New York Rangers: Why is the goalie market so difficult to understand?

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 21: Henrik Lundqvist #30 of the New York Rangers pauses following a first period goal by Conor Sheary #43 of the Pittsburgh Penguins which put the Rangers in a 3-0 hole in Game Four of the Eastern Conference First Round during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Madison Square Garden on April 21, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 21: Henrik Lundqvist #30 of the New York Rangers pauses following a first period goal by Conor Sheary #43 of the Pittsburgh Penguins which put the Rangers in a 3-0 hole in Game Four of the Eastern Conference First Round during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Madison Square Garden on April 21, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /

More than any other position in the NHL, goaltender is the most difficult to get fair market value for. As the New York Rangers enter the end of the Henrik Lundqvist era, it is important to remember that.

The current salary structure of the NHL disfavors the goaltender position. For the most part, it is difficult for a goaltender to get paid because of the process in which one wins the starting job. Being that goaltenders are rarely taken in the first round of the entry draft, they have a less linear path to the NHL.

There is no clear cut, step one or two for a young goalie. The New York Rangers know this well as HenriK Lundqvist played so well as a rookie he usurped an established NHL goalie, Kevin Weekes, in a matter of months.

But, as a goaltender, it took nine seasons for Lundqvist to get a contract (seven years, $8.5 million per season) equal to his market value. But, being that for a considerable part of the goalie market, they are backups that other teams go out and acquire, they have less leverage than other free agents.

Think of it like this, a NHL player cannot reach unrestricted free agency until they are 27 years old or have played eight seasons in the league. Meaning that if a goalie gets to the NHL at age 23 as a backup, they only have a sample size of 100 games or so when they finally hit free agency. No team is going to be willing to risk a sizable cap hit on an unproven commodity. It would simply be bad business to give a backup a contract for north of $5 million per season and expect them to go from starting between 20 and 30 games to 50.

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There is clearly a disparity in the way some teams choose to value the goaltender position. The Montreal Canadiens are paying Carey Price more than $10 million per season against the salary cap while the Edmonton Oilers are only paying former Ranger Cam Talbot $4.1 million.

The time frame

The biggest thing working against the goaltenders themselves is the process in which they become starters. Typically, a goaltender has to get a start somewhere in a timeshare system. It is very rare for a player to simply come into camp as a 23 year old and have the job unchallenged. As previously stated, they have to play their way into a starter’s role.

Take the Tampa Bay Lightning and there firmly entrenched starter Andrei Vasilevskiy for example. Even though it was clear from an early age that he was eventually going to be the franchise’s long term solution at the position, it took him two seasons as a backup and an injury to the team’s starter, Ben Bishop, to steal the job.

In addition to simply not having the track record worthy of being a starter, Vasilevskiy also had to supplant a veteran on a multiyear contract. A team is going to have a hard time moving the contract of a goaltender if the backup is playing better for one simple reason. Why would another team want to trade for a goalie that isn’t good enough to start for another team? If a 22 year old is out playing Bishop, why would a team want Bishop and his $5.9 million per season contract?

A similar situation played out in Pittsburgh with Marc-Andre Fleury and Matt Murray. Fleury was the Penguin’s starter for more than a decade and played at a high level for a long time. However, when Murray filled in for the veteran during an injury on a Stanley Cup run, the Penguins were caught in a tough spot in regards to the salary cap. If it were not for the Vegas Golden Knight’s expansion draft, the Penguins would’ve been forced to accept pennies on the dollar for Fleury.


In recent NHL seasons, there are a handful of starting goalie trades to point to as reference points for any potential deal. First, there is the aforementioned Bishop who was dealt to the Los Angeles Kings for Peter Budaj, Erik Cernek, a seventh and a conditional draft pick. Sure, Bishop was dealing with a rib injury, but the goaltender had a proven track record of quality play at the NHL level and the Lightning were only able to get table scraps.

In addition to the Bishop trade there were the two backup goaltenders that the Rangers traded two years apart from each other. Going all the way back to the abysmal 2015 draft, the Rangers sent then backup Talbot to the Oilers for a seventh, second and third round pick.

Coming off of a season in which he posted 21 wins in 34 starts with a .926 save percentage and 2.21 goals against average while serving as a quality replacement for Lundqvist, the Rangers should have been able to acquire a first round pick. Instead, they blew the second and third round picks on two players who will never wear the Ranger sweater.

After Talbot, the Ranger’s next backup, Antti Raanta carved out a nice niche for himself in New York for two seasons. While not as effective as Talbot, the Finnish goalie managed to play at a high enough level that another team insisted he be part of a bigger trade. In Raanta’s two seasons with the Rangers he posted 27 wins in 44 starts with a .921 save percentage and a 2.25 goals against average. But, instead of getting good value, he was simply a throw in on the Derek Stepan trade with the Arizona Coyotes.

In limited action due to injury Raanta managed to serve as an above average starter at a cap hit of just $4.25 million per season.

The biggest takeaway is simply the sheer cost of having an elite goaltender. There are ways to get by if a team allocates a greater share of the salary cap to another position.

Take the Rangers for example: It’s simply a matter of fact that the team played tighter defensively in front of both Talbot and Raanta than they did Lundqvist.

Whether the player’s subconsciously just assumed Lundqvist would be able to cover for them or not, the team conceded fewer shots and committed fewer turnovers with the backups in net.

That is why teams like the Chicago Blackhawks have been able to win two Stanley Cups with a slightly above average goalie in Corey Crawford. There is simply a better value in putting that extra cap space in forwards and defenseman to cover up for a non-elite goaltender.

That is also why teams are unwilling to trade for elite goaltenders. No team is going to pay market value for a position that is overvalued in terms of salary. The Capitals just won the Stanley Cup on the back of a super human Braden Holtby who is only making $6.1 million per season. So, even if the Rangers could get Lundqvist to agree to a trade, they’d have to retain salary and take less than what he is worth.

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The goaltender position is a paradox in the sense that it is the most important in terms of success on a nightly basis as well as one that is impossible to trade for because it is valued weird in the current salary structure.