This week's Capped continues our series with a look into projecting goalie salaries.
I had a discussion on twitter during the past week between myself, Dobber DFS writer Chris Wassel, and a column reader, going back and forth about the potential contract coming up for Juuse Saros. Unfortunately, I have not gotten into applying the contract model to goalies, so any estimates for goalies are purely speculation. However, after covering skaters for the last three weeks, this discussion about Saros highlighted that it was worth looking into goalies.
As a result, this week we will be focusing on every team’s last line of defense. These individuals are not only tough to predict contracts for, but are generally tough to reliably project their performance on a season by season basis. Goalies also tend to be hugely important for success in both real life and fantasy sports, thus the value of getting your goalie at a bargain price cannot be understated. Additionally, some of the best value goalies are backups, either because they are paid so little and they end up with great ratios (Saros and Aaron Dell come to mind), or because they end up coming in for an injured/struggling starter, and the volume becomes a big asset (Petr Budaj, Carter Hutton, etc).
Starters vs. Backups
In the cap-era, it is tough for NHL teams to find success with too much money tied up in goaltending, and it also difficult to win without a decent netminder. Pittsburgh managed to win two cups on the back of rookie Matt Murray, while Dallas put together quite a good season a few years ago with the likes of Antti Niemi and Kari Lehtonen tending the crease. Murray counted $628,333 per season against the Pittsburgh cap both seasons where he won Stanley Cups. Meanwhile, the Antti Niemi and Kari Lehtonen tandem cost a combined $10,400,000 against the cap. These two contrasting examples were a bit selective, but they do show that there’s not one right way for a team to move forward.
Generally, however, teams will have one starter, who is paid as such, with a more “lightly” paid backup. But what comes first, the big contract, or the starter’s workload? Well it can be either, really. As soon as there is a big contract though, the goalie will get every opportunity to become the starter. This is why Scott Darling keeps getting trotted out there for Carolina. This is why Cam Talbot won the starter’s job back in Edmonton last season, and why there is no controversy in Nashville and San Jose right now. Continuing that thought, it won’t be long until Jake Allen is back getting two out of every three starts.
With the above, we see goalies making starter money keep their spots, and we see goalies who emerge as starters, then get paid like them. On the other hand, backups have runs of relevance, but over the course of the season, even out usually closer to league average. As a result, they aren’t usually paid more than $2 – $2.5 million. There are exceptions, especially when the starter is getting up in years. For example, James Reimer and Mike Condon signed deals to play behind older starters, and were expected to receive a slightly bigger share of the crease than the average backup. Anything $3 million and over is typically starting goaltender money.
So regardless of which comes first, (the ice time or the contract), your starters will get paid, while the backups will be the cheaper, occasional bargains. This is why projecting goalie salaries can actually be a little easier than players, as there are really only two roles that a goalie can fit into. As long as you are in tune with the expected role of the goalie on the team, and the timeline of any potential shifts in the starter’s role down the line, you shouldn’t be too far off in your estimate (e.g. Saros taking over for Pekka Rinne once Rinne’s contract is up).
Unlike with skaters, whose peak seasons are typically between the ages of 25 and 27, goalies tend to peak a little later. This idea stems from a cage match article from last year, by our very own Rick Roos. The data shows that goalies peak around age 29. However, this does not mean that goalie salaries peak at the age of 29 as well. The salary shift is about three years behind, peaking around the age of 32. What does this mean? Well it means what most savvy fantasy GMs already know, that players and goalies drop in value after they pass the age of 30.
The age of 32 is the average for the peak salary, but don’t let that fool you, an average is just that, a collection of data. With the knowledge we have though, contracts signed before the peak age of have to be looked at favourably, knowing that there is still improvement to come, while contracts signed after the age of 29 are not likely to be lived up to. Thus, it becomes, that the five most cost-effective years to own a goaltender would be from the age of 27-31.
How can this help with predicting goalie contracts? Well typically goalies will be on smaller contracts until they get a starting gig. At that point, they take the middle contract to prove themselves (e.g. Murray, John Gibson, Martin Jones, etc.), putting themselves in a position for their big payday, typically at the age of 31. Knowing when to expect a middle contract versus a big contract can make a difference, as can knowing how many years to expect. I will be making an effort to put all of this towards some goalie contract projections next week, so stay turned!
That caps off another Thursday. Let me know in the comments if there is something else you would like me to cover next week along the lines of projecting salaries.
As always, you can find me on twitter @alexdmaclean where I post some of my other smaller musings that don’t make it into the articles.
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