There’s a cute little phrase that nicely sums up the kind of reporting one hears during intense negotiations. It’s “conflicting reports.” There’s a good reason for that: Information is at a premium and the key people on opposite sides of the discussion have a tendency to put out wildly differing accounts of the status of talks.
It’s true of political discussions, labour negotiations and it’s really true at trade time in the NHL.
Two Limbs and Your Firstborn for a Goalie
We’ve seen it this year with goalie discussions particularly. Some of the news makes it sound like there are an infinite number of goalies out there; other reports make it seem like there’s never been a better year to move goalies. How great is the situation, potentially?
In Ottawa, one of two teams (the other is Vancouver) with three waiver-eligible NHL goalies, we’ve heard a lot about what a great position the team is in. We’ve read, for example, about the seven different teams interested in acquiring their goalies, the way none of the three goaltenders are demanding a trade (thereby allowing the Senators to negotiate from a position of strength), and how the asking price is “a good, solid, young player in return and a pick in the top two rounds.” We’ve heard Bryan Murray say he’d like to unload a contract in the same deal, that his team has the best goalie to move and that he will have “no problem” going to camp with three goalies and letting the players sort it out if his asking price is not met.
We’ve heard a lot about Cam Talbot in New York, too. We’ve heard how Glen Sather has turned down an offer of two second-round picks in exchange for the goalie’s services. We’ve read about the “high return” necessary to land a player on such a “great contract”, about the multiple trade offers and the six teams chasing Talbot’s rights.
It sure sounds like a great time to have a goalie to deal. If you’re interested in my goalie, the acquisition cost starts at an arm, a leg, a firstborn child and the deed to your house and well you’d better take it because I’m getting a call from the guy across the province and I just know he’s going to be able to top that offer. I think we’d better throw in this toxic contract with the goalie, too, just to make sure this deal gets done.
Your Goalie is Garbage and Maybe I Will Take Him Out of Pity
On the other hand, we must not neglect the other reports, the ones which suggest that any team looking for a goalie is at an all-you-can-trade-for buffet, with dozens available for the low, low price of $9.99. That’s where we read that Eddie Lack, he of back-to-back 41-game seasons and a career 0.917 save percentage, is available for just a single second-round pick.
That’s the place where we hear things like what Peter Chiarelli said yesterday:
There are goalies out there. We’ve had discussions with teams. We’re in a group of my guess is two or three, maybe four teams that are looking for goalies. There are more goalies than those number of teams, so we’re in a bit of a buyers’ market. Having said that we’ve got multiple picks so I seem to be a popular potential trading partner on that front. Would we trade a second-round pick? Yeah, sure, I’d look into doing that possibly… There’s a couple of groups of goalies out there. I’m not averse to either of the types of groups. You’ve got some younger, smaller sample size guys, you’ve got some more proven guys. For me it’s about fitting in too how we improve our D and how we’re going to play defensively. At the end of the day it takes two to tango so you’ve got to get the right deal in place. I’m not averse to going to the free agent market either, whether it’s the trade market or the free agent market… It’s a real inexact science and you’ve really got to go to the character of the goalie and how the team’s going to play defensively. My guess is we’ll probably be able to do something before the draft but I’m not completely sure.
Oof, that’s tough. Want to trade Edmonton a goalie? Well, maybe, possibly, they might cough up a second-round pick.
I’m just saying that it’s an inexact science, you know, and there are a lot of goalies out there and not that many jobs and free agency is just around the corner and I’m pretty sure we’ll have a deal in place before the draft anyway and gosh you people are annoying, calling me up and throwing your goalies in my face all the time.
Who to Believe?
There are a lot of different ways to assess conflicting reports. My preferred method is simply to look at the market, to look at the options available to either side. Back in March we looked at the goalie depth charts for all 30 NHL teams; it’s the best way to get a feel for the number of jobs available and the number of goalies available. Let’s update that look by going through the named teams supposedly interested in Talbot.
- Buffalo: Yes, that makes sense. They don’t have a starting goalie.
- Calgary: Sure, maybe they’re looking to upgrade on Jonas Hiller. Of course, that then means either trading Hiller or paying $4.5 million for him to be the backup.
- Dallas: Yes, they could be looking to upgrade Kari Lehtonen. The trouble is that Lehtonen has three years left at $5.9 million; the Stars would almost certainly need to move him.
- Edmonton: Yes, that makes sense. They don’t have a starting goalie.
- Florida: I can’t imagine them being willing to pay much. Roberto Luongo just turned 36 and he’s under contract forever; it’s important to have a fallback plan in place because of his age but he just posted a 0.921 save percentage and paying a premium to backstop him this year seems silly given the club’s other issues.
- San Jose: Yes, that makes sense. They don’t have a starting goalie.
If there’s a seventh team out there beating the bushes, my guess would be the Minnesota Wild; Devan Dubnyk still hasn’t signed and they may want to consider fallback options.
Ultimately, though, there are still only four starting jobs available, given that Calgary or Dallas adding a goalie would likely result in the availability of Hiller or Lehtonen and that Florida is probably looking about for a No. 1B to Luongo.
Two of those four starting jobs will almost certainly go to high-profile free agents Dubnyk and Antti Niemi. That leaves two starting gigs available; competing for those slots are Talbot, Lack and one of Ottawa’s three goalies, as well as all the maybes on the free agent market (Karri Ramo, Jhonas Enroth, Michal Neuvirth, possibly Thomas Greiss). Five names on that list are going to be stuck in backup roles, at least to start the season.
None of that means the reports quoted above are false. A team particularly enamoured of Talbot might have offered multiple second-round picks, and though it would probably be an overpay Sather may have turned it down thinking he could get more (particularly if the picks were, say, Calgary’s No. 52 and No. 53, which may not be preferable to Edmonton’s No. 33 alone). Ottawa probably did start by asking teams for a good young player and a second-round pick in exchange for Lehner.
We’ll see what happens. When I look at the market, though, it looks to me like there’s lots of room for a savvy general manager to address his goaltending position relatively cheaply. No matter what people on either side of the discussion say, the fact is that there are four open starting slots available and nine possibilities to fill them. Bad managers will still make mistakes – the market was much the same when Steve Tambellini gave Nikolai Khabibulin a four-year deal – but competent ones know that math adds up to an excellent bargaining position for teams looking to add a goalie.
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