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Dallas Stars Break Bank on Tandem: Who Spends Best?

Dallas Stars Break Bank on Tandem: Who Spends Best?
The Dallas Stars will spend $10.4 million on goaltending next season after signing pending free agent Antti Niemi to a three-year contract. (InGoal photo by Scott Slingsby)

The Dallas Stars will spend $10.4 million on goaltending next season after signing pending free agent Antti Niemi to a three-year contract, an eye-popping figure to some observser. (InGoal photo by Scott Slingsby)

The dollar value of a goaltender to his team is a subject that has been debated many times in recent seasons.

From Roberto Luongo’s 12-year, $64 million deal with the Vancouver Canucks in 2009 to breakout bargains like Jake Allen with the St. Louis Blues and Frederik Andersen with the Anaheim Ducks, how teams choose to fill their crease divides opinion, particularly when the market seems saturated with talent.

Outside of a small elite many goaltenders in the NHL are seen as interchangeable, both among themselves and with some of their minor league and European counterparts, causing some to question why teams spend millions when cheaper options of negligible difference are available, allowing for more to be spent on the team in front.

Dallas reignited the debate, trading for pending UFA Antti Niemi and then signing him to a 3-year, $13.5 million contract Monday. In doing so, the Stars tied a whopping $10.4 million per season to their goaltending.

General Manager Jim Nill might be forgiven for wanting to bolster a position that caused the organization serious concern last season. Incumbent Kari Lehtonen saw his numbers fall to a career low .903 save percentage and 2.94 goals against average, his worst since arriving in Texas. With a cap hit of $5.9 million per season, it means Lehtonen cost Dallas $3,482.88 per save (1,694 total).

That may seem a lot but of those who played 10 or more games last season, nineteen netminders cost their clubs more per save than the Finn cost Dallas, including Pekka Rinne ($4,199.16), Corey Crawford ($3,908.79) and Tuukka Rask ($3,773.58).

Vantaa native Niemi will earn $500,000 more in Dallas than he did in San Jose, where he played 61 games last season and stopped 1,656 pucks at a cost of $2,415.46 per save.

In context; only RFA Braden Holtby’s $980.39 per save provided better value among netminders who played 60 or more games last season, and only five netminders (including Hotlby) who played 50 or more games had a better dollar per save return than Niemi: Toronto’s Jonathan Bernier (also an RFA), Andersen, Ben Scrivens and Jhonas Enroth.

By comparison, Henrik Lundqvist came in at $6,933.12 per save, second highest among goalies who played 10 or more games last season and almost a thousand dollars more than Niemi and Lehtonen combined ($5,898.34).

Given the choice of the three however, Lundqvist, $8.5 million contract and all, would be an almost universal choice to be a teams’ number one.

It’s also important to remember that prior to last season, when he was sidelined by a neck injury, Lundqvist hadn’t faced less than 1,600 shots in a full season since his debut in 2005, and regular plays more than 60 games per year for the Rangers.

Boost his save total to that magic 1,600 mark and his cost per save comes down to a more palatable $5,312.50. Still pricey, but with a career Goals Saved Above Average (GSAA) that has him keeping out an additional 15 to 20 goals per season; the veteran Swede may cost you more, but he’ll also earn that money back in different ways.

Lundqvist is, after all, King of Clutch.

And that is where cost analysis of goaltenders can become tricky.

Carey Price cost Montreal $3,565.55 per save, 16th highest of netminders playing 10 or more games last season. He also had a league leading 36.70 GSAA on a Canadiens team that might have even missed the playoffs were it not for the 27-year old. His efforts were rewarded with the Hart and Vezina Trophies and The Ted Lindsay Award at the NHL’s end of season ceremony in Las Vegas.

Conversely, top Western Conference seed Anaheim had a tiny $1.87 million salary cap cost for their core goalies last season; with Andersen taking the starter’s job and prospect John Gibson playing 23 games. Only Michael Hutchinson posted a better dollar per save ratio than Andersen, $638.18 per save to the Dane’s $875.86.

Anton Khudobin’s arrival probably means we’ll see less of Gibson this year, but Anaheim remain one of the thriftiest teams in the league when it comes to the crease. But balancing budget and talent remains key to any team’s success between the pipes. Let’s take a look at some of the rest:

Smart Money

Anaheim Ducks

The Southern California organization may have the best value goaltending set up in the NHL heading in to the new season, with Frederik Andersen accounting for just $1.15 million against the cap.

Khudobin took a step back last season, but the 29-year-old has been a reliable backup for Boston and Carolina in the past and carries a cap cost of just $2.25 million.

Both Andersen and Gibson are restricted free agents next summer, while Khudobin is a UFA, meaning the Ducks will need to open their cheque book in 12 months time; but it’s hard to fault the work Anaheim have done to get the most ‘bang for their bucks’ between the pipes.

Frederik Andersen 2014/15 Statistics
Save % GAA GSAA Shots Faced Saves Cap Hit $ per Save
.914 2.38 -0.43 1,436 1,313 $1.15m $875.86

St Louis Blues

Jake Allen’s 830 saves cost St. Louis just $963.86 each, placing him fifth in our list.

Seen as the long term option between the pipes, Allen is a restricted free agent this summer but will need to convince the Blues brass he should be paid more than partner Brian Elliott, who represented good value at just $2.5 million while posting a .917 save percentage and 2.16 GSAA versus Allen’s .913 and -1.41

If St. Louis can retain Allen’s services without breaking the bank, the Blues can make the most of the $14-million in cap space they have without need to worry about their last line of defence.

Jake Allen 2014/15 Statistics
Save % GAA GSAA Shots Faced Saves Cap Hit $ per Save
.913 2.28 -1.41 909 830 $800k $963.86

Chicago Blackhawks

Corey Crawford’s $6 million cap hit may raise eyebrows, but 30-year old has backstopped Chicago to two Stanley Cups and posted a .924 save percentage and 15.77 GSAA last season.

With Scott Darling taking home just $587,500, it gives Chicago two quality netminders for less than some teams pay one; while the experienced Michael Leighton has re-signed as the clubs third choice, agreeing to a 1-year, $575,000 extension.

Corey Crawford 2014/15 Statistics
Save % GAA GSAA Shots Faced Saves Cap Hit $ per Save
.924 2.27 15.77 1,661 1,535 $6m $3,908.79

Bad Investments?

Edmonton Oilers

Edmonton may have been frugal, but a league worst -38.39 GSAA for Ben Scrivens and -17.87 for partner Viktor Fasth (4th worse last season) tells its own tale.

The Oilers’ defensive woes did not help the affable Scrivens nor his Swedish teammate, but several years worth of attempts to fill the crease on a budget have done little to help plug the clubs holes at the back, with Ilya Bryzgalov perhaps the best of a bad bunch.

Cam Talbot’s arrival from New York may buck the trend but the Ontario native may also just be the latest in an increasing line of young netminders expected to play like a 10-year pro on a team stacked offensively, but with serious failing at the back end.

Ben Scrivens 2014/15 Statistics
Save % GAA GSAA Shots Faced Saves Cap Hit $ per Save
.890 3.16 -38.39 1,542 1,372 $2.3m $1,676.38

Minnesota Wild

Devan Dubnyk’s arrival turned the Wild’s season around, helping a talented but flagging side back in to the post season. Dubnyk was rewarded with a 6-year, $26 million extension, but the Wild’s missteps between the pipes should act as a reminder of the risks involved in long term deals and contract extensions.

Niklas Backstrom may have only signed a three-year extension in 2013, but the veteran’s declining form and ailing health left Minnesota with a $3.4 million millstone around its neck; one which may have partially compromised negotiations with Darcy Kuemper as well, as the Finn’s No Movement Clause diminished opportunities for the Saskatoon native.

As the team improved, Minnesota’s goaltending regressed. And while Dubnyk provided some salvation last season, a six-year deal is still an awfully long time for a team so recently bitten by poor decisions between the pipes.

Niklas Backstrom 2014/15 Statistics
Save % GAA GSAA Shots Faced Saves Cap Hit $ per Save
.887 3.04 -12.42 452 401 $3.4m $8,520.36

Philadelphia Flyers

The Flyers goaltending struggles are well documented. A mix of doing things “on the cheap” to wildly overpaying Ilya Bryzgalov, who was eventually run out of town with one extremely large buy out cheque in his pocket.

Steve Mason seems to have resurrected his career and settled in to the role of Flyers No.1 now, but the former Team Canada junior will need some help moving forward as Ray Emery enters unrestricted free agency and the club adapts to life without goaltending coach Jeff Reese.

Philadelphia is the perfect example of why you can’t undervalue good goaltending, but also an example of what happens when you believe throwing money at the situation will fix things.

Steve Mason 2014/15 Statistics
Save % GAA GSAA Shots Faced Saves Cap Hit $ per Save
.928 2.25 19.18 1,490 1,382 $4.1m $2,966.71

About The Author

Rob McGregor

A member of the InGoal Magazine family since 2014, Rob is also Media Manager for the Elite Ice Hockey League (EIHL) in the UK and a former goaltender in Great Britain's third tier National League (NIHL).