Pekka Rinne's contract suggests that the Finnish goaltender will be in Nashville for seven more years. Rinne earned that money by leading Nashville to its best playoff run ever, but the length of the contract is questionable.
Having a good goalie like Rinne is absolutely crucial. While hockey is a total team sport, goalies have arguably the biggest individual impact. And teams with good goaltenders tend to be more successful at attaining Lord Stanley
But for seven years? That's a lot of hope, pressure and success to pin on just one player.
Rinne isn't the first goalie — especially recently — to find a long-term, lucrative deal. Way back in 2006, the Islanders offered their starting goalie, Rick DiPietro, a 15-year deal. While DiPietro's contract has yet to be duplicated when it comes to the position, it reflects a growing trend amongst teams desperate to secure talented netminders.
In the offseason, the Flyers trumped the Predators by signing newly acquired goalkeeper Ilya Bryzgalov to a nine-year, $51 million deal. Nine years for a goalkeeper who is already 31 years old?
Bryzgalov, who holds a 2.55 career goals-against average, is one of the game's better netminders. In 2009-10 with the Coyotes, the Russian posted a 2.29 goals-against average. He followed that up with a 2.48 goals-against average in 2010-11, prompting Philadelphia to deal for him in the offseason.
Acquiring Bryzgalov made sense, especially because netminding woes have traumatized the Flyers for the past few years. But signing him to nine years is a bit outlandish.
In order for the deal to pay off, Bryzgalov needs to be solid for at least four years. It's even more pertinent in this scenario because the Flyers had to uproot two once-central players in Jeff Carter and Mike Richards just to make room under the salary cap.
It's similar situation with Rinne. The 29-year-old finished last season with a 2.12 goals-against average and was beyond phenomenal for Nashville in the playoffs. His goals-against average was slightly higher at 2.57, but Rinne made more than a few stupefying saves. His quick glove and sharp reflexes no doubt played into his new contract.
It makes sense for teams like Nashville and Philadelphia to feel the need to lock down a good goaltender for the next 10 years. But goalies, and players in general, don't always play well enough — or play enough, in DiPietro's case – to justify their contract. They start to struggle and their skills deteriorate until you one day find yourself asking, "what ever happened to what's his name?"
That's roughly what happened to the Islanders' DiPietro. In 2005-06, the Boston University alum played his first "full" year with the Islanders, appearing in 63 games and recording a 3.02 goals-against average. The season after, DiPietro was awarded the 15-year contract and he responded with a 2.58 goals-against average through 62 games.
The 30-year-old posted one more good year until he started to tank — badly.
While his goals-against average didn't inflate monstrously, he stopped being an option for the Islanders in net. Over the past three years, DiPietro appeared in only 39 games for the Islanders thanks to injuries.
Here's a sampling of those injuries: A knee injury in December 2010 ushered DiPeitro to the injured reserve list. Two months later, it was broken bones from a fight that kept DiPietro out. A concussion in October this season forced the goaltender to miss action.
Here's the moral of DiPietro's unencouraging story: Injuries happen and can make extremely effective and talented players virtually useless. Granted, DiPietro's story is just one extreme case. But it proves that strange things happen and that the fabled "injury bug" exists.
Then there's age. There aren't too many goalies like Tampa Bay's Dwayne Roloson, who has somehow stuck around into his 40's and still actually has a chance of kissing the Stanley Cup.
Even New Jersey's Martin Brodeur might not stick around past 40. The 39-year-old's performance has started to drop off over the past few seasons, along with his playing time. If the jump in Brodeur's goals-against average from 2.24 one year to 2.45 the next doesn't convince you, this might: In a game against Toronto, Brodeur was out of position and tried to slide to his left to make the save. He tried laboriously to regain position, but he couldn't. In other words, he just looked old.
These contracts may be front-loaded – allowing players to earn more money in the earlier stages of the contract as opposed to the latter stages. But if they aren't, teams like Nashville and Philadelphia are going to suffer once the contract starts to taper down as age forces the netminders to sputter.
It would probably be best to sign a goaltender for a few years and then re-evaluate the player when the contract ends. You might lose said goalie, but that's probably better than ripping through your team's core just to acquire someone who might not play as well as you need him to.
All it takes is one injury or a bit of aging and it's as if all that spent money was mashed, shredded, eaten or stolen in some sketchy magic trick.