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The Goaltending Investment, The Detroit Way

This one’s for all of you Detroit Red Wings fans that comprise a large portion of the KK readership.

There’s been plenty of debate in my town lately about the value of goaltending in the salary cap era.  Specifically, does it make sense to keep a goalie (Two hints - I’m in Buffalo and his name rhymes with Hiller) who makes over $6 million per season when you could be spending those dollars at other positions?  The Red Wings, time and time again, are brought up as Exhibit A. 

A Sabres beat reporter went so far yesterday as to suggest that, since many NHL teams have come on board with Detroit’s low-cost goaltending model, it would be difficult for Buffalo to trade its franchise netminder for anything resembling decent value.  With that in mind, and with humble apologies for descending to the level of dealing in hypotheticals, I hope you’ll chime in on this question which is based more on philosophy than reality (sorry, we don’t make up trade rumors here).

Imagine if Ken Holland received a phone call from the Sabres stating that new owner Terry Pegula, wanting to invest more cap money in his forwards, was making Ryan Miller available.  As a fan of a team that’s enjoyed enormous success with cheaper goalies, how do you think your GM would respond?  How would you want him to respond?

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Filed in: NHL Teams, Buffalo Sabres, Detroit Red Wings, | KK Hockey | Permalink
  Tags: buffalo+sabres, detroit+red+wings, ryan+miller, spending+on+goaltending

Comments

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An opportunity for Detroit to have a talented American goaltender hitting his prime? Holland wouldn’t hesitate surely…

... oh wait, no.

It’s economics 101 - don’t pay more for a commodity than you have to. Good NHL goaltending doesn’t need to cost $7m a season (once you add the price of a backup). It’s weird and it’s crazy, because Miller is one of the top 5 goalies in the league, but his value to other teams (who would have to make substantial adjustments to fit him in) is far less than his value to Buffalo. Pretty much all the best goalies in the NHL are practically untradeable actually - Luongo (term), Lundqvist (like Miller, he isn’t cheap), Thomas (Boston couldn’t find a taker for him last summer).

Posted by fcjbencard on 02/18/11 at 01:08 PM ET

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Here is my observation as it pertains to the Wings’ philosophy:

I believe the Wings, at some point, decided that the absolute best recipe for winning hockey games over the long haul is to possess the puck more than the other team. They feel (in my opinion) that if you can control the puck, you’ll have a shot to win games—win ‘em in the regular season and win ‘em in the playoffs. Will it always go your way? No. Does that mean you can win with a goalie you pulled out of a beer league? No. But I do believe Detroit thinks that if its forwards especially can dominate the puck, it can win Cups without an all-star-caliber goaltender. Maybe that is overly simplistic, but that’s how I see it.

Feel free to jump in.

Posted by Eric H. on 02/18/11 at 01:42 PM ET

Hank1974's avatar

At the same time, the Wings have been allowed to use this line of thinking in large part because of Lidstrom.
There’s no way the Wings can get away with Howard-Ozzie if they don’t have a solid defense in front of them.

It’ll be interesting to see if Kenny still goes with an average goalie once Lids and Rafalski move on.

Posted by Hank1974 on 02/18/11 at 01:47 PM ET

OlderThanChelios's avatar

As a fan of a team that’s enjoyed enormous success with cheaper goalies, how do you think your GM would respond?

Something like this…

Pegula: Hey, Kenny, how’s it goin’ buddy. Listen, I’ve got a great deal for you. How’d you like to have another Miller playing for you guys. And all it will cost you is Jimmy Howard, Darren Helm and a 1st rounder this June.

Tick Tock: Click

Pegula: Hello? Kenny? Hello?

Personally, I’d love to see Miller playing for the Wings, but it would only happen if it was a dollar-for-dollar trade. And I’m guessing Rafalski ain’t waiving his no-trade clause to go play in Buffalo. smile

Posted by OlderThanChelios from Grand Rapids, MI on 02/18/11 at 01:48 PM ET

Nathan's avatar

There’s no deal that would work.

Any deal that would allow the Wings to keep their core players wouldn’t clear enough salary. And any deal that clears enough salary would require a core player to go back in the other direction, even if it were a “second-tier” player that’s still important (as in, maybe not Zetterberg or Datsyuk, but Filppula, Cleary, Kronwall, or Stuart).

Not worth it. Jimmy Howard is better than he’s played this year. Probably not as good as he played much of last year. But somewhere in the middle. And that’s really all the Wings need if they keep their core together.

If they were to trade for a guy like Miller, they’d need a guy like Miller because of the pieces they’d have to give up to get the deal done. And Miller hasn’t even been up to his own level this year… he’s been almost identically mediocre to Jimmy Howard.

Posted by Nathan from the scoresheet! on 02/18/11 at 01:51 PM ET

WingsFaninCO's avatar

Eric H got it right.  Kenny’s thought process is probably along the lines of ‘If we always have the puck and are shooting, then the other team isn’t shooting it and I don’t need an overpriced goalie.” so he spends the money on the skaters that will enable that strategy.  The skill difference between a $6M/yr goalie and a $2-$2.5M/yr goalie isn’t really that large.  However, the difference between a $1M/yr skater and a $4M/yr skater is massive.

Posted by WingsFaninCO on 02/18/11 at 01:58 PM ET

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Hank makes a good point.

At some point in the future we’ll look back on all these years with Lidstrom—and even Konstantinov—and realize how lucky we were. With the league having ballooned to 30 teams, it’s borderline amazing that the Wings have been able to hog all that blue line talent for all those years.

Posted by Eric H. on 02/18/11 at 02:03 PM ET

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It’ll be interesting to see if Kenny still goes with an average goalie once Lids and Rafalski move on.

It will be interesting, but at the same time, each one of them takes up $6M in cap space, so when they retire Holland will have a lot of money with which to replace them.  Of course, Lidstrom is irreplaceable, but $6M can buy a pretty damn good d-man as well as giving Holland some extra money he could put towards the goaltending, if need be, and $6M is could definitely replace Rafi.

Posted by Garth on 02/18/11 at 02:14 PM ET

redxblack's avatar

I was watching the Sabres/Habs game with my wife the other night and she commented “wouldn’t it be nice for Detroit if they had Miller?” My reply is Miller wouldn’t need to play for what Detroit would be willing to pay, and Detroit would never pay what Miller can command in salary.

Detroit has Drew Miller. That’s better than good enough when looking at the cost/benefits.

Posted by redxblack from Akron Ohio on 02/18/11 at 02:15 PM ET

w2j2's avatar

Holland would not pay a goalie $6 million.
Besides, Jimmy Howard is playing just fine, thank you.

Posted by w2j2 on 02/18/11 at 02:17 PM ET

Jeff  OKWingnut's avatar

As a fan of a team that’s enjoyed enormous success with cheaper goalies, how do you think your GM would respond?  How would you want him to respond?

“If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it.”  And right now it certainly isn’t broken.

Damn you Hank.  At some point Lidstrom will retire, and that eventuality will open several cans of worms.

Posted by Jeff OKWingnut from Quest for 12 on 02/18/11 at 02:19 PM ET

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I don’t think there’s one model that works, necessarily.

True, in a cap world you need to make decisions about how best to spend your money, and I think goaltending is the easiest (and most efficient) position to skimp on. The talent pool of good (not great, but good) goalies available versus the limited number of available starting jobs makes the position the most buyer-friendly of any in the NHL, so on most well-built, veteran teams, the millions you would need to upgrade from a good goalie to a great one would be better spent elsewhere.

But then you look at a team like Tampa Bay, which has a young, generally underpaid (Lecavalier notwithstanding) and developing roster with a high-powered offense, but with kind of a messy defense and inconsistent goaltending. Getting a solid (not even elite) goaltender has helped their team tremendously and pushed them to “contender” status in the Eastern Conference, despite a number of obvious flaws.

Furthermore, if you’re a team that is committed to an internal budget (like, say, Nashville) rather than trying to put together the best possible team you can under the cap, an elite goaltender is probably a better investment than an elite forward or defenseman. The reason: elite goaltenders cost less ($5 million or so for a top goalie versus $7 million plus for a top position player) and cover more flaws than elite position players do. Pekka Rinne and Ilya Bryzgalov, for example, are absolutely indispensable to their respective teams, which lack high-end talent elsewhere on the roster but work hard and have top-tier goalies who can keep them in every game.

You can point to Vancouver as a counter-example of a deep team and talented team that has heavily invested in a starting goaltender. BUT, also consider the following:

1) Vancouver has basically been several million dollars over the cap all year, but have been able to hold their team together due to the fact that they’ve pretty much always had someone on LTIR. Even though most of their best players are signed through next year, they WILL have to auction off depth sooner or later.

2) The numbers for Roberto Luongo and Corey Schneider are, statistically speaking, essentially identical. Take a look:

Luongo
27 - 10 - 7; 2.26; .925

Schneider
10— 3 - 2; 2.29; .924

Schneider allows three-hundredths of a goal per game more than Luongo and stops one fewer shot per thousand. He also has a slightly better winning percentage than Roberto.

Conclusion: Vancouver is NOT a team that needs to spend a $5.3 million annual average (and $10 million in real salary this season) on a goalie. And, that investment may end up hurting their Cup chances down the line. Granted, Vancouver has generally spent money very wisely and has the Sedins and Kesler on long-term, sweetheart deals. But image what they could do if they could cut $3 million off their goaltending tab and reinvest it (along with, say, Keith Ballard’s $4.2 million) in a true No. 1 defenseman. That’s a team that could win multiple Cups.

SO ...

Moving on to the question you originally posed, I would probably want Ken Holland to say “Thanks, but no thanks” to an offer to pick up Ryan Miller. Miller is a great goalie, no doubt. But for a deep, veteran team that pushes the cap every year, $6 million for a goalie is not a sound investment. But that doesn’t mean $6 million for a goaltender is a bad investment for every other team in the league, as well.

Posted by Sven22 from Grand Rapids on 02/18/11 at 02:23 PM ET

Hank1974's avatar

Damn you Hank.  At some point Lidstrom will retire, and that eventuality will open several cans of worms.

LOL. I know. I fear that day too. There’s really only a small handful of dmen that are so solid that you know you won’t be scored on with them on the ice.

When Lidstrom retires, Kenny’s biggest job will be to find a decent replacement (or two) to fill his void.
That’s why I was hoping that Ericsson would have taken that next step by now.
It wasn’t too long ago many in the Wings organization thought he was a top-4 dman and possibly even a Norris candidate.

Please Brendan Smith! Be NHL ready tomorrow! wink

Posted by Hank1974 on 02/18/11 at 02:32 PM ET

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Ericsson is too heavy-footed. I think that ship has sailed.

Posted by Eric H. on 02/18/11 at 02:34 PM ET

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Please Brendan Smith! Be NHL ready tomorrow! wink

For what it’s worth, I was at the Griffins game on Wednesday and Smith looked pretty good. Lots of poise at both ends of the ice. He led the rush several times, broke up a 2-on-1, and picked up two assists—including one where he got the puck in the slot on the PP, patiently walked around a defender and fed a nice pass across the front to Jamie Tardiff, who banged it home. I was impressed.

Posted by Sven22 from Grand Rapids on 02/18/11 at 02:39 PM ET

Hank1974's avatar

For what it’s worth, I was at the Griffins game on Wednesday and Smith looked pretty good. Lots of poise at both ends of the ice. He led the rush several times, broke up a 2-on-1, and picked up two assists—including one where he got the puck in the slot on the PP, patiently walked around a defender and fed a nice pass across the front to Jamie Tardiff, who banged it home. I was impressed.

SWEET! Thanks for the tidbit!

Posted by Hank1974 on 02/18/11 at 02:46 PM ET

Primis's avatar

DET hasn’t needed superstar goalies because the defense is so deep that they’ve chugged along winning DESPITE losing a Norris candidate (Vladdy) and a top-3 d-man (with potential still in Fischer)  both to career-ending injuries.  When you have that depth, and can do things like let Bret Lebda and Kyle Quincey go… you’re set fairly well there.

BUF on the other hand has very little resembling a defensive corps.  I’m not trying to mean or anything, but what they’ve assembled for a blue line is not at all competitive for the NHL level.

VAN had to learn this with Luongo.

But BUF’s REAL problem is that they don’t spend enough.  If they did, they might have a better d corps.  Instead they’re chepaskates.

Posted by Primis on 02/18/11 at 02:50 PM ET

mrfluffy's avatar

Ericsson is too heavy-footed. I think that ship has sailed.

Posted by Eric H. on 02/18/11 at 12:34 PM ET

Big E was never looked at to replace Lidstrom, at least I never got that idea.

I think most of us fans were hoping he’d be a bit more like Stuart/Fischer but with more offensive upside. I still wish he’d use his big body more, but he’s still got some time to fill out.

Posted by mrfluffy from A wide spot on I-90 in Montana on 02/18/11 at 03:02 PM ET

Heaton's avatar

No team in the league should pay a goalie more than 5m a year.  There are a few reasons for this. 

1) No goalie is worth it.  There aren’t any Brodeur’s left who not only produce and win hardware in the regular season, but also produce in the post season.  The closest thing to that if Lundqvist and he hasn’t won anything. 

2) Paying a goalie 6m vs. paying a skater 6m.  When you pay a goalie 6m/yr you’re expecting him to make up for a ton of mistakes that a 6m skater wouldn’t be asked to do.  When a goalie has a bad night, his team usually loses the game, when a skater has a bad night they generally have some turnovers and don’t produce offensively, but the team can win without it.

3) There are too many goalies available to spend so much of your cap on a goalie.  Halak, Bryzgalov, Huet (when he was still good) all can be had for 2nd rounders or less. 

4) The key is to draft a goalie in whatever round you choose and hang onto them and hope you get a bunch of good years before letting them go.  Look at Nashville, they have a self imposed cap, but the way they develop players they could let Rinne go soon and would still be competitive with Lindback in net. 

I think Ken Holland is smart in what he does, he realizes that a defensemen not only can prevent goals, but provide offense.  Goalies can’t do that and while they’re the most important position on a team, they’re also the most fragile.

Posted by Heaton on 02/18/11 at 03:35 PM ET

NIVO's avatar

As awesome as it would be to have Ryan Miller here, it wouldnt happen because of two things. Time and investment. We took our time bringing Jimmy Howard up through the ranks and he is indeed an investment. He is a low rent goalie(for now) that is solid and yes he has his quirks. I believe those will be ironed out as he gains more experience.

Now as far as the hypothetical trade, again we all wouldnt mind a Ryan Miller sure. But at what cost? Possibly 2 maybe 3 skilled player moves? Ouch, and not going to happen. We like our nucleus, because it simply just works. And if we need moves to be done, trust in Holland to make it happen. He is the master when it comes to this area.

Posted by NIVO from underpants gnome village on 02/18/11 at 09:17 PM ET

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Paul Kukla founded Kukla’s Korner in 2005 and the site has since become the must-read site on the ‘net for all the latest happenings around the NHL.

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