• Buyer’s Market

    by Tyler Dellow • July 20, 2008 • Uncategorized • 22 Comments

    John MacKinnon’s column from the other day has stirred up a bit of noise chez Staples and elsewhere. The jab at people talking hockey in July doesn’t really warrant a response but this passage caught my eye:

    Back in the day, New York Daily News sports columnist Dick Young opined that memories of the Stanley Cup playoffs melted away with the ice.

    Hockey was a seasonal thing, body- checked aside by baseball, football, golf, tennis and other warm-weather diversions. Ah, the happy past — a simpler, less cluttered time.

    Young was a tough ol’ buzzard who never took guff from anybody. But, then, he never had to contend with the web, the blogosphere, 24-hour sports talk radio, dedicated sports TV channels, podcasts, “citizen journalists,” live streaming, on and on.

    Young shuffled off this coil long before YouTube. And lucky for YouTube.

    I don’t get it. Would YouTube have attempted to give Dick Young guff? Would the consequences for YouTube have been dire? The whole thing is puzzling. Feel free to take a shot at explaining this in the comments.

    * * *

    goalies

    Now, I would rarely deign to talk about something so inconsequential as the news that Marty Reasoner is off to Atlanta – he was a cog in the machine and his other charms are lost on me. Some other members of the media rabble are suggesting moves of more significant consequence though. Like signing Mathieu Garon now.

    I’m pretty sure that I wouldn’t be too eager to lock him up at the price that he’s likely to want for giving up his UFA rights. The chart at left outlines the goaltending situations for the various teams in 2009-10. Barring deaths, Conklin circa. 2006 performances from their starting goaltenders or signings between now and then, I think that we’re going to see – at most – Boston, Colorado, Edmonton, LA, Minnesota, Ottawa, Philadelphia and St. Louis in the market for a starting goaltender.

    Many of those teams come with caveats though. Boston has Tuukka Rask developing. He was pretty so-so last year in his age 20 season but he’s been dominant in Finland and I’d expect with a year of development and adjustment to North America that he might make a big leap. LA has Jonathan Bernier, who they kept at the start of the season last year, notwithstanding the fact that he still had junior eligibility. Minnesota has Josh Harding, who’s played well in the AHL and was average in Minnesota last year. All three of those guys are in the top 11 of the most recent Hockey’s Future Top 50 and it’s not unreasonable to think that some or all of those teams might fall out of the market for a starting goaltender because of their development.

    St. Louis is a bit of a special case. I’ve listed them as being in need of a starting goalie but they’ve got Chris Mason signed for 2009-10 and they aren’t the richest team in the world. They’ve also got Hannu Toivonen, who clearly wasn’t ready last year. I’d guess that the Blues aren’t really interested in paying starting goalie money for a backup and that Mason was brought in as a hedge against the need to do that. If Mason and Toivonen have big years, I wouldn’t think that the Blues would be looking for a starting goalie either.

    So of the eight teams that I’ve identified, it’s reasonable to think that as few as four will actually be in the market for a starting goalie and, at the very least, that the ones I’ve identified might not be eager in really going hard for a starting goalie; they’ll pay one but they aren’t going to blow their brains out to get a specific guy because of their situations.

    What’s really interesting about this market though is that there are a ton of guys available. Certainly, there are more guys available who’ve filled starting roles in the past than there are starting jobs (and that’s without including someone like Roloson). Here’s the breakdown:

    goalies2

    A word about the statistics included there. It’s all post-lockout but I’ve tweaked the numbers to allow for the fact that the average save percentage in every aspect of the game has changed since then. In 2005-06, the average save percentage was about .901; last year it was .909. For a guy like Mathieu Garon, his 2005-06 wasn’t as bad as it looked, nor was his 2007-08 as good as it looked. I forgot to include him but Martin Gerber would not be out of place on this list either – his numbers are about bang on with Garon’s. There’s another guy who could be taken next year.

    The reason for my hesitancy to grab Garon should be clear. Although Stauffer doesn’t say so in his column, he was suggesting something like $3.5MM annually for three years on his radio show the other day. While I’m not convinced that Garon would sign that, given the contracts handed out to Theodore and Huet, he’s never had a big payday so maybe he’s willing to trade some potential money for a bird in the bush. Even so, I have a hard time seeing why I’d be willing to pay that if I’m running the Edmonton Oilers when there are a ton of guys with better and longer track records post-lockout who are also available and a market that’s likely to favour buyers.

    Stauffer also suggested that Garon was or could be a top ten goaltender in the NHL. For the reasons set forth above, I’ve got some doubts about that (Backstrom, Fernandez, Legace, Thomas and Biron probably have pretty solid claims from the FA list alone) but more to the point, I think that the line between the tenth best goalie in the NHL and the twenty fifth best goalie in the NHL is a pretty hazy one and that there’s an awful lot of movement around that line from year to year. Some years the pucks hit you, some years they don’t. Ken Holland alluded to this during the Stanley Cup finals, saying:

    My feeling is if you can get one of the five or six best goalies in the league you can spend the money. We can’t get into those guys, and the difference between the eighth goalie in the league and the 15th goalie, it’s a big difference in money. It’s not a big difference in performance.

    Stauffer and his guests have a tendency to go on about the Red Wings and how they do things. One of the hallmarks of the best decisions that the Red Wings have made is that they don’t buy something just because it’s there (they’ve gotten better at this post-lockout). They look for value when they spend the money, whether at the top of the roster or at the bottom of the roster. There are almost certainly going to be starting goalies available next summer, begging for jobs, who are every bit as good as Mathieu Garon. The Wings would get some value here and give one of them a cheap contract.

    This whole scenario might seem familiar to longtime readers of the site. Back in June of 2006, when the Oilers starting goaltender was unsigned, I wrote:

    although it wasn’t mentioned on TSN, the Raycroft trade yesterday was a fantastic trade…for the Oilers. I’m in no way convinced that Raycroft is for real – he was a middling goaltender in the AHL and wasn’t a young bloomer, two things that I look for in asking whether a goalie is for real. The only season that he’s had that really impressed me was his 2003-04 rookie season in Boston but I still wonder if their defence did an outrageous job or something that year – Potvin had great numbers too. Last year was obviously a shit show for him and you have to wonder – one great NHL season, three years of “meh” in the AHL – is he for real? There are smarter bets out there I think and I believe that the goalie market is now officially a buyer’s market – we’re down to four teams who need a starting goalie in Edmonton, Detroit, Ottawa and Tampa, with Dwayne Roloson, Martin Gerber, Manny Legace, Evgeni Nabokov, Dan Cloutier, Chris Osgood and JS Giguere all available. If Giguere goes to Ottawa as rumoured, so much the better as far as the Oilers are concerned – Lowe can really put the screws to the guys available and get
    someone cheap. Why JFJ traded a pretty decent looking prospect in Tuukka Rask for a question mark for Andrew Raycroft when there is so little competition for so many competent goalies is tough to understand – it looks like a gamble trade to me, in that JFJ knows he needs to hit some home runs for the Leafs to make the playoffs next year and given that his job might be in question if they don’t, there’s no point trying to hit the ball the other way. Whatever the reasoning, it’s worked to the Oilers advantage.

    Lowe’s in a pretty good position at the moment. I hope that he doesn’t screw it up, particularly since he’s now untouchable in Edmonton.

    Lowe ended up spending $11MM on Roli over three years; Legace signed a one year, $1MM deal with St. Louis in late August, was re-upped the following year for $4.3MM over two and has outperformed Roloson. Knowing how the Oilers operate, I expect Garon to be signed for somewhere between $3.5MM to $4MM this season, although Lowe having told Staples that they can’t deal with Garon until January 1, 2009 (I’m pretty sure this is wrong) might be a way to try and dissuade the local media from inquiring into their plans for something that they have yet to decide on. Hope springs eternal.

    Unless Garon’s willing to take something in the $2MM range, I’d be inclined to let him go to next summer and address the goaltending then. Try and get someone (LaBarbera or some other unheralded guy who emerges this year) signed cheap and quick first as a fallback position and then either wait out the market or make a play for Nicklas Backstrom who, with another good season, probably solidifies a position in the top five goalies in the NHL.

    * * *

    As an aside, it should go without saying, but I think that the Ryan Miller contract was ridiculous. I have him as a pretty average NHL goalie, maybe slightly above. That’s not worth $6.25MM annually. He’s exactly the kind of goalie who Ken Holland is talking about. Faced with a choice of him or Daniel Briere, I take Briere. Maybe that’s not fair because the Sabres learned from the loss of Drury and Briere not to let their stars walk but if Darcy Regier was talking to Kevin Lowe these days, Lowe might have been able to advise him that you don’t fix your unwillingness to pay guys in the past by overpaying lesser players.

    About Tyler Dellow

    22 Responses to Buyer’s Market

    1. Eetu Huisman
      July 21, 2008 at

      Toivonen might have a big year – in SM-liiga. He signed with Ilves in the end of May. I don’t think he has a future with the Blues anyway. He might bounce back, but my guess is that it will happen with another team, if at all.

    2. July 21, 2008 at

      Plenty of good stuff here. Agree with the Ryan Miller deal.

      Some points to ponder:

      1) Ken Holland has recently been able to get goalies to sign contracts below market value. They do have the personnel to win hockey games with below average goaltending in Osgood and Conklin. The Oilers don’t really have a defenseman of the Chris Pronger mold, that can play 30 mins of shutdown hockey. Therefore, there is presumably a need for enhanced goaltending performance.

      2) I’m pretty sure that I wouldn’t be too eager to lock him up at the price that he’s likely to want for giving up his UFA rights.

      We really have no idea what that price is going to be. Could it be closer to Dan Ellis or Chris Mason or Jose Theodore money? As you mentioned, perhaps Garon is willing to take the security of the contract now, and the leverage today will factor into the negotiations

      3) I think that we’re going to see – at most – Boston, Colorado, Edmonton, LA, Minnesota, Ottawa, Philadelphia and St. Louis in the market for a starting goaltender.

      It will just take one team to increase the asking price. Further, there can always be another team that comes along in the process, because they aren’t satisfied with their goaltending.

      4) How much consideration should Lowe place into Garon’s astronomical success in the shootout, which unconventially, directly lead to points in the standings? The sample size is large enough that we can rule out plain dumb luck. If shootout success directly lead to 3-4 points in the standings, how much is that worth?

      I can see both sides of the argument. Perhaps going after Backstrom would be a solid choice. Or perhaps the Oilers may be willing to package Cogliano in a package to acquire Kari Lehtonen. At the same time, if you are confident that Garon can provide at least league average goaltending, and cost you a reaonable 3-3.5M over the next 3 years, then I have no problem locking him up, and trading him later on if you find an upgrade.

      As recently shown, Nashville was easily able to get rid of Chris Mason’s contract (which was in the same cap hit proximity as Stauffer’s projection).

    3. mc79hockey
      July 21, 2008 at

      The Oilers don’t really have a defenseman of the Chris Pronger mold, that can play 30 mins of shutdown hockey. Therefore, there is presumably a need for enhanced goaltending performance.

      I agree with this, sort of. During the finals, Holland was talking about how he didn’t need to spend money on goaltending and he’d rather spend it on defencemen. If you’ve got forwards like the Red Wings and a defenceman like Niklas Lidstrom, sure. That being said, not every team is going to be able to generate +12 ES SD/60 or whatever ridiculous number the Red Wings put up.

      With respect to his larger point about the goaltending market though, I absolutely agree on it. How many of next year’s top ten in save percentage leaders could we predict? Realistically, I might have got four out of ten on this year’s top ten. I take his point as being that performance with goalies is variable enough and skill, outside of the elite, is so close, that there isn’t much point in buying right below the top end. I think that holds true whether you’re the Wings or the Oilers.

      Could it be closer to Dan Ellis or Chris Mason or Jose Theodore money?

      He’s going into next season projected to be the number one and is coming off a season in which he was widely lauded. Realistically, I can’t see him even thinking about less than $3MM.

      It will just take one team to increase the asking price. Further, there can always be another team that comes along in the process, because they aren’t satisfied with their goaltending.

      Well, one team will increase the asking price for one guy. Is there a possibility that another team comes along because they aren’t happy with their goaltending and that it’s hopefully Calgary? Sure. There’s also a possibility that more teams decide to promote from within.

      How much consideration should Lowe place into Garon’s astronomical success in the shootout, which unconventially, directly lead to points in the standings? The sample size is large enough that we can rule out plain dumb luck.

      I don’t think that this is at all true, about the luck, although I’m inclined to believe that there’s something to it.

      If shootout success directly lead to 3-4 points in the standings, how much is that worth?

      Problem is that maybe the Oilers play 6 SO games next year and his ability is wasted. 3 or 4 points in the standings though is probably worth a lot to the Oilers, given that they’re on the playoff bubble. Question is: How many SO games does it take Garon to pile up that many SO points over and above the other options? I’m thinking it’s probably a lot.

      As recently shown, Nashville was easily able to get rid of Chris Mason’s contract (which was in the same cap hit proximity as Stauffer’s projection).

      This is a fair point.

    4. July 21, 2008 at

      mc, the Young stuff is easy to explain. It’s a middle-aged man whining that things just aren’t the way they used to be, and ignoring the fact that they never were the way he thought. The happy past, a simpler age my left buttcheek.

      Looks to me like Young’s heyday would have been the 50s-70s (which is about what I thought). Simpler times? Let’s see, in the US alone where Young lived, there’s the initial heavy involvement in Vietnam scaling up to the all-out war-that-wasn’t, racial desegregation and riots, Black Panthers and the KKK, the Weathermen, the Bay of Pigs, JFK’s assassination and subsequent canonization, the dread of nuclear holocaust and the Cuban Missile Crisis… yeah, times were simpler all right, people were much happier. In the NHL, you had the anti-French sentiment, ownership mistreatment of players leading to the NHLPA, bench-clearing brawls and stick fights on the ice, Terry Sawchuk’s death, and so on. (And let us not forget the Leafs won Cups then too.)

      MacKinnon’s just being deliberately dense (one might say “ignorant”) and exaggerated in a probable attempt to bring up interest on the back of a dead man. If you ignore the parts where he takes shots at hockey fans talking hockey in the summer, you should ignore that part too.

    5. mc79hockey
      July 21, 2008 at

      MacKinnon’s just being deliberately dense (one might say “ignorant”) and exaggerated in a probable attempt to bring up interest on the back of a dead man. If you ignore the parts where he takes shots at hockey fans talking hockey in the summer, you should ignore that part too.

      Hey, I at least understood the part where he took jabs at hockey fans talking hockey in the summer. I can even get what you’re saying about MacKinnon reaching back the idyllic days of his youth. That still doesn’t explain to me what, exactly, Dick Young would have done to YouTube. I mean, Viacom is suing them for a million bucks, getting court orders that they disclose who’s watching what and they keep rolling on. What would Dick Young have done?

      Plus, YouTube is awesome. It teaches us about trampoline safety…

      …the problems with Cleveland’s public libraries…

      …and how to get bears out of trees.

      What kind of man could oppose such a thing?

      Even his wiki bio doesn’t explain it, although it does have this spectacular bit of trivia:

      “During the 1951 season, when the Brooklyn Dodgers were in the process of losing a 13½-game lead and the pennant to the crosstown rival New York Giants, one of Young’s columns began, ‘The tree that grows in Brooklyn is an apple tree.” This remark referred to the colloquialism “taking the apple,” which was then used to describe an athlete choking. ”

      Presumably he wrote this while wearing an onion on his belt, as was the style at the time.

    6. July 21, 2008 at

      The one thing I would point out with all this is that, according to my friend Ender (who’s also a goalie), Garon is good technically — I think he’s from the Francois Allaire school of goaltending — which I would have to imagine is worth something. And I really don’t think that the Roloson situation is relevant here, since Roli is and was a career backup on the wrong side of 35 who had one stupidly good run as The Guy. Garon is much younger (30) and has only had one bad year since 2002-03, and that Kings team was pretty awful.

    7. PDO
      July 21, 2008 at

      Presumably he wrote this while wearing an onion on his belt, as was the style at the time.

      That was fucking awesome.

      As for Garon?

      Anything under $3,500,000 is fine by me if he can be league average. We may be paying him a little too much…. but I’ve had enough Tommy Salo nightmares that if we have a goalie who doesn’t have Gagner banging his wife, isn’t scared of the puck and likes being here, I can handle paying him $1,000,000 extra a season.

    8. Showerhead
      July 21, 2008 at

      What will it take for the Edmonton Oilers to go from bubble-team to consistent play-off maker? I think this question affects goaltending decisions as much as goaltending decisions affect the Oilers’ ability to make the jump.

      Looking at timing alone, it looks like 09/10 will be Edmonton’s best immediate chance at being good. You have Hemsky, Penner, and Horcoff all signed to great, ok, and ok money. You also have Gagner, Cogliano, and Nilsson signed to great, great, and ok money… and you enter the season with an acceptable amount of cap room to replace Cole or whoever else.

      After that point things get smokier. It’s entirely possible that Gagner and Cogliano get home run contracts by 10/11. Depending on their structure and cap hit, depending on how age affects Horcoff, how much higher Hemsky or Penner can go… depending on whether Gilbert continues to develop, if Staois can still play, if Souray/Visnovsky earn their respective coin… Forgive me for the constant ellipses but my crystal ball at that point is pretty fucking smoky.

      At this time next year, the goalies you mention will be: backstrom (32), fernandez (36), thomas (36), legace (37), biron (33), emery (28), labarbera (30), garon (32), khabibulin (37). Is it fair for me to immediately suggest Fernandez, Thomas, Legace, and Khabibulin will all be poor fits (aside from 1-2 year stopgap contracts)?

      That would leave Backstrom as the big fish and Biron, Garon, and Labarbera being those #8-20 leaguewide goalies. I leave out Emery because I don’t want to speculate on if/when he ever gets his shit together.

      I realize that other teams have similar considerations to make, that my post has been a bit rambling, and that I’m hungover halfway through a Monday afternoon. I’m just looking to play a little bit of devil’s advocate on your assertion we’ll be looking at a buyer’s market for goaltending next summer.

    9. mc79hockey
      July 21, 2008 at

      At this time next year, the goalies you mention will be: backstrom (32), fernandez (36), thomas (36), legace (37), biron (33), emery (28), labarbera (30), garon (32), khabibulin (37). Is it fair for me to immediately suggest Fernandez, Thomas, Legace, and Khabibulin will all be poor fits (aside from 1-2 year stopgap contracts)?

      Sorry, those ages are all for next summer.

      I agree that they’re stopgap type players but really, any goalie who isn’t in the elite class is a stop gap for a few years.

    10. July 21, 2008 at

      You also have Gagner, Cogliano, and Nilsson signed to great, great, and ok money

      Why are there still people who are down on the Nilsson deal? This confuses me. I mean, if he maintains 40-point production, at $2M, you get what you pay for. If he improves at all, which seems fairly likely, that’s money in the bank.

    11. Showerhead
      July 21, 2008 at

      Why are there still people who are down on the Nilsson deal? This confuses me. I mean, if he maintains 40-point production, at $2M, you get what you pay for. If he improves at all, which seems fairly likely, that’s money in the bank.

      I don’t see how calling a contract “ok” suggests that I’m down on the deal. When you have Gagner and Cogliano scoring about 50 points each for roughly half the price, one has to differentiate between your adjectives somehow. No?

    12. Showerhead
      July 21, 2008 at

      I agree that they’re stopgap type players but really, any goalie who isn’t in the elite class is a stop gap for a few years.

      I agree with you, but I don’t like it. Even if stopgaps are a necessary evil, goaltending is the one position for me that I would want to have a long term plan for. I can’t seem to ever remember that being the case in post-dynasty Edmonton though I seem to remember Billy Ranford being my favourite player as a kid.

    13. July 21, 2008 at

      I don’t see how calling a contract “ok” suggests that I’m down on the deal. When you have Gagner and Cogliano scoring about 50 points each for roughly half the price, one has to differentiate between your adjectives somehow. No?

      Fair enough. “Okay” just carries a bit of a negative connotation, like “mediocre.”

    14. "citizen journalist"
      July 21, 2008 at

      I think John MacKinnon is a brilliant and insightful “journalist.”

    15. July 22, 2008 at

      I expect he’s saying Young would have no truck with uppity folks like us trying to write and talk hockey. We should shut up and take what we’re given, think what we’re told to think, and hate the Reds – of Sovietland, not Cinccinatti. Until they’re our friends, then we’ll be told who to hate next. Young would have written something *really nasty* about YouTube while old men everywhere cheered mightily. Or so MacKinnon thinks. You never know, maybe Young would have written a laudatory comment about it and MacKinnon would have cried himself to sleep that night. But we’ll never know, since the living journo decided to try to make a point off the back of a dead one.

      Sorry if I’m railing on a bit, but that sort of thinking (“I wish things were like they were when I was younger”) always raises my ire, since it’s one of the most incredibly naive things one can say. It’s also one of the central tenets of fascism.

      re Garon, that’s been my nightmare for a while. I don’t know if he’s the guy to take the team to the Cup, and even if he is, as other commenters have pointed out the rest of the team won’t be likely be ready for that kind of run for a few years yet. Garon is 30 – I expect we’ve seen his prime. (Then again, I’d have said the same about Roloson, but his Cup run play may not have been possible had he been the starter all year.) JDD and DD don’t exactly fill me with confidence, so who’s going to backstop Hemsky to the Conn Smythe?

    16. July 22, 2008 at

      No way. If they get back in Pisani’s going to score twice as many goals just to make sure they give him the damn thing this time.

    17. David Staples
      July 22, 2008 at

      MikeP: I was with you, man, nodding my head, cheering you on, loving every word, until you mentioned “fascism.”

      I’m not big on the fascism comparisons (unless, of course, I’m making them myself).

      The truth about John? He’s miffed at me and all the other Oiler zombie diehards because all we ever do is talk Oilers, and all he wants to talk is Olympics, which he is now writing about, and has been for a few months.

      I’d be happy to oblige John and talk up who might win the Beijing race walk final, but I find I can’t get excited about the Games until they are on TV. At that point, I transform, for two weeks only, into an Olympics zombie diehard.

      Must be my Youtube-infected mind at work. My disease comes from watching, “Where the hell is Matt?” and actually getting a kick out of it.

    18. July 22, 2008 at

      Great article. I really agree with the notion that once the elite group of golatenders is passed, there are probably 10-20 guys who can all do approximately the same job, and that isn’t something I would have said prior to reading this post.

    19. PDO
      July 22, 2008 at

      I’d talk about the Olympics…

      Except track and field isn’t a real sport and is boring as hell ;) .

    20. July 23, 2008 at

      David S: I done it deliberate. Callbacks to a previous, simpler time when things were SO MUCH BETTER than they are now is a central tenet of fascism. Being a history grad, I’m obviously an expert, so I’m entitled to make comparisons like that. I agree though, most comparisons are poor, mostly since the person making the comparison means “I don’t like your point of view and find it confining, so you’re obviously a fascist.”

      I don’t give a crap about the Olympics and I wish sportswriters would *stop* writing about them. I’d rather read about what Tiger Woods thinks about the NHL. I suspect the last Olympics that truly through and through represented its own standards and goals were run in 776BC by a bunch of naked men.

      Colby: right, sorry, my mistake.

    21. July 23, 2008 at

      Whups, left off the bit I’d actually come here to say… maybe MacKinnon really means “I hate all this newfangled crap and wish somebody would write something *really cutting* about it. But I’m not that somebody, I’m not good enough, so I’ll pick the best sportswriter I know about and say he would have said something. I don’t know what, but I bet it would have been really good!” Maybe he has secret thoughts that he’s really inadequate and that’s why we’d rather read DavidS’s Oilers columns than his Olympics ones. See, I took (am taking) psych courses, so clearly I’m able to make this sort of diagnosis at a distance.

    22. August 13, 2008 at

      I just read this now but it makes more sense than anything else I’ve ever read.

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