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.
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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:
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.
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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.