Sunday, July 20, 2008

Sometimes I'd Rather Be Lucky Than Good

As part of reviewing my time here in the blogsphere, I went back to look over my posts to see where I got comments. Interestingly, I did a post on the Ottawa Senator's firing John Paddock where I digressed and made a prediction that Christobel Huet would get signed to a 4 year $20 million deal. Of course numerous aspects of that prognostication were incorrect, however at the time I looked at 4 things to estimate Huet's future value - 1) the limited number of goalies that would be entering the free agent pool at the end of the season; 2) Huet's age and his desire to get a contract that would take him as long at a number 1 goaltender's salary; 3) Huet's save percentage both career and season long till that point in February; and 4) the amount of money/budget I projected the Caps would be willing to spend on their next year's #1 goaltender. While many aspects of my thinking were off by a little (the Capital's budget) to a lot (where Huet would ultimately sign - Chicago vice Washington), the bottom line value and term of the contract I predicted were pretty close. While at the time I was questioned by some, and at the time Huet had not had the end of season run he ultimately put together, I maintain that the overall market conditions (the limited number of proven #1 goaltenders available) were as much a reason and in fact the over-riding reason that he got the deal he did.

Ironically, Chicago wasn't a team, that back in February, you would have predicted was in the market for a new number 1 goaltender. Nickolai Khabibuhlan is still listed on the Blackhawk's website as their number 1 tender, last year he was 23-20-6 in 50 games played with a Save % of .909 and a GAA of 2.69. While his statistics were in the lower third of goaltenders (GAA - 23rd and Sv% - 25th), given the young team in front of him and especially the young defense, and the fact that his $6.75M salary cap hit comes with a no trade clause it was difficult to see Chicago taking a run at Huet. Huet's stats for last year were a Save percentage of 0.920 (6th in the league) and a GAA of 2.32 (10th in the league) in 52 regular season games played. However in the 39 games he played in Montreal last year he was 21-12-6 with a GAA of 2.55 and a SV% of .916 (in his 13 regular season games with the Capitals he was on fire at 11-2 with a GAA of 1.63 and a save percentage of .936). A couple of off hand observations follow. Is Khabibuhlan worth $6.75M/season? Maybe not right now but career statistics-wise, Khabibuhlin has played in 636 games over 11 seasons and is 274-258-58-17 with a save % of .908 and a GAA of 2.69. These totals include his last three seasons in Chicago during a rebuilding period which actually pull down his career overall numbers. Huet's career statistics: 183 games in five NHL seasons, a record of 83-61-11-13 with a GAA of 2.43 and a save % of .918 in the regular season. Next season the Blackhawks will pay him $5.625M, as they will for each of the next four seasons, he is currently 32 years old. So who should be the Blackhawks number 1 goaltender in 2008 - 2009 and why? From my perspective, it needs to continue to be Nickolai Khabibulin because of the statistics NOT listed above - he has 57 games of playoff experience and a Stanley Cup compared to Huet's 13 games and never getting past the first round. Also when you discount Huet's time last season with the Capitals, Khabibulin's numbers for 2007-2008 are pretty comparable to Huet's with Montreal. Bottom line is during the first third of this coming season, Christobel Huet needs to show the coaching staff and fans in Chicago that he is capable of consistently playing at the level he played from February through April. If he does that his signing by the Blackhawks will be lauded, if he doesn't well .... that sort of stuff will all go the other way.

If your still not glad that the Washington Capitals have a straightforward goaltending situation at the start of the season, led by a number 1 goaltender who wants to be here, and a solid, experienced backup; well you should be. Also of note is that Chicago's budget for their number 1 and 2 goalies $12.375M, Washington's budget for the same roster slots: $5.312M. Comparatively, the Stanley Cup Champion Detroit Red Wings #1 & #2 goaltenders will earn $2.167M this coming season; last season's Vezina Trophy winner Martin Brodeur will make $5.2M and the New Jersey Devils will spend $5.87M on goaltender salaries next season. In general most teams are spending between $5 & $7.5M of their available salary cap on goaltender salaries, IF they have one of the top 10 goaltenders on their roster. Of course with their current crop of young talent at forward, Chicago has some salary cap room to spare and can carry an extra goaltender through this next season if they so choose. However, that space quickly evaporates at the end of this season as they will need to plan for the looming Restricted Free Agency of Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. All in all, the Capitals situation looks much better when it comes to managing their talent pipeline and salary cap over the next few years than the young and talent rich Blackhawks.

Can't wait till next season. LETS GO CAPS!!!! But for now it's time to get back to work on this lovely, hot Sunday afternoon.

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