As we’ve established, the Flames will have to start making some hard decisions about their "cornerstone players" over the next year or two. The position of the organization is well known by this time: limited cap space, aging assets, a general lack of quality prospects. I’ve already made a case that Iginla is a poor bet to provide value for his contract as he ages. If the team is unable – or unwilling – to move the face of the franchise, Kipper might be the next best asset to put on the auction block.
I made a similar post last year, except my argument was predicated on Kipper’s apparent decline. He rebounded this year and was one of the club’s bigger difference makers (not that it mattered much), but the truth is he’s still drifting away from his peak years and is now ensconced in the large middle class of puck stoppers in the league. Tom Awad of Puck Prospectus recently ran a study in which he ranked the NHL’s top goaltenders over the last 3 seasons. Kipper finished 30th, well back of the elite guys, but still ahead of the bottom of the barrel. The math and assumptions in Awad’s piece are complex to say the least, so I’ll make the point in simpler fashion.
There are six upcoming UFA goalies who would be worth a look to any teams looking for goaltending this off-season: Marty Turco, Evgeni Nabokov, Jose Theodore, Chris Mason, Dan Ellis and Martin Biron. Their expected salaries run from about $1m to $4.5M I’d say.
Player Year 1 Year 2 Year 3 Average
Goalie X .927 .918 .911 .919
Goalie Y .919 .907 .928 .918
One of these tenders is a guy I chose at random from the free agent list. The other guy is Miikka Kiprusoff. That their average ES SV% happened to be about equal over the last 3 years happened to be a fortunate coincidence given the thrust of the article. But it’s also a symptom of the quality of goaltending in the NHL and how most ‘tenders are basically interchangeable once you get beyond the likes of Tomas Vokoun and Jonas Hiller.
Here’s an even more stark illustration:
As you can see, there isn’t a lot separating these guys. The yearly averages (.919-.921) were tightly bunched around the overall mean (.919). Not one goalie dipped below .900, with the basement being in the .907 range while none of them peaked above .930 either. Kipper hit both the floor and ceiling in this sample, but so did Mason, Turco, Biron, etc. to greater or lesser degrees. Again, if we X’ed out the names and jumbled the ordering somewhat, my guess is most readers wouldn’t be able to pick Kipper from Dan Ellis (or Chris Mason or Marty Biron). That’s a significant issue when you’re paying $5.83M per season for goaltending.
Some caveats apply, obviously. Dan Ellis and Nabokov look like the best puck stoppers through this exercise, but the former faced probably the fewest amount of shots in the group while the latter played for probably the best team. While I don’t see a huge team effect here, there’s a good chance that playing for the Sharks the last 3 seasons was at least not detrimental to the ol’ SV%.
Also, I used ES SV% because short handed SV% (which is included in overall SV%) can skew things to a non-trivial degree. It depends on how often the team in front of a guy takes penalties (particularly 5on3’s), how good they are at penalty killing and just plain old dumb luck considering how much a couple of goals can swing a save rate (given the relatively low amount of PP shots a goalie will face in a season). ES SV% is therefore more stable and probably more indicative of a goalies true ability.
Trading Kiprusoff could serve two functions: firstly, to free up cap space and secondly to leverage his previous accomplishments (as well as his recent rebound) to acquire a valuable asset or two in return. In the first, one could probably replace Kipper’s contributions with two of the "lesser name" guys from the list above and still save money. For example, $3m for Chris Mason and $1M for Dan Ellis and you have yourself redundancy in net (eliminating the now annual panic in February about acquiring a capable back-up) and almost $2M in cap savings. You also have increased cap flexibility.
The second issue is obviously a much bigger question mark. The goalie trade market is notoriously tough due to limited demand. In addition, Kiprusoff owns a NTC and could therefore veto any trade he found dissatisfying. That said, if, for example, the Flyers come knocking in the off-season, I think it would behoove the Flames to listen to what they have to say very carefully.