By Bob Trask – It has often been said that elite goaltending is necessary to win championships but spending a lot on goaltending doesn’t necessarily guarantee success. A quick examination of how much teams spend on their goaltending reveals some interesting numbers.
For the purpose of this analysis we have looked at the top two highest paid goaltenders on each team at season, regardless whether they were on LTIR or not. For Montreal it is a bit of an unfair comparison because Carey Price only played 5 games this year but if he is back next year, and there is a chance that he will be, then his numbers have to be considered.
The average number of games started by the number one goaltender on each team this year was about 52 games. That means the various backup goaltenders on each team played about 30 games. If we just consider the 16 most active goaltenders (an imperfect proxy for playoff teams) the number one goaltender started about 58 games, leaving 24 games for his backup.
At his peak, Carey Price started 72 games one season and as late as 2018-19 he started 66 games. That was one year after he signed his long term contract. Clearly those days are over and many teams are trending to more of a tandem goaltending system.
As the second round of playoffs get ready to start only 3 of the 12 most active goaltenders remain in action. They are Andrei Vasilevskiy, Jacob Markstrom and Darcy Kuemper.
Average Cap Hit
The numbers get interesting when you look at the average cap hits for the top two goaltender on each team. When you include all 32 teams in the league the average cap hit is around $6.57 million while the median is about $6.725 million. Throughout most calculations, the average and the median are very close together. The median cap hit for the bottom 16 teams was around $6.70 million.
Montreal’s combined cap hit for Price and Allen was $13.375 million or double the league average and more than 22% higher than the Florida Panthers, who have the 2nd highest paid goaltending tandem. If you consider only the top 16 teams in the league, Montreal’s cap hit was still within a whisker of being double the average.
Keep in mind that when calculating the average of the top 16 teams, you aren’t comparing the cap hit to the 16th best team in the league, you are comparing it to the 8th best team in the league (approximately).
As I mentioned earlier, all the comparisons are somewhat unfair because of Price’s limited play this year but if he does return, and that is a definite possibility, so does his cap hit.
Playoffs and Points
This year a team would have had to earn at least 97 points to earn playoff spot and the median amount of points earned by a playoff team was 110 points. So lets work with those numbers.
The median dollars spent per point earned on the teams top two goaltenders this year was about $69,000. That means a team spending $6,900,000 on their goaltending would be expected to earn about 100 points. ($6,900,000/69,000 = 100).
Here is where it gets counter-intuitive. The median dollars spend by playoff teams was about $63,000. The median of the bottom 16 teams was around $80,000 per point earned. The numbers for Montreal are astronomical if you include Price’s contract but since he didn’t play, that would be completely unfair.
The Montreal Canadiens are at a distinct disadvantage compared to other teams because of the amount committed to goaltending. That doesn’t make Carey Price any less of a goaltender when he is healthy, but with so much committed to one position it makes filling out the roster, and therefore Price’s job, more difficult.
The numbers also seem to show that committing a lot of money to the goaltending position doesn’t guarantee success. Every goaltender needs a solid team around him in order to be successful. To expect otherwise is unfair to any goaltender who is supposed to carry his team on his shoulders.
It’s also become apparent that the days of the 65-70 game per year goaltender are a thing of the past. Going forward the trend to a goaltending tandem will probably continue. It keeps goaltenders fresher during the regular season and would probably help prolong the careers of some.
In the future, general managers might look at 8-10% of the salary cap as a reasonable maximum number to commit to their top two goaltenders. This year the league average was about 8.2% that would have translated into about $6.7 million for two goaltenders. Again, based on this year’s salary cap, a rang of 8-10% would result in teams spending between $6.5 and $8.15 million on goaltending.
As GMs try to find that balance between talent and cap hit, I believe Kent Hughes will gradually move toward a situation where goaltending doesn’t eat up so much of the team’s precious cap space.