Thursday, September 2, 2010

Haters, step forward

Here is your chance to shine, for those of you who believe Carey Price is a spoiled brat who hasn't deserved anything he's received as an NHL goalie.

The news Thursday afternoon that Price had signed a two-year deal worth $5.5 million is bound to make many among you scream bloody murder. Not because Price is grossly overpaid with that contract, but rather because it comes one day after the Stanley Cup winning goalie signed a deal that was far less generous.

Many looked at Antti Niemi signing a one-year deal for $2 million with the San Jose Sharks as a clear sign that Price cannot possibly ask for any more than that, and should even receive considerably less. But the differences between the two don't begin and end with the number of Cup rings on their fingers (actually, seeing as Niemi hasn't yet received his ring, they do in fact have the same number. But you get my point).

Niemi's regular season numbers in 39 games played last season were a 26-7-4 record, 2.27 GAA and .912 save percentage. On the surface, that looks miles ahead of Price's numbers of 13-20-5, 2.77 and, curiously, a .912 save percentage in 41 games played. I think it's pretty widely accepted that save percentage is the most accurate statistic to determine a goaltender's performance, so how is it that Niemi's and Price's other numbers are so vastly different?

Allow me to demonstrate.

First of all, and perhaps most obviously, Niemi was playing behind the best defensive team in the league, allowing an NHL-low 25.1 shots per game. For Niemi that number was even lower, as he saw only 24 shots per game during the regular season. Price, in only two more games played than Niemi, saw 308 more shots on goal over the course of the season, or 6.3 per game.

I'll be curious to see how Niemi does playing for a team that allowed 31.4 shots per game last season, 20th in the league.

Then there's the age and experience factor. Niemi was playing his first full season and he's already 27 years old, while Price just completed his third season and just turned 23.

But before you start screaming about how it's all about winning and that their won-loss records are practically polar opposites of each other, consider one other factor in your judgment: goal support.

I went into much greater detail a couple of months ago about how little of it Price received last season, but I think this comparison makes it even clearer.

Only Jose Theodore and Semyon Varlamov of the high-scoring Washington Capitals received more even strength goal support than Niemi did last season, as his teammates scored 3.04 goals for every 60 minutes he was on the ice. Even during the playoffs, Niemi's Hawks scored 3.54 goals per game, tops in the league. Price? He got 1.87 goals for per 60 minutes, better than only three other regular goalies in the whole league. 

So what's the point of this exercise? I guess I'm trying to make a counter to an argument I anticipate hearing ad nauseum over the next few days. But really, I'm trying to show that a $2.75 million cap hit over the next two years is a good deal for both Price and the Canadiens. It gives both sides a good window to see what will become of this talented young man who clearly lost his way at last year's All-Star break, but who hasn't necessarily lost it altogether. For Price, he makes a very decent wage and has two years to prove himself. For the Canadiens, should Price completely flop his contract is not an albatross and is only on the books for two years.

Could Gauthier have waited it out for a lower cap figure? Probably. Could Price have threatened to hold out from camp to get $3 million? Also probably. But neither of those moves would be beneficial to this relationship, one I believe the player and the franchise hope lasts for several more contracts after this one. 

Price said all the right things in his conversation with the Montreal media this afternoon, as he has pretty much ever since he lost his starting job to Jaroslav Halak last season. He twice repeated that a starting job "is not given, it's earned," noting he learned that the hard way last year. I've gone on record as believing last season taught Price an enormous lesson and knocked him off the pedestal he was on after being voted as a starting goalie in the All-Star game. Many brought up his petulant behaviour in his lone playoff start against the Washington Capitals as a sign that he hadn't grown up at all, and that may very well be true.

But I'm still willing to give this guy the benefit of the doubt because the risk/reward ship has already sailed for him. Halak is gone, that decision's been made, so Price had better fulfill some of that tremendous potential. 

Personally, I believe he will.


Patrick Moss said...

I agree with you. And I actually think in this case, it would have been awful for Gauthier to wait even longer to sign Price, because it would have created a real circus.

But I like this deal a lot. I liked it so much, I blogged about it:

What do you think?

Bain Magique said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
MathMan said...

I think 2.75/year looks like a bit much given the rest of the market this summer actually, as the Habs could've had a quality goalie for cheaper. But then again, it was such a weird market that I'm starting to think I should stop trying to figure it out.

In terms of my pre-summer-of-the-cheap-goalie expectations, it seems bang on, and now the Habs boast a good goaltending tandem on a 3.75 million cap hit, which seems like about the right amount to spend.

And yes, apparently winning the Stanley Cup has more importance for some people than puck-stopping ability. Price has a lot of NHL experience for a guy his age, and in that span has accumulated better career stats than a lot of goalies that get a lot of hype -- like say Cam Ward or Marc-Andre Fleury. Honestly, for a goalie with Price's experience, ability, age, and contract situations, precedents and comparables are few and far between.

Topham said...

I think there's always hope our GM will get a good deal on a contract. When we signed Higgins and Komisarek for so little back when they were both worth signing, we were ecstatic.

So too with Price.

Last summer many called for him to be locked up for the long-term partly to avert the inevitable bump he would receive from another good season. When the season didn't happen, I know there was some hope it would mean another discount and free money to spend elsewhere. It didn't work out. It's a hope dashed on a slary front, but not much more.

As for Niemi, I'm not so concerned. If he was indispensable, Chicago would have found a way just as they did to keep Hjarlmarsson (sp?). San Jose got a deal because he was available and probably not finding many landing places in the NHL. It had little to do with Price.

BigT said...

Completely agree with MathMan. At the start of the free-agent season, I would've been VERY happy to have 3.75M committed to both goalies. However, that being said (and disclaimer: I'm a Price fan) I think in hindsight to all the other deals made, both Auld and Price have been overpaid. Key point to take into account is the high taxation (esp. in QC and ON). That brings an Auld contract to a comparable 875K level and Carey's to a 2.5M level. That makes a lot more sense although again, Carey's is prolly .25 more than I would've wanted to pay. However, it seems clear to me that the Habs figured the extra little bit would go a long way in keeping up a good relationship with their #1 as Arpon pointed out.

Fact remains that in Montreal, we have to overpay our players due to taxes/etc.

I found it mildly amusing during Carey's presser about how he alluded to learning the lesson of how ice-time and being the #1 is earned and not simply given. Isn't it ironic that Price has effectively been anointed as the #1 without having earned it?! (not through a fault of his own, by the way. Way to enforce that lesson on him management!)

P.S. In my opinion, Price is a better goalie than Niemi and I think Arpon explained that perfectly well.

Caolan said...

And compared to Halak's deal? I think it looks pretty good.

Milos Coko said...

If I'm not mistaken - Price will still be an RFA at the end of this new contract. This is perhaps the biggest factor in this entire deal, I could care less about the .25 overpayment.

A 6-3 goalie that moves as fast as any in the league and who's butterfly is technically sound is probably the 2nd most sought after item (right after 1st line centre) for any GM in the league, even if he didn't have a single NHL game to his record. Add in the fact that Price will probably be one of the most experienced keepers for his age at the end of this contract and you can already begin to see desperate GM's throwing a fortune at him.

Good work Goat.

Craig said...

People who see this contract as a negative are hopelessly delusional and receive a disproportionate amount of attention from the rest of us Habs fans. Price makes much less than most starting goalies. He's got a lot to prove, but for all of the reasons Arpon touched on - this deal has great potential.

David said...

Sure, I agree with all the above stats. They do make sense. But that doesn't tell the whole story.

To be a trully elite goalie in the NHL, one must also be tough mentally. Tough enough to make that one (or more) key timely save in big pressure filled money games.

Price seemed to have it at the world juniours and in his early AHL playoff sojourn. But this is the NHL.

So this is The X-factor. Brodeur had it. Roy had it. Does Pricey have it?

Olivier said...

I like Price and I think this is a nice contract. Because of the situation Arpon alluded to in a recent post regarding the habs cap situation next year, Gauthier probably couldn't afford to sign Price for a one-year qualifying offer. The risk of having Price ask for 3.5+ millions next year (and thus throwing a wrench in a delicate if wholly manageable situation) were too high, so he split the risk by paying Carey up front. Nice move.

I'm still annoyed with Auld, tough. I couldn't care less about Price's mental makeup; the one goalie model is dead in the NHL. Every good team now must count on two goaltenders who can be good for 40+ games so the team is covered for injuries and doubles its chances of having one of them go white-hot in the playoffs. The playoffs thing is especially important and is to me the reason why the 6+mil a year #1 goaltender is now detrimental to playoffs success. The Hawks could go over Huet's salary last year because they still had Toews and Kane on value contracts but it was vital for them to send Cristo to Fribourg this year.

So I'm glad we have Price locked up for a reasonable price, but the emphasis put on him being the go to guy (and Auld's hiring) tells me we are now more vulnerable in goals. Oh well.

MathMan said...

@Olivier: Not disagreeing with you, obviously the Habs are weaker in goal if only because Halak is better than Auld (that shouldn't be too controversial ;) ).

But there was no way they were going to match last year's tandem on a budget equal to Halak's new cap hit alone. The Habs are getting a fair amount of goaltending for a 3.75 million cap hit. It's not as much as they did last year, obviously, but that was really an exceptional situation.