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Scott’s Thoughts: What the Leafs can learn from the Habs and Carey Price

This week was an ugly one for Habs fans. Their team has now lost seven of their last eight, and fired their head coach responsible for the systems that was driving the team to success, even though a huge reason they were losing was because their “elite” goaltender Carey Price has had an .888 save percentage so far this season.

It’s a very good example of how goaltending can make a team look unstoppable and can also make them look like a lottery team. There’s a reason why a goalie’s save percentage is half of the stat that we use to track luck with PDO. Not just on a team level, but it also makes goalies so tricky to evaluate, as aside from the truly elite goalies like Dominik Hasek and Henrik Lundqvist, they constantly bounce between good and bad seasons. We saw that with Frederik Andersen over his Leafs career, as his first three years saw some pretty consistent play, followed by these past two seasons where he’s been much more inconsistent.

But, there is one consistency with evaluating goalies: time is always undefeated. Age will always be the reason a goalie will start to fall off, and the Habs are currently paying the price for that with Carey Price, just like the Leafs might be with Andersen, who is now 31 years old.

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There is one big difference with both teams though. The Habs are stuck with Carey Price for five more years after this season at a cap hit of $10.5 million, with a no move clause to make it impossible to lose him to expansion draft (not that Seattle would take the contract anyways), and his contract is also buyout proof. Andersen is currently in the final year of his contract, so if he continues to be inconsistent, but still wants the kind of money that Price makes, the Leafs can easily say no and let him walk.

But, until he signs with another team in free agency or is traded, there is going to be that looming worry over our heads that he could get locked up long term like Price, and considering both his declining play, and the fact that he is now 31, it just would not be the best idea.

It’s hard to really get a grasp of what Andersen’s worth on the market is. This is now his second season of being meh, with a .905 save percentage, but some more old fashioned people might look at his 11-3-2 record and see value in that, plus his pedegree from before these past couple seasons could convince a team desperate for goalie help to break the bank for him.

But, what we do know is that that would be a terrible idea. It’s rarely a good idea to lock up a goalie long term in the first place, unless you’re looking at a top tier goalie in their mid 20s like John Gibson, Andrei Vasilevskiy, or Connor Hellebuyck, but it’s almost never a good idea to lock up a goalie when they’re in their 30s, or if their contract will carry into their 30s.

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Below are all the goalies who were signed to long term (three years or more) contracts since 2011-12 when they were 28 or older, along with their stats during the course of that contract. If a goalie’s stat has a red box, it means that they were performing below the level of a starting goalie during that span.

Yeah, that’s a lot of red. Of the 29 goalie contracts looked at for this, only five of them saw the goalie perform at a starting goalie level in all three stats I used for this, but one contract still has three years left on it while another was bought out. On the other side, 13 of them saw the goalie perform below a starting goalie level in the stats I used.

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The ones signed in the past couple seasons don’t have nearly as much weight just due to the smaller sample size, but the entire graph is still covered in inconsistency with goalies playing well throughout the whole contract. Look at the Cory Schneider contract, who seemed like a sure bet to be an elite goalie for most of that deal, and then just fell off after the first year of the deal. Or there’s the Bobrovsky deal, which we knew would age poorly, but we thought he would at least have a few good years in Florida, and he already has some of the worst stats in here through a season and a bit with the Panthers.

For every Corey Crawford or Ryan Miller contract, there’s several just as bad or worse. It just doesn’t make sense to lock up Frederik Andersen long term considering the unpredictability of the position he plays, mixed in with the predictability that he’s not going to be good for much longer at his age. If his contract has a one or two year term, I could swallow it. Longer that, and the Leafs aren’t just flirting with disaster, they’re putting a ring on it. Carey Price is a perfect example of it, so hopefully Kyle Dubas can learn something that his divisional rival didn’t.