The recent signings of Antti Niemi, Jimmy Howard and Craig Anderson were of interest to many hockey observers. You could argue these goalies have similar talent levels, and yet each player received a different contract.
Most analysts would agree that Tomas Vokoun is a better netminder than any of the three aforementioned names. Coincidentally, Vokoun is also a pending UFA, as the three above goaltenders were when they signed their three respective contracts.
The two biggest distinctions between Vokoun and Niemi/Howard/Anderson are age and productivity. Vokoun, unlike the other three, is over 30 years old (34 in fact). Yet in terms of productivity, Vokoun has been amongst the top goaltenders statistically for the past half decadewe will examine these numbers in depth in a few paragraphs.
Before we examine what Vokoun could be worth, let's first examine which teams will likely have a need in between the pipes entering the summer. For simplicity's sake, I am not including teams that may have a need (see: Edmonton, Columbus and New York Islanders) but have already locked up big money in their current netminding situation (Khabibulin, Mason and DiPietro). That arguably leaves only seven teams that have a goaltending need heading into the offseason: Colorado, Phoenix, Chicago, Philadelphia, Toronto, Florida and Tampa Bay.
Not exactly a great market for goaltenders, is it?
Let's just say that is not the most encouraging sign for Vokoun's agent. Never mind the fact that Ilya Brygalov may find himself on the market as well (hence, Phoenix being on the list).
Prior to the implementation of the NHL salary cap, speculating on free agents was quite a fun experiment. Any team, conceivably, had the ability to sign a free agent. The New York Rangers, Toronto Maple Leafs and Detroit Red Wings were never eliminated from a conversation. Money was seemingly never an issue to these squads, amongst others.
The NHL landscape has changed and in a salary cap world, we must take into account the available cap space for each team. For this particular piece, however, we will focus our attention on the seven above listed teams (numbers courtesy of capgeek.com):
Team 2011-12 Cap Space
Colorado $30.06 million
Phoenix $29.21 million
Chicago $9.20 million
Philadelphia $1.98 million
Toronto $22.51 million
Florida $42.71 million
Tampa Bay $22.34 million
It is funny how the cap can eliminate certain teams from contention (See: Philadelphia and Chicago). Of course, the respective emergences of Sergei Bobrovsky and Corey Crawford also play factors there as well. While both goaltenders are anything but proven, they are cheap and have demonstrated some ability to consistently man the crease.
That leaves Vokoun with five teams that could potentially be in the mix for his services. For the purposes of this article, let's assume that Phoenix (or maybe it will be Winnipeg) can afford to pay a top netminder. Let's stretch that assumption further because if they can afford a top netminder, they most likely would keep their own in Ilya Bryzgalov. So, under that hypothetical, Vokoun is left with only four teams that could legitimately vie for his services. By legitimate, of course, I mean a place Vokoun can secure a multiple year contract that pays him somewhat close to what he is worth.
With only four teams remaining from our analysisColorado, Toronto, Tampa Bay and Vokoun's current teammates in Floridathe Czech netminder has limited options. In terms of talent, the Bolts are the most appealing. In terms of fame and attention, Toronto is clearly the most appealing. In terms of overall young talent, Colorado may be the best bet, especially with another top draft pick coming up this season. In terms of long, long term potential, Florida can only move in one direction: up.
Before talking about possible terms of a contract, we have to examine what Vokoun could be worth as compared to some other NHL netminders. Here are some important career statistics and statistics from the past four seasons of NHL play (minimum 30 games played per season):
Career SV% ESSV% 10-11 ESSV% 09-10 ESSV% 08-09 ESSV% 07-08
.917 .918 (24th) .937 (1st) .935 (3rd) .927 (14th)
This season has not been Vokoun's best, but it is hard to argue with his previous three seasons. The Czech netminder has quietly been one of the game's best netminders since leaving Montreal for Nashville in 1998.
Lately, we have not seen netminders of the quality of Vokoun hit the open market; star goaltenders like Martin Brodeur and Roberto Luongo were re-signed prior to hitting the open market. Other top netminders, albeit younger top netminders, like Jonas Hiller, Marc-Andre Fleury and Cam Ward have been re-upped long-term. This offseason, the opportunity exists for a team to drastically improve its goaltending without giving up an assetaside from moneyin return.
Here is a list of the top five highest paid netminders in the NHL (based upon upcoming 2011-12 cap hit) and their recent statistics as compared to Vokoun:
Player Age Cap Career SV% ESSV% 10-11/09-10/08-09/07-08
Lundqvist 29 $6.87 .918 .932/.929/.920/.922
Ward 27 $6.30 .909 .925/.924/.926/.917
Miller 30 $6.25 .914 .925/.928/.927/.915
Backstrom 33 $6.00 .918 .930/.912/.923/.925
Kiprusoff 34 $5.80 .921 .914/.928/.907/.919
The numbers above can be analyzed in a number of ways, mainly Ryan Miller and Cam Ward's consistency and Henrik Lunqdvist's improved numbers over the past two years, but let's shift that focus to remaining term on the five listed goaltenders' contracts.
Player Term remaining on current contract
Lundqvist Three more seasons
Ward Five more seasons
Miller Three more seasons
Backstrom Two more seasons
Kiprusoff Three more seasons
The average age of the netminders listed is 30.6 years of age. The average remaining term on the contracts listed is 3.2 years. So theoretically, the collective contracts above would expire right before the average top netminder reaches Vokoun's current age of 34. Of course, agents are not going to spin the numbers that way. It lumps too many factors together without context.
More likely, Vokoun will be seeking similar money to Kiprusoff and Backstrom, two Finnish netminders close to his age. Whether or not those contracts were ill-advised, Vokoun has an argument that he should earn more than both players, who average $5.9 million per season. Only one of Backstrom and Kiprusoff's seasons of the eight listed above is better in terms of even strength save percentage than Vokoun's.
As everyone knows, it takes two to tango. With Vokoun probably seeking a four-year deal and teams likely offering only three years, let's make another assumption and suppose Vokoun would settle for three seasons. Niemi and Anderson did secure four-year deals but they are younger than Vokoun and not many GMs (aside from Steve Tambellini) commit that much term to a goaltender of Vokoun's age.
If Vokoun settles for three years, how much per season can he reasonably demand?
The average annual cap hit of the top-ten highest paid NHL netminders for the 2011-12 season is: $5.63 million. Considering Vokoun's numbers over the past few seasons, he will likely be commanding a three-year contract in the $18 million range.
Which of the four possibly interested teams would be interested in such a deal?
The Panthers have more than enough cap space to keep on the quietly effective netminder. Dale Tallon was listening to offers for him at the deadline but admitted he did not receive anything valuable in any proposals to consider pulling off a trade. The Panthers are young and have some talent in the system but their defense will take time to grow, the offense is lacking a top-flight player and the team may be switching coaches.
Also, one might expect that Vokoun, at this stage in his career, is looking to play on a team that is competitive for the playoffs. The Panthers are at least three years away from being a legitimate threat in the Eastern Conference. At that point Vokoun would be 37. Further, teams like Pittsburgh and Philadelphia do not look like they are going away anytime soon with the likes of Malkin, Richards and Carter signed long-term.
The Leafs have cap space and certainly possess a need in between the pipes. With Jean-Sebastien Giguere coming off the books at $6.0 million cap hit per season, the Leafs can attempt to seamlessly replace his cap hit and improve upon his production by signing Vokoun. Granted, James Reimer has been tremendous since being called upon from the Toronto Marlies of the AHL, but his track record is light on experienceonly 29 AHL games to his creditand a team spending to the cap annually may feel more secure with a veteran in between the pipes.
Brian Burke has handled his goalies in an interesting manner in his recent GM stints. He was loyal to Daniel Cloutier when others did not believe in him, stuck with Giguere in Anaheim and then invested some money in Jonas Gustavsson before bringing Giguere to Toronto. Vokoun would represent a big commitment but the Leafs have some big contract defenders on the books like Phaneuf and Komisarek, combined with some youngsters, so Vokoun would insulate the youngsters' development and the holes in the veterans' games.
With long-term contracts like Lupul, Kessel, Phaneuf, Komisarek and Armstrong, it seems unlikely that Burke will decide on a full rebuild. With that in mind, inking a netminder the quality of Vokoun to a deal, similar to the three-year deal mentioned above, would do wonders for the Leafs' chances night in and night out.
The Avalanche have sure tanked the last half of this season. In fact, it's pretty difficult to be as bad as the Avs have been since the All-Star break. The funny thing is, in the big scheme of things, this collapse will only help the Colorado franchise. With another top pick to go along with Duchene, Johnson and others, the Avs could turn into a young power fairly soon. How soon is fairly soon, though? Does Vokoun want to be part of a rebuilding project as he closes in on his last big payday?
vThe Avalanche also factor into this decision. This team has not paid a high price for goaltending under Greg Sherman and his lack of track record makes it difficult to get a read on the first-time NHL general manager.
With fans staying away from the Pepsi Center and the Avs in a clear rebuild, it seems unlikely Sherman would splash a bunch of cash at the veteran netminder. There is a chance Vokoun would be brought in to expedite the rebuild, but probably not more than a 20% chance.
4. Tampa Bay
This is the wild card team. Tampa Bay has weapons on offense in Stamkos, St. Louis and Lecavalier. A terrific owner, a smart GM and an innovative head coach run the Tampa organization. It's hard to find fault with such a mix. As a result, the Bolts are always considering each option available and goaltending has been a sore spot for the majority of the 2010-11 campaign.
The team has cap space coming off the books in recent acquisitions Brewer and Roloson. Additionally, Simon Gagne and his $5.25 million cap hit come off the books. Re-signing Stamkos is obviously priority number one, but there is enough money, conceivably, to go around to bring in Vokoun.
The catch is that Yzerman is probably going to be cautious about locking up too much money in anything more than a two-year deal. Remember, Victor Hedman is an RFA after next season too. With Stamkos and Hedman looking for big money and Lecavalier, Malone and St. Louis already pulling in big money long-term, money is not exactly aplenty for Yzerman.
It is imaginable, however, that Yzerman would offer Vokoun a two-year pact at around $12 million. He may be able to get more term elsewhere, but it looks as though the Bolts are the closest team with realistic cup aspirations that has both the need and money available for goaltending.
If predicting the race for Vokoun, it looks like a race between Toronto and Tampa Bay, with Colorado as an underrated long shot. If looking for a money deal in a big market, Toronto is the fit. If looking for a Stanley Cup, Tampa is the fit. The catch, of course, is that Tampa Bay may only look to sign the Czech tender to a two-year deal. Would Vokoun give up a year of security to go after Lord Stanley's Cup? Sergei Gonchar didn't, but that doesn't mean Vokoun will follow suit.
We will soon find out. We will also soon find out if this hypothetical was more fact or more fiction.