In my previous column, I illustrated the goalie parity in the NHL and why that parity exists which in large part is because of the butterfly style goalies employ today. This, in turn, has led me to some conclusions:
- Do not dish out a large annual salary for a goalie that is not elite and for those who are elite, make sure they have a track record of displaying elite level play and evidence that they will be able to maintain this elite level of play.
- Do not hand out any form of a long term contract to a non-elite goaltender and for those who are elite, make sure they have a track record of displaying elite level play and evidence that they will be able to maintain this elite level of play.
These assumptions are based on the facts discussed that goalies are volatile with little, if any, skill separation amongst the group who would be receiving the large contracts. Goalies who made over 5 million this year include:
Henrik Lunqvist $6.875
Roberto Luongo $6.750
Ryan Miller $6.250
Niklas Backstrom $6.000
JS Giguere $6.000
Mikka Kiprusoff $5.833
Tomas Vokoun $5.700
Marty Turco $5.700
Cristobal Huet $5.625
Evgeni Nabokov $5.375
Martin Brodeur $5.200
Tim Thomas $5.000
Marc- Andre Fleury $5.000
These are the top 12 paid goalies in the league in annual salary. In the graph I listed the top 24 goalies in GVT/G, with at least 40 games played. Two of these twelve names appeared in the top five, with four appearing in the top ten and nine appearing in the top twenty. Rask, Halak and Howard are playing on earlier level contracts, but Bryzagalov, Hiller (who just resigned for $4.5 a year), Hedberg, Anderson, Chris Mason, Rinne and Nittymaki are proof that good goaltending does not need to cost $5 million.
Donít draft goaltenders!
This is the most important thing a NHL team can do at the draft table to avoid a massive waste of a pick or at least the misuse of a high pick. Iím not saying that you shouldnít ever select a goalie in the draft, but I fail to see any valid reason to ever take a goalie in the top 100 picks of the draft. For starters, goalies are as volatile in the draft and in the development process as they are in the NHL, if not more so. Here are goalies drafted in the 1st round since 2000:
Goaltender Team Draft Selection
Rick DiPietro NYI 1st overall, 2000
Brent Kahn CGY 9th overall, 2000
Pascal Leclaire CBJ 8th overall, 2001
Dan Blackburn NYR 10th overall, 2001
Jason Bacashihua DAL 26th overall, 2001
Adam Munro CHI 29th overall, 2001
Kari Lehtonen ATL 2nd overall, 2002
Cam Ward CAR 25th overall, 2002
Hannu Toivonen BOS 29th overall, 2002
Marc-Andre Fleury PIT 1st overall, 2003
Al Montoya NYR 6th overall, 2004
Devan Dubnyk EDM 14th overall, 2004
Marek Schwarz STL 17th overall, 2004
Cory Schneider VAN 26th overall, 2004
Carey Price MTL 5th overall, 2005
Tuukka Rask TOR 21st overall, 2005
Jonathan Bernier LAK 11th overall, 2006
Riku Helenius TBL 15th overall, 2006
Seymon Varlamov WSH 23rd overall, 2006
Leland Irving CGY 26th overall, 2006
Chet Pickard NSH 18th overall, 2008
Thomas McCollum DET 30th overall, 2008
I count less than a handful of seasons that resulted in a save percentage over .920 from this list:
- Tuukka Rask in 2010
- Carey Price in 2008
- Marc-Andre Fleury in 2008
Thatís it. DiPietro and Leclaire both had one season with a .919 save percentage each, so you can add them to the list if you wish. Even taking those two additional seasons into account, you still only have around 5 seasons of a 920+ save percentage at the NHL level out of 22 first round picks. Even if you excuse McCollum and Pickard for being picked so soon, thatís still 20 names. Itís not like a .920 save percentage is a superstar threshold either as there were 7 goalies this year with a significant amount of games played who achieved that, and 5 in 2008-09, and 11 in 2007-08. There were also netminders who were dangerously close to the .920 mark in these years as well.
Not all draft picks work out, of course. Drafting is a risky and unusual process; however look at the draft positions of some of these goalies: two first overalls, one second, one fifth and one in the sixth round. These goalies were at the time considered very skilled, at the top of their respective games and supposedly at the head of their draft classes, yet there is a tremendous lack of success amongst the goaltenders listed.
Goalies are by far the hardest position to develop. Their game is coachable, however the amount of time it takes for a young goalie to learn the tendencies of pro shooters, to fix the mechanical flaws in their game, to physically develop, and most importantly mentally develop amongst many other factors takes years to the point where waiting 3-5 years for your top goalie prospect is the norm. The problem is, 3-5 years later, thereís a large possibility that the guy you drafted is not the same person. Goalies also need a lot of time to grow at the NHL level, and you will occasionally have a wonder-kid come up like Carey Price, Cam Ward or Steve Mason who succeeds initially, but as weíve seen, all young goalies go through their bumps and need time to develop.
Whether youíre using a 1st, 2nd or 3rd round pick on a goalie, itís still a bad idea. If youíre going to use a high pick, youíll likely dedicate 4-5 years of non-NHL league development time, and another 2-3 years of transitioning to the NHL level of play, for what? So they can possibly fit into the rest of the middling, volatile pack of goaltenders? And by the time they finally are good, itís contract time. Meanwhile, there are top forward prospects, who have a higher likelihood of turning into an NHL player from the Draft, get to the NHL much quicker, contribute more in relation to their peer group and are worth the salary they earn from the beginning. Thereís always the chance a goalie can become elite, but the chances are slim and due to the crapshoot that is drafting a goalie. Taking a skater is a safer and smarter investment towards your organizationís future. Here were the draft positions of the top five this year in GVT/G:
- Tuukka Rask, 1st round 21st overall 2005
- Ryan Miller, 5th round 138th overall 1999
- Jaroslav Halak, 9th round 271st overall 2003
- Evgeni Nabokov, 9th round 219th overall 2004
- Jimmy Howard, 2nd round 64th overall 2003
As illustrated above, Rask was one of the few successful first rounders, and he did it in a limited sample size of just over 2,500 minutes, so itís yet to be seen whether he can truly be a top goalie over several seasons. Buffalo, Montreal, San Jose, and Detroit should all be very happy with their picks, especially the former three with the kind of production they received from their draft picks.
In the upcoming Entry Draft, there are two elite level goaltending prospects who could be drafted high, Jack Campbell from the USNTDP and Calvin Pickard from Seattle in the WHL. CSS has ranked Pickard first, but thereís a mainstream consensus (in addition to my personal opinion) that Campbell is the guy and on some prospect lists heís considered a first round lock, with the possibility of being a top 10 or top 15 pick. I had him at 29th in my preseason rankings, but heíll end up nowhere close to that in my end of year rankings even though the consensus is that Campbell and Pickard will go in the first round. The chances of Jack Campbell developing into a good NHL goalie are good, but certainly not great. Heís going to take a good amount of time to develop, and by then if he does reach the level of productivity you hoped for, he probably wonít differ much in terms of true talent level from the goalie you can get in free agency for a couple of million. Not to mention you would obtain that goalie instantaneously and thereís the opportunity cost of the skater prospect you would be overlooking.
Using a 5th or a 6th round pick on a goalie, I donít mind. Using a 1st or a 2nd round pick on a goalie, unless youíre at least 90% sure heís the next Roy or Hasek, Iíd rather not do no matter what the teamís immediate or organizational needs are.
Goalies are one of the most important positions in all of sports. They have the ability to swing a game dramatically like no other position, yet for the degree to which they can accomplish this, one would think goaltending would be a lot harder to find.
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Corey Pronman is a contributor to Puck Prospectus and runs the statistical hockey site The Hock Project. You can contact him at CPronman@fau.edu.
Corey Pronman is an author of Hockey Prospectus.
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