Goaltending is the most important position in the National Hockey League (NHL). There’s no debating that. A team can have all the offensive firepower and even be a structurally sound defensive unit, but won’t go far in the playoffs without a true No. 1 goaltender – or at least a goalie who’s playing at that level at the right time.
Take a look at the Edmonton Oilers. They have two of the best players in the word – Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl – but have been fairly average since both came into the league. They’re a poor defensive team, but goaltending hasn’t helped the Oilers.
Edmonton gave Jack Campbell a five-year, $25 million contract this past offseason, and he’s been one of the worst goaltenders in the league and has already lost his spot to Stuart Skinner. Campbell has the 14th-highest cap hit among all goaltenders and isn’t even the most egregious example of a goaltender earning way more than they deserve based on play.
Let’s take a look at the three highest cap hits in the league: Carey Price ($10.5 million), Sergei Bobrovsky ($10 million), and Andrei Vasilevskiy ($9.5 million). Price’s career is probably over, and Bobrovsky hasn’t been good either and is only in the fourth year of a seven-year deal. Vasilevskiy’s contract isn’t awful, but he’s been average this season.
The Leaders in Wins and Save Percentage
You only have to take a look at NHL goaltending stats to see why it’s not worth handing out big contracts to goaltenders. Linus Ullmark leads the league with 16 wins. The Boston Bruins goaltender is making $5 million per year on an affordable, short-term deal. Others in the top 10 include Tristan Jarry ($3.5 million), Martin Jones ($2 million), Logan Thompson ($766K), Vitek Vanecek ($3.4 million), and Alexander Georgiev ($3.4 million).
Goaltenders in the top 10 for save percentage with at least five games played include Akira Schmid ($925K), Kevin Lankinen ($1.5 million), and Ilya Sorokin ($4 million).
Tandems Becoming More Common
The need for a true No. 1 starting goaltender isn’t as pressing as it once was. Injury prevention and keeping goaltenders fresh for the playoffs is a priority, and, thus, goaltenders are playing fewer regular season games. Tandems are becoming more popular, with Toronto being the most obvious example.
General manager Kyle Dubas took a major risk in starting the season with a pair of goalies on relatively inexpensive contracts. Both Matt Murray and Ilya Samsonov were sought as reclamation projects, but have been among the best in the league when healthy. The Leafs are only paying Murray $3.75 million, and he is 7-1-1 with a 2.50 goals-against average (GAA) and .926 save percentage. Samsonov, making just $1.8 million, is 8-2 with a 1.87 GAA and .933 save percentage.
Some other teams may not have true tandems, but backups are playing many more games than in years past.
There are always exceptions to the rule. While Vasilevskiy and Igor Shesterkin are still proving themselves worthy of their contracts, Connor Hellebuyck has arguably been the best goaltender this season. The Winnipeg Jets netminder is earning his $6.16 million cap hit with a 14-6 record to go along with a 2.33 GAA and .930 save percentage.
Yet, it’s worth keeping in mind Hellebuyck is coming off of seasons in which he had a .910 and .916 save percentage. Ultimately, there’s no sure thing between the pipes anymore.
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