Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Like A Kick To The Groin

I feel like I'm reading bad polling data -- after agreeing with mc79’s Tyler 19 times out of 20, here I am faced with the improbable and uncharacteristic 20th instance. The issue? Detroit’s signing of Dominik Hasek, which has Tyler writing that “Detroit has taken a risk in goal that's just senseless.”

I had an equally strong reaction to the signing, but in the opposite direction. Perusing the Globe over lunch yesterday I immediately choked on my sandwich and began pounding my head into the desk.

I live in a city where the powers-that-be have decided to pay Jussi Markkanen $850,000 to backup the $4 million Dwayne Roloson. The Red Wings will pay Hasek $750,000 – just $300,000 above the league minimum. There are incentive clauses for playoff performance, but that’s beside the point: that money will only be paid if things work out for the Wings.

Hasek was 28-10-4 with a .925 save percentage and 2.09 goals against last year. He played 43 games in net for Ottawa, but was unable to make a successful return from a groin injury after the Olympics. At the Olympic break, Tyler’s numbers show that Hasek:

• Had the league’s best save percentage (.942)
• Had the league’s best SV-Differential (his save percentage outperformed the expected save percentage based on quality of shots faced by 32 points, or a total of 26 goals)
• Had the second-best GA/60 (1.83 to Kiprusoff’s 1.81).

Over the same time-span, Detroit’s Legace and Osgood weren’t even close to that level: Legace was 5 points to the good on SV-Differential, and Osgood was minus-2. The difference between the Hasek and this pairing over half a season’s work is easily 20 goals, or half a goal a game.

Is there a significant chance that Hasek’s numbers will fall of a cliff due to age and injury, or that he’ll be unable to perform? Absolutely. But no other goaltender available at that price comes with the kind of upside that Hasek does, and he’s demonstrated an ability to come back from injury before.

Tyler and I do agree about one important point: Ken Holland made a poor decision when he let Manny Legace go. But this should be treated as a separate issue, and not conflated with the Hasek acquisition. In an ideal world, Legace and Hasek could split the season, conserving the Dominator’s energy and health for the playoffs.

Unlike the last term in Detroit, Hasek seems open to the idea, and past the prima donna stage: "I don't have to play 65 games like I used to. It's not necessary at all," he told the Detroit Free Press. "I want to be playing my best hockey when the playoffs arrive."

Holland also shows a highly suspect fondness for aging goaltenders, offering Ed Belfour $500,000 earlier this summer. This follows the same line of thinking as the Hasek transaction, but without the recent performance to back-up the idea that there’s an up-side.

Assistant GM Jim Nill has also talked about Jimmy Howard, Stefan Liv or Joey MacDonald making it into the back-up role this year. Howard’s brief tryout last season does little to make this sound realistic, but it does indicate the Wings are thinking beyond Osgood, and viewed him as an affordable ($900,000) way to eat minutes.

The cheapest goaltending combos in the West belong to Los Angeles ($3.76 million for Cloutier/Garon), Nasvhillle ($3.5 million for Vokoun/Mason), Phoenix ($2.5 million for Joseph/Sauve), Columbus ($1.2 million for Leclair/Conklin), and St Louis ($1 million for Bacashuhua/Sanford). All but one of these affordable tandems (Nashville’s) come with serious questions. Most contenders find themselves spending $4-6 million on their goaltending.

Detroit’s master-stroke has been to assemble a $1.65 million pairing capable of playing half a season at league-average (Osgood), and half a season at an elite level (Hasek).

The financial risk of doing so is trivial: it required an investment of $300,000 above the league minimum, with a potential return of 20 additional goals-prevented over half a season (this number rises if you consider Hasek a replacement not for Legace but for a call-up such as Howard, or whomever is available in the market).

The only other way to achieve this performance-level would be to invest a much larger sum in a proven starter, which would likely also cost the franchise players in a trade, or to have a call-up deliver one of those occasional rookie-phenom type performances.

The performance risk is more than trivial, but not unmanageable: Osgood is capable of eating a substantial number of minutes at a league-average level, and as the Oilers discovered, goaltending becomes available mid-season at a reasonable cost. If Hasek goes down early, the Wings can get by and move to Plan B.

Having touted Hasek as a perfect fit for the Oilers for some time (a proposition Tyler appears to agree with), I’m disappointed that Detroit has snatched him up. And given Holland’s approach to Belfour, I’m reluctant to give him too much credit. But this looks to me like the hands-down winner for best deal of the off-season.


At 7:40 AM, Anonymous rachael said...

Speaking of a Sens fan..This deal seems great at first..he'll play great, your GM looks like the most brilliant man on the planet..then he gets injured and it takes him the rest of the season (and then some to heal). Your team is hurting in the playoffs, your veterans (and the whole city) are begging him to play, and the bastard doesn't feel "100%" so he sits in the press box. Meanwhile other players have broken feet, arms, and dislocated shoulders and they still lace up and get out there.

Haskek's a phenomenal goalie, but he just isn't worth the risk and therefore the heartache. It's time for him to retire.

At 9:13 AM, Blogger Andy Grabia said...

He just isn't worth the risk and therefore the heartache.

At that price, I'd say he is. Ottawa's problems were and are much larger than Hasek.


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