Getty ImagesIn the past few summers, the size of contracts given out has obviously expanded along with the salary cap, and often it's some of the league's more mediocre players reaping the benefits. One need look no deeper than David Clarkson's contract, for instance, to see that guys who've never had a 50-point season in their lives can still cash in if you can find someone dumb enough to believe in “intangibles.”
But one area in which contracts have seemingly exploded within the last three seasons or so is when it comes to long-term contracts for goaltenders. While the ability of teams to succeed to one extent or another on relative bargain basement netminding — which just about everyone briefly bought into — typified by the Blackhawks, Capitals, Flyers among others was probably always overblown, things have very quickly swung in the opposite direction, and teams are once again willing to pay the toppest of top dollar for goaltenders they consider to be elite.
Since the 2004-05 lockout, only three goaltenders have ever signed deals that assured them $7 million or more against the cap, and all three have been signed since November 2011, when Pekka Rinne got seven years and $7 million per from David Poile. Since then, Tuukka Rask (eight years, $56 million) and Henrik Lundqvist (seven years, $59.5 million) have gotten in on the action.
This is interesting for a number of reasons. The first is that position players have been getting $7 million per season for as long as there's been a salary cap. Jarome Iginla, for instance, got that much when the 2005-06 season began, and the salary cap at that time was just $39 million, but what's interesting about that is that even as the ceiling has gone way, way up in the years since, very few top-flight forwards have found their salaries exceeding that $7 million plateau.
Currently, just 19 non-goaltenders (and only four of them defensemen) make more than that amount, and for the most part, they are pretty elite players. The only exceptions to this are, at this point, probably Dany Heatley and Alexander Semin, and the former's contract is a soon-expiring holdover from the days when he was a regular 40- or 50-goal scorer.
For reference, 19 skaters makes up a top-line or -pairing defenseman on slightly more than half the league's teams, and if you consider that each has five of these players, that's 19 out of 150 players who are considered — either by default or because they're just that good — to be players that would be in a team's starting lineup. Obviously your mileage will vary, because guys who get 20 minutes a night in Calgary, for instance, often wouldn't crack the top two lines enjoyed by a legitimate contender.
We're only just now starting to see goaltenders move into this territory. Three is obviously just 10 percent of the total starting goalie pool in the league, but it's interesting that it's only recently occurred to GMs league-wide that they might want to approach their goaltenders in this same way. In recent history, and only for a little while, Ryan Miller and Cam Ward were the only goaltenders making north of $6 million, before Carey Price joined the party last season. Corey Crawford will do so next year. Even Conn Smythe winner and legitimate Hart candidate Jonathan Quick couldn't get more than $5.9 million (albeit for 10 years) out of Los Angeles after that one Cup-winning season.
One suspects that this is perhaps the result of the contract that Chicago gave Nikolai Khabibulin immediately after the 2004-05 lockout, which was commensurate with what Iginla and the league's other stars received in the new cap environment. Four years, $6.75 million per, and a disaster on the ice. His stats improved as the time went along, though one suspects that this was largely due to the quality of the team in front of him, but by the end he was in a 1a/1b tandem with Cristobal Huet. The .886 save percentage he posted in his first 50 games of that deal, though, was probably put everyone off that type of contract for a while.
This all of course circles back to the contract Lundqvist signed this week, which will pay him $8.5 million a season against the cap until he is 39 years old. That's a lot of money for any player, regardless of who it is. He now makes more money against the cap than everyone in the entire league except former Hart Trophy winners Corey Perry ($8.625 million), Sidney Crosby ($8.7 million) Evgeni Malkin ($9.5 million), and Alex Ovechkin (more than $9.53 million). All of those forwards, by the way, are in their mid- or late 20s today. Perry, the oldest and coincidentally least-great of these, signed his deal when he was still 27.
Which is to say that the Lundqvist contract is not a good investment for the Rangers, especially because his stats are down this year, and we have no idea how he's going to respond to the new pad restrictions put in place by the league over the course of 82 games, let alone the following 574.
The arguments about why that doesn't matter are, despite this, perfectly reasonable, and also myriad.Read More »from Market value for NHL goalies is quickly becoming awful (Trending Topics)