Summer is, in some ways, the best time of year for the engaged hockey fan: it’s the blank slate. A time of infinite possibilities. It’s where all the armchair GM’s can pretend they’re in charge of the club and make imaginary moves according to their own criteria.
Which is what I’m going to do here. In this on-going series, I’ll share what I would do as the Calgary Flames General Manager this summer – by which I mean, not what I think Sutter realistically might do, but what I would do if I magically woke up tomorrow in the big chair.
First up: trade Miikka Kiprusoff.
He led the club to a finals finish, a NW division crown and is the Franchise’s only Vezina winner. And all those accomplishments obscure the fact that he’s no longer a good NHL goaltender. There are multiple, defensible reasons to make this move:
1.) The decline
Since being named the NHL’s best goalie in 05/06, Kiprusoff’s SV% has steadily, inexorably declined: .923, .917, .906, .903. That’s elite, better than average, average, below average. He was tied for 29th in save rate last season and 32nd in the league this year by the same measure. And a decline in team defensive capabilities neither fully explains nor fully excuses Kipper’s fall from grace – firstly, because a goaltender of his pay scale and ostensible ability should be outperforming a lackluster defensive scheme anyways AND those who track shot quality neutral measures of save percentage agree that Kipper under-performed this year relative to what could be expected of an average goalie at the NHL leel.
The once-messianic tender hasn’t been elite for three seasons and he hasn’t even been good for the last two. This is over a period of hundreds of games and thousands and thousands of shots – this is no trend borne of small samples and bad luck. It’s legitimate and there’s no reason to think it won’t continue.
2.) The contract
Kiprusoff has another five years left on his deal, an agreement that will see him average 5.833M/year until he’s 37 years old. It also includes a NMC. Should Kipper stagnate – or worse, decline further – this coming season, his dollars will become completely immovable. The cap commitment, the length, his age and the presence of a movement clause plus three straight seasons of worse than average results would turn Kipper into an anvil around the organization’s neck for years to come. Once past that point, only a costly buy-out or early retirement would relieve Calgary of that albatross. The former option would be expensive in both real dollars and cap space (an increasingly valuable commodity given the forecasts for dropping cap ceilings in the future) while the latter is extremely unlikely until 13/14 when his real salary drops to 1.5M.
As such, given his rate of decline, this summer will likely be the last chance to bank on Kippers past reputation as a star goalie and convince a rival GM to pick up the tab.
3.) Cap management
The Flames are facing something of budget crunch this year with roughly $48M in cap space committed and several obvious roster holes staring them in the face (top 6 wingers, top 4 defenseman, back-up goalie). The club has 6 “primary” big-dollar contracts in Iginla (7M), Jokinen (5.25M), Langkow (4.5M), Phaneuf (6.5M), Regehr (4M) and Kiprusoff (5.833M) which significantly hamper the organizations cap flexibility. The relative value of each player is arguable, but Kipper is the least likely to provide value for his cap dollars this season and going forward in my estimation.
While some may see him as difficult to replace, the fact of the matter is; 30 other starters have outperformed him the last 2 seasons, almost all of whom were paid less and many of them were acquired via trade, free agency or even the waiver wire. There is a large pool of average-ish goalies in the NHL who are cheaply and easily acquired. Kipper at his former level of performance was nearly irreplacable. Kipper over the last seasons is a dime-a-dozen player and therefore a liability at his pay rate. Moving his cap hit now, replacing him with a cheaper starter and using the resultant savings to fill one or more of the roster holes is the prudent move.