front-loaded, they aren’t the same as Kovalchuk’s contract in the sense that they are not blatantly dodging the salary cap by extending the contract until the player is in his mid-40’s. Here’s a comparison;

Ilya Kovalchuk Proposed Contract: 17 years, $102 mil
Cap Hit: $6 mil cap hit
Age    Salary
27    $6,000,000
28     $6,000,000
29    $11,500,000
30    $11,500,000
31    $11,500,000
32    $11,500,000
33     $11,500,000
34    $10,500,000
35    $8,500,000
36    $6,500,000
37    $3,500,000
38    $750,000
39    $550,000
40    $550,000
41    $550,000
42    $550,000
43    $550,000
96.5% of contract in first 64.7% of contract

Christian Ehrhoff Contract: 10 years, $40 mil
Cap hit: $4 mil
Age    Salary
29    $10,000,000
30    $8,000,0000
31    $4,000,000
32    $4,000,000
33    $4,000,000
34    $4,000,000
35    $3,000,000
36    $1,000,000
37    $1,000,000
38    $1,000,000
92.5% of contact in first 70% of contract

Brad Richards Contact: 9 years, $60 mil
Cap hit: $6,666,667
Age    Salary
31    $12,000,000
32    $12,000,000
33    $9,000,000
34    $8,500,000
35    $8,500,000
36    $7,000,000
37    $1,000,000
38    $1,000,000
39    $1,000,000
95% of contact in first 60% of contract

As I stated earlier, these deals are front-loaded but Kovalchuk’s contract was such a blatant case of cap circumvention because the deal extended until he was 43/44. How many players in the league last year were over 40? Let’s see, there’s Dwayne Roloson, Teemu Selanne, Mark Recchi and I can’t think of anyone else. Was there any reason for the NHL to believe that Kovalchuk would play out the entire 17 years of his contract until he was near his mid-40’s? Absolutely not. He may have retired, left for the KHL or another team by the time the $750k part of his deal set in. He wanted too much money and the only way for the Devils to give him that and stay within the salary cap was to make the last 36% of his contract near the league minimum. Meanwhile, Ehrhoff and Richards will earn the bulk of their money in the early years of their contract but it’s more believable that they will play out the remainder of their deals than Kovalchuk’s. That and they make $3 throughout the last three years of their contracts. Kovalchuk makes $3.5 mil in the least six years of his deal. There’s the difference.

Predators make the worst trade ever, or are they just saving money?

Earlier today, the Nashville Predators made what seems like a head-scratching trade at first glance by sending center Matt Lombardi and puck-moving defenseman Cody Franson to the Toronto Maple Leafs for defenseman Brett Lebda and prospect Robert Slaney. This is no doubt a win for the Leafs even if Matthew Lombardi never plays a game for them. They got a solid puck-mover in Franson which Toronto needs with Tomas Kaberle gone and Dion Phaneuf playing a more shutdown role now. Franson and John-Michael Liles are going to definitely bring an improvement to what was one of the worst PP’s in the league last season. They also dumped Brett Lebda who was probably the Leafs worst defenseman last year and Robert Slaney who is a 22-year old who has yet to even crack the Toronto Marlies AHL roster. Why in the world did Nashville make a trade like this? One answer; saving money.

When you’re a small-market team like Nashville, you need to penny pinch and that’s what GM David Pollie is doing here. In terms of the players cap hits, it doesn’t look my much but it is in terms of salary.

Matt Lombardi ($7 mil over 2 years)
Cody Franson ($1.6 mil over 2 years)
Total: $8.6 mil for the next two years

Brett Lebda ($1.4 mil over 1 year)
Robert Slaney ($600k over 1 year)
Total: $2 mil over 1 year.

2011: Leafs spend $6.6 mil more
2012: Leafs spend $4.3 mil more

Toronto isn’t planning to win this season (as indicated with the Brad Richards trade) but they have money to spend and are able to take some chances and cap space with deals like this. They get the higher end of the talent but they could have to pay Lombardi’s $7 mil salary for absolutely nothing if he doesn’t get healthy any time soon (and it’s looking like he will be out to start the year) but it’s not a big deal because the Leafs have a lot of money, where as the Preds do not. The bad part of this deal for the Preds is that they are stuck with Brett Lebda’s awfulness but something tells me he could see himself bought out because it won’t cost much and the Preds have some young defensive prospects like Ryan Ellis who they can call-up to play instead of him. There’s also the possibility of another trade in the works involving Nashville taking on a front-loaded contract because the Preds have to eat up some cap space without spending a lot of money.

It should be noted that Nashville is saddled by a couple bad forward contracts (see Erat, Martin; Legwand, David) and are due to give Shea Weber a big raise so they need to pony up some money. Although, Nashville may not be in as bad of shape as some other small market teams, they still need to save money and this is one way to do it.

Tomas Vokoun, steal of the summer

Remember what I posted yesterday in my Free Agent Frenzy article? If not, let me refresh your memory:

HOWEVER…..Tomas Vokoun is unsigned and the goalie market stinks right now so maybe we can get him to sign with us on a cheap contract to mentor our young Czech netminder. Wishful thinking but it’s worth a shot.

Sometimes wishes come true.

In what’s been an already great off-season for the Washington Capitals and GM George McPhee, things were only made better today after he signed goalie Tomas Vokoun to a one-year deal worth $1.5 million. Yes, you read that correctly. A goalie who has consistently been one of the best in the league since the lockout has signed with the Caps for what is essentially back-up money. It is honestly hard for me to comprehend how Vokoun was unable to get more than this from another team when looking at what some other goalies went for this off-season. I understand that the goalie market is very thin every year because only so few teams need one, most would think that Vokoun would be on the front of people’s wish lists when it comes to signing one in the off-season. Just look at his stats with Florida:

2006 NSH 61 60 1380 82 1298 0.941 35.6
2007 NSH 44 44 1008 70 938 0.931 13.9
2008 FLA 69 69 1728 127 1601 0.927 11.9
2009 FLA 59 55 1514 98 1416 0.935 24.7
2010 FLA 63 62 1681 106 1575 0.937 29.7
2011 FLA 57 57 1411 144 1297 0.919 9.8

Yes, last season was a down year for him but his numbers aside from that are simply outstanding. It says a lot about how bad those Panthers teams are that they weren’t able to get into the playoffs backed by the seasons he had from 2008-10. These are nearly Veznia-quality numbers by most metrics. This is why I do not understand how the Caps were able to snag Vokoun for so cheap. I know he’s 35 and had a down year by his standards but look at some other moves teams made over the last couple of days;

The Phoenix Coytoes let Ilya Bryzgalov walk because he wanted too much money, leaving Jason LaBarbera the only goalie on the roster so they clearly needed someone who could at least be a 1 a/b goaltender. They signed Mike Smith, one of the worst goalies NHL last year (.900 save %, -5.5 SAA, was put on waivers by the Lightning mid-season) to a 2-year $4 million contract, meaning that he makes MORE than Vokoun now. That to me is just crazy. Smith is younger but he has only had one good season in the NHL as a starter and is one of the worst puck-handlers I have ever seen. I know Phoenix isn’t in the best shape financially but they are a team who have made the playoffs the last two seasons and it was backed by strong goaltending with Bryzgalov. They had a chance to grab a goalie of Bryz’s caliber with Vokoun for a somewhat low price and they sign Mike Smith instead. I don’t get it.

Then there’s Colorado who would rather trade away their first and second rounders next year for an unproven goalie with a nagging groin problem instead of signing Vokoun. Hell, they gave JS Giguere a two-year contract to be put in a similar role that Vokoun might have in Washington. Even Florida electing to give Jose Theodore nearly the same contract as Vokoun got in Washington was surprising to me but I think that’s just me being shocked that Jose Theodore makes the same amount of money as Tomas Vokoun.

In the end, you have to give a TON of credit to McPhee here. He managed to get a lot of value out of Varlamov but stayed patient on signing a back-up goalie to let the dust clear a bit and was able to snag Vokoun for a lot less than he should have paid for him. Everyone knows that Michal Neuvirth is good but he is still very young and giving him a goalie like Vokoun to learn from can be very valuable in years to come. It also allows the Caps to have a strong goaltending tandem like they did last year and it will be a lot better. It’s going to be exciting to see what Vokoun can do for a winning team now.

“What Florida is doing is embarrassing”

That quote is referencing the Florida Panthers spending spree in an effort to get to the NHL’s new cap floor of $48 million, which they are still $1 million under. This actually started about a week ago when theyt raded for Brian Campbell’s ridiculous contract and then followed it by giving Tomas Kopecky $3 mil per year. Here’s the moves they made today:

Jose Theodore: 2 years, $3 mil
Scottie Upshall: 4 years, $14 mil
Ed Jovanovski: 4 years, $16.5 mil (35+)
Marcel Goc: 3 years, $5.1 mil
Tomas Fleischmann: 4 years, $18.5 mil
Sean Bergenheim: 4 years, $11 mil

Theodore’s and maybe Bergenheim’s are the only contracts here that address needs but the rest is just a case of Dale Tallon spending money because he feels he has to but this is not what you want to do when you’re a team who is in financial trouble. What good does giving Jovanovski a 4 year contract do other than possibly block Erik Gudbransson from getting a roster spot? Looking at their potential depth chart, Scottie Upshall would be their first line winger, which he is not. He is a solid player who would make a good addition to a contending team’s 2nd or 3rd line but he is not worth the $3.5 mil per season and 4 year contract the Panthers gave him. The worst part of this is that these stupid contracts they are giving out is setting the market for other players, who are going to be overpaid as well. Upshall and Tomas Fleischmann’s DISGUSTING contract are proof of that. There were going to be players overpaid this summer and FLorida is doing nothing but making it worse.

All Florida is doing with this is losing money by investing them in mediocre players and letting them take up roster spots for the next 3-4 years that could go to some of the promising youth they have in their system. It could be an ugly next few years for this team.


Capitals Free Agent Frenzy Thoughts

I definitely was not expecting the Caps to be this active today but they really made quiet a splash on July 1st and did a few things I didn’t see coming at all. The best thing about it is most of the moves made make us a better team for next year and in future seasons. I’ve said it numerous times but this is a free agency pool that is flooded with mostly mediocre players and they were all going for way more than what they were worth (see James Wisniewski making almost as much money as Mike Green now) so I wanted the Caps to stay put on this day but they elected to make some noise and well, they were all pretty decent-great moves. Here’s a quick rundown for those who missed the action:

Signed C Jeff Halpern to a one-year $825 k deal

Traded G Semyon Varlamov to the Colorado Avalanche for a first rounder in 2012 and 2nd rounder in 2013

Signed RW Joel Ward to a four-year $12 mil contract

Signed D Roman Hamrlik to a two-year $7 mil contract

The best move out of all of these is the Varlamov trade. It took me by surprise because I thought he was destined for Russia yesterday but McPhee was able to trade him away and get something in return for him, which was a lot more than I (or anyone else) would thought he would get for him. Varlamov wanted to be the guaranteed starter and we simply couldn’t promise him that so he traded him to a team like Colorado who had no goalie options at the time and they gave up their first round pick next year (which has a very good chance of being a lottery pick) and 2nd rounder. This is a no-lose trade for the Caps in my eyes. Varlamov was not going to re-sign and the Avalanche have a good chance of delivering us a high pick in next year’s draft and it’s kind of mind-boggling that they would give up a first rounder for a goalie who has only played in 59 career NHL games. Then they follow it by signing JS Giguere, who I don’t think will be the back-up there, to a two-year contract so Varlamov may not be the guaranteed #1 starter there either. Either way, best of luck to Varly in Colorado. I hope the best for him but I hope the worst for Colorado for selfish reasons.

As for the other moves, I think getting Halpern for $825k was a great pickup. I said in my free agency post that he would make a great replacement for Boyd Gordon (who signed with Phoenix for $1.1 mil a year!). He was one of the Habs best face-off men (56.8 FO%), does a lot of heavy lifting against tough competition, kills penalties and can take a bunch of defensive zone starts to help take some pressure off Nicklas Backstrom. He is also coming off one of his strongest offensive seasons in recent memory with a 2.05 P/60 scoring rate. Penalty killing is a little worse than Gordon, but they are both above average with the man down so I love the signing.

The signing of Joel Ward also took me by surprise because I didn’t know we were even trying to sign him but he gives our forward corps a significant upgrade. There were a lot of team who were looking to sign this guy and if you saw him in the playoffs for the Nashville Predators you know why. However, his ability to provide secondary scoring is what teams are after. It’s his defensive capabilities, physical play and his ability to take a lot of tough draws and ability to get the puck moving in the right direction. He is almost an idea third line winger that almost every GM would love to have on their team. George McPhee wanted him so much that he was willing to pay a little more than what others were ($3 mil a year is a little steep) but I think Ward will be worth it in Washington. Pair him with Halpern and Hendricks and we’ve got ourselves an excellent shutdown line.

Today was full of overpayments and Ward’s contract was one of them and you could certainly make a case that the Caps overpaid 38-year old defenseman Roman Hamrlik with a 2-year $7 mil contract. I also looked at Hamrlik as one of the players the Caps could sign to replace Scott Hannan and said that I would be “okay but not thrilled” if we did sign him. Hamrlik may have ranked fourth among Habs defensemen in quality of competition but the fact that PK Subban, Hal Gill, James Wisniewski, Paul Mara and Jaro Spacek were trusted with more defensive zone draws tells me the Habs doubt his defensive ability somewhat. He is getting up there in age is definitely a lot slower so I’m a bit leery about us giving him a two-year deal (not the worst but still not a huge fan of it). That said, Hamrlik as a 2nd or 3rd pairing defenseman should work out pretty well for the Caps. Allows them to give Erskine a few nights off and more depth on the back-end is always good. However, we are paying $3.5 mil a year for someone who might be our 3rd pairing defenseman and I can’t help but shudder at that. Here’s hoping he exceeds my expectations.

Pundits seem to be labeling the Caps as the “winners” of Free Agent Frenzy but it’s a little too early to say that because the season is still a few months away but McPhee definitely improved this team on paper and addressed needs but there’s a few things that still hang in the air.

1. With Ward signed this means that Laich will be forced into the 2nd line center role, which I am okay with for now given how crappy the market was.

2. Neuvirth is the only goalie on the roster but there’s still time to sign a cheap back-up even though people want Braden Holtby to have that role. I think he needs a starter workload in Hershey before he gets called up to the big club full time so a one-year deal for someone like Ty Conklin would work best here. HOWEVER…..Tomas Vokoun is unsigned and the goalie market stinks right now so maybe we can get him to sign with us on a cheap contract to mentor our young Czech netminder. Wishful thinking but it’s worth a shot.

3. The Caps have a little over in $2 million in cap space left and still need to re-sign Karl Alzner and Troy Brouwer and possibly sign a back-up goalie. What we have left is nowhere near enough to re-sign Alzner or Brouwer so a trade has to be in the works. Whether it’s shipping off Alex Semin for draft picks, sending Tom Poti, Eric Fehr, Jason Chimera or someone else away, someone has to be on his way out if we want to keep either Alzner or Brouwer. It’s going to be important to get this done because Alzner’s pretty vulnerable to be offer sheeted right now unless he goes into arbitration. McPhee isn’t a moron and knows how important Alzner I believe that the team will get something worked out. This active summer in Washington is far from over.

Varlamov is gone, now what?

Not anymore, Varly

The writing has been on the wall for awhile now but Semyon Varlamov has reportedly signed a contract with SKA of the KHL. Varly will apparently make $4 mil per season on this contract. This is pretty bad news for the Caps in general because Varlamov is very important to this team moving forwards. I said this in his player report card, but he had what was probably his best season in the NHL last year but he wasn’t the starter because he was hurt all the time and Michal Neuvirth played well enough to keep the job. This isn’t a knock on Neuvirth at all because he is a very good goaltender but one of the Capitals strengths was having two very talented goalies on the roster and they made a very reliable tandem. Now one half of that tandem is gone and the Caps are going to have to decide if they have complete confidence in Neuvirth as the starter (and judging from their decision to start him throughout the playoffs they do) or look to find a back-up or a #2 goalie.

Money and playing time appear to be the main reasons why Varlamov left. Varly wanted to be a #1 goalie and injuries prevented him from being one and the Caps can’t give $4 mil a year to a goalie who has yet to start more than 30 games in an NHL season so letting him go appeared to be the only option. The fact that the Caps let him go with nothing in return demonstrates poor asset management but their hands were tied by this situation. Varlamov will be missed, but it’s time to move on. What do we do with our goaltending next year? Sign a free agent to back-up or compete with Neuvirth or call up Braden Holtby full-time to be the back-up.

Some possible free agents we could sign if we’re looking for a true back-up are Alex Auld, Mathieu Garon, Peter Budaj or Ty Conklin. All four will not ask for much money and they are not bad goalies when you know that you have a #1 in front of them. Whether or not Neuvirth is a true #1 is up in the air to me, though. He could be Steve Mason or he could be Ryan Miller for all I know but if he is the former then finding another cheap young goalie to compete with him would be an option. Josh Harding is the name that keeps popping up in my head when I think of who we could target there. The thing is, if we’re going to go that route then we might as well just call-up Braden Holtby but I’d like to see him have another full-season in Hershey.

This is a situation I hoped we wouldn’t have to be in this season but as I said earlier, many saw this coming for a long time. Hopefully for the Caps, Neuvy can play as well as he did in the playoffs and the first month of the season on a more consistent basis.