Puck Battles is a semi-regular column exploring a few key issues around the NHL. Hopefully you don't agree with the opinion expressed by the author, that way we get to argue more. The only thing that can't be argued is Anze Kopitar's place as one of the best two-way forwards in the game. He's the "do a barrel roll" of hockey.
There was only one thing I could possibly talk about this week. The Nashville Predators decided to ink their star goaltender, Pekka Rinne, to a 7-year, $49 million deal before he became an unrestricted free agent this summer.
Rinne may be one of the best 5 goalies in the league and he's now about to get paid like it. However, this contract is a gigantic mistake for a Predators team that has built their reputation on finding value in hidden talent and not making big contract mistakes. The market for goaltenders is set more by the deals for Tomas Vokoun, Jimmy Howard and Antii Niemi than by the ludicrous deal the Flyers signed Ilya Bryzgalov to this summer. Rinne will have the highest cap hit of any net jockey in the league next season, but is any goalie really worth it?
Rinne has three seasons as the Predators starter under his belt, and has managed to average an Even-Strength Save % (EVSV%) of 0.928. By comparison, here are several other top goalies in the NHL by EVSV% over the same time period, along with their cap hit.
Clearly Rinne belongs near the top of the heap talent-wise, but it's hard to justify the money given to him on a yearly basis. Even when compared to the recent deal of Bryzgalov, the Predators paid an extra $1.3m per year for 0.002 margin in save percentage versus Ilya the Russian poet. Rinne's deal is only $0.2m less than Bryzgalov and Vokoun combined.
In any contract, there is risk to both the player and the team. In this deal, the Predators have assumed all the risk. They have given up a giant cap hit AND committed to it long term. If it was going to cost them $7m to keep Rinne off the market, they could have mitigated the risk by only offering a 2 year deal, or at least looked for a discount if Rinne wanted the job security for such a long period. With the deal signed as is, the best the Predators can hope for is that Rinne lives up to the value of the deal, but there's almost no way he can surpass it. Rinne is 29 years old and could realistically play out all 7 years of the deal, but if his performance drops at any point, the Preds are on the hook for a cap hit that is incredibly difficult to justify.
In addition, Philip Myrland of Hockey Prospectus believes Nashville's home scorer may help pump up goalie statsfor players like Rinne and other Preds goalies.
Compounding the problem is that the Predators "bought high" in a sense with Rinne's contract. They signed him to a long-term deal at a time when his value was at or near its peak.
I can't shake the feeling that David Poile went into panic mode on this deal, somehow including non-measurable value like showing the fans they are serious about winning and enticing Shea Weber and Ryan Suter to stick around. He's going to regret it when he's cap-strapped on a team that already operates under it's own artificial cap.
The Best Article I Read This Week
The team at the Driving Play blog has done it again. The analytical powerhouse, JaredL,created a model showing the split between skill and luck of shooting percentage, based on the number of games observed. The bad news for Leafs fans is that they're riding 80-90% luck at the moment for guys like Kessel and Lupul. Don't expect these unreal shooting percentages to be sustained, but I think we already knew that.
Best Idea that Hasn't Happened Yet
Why hasn't a team like Boston pumping up goaltender value and trading them for a boatload of picks or prospects? We know that goalie talent is tightly clustered, so why not exploit a market inefficiency by getting others to pay top price after a crease monger has a stellar season? The Montreal Canadiens tried this with Halak, but didn't really get enough in return to say the "exploited" the market.
Western Canadian Thought of the Week
The guys over at Copper n' Blue have had a lot of debate whether Linus Omark should be in the Oilers lineup, in two posts here and here. Omark is good enough to be in the NHL. His cap hit is under $1m per year, and he's a RFA after this season. For the Oilers to make a decent estimation of what type of talent they've got on hand, they need to see him play at the NHL level. At 24 years old, they need to find out if he can make the club or not.