Every hockey pundit talks about how teams need to have consistency at the goaltender position in order to be successful but what exactly does that mean? You could be like the New Jersey Devils, New York Rangers or Buffalo Sabres who have had one main guy and a few back-ups since the lock-out and have received solid goaltending with that. Teams like the Detroit Red Wings, Nashville Predators and Boston Bruins who have used over 10 goalies since the lock-out and have gotten average to great goaltending out of all of them. It’s true that there are teams who cycle goalies really well but the team’s who get the best goaltending are those who do not have to go through a lot of them over the years.
Teams who have not had to cycle through a lot of goaltenders generally get better performance in the net. The two teams with the highest overall save percentages since the lockout are the New Jersey Devils and the Anaheim Ducks. The Devils have had Martin Brodeur all of those years and the Ducks have cycled between JS Giguere and Jonas Hiller. There are some exceptions here, though. For instance, the Bruins have gone through 10 goalies since the lock-out and have the third highest team save percentage since the lockout. They are a good example of a team who has cycled goalies well over the years. Tim Thomas has been in the organization ever year since the lock-out, but they have paired him with a solid back-up or 1a/b goalie in every year with the exception of Raycrfot and Toivonen. Phoenix has used 12 goalies since the lock-out and have the 11th best save percentage here, but this is mostly because of the two years before Ilya Bryzgalov where they had to make due with Curtis Joseph, David LeNeveu, Michael Morrison, Brian Boucher and Phillipe Sauve starting games. After Bryz came, the only other goalies who have started more than five games in Phoenix are Jason LaBarbera and Mikeal Tellqvist. Only three of the sixteen teams who had an above average team save percenteage since the lockout have used 10 or more goalies.
Conversely, nine out of the fourteen below-average goaltending teams had used 10 or more goalies since 2005-06. The worst being Tampa using 16 goalies who had an average even strength save percentage of .909. Considering the league EV save percentage since the lockout is .918, Tampa’s goaltending looks abysmal. It’s no wonder they gave Mike Smith a contract worth $2.2 mil per year after he posted a .931 save percentage in 2009…only to have him completely flop the next two seasons. Dwayne Roloson looks amazing compared to the rest of the garbage they’ve put in net since the lockout. Other teams who went through a lot of goalies and got bad results were Toronto, St. Louis, Los Angeles, Philadelphia (HA!) and the Islanders.
What the graph and analysis above shows is that teams who have a “true starter” or cycle goalies well are more likely to get more stable and consistent goaltending, which is pretty obvious in the grand scheme of things. It doesn’t say anything about signing an “elite” goalie or spending big-money on one. That’s where this next graph comes into play. This shows a team’s accumlative save percentage since the lockout put against the average amount of money they spent per goalie.
Trendline shows what save percentage you would expect for a goalie making a certain amount of money. The mark closest to $3,000,000 and right below the trendline is the San Jose Sharks. Evgeni Nabokov has been their goalie for almost every year since the lockout and he was signed to a big contract, too. This shows that he underperformed his contract.
The average amount of money spent on a goaltender during this time is about $2,020,226 per season. That should give you an idea of who is getting the most for their money. That team would be the Nashville Predators and it makes perfect sense when you go through their goaltending history. They had Tomas Vokoun and Chris Mason for under $3 mil a piece because both got their chances as starting goalies with Nashville and had to work their way up through the system to do so. Same goes for Dan Ellis (before he flopped) and Pekka Rinne, who was signed at an entry level deal for the first few years. They are another great example of a team who cycles goalies well and it makes you wonder what they’ll do with Rinne when his contract runs out. They had no problem with letting an elite talent like Vokoun walk so it’s possible they’ll do the same with Rinne. The Canadiens, Bruins (pre-Veznia Thomas) and Coyotes are other teams who have gotten good performances out of cheap goaltending.
That said, most teams have had to pay at least $2 mil per goalie since the lockout in order to get above-average performance in net, which makes sense. You would expect for a starting goalie to make something like $3-4 mil in this era, with a back-up making replacement level money. That’s what the best goaltending teams in recent years have done (Anaheim, New Jersey, Nashville). That or have a 1 a/b role with two goaleis making around $1.5 or 2 mil per year like the Sharks did with Niemi and Niittymaki last season. Teams who pay out the wazoo for goaltending have seen a mixed bag. Vancouver’s has generally good results with Luongo’s enormous contract so far, but it does look kind of bad compared to other teams. Miikka Kiprusoff is on a decline but for the most part, he’s given the Flames great goaltending since the lockout so them paying top-five money for him doesn’t look so bad in this graph…until you see that the Rangers, Wild, Canadiens, Predators, Bruins, Panthers and Ducks received slightly better performance for a lot less money.
There are some teams who got burnt on overspending for goalies with the biggest one being the Chicago Blackhawks. This is due to them giving out incredibly stupid contracts to Nikolai Khabibulin and Cristobal Huet. Things are getting better for them, though. They let Khabibulin walk after a great season and then letting Antti Niemi sign elsewhere and essentially replacing his production with Corey Crawford on an ELC. They also did not overpay with re-signing him either but it’s going to take a lot to get Huet’s disgusting contract off the books. The Dallas Stars and Toronto Maple Leafs are the other main teams who overspent for goalies with bad results.
As for teams who didn’t spend a lot, The LA Kings spent the least amount per goalie since the lockout (under $975k), have gone through 12 goalies and their performance is slightly below average. The Blue Jackets and Flyers are a similar story. Aside from the Preds and Coyotes, the one team who had good results from underspending were the Red Wings. Detroit spent about $980k per goaltender and received about average performance as a result, which has been their philosophy for awhile. The only time they spent over $2 mil per year for a goalie since 2005 was Dominik Hasek in 2008, which came after the year he put up a .932 EV save percentage. They did break this trend last season with Jimmy Howard’s new contract, though.
What’s the point of all this? That goaltenders are somewhat volatile and cycling through one goalie to another every few years is not a bad strategy to go about. That does not mean that team’s should not spend a lot of money on them as the graph shows that there is some correlation between how much a goalie makes and his overall EV save percentage. However, it does show that giving long contracts to goalies is not a good idea because of how much a goalie’s performance can change over a short period of time. Giguere was an elite goalie once until his play declined towards the end of his contract which the Ducks traded away once Hiller took over. Turco and Khabibulin proved to never live up to their contracts value in Chicago and Dallas and Kiprusoff is about to go down a similar route. Then there’s Chicago trading away Huet’s contract after only one season and Evgeni Nabokov giving the Sharks slightly less value for what they were paying him. This makes contracts like the one the Flyers gave Bryzgalov look even worse. He may play amazing for the first couple years but that contract will look like a complete disaster eventually. What Nashville and Montreal have done with thier goalies is pretty amazing and I wish more teams would cycle goalies like that.
As for how much goaltending correlates to team success, I’ll leave you with this final thought. Out of the top-ten goaltending teams, only two have won the Cup since the lockout and one has not even made the playoffs. Out of the 10 worst goaltending teams since the lockout, two have also won the Cup.