The news that Vesa Toskala has signed in San Jose for another two years seems quite surprising. A review of message boards and commentators like Spector suggests that there is a significant minority opinion that he’s signed a contract to facilitate a trade. This simply can’t be correct.
If Doug Wilson approached Toskala saying “We can trade you but only if you sign for $1.375MM over two years”, why in the name of God would Toskala sign that contract? Wilson would have effectively confirmed for Toskala that there’s a market for his services this summer. Toskala going to a team at a cost of some player or draft picks would reduce the amount of money that team was willing to pay him. Toskala at no cost, as he would have come this summer, should attract a higher paycheque.
If you actually take a look at the 2006 free agent list, you see that there is a glut of goalies listed. A guy like Toskala, with no real credentials as a starting goalie coming off a poor year (.883 save percentage to this point) is going to be competing against “proven” number ones like Dwayne Roloson, Martin Gerber, Manny Fernandez, Curtis Joseph, Chris Osgood, Martin Biron, Dominik Hasek, Patrick Lalime, John Grahame, and Ed Belfour. There’s also a glut of second tier guys who maybe haven’t proven themselves as starters but who have longer track records than Toskala-Manny Legace, Mike Dunham, Johan Hedberg, Jamie McLennan, Cristobal Huet in addition to the usual flotsam and jetsam (read “Ty Conklin”) that one finds on the free agent market.
Now none of this is to say that Toskala isn’t one of the top goalies of the names I’ve listed-he may well be. His save percentage for the 2002-03 and 2003-04 seasons was a stellar .929, which puts him well above the league average over that time period. His AHL save percentages were never overwhelming though. When you look at the obvious comparator for him in Miikka Kiprusoff, it’s clear which goalie was better in the AHL. At age 23, Kiprusoff posted a 1019 relative save percentage to Toskala’s 1005. At age 24, Kiprusoff posted a 1021 relative save percentage to Toskala’s 1000. At age 25, it was 1040 for Kipper (on only 137 shots) to Toskala’s 992. With the exception of his limited NHL exposure, Toskala does not have a track record that screams out “This is a potential elite goalie.” As mentioned above, this year hasn’t been particularly stellar either.
Taking the $1.375MM now means that he doesn’t have to worry about the glut of competition for jobs as a goalie in the market this summer or rely on finding an unusually risk friendly NHL GM. If he puts up two more seasons like 2002-03 and 2003-04, he’ll be more firmly established and well placed to find a team more willing to roll the dice on him. If he goes to free agency, I have a hard time seeing how he gets more than Joseph’s one year, 900K deal from last summer and he runs the risk of getting frozen out entirely if the market view of him is less than expected. The decision that he’s made is clearly the risk averse one but I don’t think that it allows us to infer anything about how the Sharks plan to proceed. I definitely don’t see it as a sign that a trade is in the works.
The seeming glut of goalies about to enter the market should increase the pressure on GM’s with a goalie to trade one of them. The value of Martin Biron to the Buffalo Sabres at this point is essentially limited to insurance against an injury to Miller. If Regier sits on him, he loses him this summer. If he looks to trade him, he’s limited to those teams who think that they have a shot at it this year and for whom Martin Biron represents a marked upgrade in goal. I’d submit that there are fewer of those teams than people think-if Lowe decides to move on the goaltending (as he should), there’s no excuse for overpaying for one of the available options. Here’s hoping that Ryan Miller and Manny Fernandez are lights out from here to the trade deadline (I want the Wild to lose every game 1-0).