Friday, September 03, 2010

Price's Contract In Context

Yesterday the final big news of the summer for Habs fans marked a turning point, from watching chatrooms and runour sites to awaiting for play and game reports.

An initial scan of reaction shows a mix. There is plenty of relief that this contract is on the books before camp. There is fretting about its details. And thee is praise as well.

Before taking this any further, I just wanted to present the contract as I see. The signing as I see it in context of the league, the league's goalies and the Canadiens organization.


$2.75 million a season

In a summer of low-ball offers to goalies, this number seems a little high.

Since the 2009-10 season started, 30 other goalies signed contracts with NHL clubs. Realistically, 9 of those goalies can be considered starters: Halak, Rinne, Hiller, Niemi, Lehtonen, Turco, Ellis and Chris Mason. I suppose we need to throw in Leighton, as Philly will be counting on him too.

Of the 8, 4 teams signed starters for under $2 million (Turco, Mason, Ellis and Leighton). 4 teams signed goalies for over $3 million (Halak, Lehtonen, Rinne and Hiller). Antti Niemi is signed for $2 million on the nose.

Based on these 2 lists, I think it's fair to say that Price fits somewhere in between the two -- putting his value between $2 million and £3 million. Seeing as that's where he landed, I don't think there should be big surprise. Given, there's always the hope that Gauthier pries a $2.1 million deal out of this, but at $2.75, the fretting is for half a million.

I've said elsewhere that the Canadiens own salary structure is absolutely pivotal in evaluating this deal. It is. Carey knows what his teammates earn and he knows what his teammates do to earn that money. When Benoit Pouliot doubled his salary, that immediately set a low that Carey could not possibly go under, more like a low +$500,000. That's the £2 million right there. Then there's all those $5 million plus players, they factor in. Finally, Andrei Kostitsyn who won a contract as an RFA at a similar age, albeit under different circumstances. His $3.25 must have loomed in negotiations.


2 year term

On his conference call, Carey Price asserted that both sides agreed early on that 2 years was the right term. Horse hockey.

If possible, I think Carey would have liked to have come out of this contract as an unrestricted free agent. I think both he and his agent seeing this trend in goaltending contracts might have been happy to tack on years with modest raises per season. If they really thought last season was a horrendous anomaly, they'd have been all for a single season to come out an RFA again in 2011 rather than 2012 with the chance at cashing in at a higher rate then.

The 2-year contract seems more to me like a Canadiens stipulation, and a sensible one at that. 2 years does two things. For one thing, it means Price is locked up past next season, a critical one for other signings that don't need to be clouded by more decisions (Markov, Gorges). For another, it gives the team a short enough term to evaluate.

If Carey does well and grows into his role, the team gets a cheap starter for 2 years and then negotiates for market value when that time comes. If he stutters and is still learning in 2 years, the Canadiens have the leverage, as Carey will be an RFA with more than 200 games.

3 other things will have happened by that time. The first is that the CBA will in all likelihood expire that summer after the NHLPA extends it this season. Second is that carey will might played another season with a young rival if Karri Ramo comes over. The third is that other key goaltenders will potentially come available for signing at that time. Golatenders like Rinne and Cory Schneider will be UFAs. Tuukka Rask and Pavaelec will be RFAs.

I believe the Canadiens are entirely above board here. They obviously expect Carey Price to succeed, else they wouldn't have shipped Halak and Desjardins. However, in opting for 2 years, they avoid an uncomfortable agreement that drags long for no fruit while building in flexibility.


Halak

Finally, Halak.

As you all know, I'd have chosen Halak. But that's irrelevant now. Gauthier and Gainey didn't choose Halak. Rather, they chose Halak's trade return, salary savings and Price over Price's trade return, Halak and his extra cost.

In so far as this deal goes, though, we should be a little bit thankful to those who signed Halak. While it may seem like an overpay to some who prefer to cast him as a one-season wonder, his $3.75 million a season came under what a lot expected given past deals like Khabibulin's, Huet's and Ward's. If one thing must have been clear to both the Canadiens and Price's camp, it was that Halak had earned the bigger payday this time around, and so a real ceiling was set.

There will be fretting, of course, if Halak succeeds and Price doesn't. But that would have happened with either trade. This is Montreal.


Overall

The good things that can come out of this are numerous. If Carey plays well and really puts his stamp on the team, we will probably boast the cheapest quality starter in the league. If he plays at his 0.912 levels, we'll be OK and won't have been hoodwinked by any stretch

In all then, not the worst case scenario at all. Not even that far from the best outcome. It's somewhere in the middle.

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