Tuukka Rask finally signed his extension with the Boston Bruins on Wednesday, converting his bargain basement one-year "show-me" deal into $56 million spread out over eight years.
The immediate reaction is that this is a hell of a lot of money and years for a guy who really only has two good kind-of full seasons in the league. Obviously he was in that 1a-1b platoon with Tim Thomas in 2009-10, when he posted the best GAA and save percentage in the league and, now that the starting job was his again, nearly replicated those numbers over 36 games in this, his age-25 season. That should have been enough to convince any reasonable observer that he's one of the best netminders on earth (even if he's obviously benefiting to some extent from the Bruins' system) and thus Boston had to pay him accordingly.
The problem with that is that the run on even remotely elite goaltending is going to become an arms race in short order, and if a team has such a player under contract now, they'll soon be paying through the nose for him.
The person you can probably blame for all this is Pekka Rinne, whose deal began last season and paid him $7 million — the same dollar amount as Rask — over the following seven seasons, with one of those having elapsed already. Whether he actually "earned" that contract playing behind Shea Weber and Ryan Suter for 30 minutes a night is up for debate (and I'd argue that he didn't,) but he got the money anyway, and thus began an era of significantly overpaying even good netminders.
Rask got perhaps the biggest deal he could reasonably expect given the Bruins' cap situation, but on paper he probably should have received more per year than Rinne. Here's the thing with the goalie market: Lots of guys are going to be making a lot of money starting this season. If you had to ballpark it, you'd have probably said good-to-great goaltenders used to go for about $5.5 million, but that was back when you could circumvent the cap.
Of the eight goalies I'd characterize as "good" whose deals began between 2008 and 2010 when the salary cap was in the high-$50-millions range, and run through at least the end of the 2014 season, their average cap hit comes in at a little more than $5.48 million million. Those guys are Cam Ward, Roberto Luongo, Jonas Hiller, Jaroslav Halak, Ryan Miller, Henrik Lundqvist, Miikka Kiprusoff and Marc-Andre Fleury, and obviously their deals have worked out to degrees varying from very well (Lundqvist) to disastrously (Luongo).
Back then, that kind of money was a little less than 10 percent of the cap, and that sounds at least somewhat reasonable. Now, these deals are being signed right at above that level, with Rask's being in excess of 10 percent, though obviously next season's CBA is special and unique and will probably return to the $70 million range within one year.
But what's more striking about this is that teams are now paying elite goaltenders like they do elite forwards, which is something we haven't really seen before with a few exceptions. Most notable of these is Ward, whose $6.3 million cap hit was more ludicrous then than it is today, and that's saying something. Goaltenders tended to get something more akin to what good second-line forwards pulled, as well as non-elite No. 1 defensemen.
Consider instead what the good goaltenders on multiple-year whose deals are beginning this season will be making. The six of them (Rask, Kari Lehtonen, Jonathan Quick, Mike Smith, Sergei Bobrovsky, and Jimmy Howard) making more in the neighborhood of $5.9 million per year, which may not seem like a huge step up from $5.5 million, but one has to keep in mind that Quick is carrying $5.8 million on a long-term, semi-cap circumventing deal that pays him just $8.5 million across the last three years of the 10 agreed-to. Had his extension been signed under the current CBA, rather than in the dying seconds before the expiration of the older one, he'd be making Rask money at least, since he's paid $7 million a season for the first seven.
Steven Stamkos, just by way of comparison, makes $7.5 million against the cap through 2016. Zach Parise and Suter make about the same. Rask and Rinne are now tied for the 16th-highest cap hit in the league, and that's under a cap that's expected to explode in the next few years.
This is the way the world is headed, and it's as simple as that. Expectations that the cap will continue to rise into the $80 million range within the next three or four seasons will make these a little easier to bear, but you have to imagine Henrik Lundqvist, who's currently 31, is looking at these Rask and Rinne deals and imagining which borough of New York he'll buy when his extension comes in.
He has a far better and longer track record than the two previous big-money goalies and, despite his age, is likely a far more crucial part of the Rangers going forward than either of the guys to whom his agent will be comparing him in negotiations with rubber-stampin' Glen Sather. That's especially true because he'll be living under a much larger cap than the one currently in place, potentially as much as 10 percent higher, in fact.
This is not a uniquely Lundqvistian issue, however. How much do you think, for example, Corey Crawford is going to get paid on his next deal? The Leafs will have the option to extend both James Reimer and Jonathan Bernier over the next two summers, respectively. Sergei Bobrovsky can start negotiating an extension in June 2014 as well, and provided he plays even remotely as well as he did this past season, he's going to cash in as well thanks to that Vezina in his back pocket, and he's already making $5.625 million against the cap. The same goes for Cory Schneider and Fleury (who someone's going to pay for no good reason), and Antti Niemi and even Craig Anderson. These are all goaltenders who have the ability to cash in with even career-average performances over the next season or two, though likely not at the Rask/Rinne/Lundqvist level. Although, if Rinne's making it, who knows what some of these guys could pull?
If you were outraged about a relatively mediocre point-accumulating forward in David Clarkson making $5.25 million against the cap for the next seven years — and you should have been — you have to think relatively mediocre goalies are going to start pulling deals in roughly the same neighborhood. That's probably not a good thing for any team that has such a goalie currently under contract, and those whose netminders are even beyond that point better start getting out the checkbooks now just to prepare.
Good goalies (and everyone else) will be looking to cash in more given that they cannot be relatively assured payment for more than eight years in the best circumstances. If these two deals, and the coming Lundqvist extension are in any way setting the market, then the market is going to be very different from what we've seen in the past.
That's probably only good for goalies.
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- Sports & Recreation
- Tuukka Rask
- Henrik Lundqvist
- Boston Bruins
- Pekka Rinne