Goaltenders are the toughest position to evaluate in the NHL. Part of it is due to the lack if advancement in statistical analysis for goalies, and part of it due to the fact that goalies are extremely unpredictable, making it difficult to get a clear idea as to how good a goalie is.
This also makes it difficult when it comes to signing goalies to contracts. A goalie could be coming off a career year and could make a lot of money for a long term deal, or they could be coming off a bad season, and they me hard pressed just to get a contract, unless your name is Jonas Gustavsson or Cam Ward.
Last year, the Leafs made a gamble on Frederik Andersen, trading for him, and signing him to a $5 million, five-year deal. There was some scrutiny to this deal, as Andersen had just 125 games of experience, and signing any goalie that isn’t obviously elite to a deal past three or four years is always really risky. Especially given what they gave up for him, there was some concern for whether Andersen would be worth it.
So far, it’s safe to say that he’s pretty much worth it right now. Over the last three years, Andersen is tied for 19th in 5v5 save percentage among goalies with at least 100 starts. Meanwhile, his cap hit ranks 18th in the league among goalies. So, he’s getting paid just about what he should be considering his performance. Obviously, it’s only year one of five, so it’s a bit premature to say that the contract is already a good deal, but, barring a massive decline in performance, or a severe injury, it’s safe to say the contract isn’t a bad one.
As you can see, Freddy is pretty close to the trendline, indicating that he’s making about as much as he should, compared to the rest of the league. Although, there isn’t much of a trend going on in this graph, which just goes to show how tough it is to evaluate goalies.
However, the biggest key to the value of Freddy’s deal is his age. At 26 when the contract was signed (he’s currently 27), Andersen is in the midst of his prime, which if there was any time to lock a goalie up past three or four years, it would be at this point in his career. It’s when you’re going to get the best out of a goaltender, so if you lock him up long term at this point, you’re most likely going to get the best value out of him from a cap perspective. However, it’s after that that it becomes a concern.
Which brings me to my second point of this article, as I’m not just here to defend Freddy’s contract 1/5 of the way through it. I also have a warning to the Leafs, and to everyone who cheers for them, a warning to be cautious when the time comes to re-sign Andersen.
Now, four years down the road, the Leafs might be in a situation where they don’t need to re-sign Freddy. Perhaps one of Garret Sparks, Kasimir Kaskisuo, or Joseph Woll have panned out, and are good enough to become the starter for the Leafs, although that seems to be unlikely. Perhaps the Leafs have another young goalie in their system who they drafted who’s ready to take the reigns, although if that were the case, it would have to be in this upcoming draft, or maybe next draft. Or maybe, Freddy’s trending downwards, and the Leafs trade/sign another goalie to replace him as their starter.
But, if that isn’t the case, and the Leafs are looking to re-sign Andersen, they need to be careful as to how they approach it, given recent history with goalies. Another problem with teams when it comes to signing goalies is that they sign them for what they’ve done, not for what they will do. This has created many examples where a goalie is overpaid, despite it not being the case at the time of the contract.
For example, Henrik Lundqvist is the highest paid goalie in the league with an $8.5 million, despite having a .918% 5v5 save percentage this season, which ranked 28th in the league among goalies with at least 30 games. However, during the 2013-14 season, when he signed his contract, he had a .926% 5v5 save percentage, which ranked 11th. Tuukka Rask is tied for the third highest cap hit among goalies at $7 million, despite having a .919% 5v5 save percentage this season, which ranked 25th in the league. However, in 2012-13, the season before he signed his current deal, he had a .938% 5v5 save percentage, which ranked second in the league. The same goes for Carey Price, who ranked first in the league in 5v5 save percentage over the last three years at .938%, and his current deal expires after next season. Many people have him slated to make close to, if not more than, $10 million at a lengthy term, despite the fact that he will be 31 when that contract starts. As good as he is now, he probably only has a few elite years left in him, and after that will not even be close to being good enough to justify a $10 million cap hit.
All three of these players are a cap problem for their team now (or in the case of Price, he will be) after signing their contracts a few years prior. Both the Bruins and the Rangers are in cap hell right now, partly because they’re currently overpaying their starter who is slightly past their prime. This is by no means a slight on Lundqvist or Rask, as both of them are still really good goalies. However, at their current cap hits, it makes it difficult for their team to improve with them getting paid $2-3 million too much. The same goes for Price down the road if he ends up making around $10 million. He’ll still probably be a good starting goalie throughout his contract, but not enough to be worth that much money.
Which brings me back to Andersen. He is currently on a contract that is very much worth the performance that he puts up in the Leafs crease. However, in four years, if he were to even sign another five-year, $5 million contracts, it would be a terrible idea for the Leafs. Not only would it be a gamble to sign a 31-year-old to a five-year deal, but considering he would be declining at this point, signing him to a similar deal would be an overpayment. Lundqvist, Rask, and Price are obviously much better goalies than Andersen, so Freddy’s cap hit won’t take up as much cap space, but it will have a similar impact in terms of the value that Andersen would be providing the team relative to his contract.
So, what should the Leafs do about this when the time comes? Either be very insistent with Andersen that you don’t want to lock up a 30+ goalie long term, especially if the cap hit is high or move on from Freddy and look elsewhere. It might be difficult, especially if the Leafs have a couple deep playoff runs during the next four seasons, but considering all the elite talent that the Leafs will have to pay on their team by that point, they can’t afford to overpay for a goalie who is past his prime. It might be a bit too early to be talking about Andersen’s next deal, but it’s a point that needs to be made as soon as possible before it’s too late.