Ondrej Pavelec Sets Market for Tuukka Rask, Other Restricted Free Agent Goalies With Lucrative Extension

Ondrej Pavelec Sets Market for Tuukka Rask, Other Restricted Free Agent Goalies With Lucrative ExtensionThe first domino in the restricted free agent goalie chain has fallen.

Ondrej Pavelec re-signed with the Winnipeg Jets on Monday. The Czech netminder agreed to a five-year, $19.5 million deal. That's a $3.9 million cap hit, more than triple his previous hit of $1.15 million. Bob McKenzie of TSN was the first to report the terms of the contract.

That deal will start to set the market for arguably the most important position for RFAs this summer. Montreal's Carey Price, Boston's Tuukka Rask and Vancouver's Cory Schneider are all in need of new deals, and all could make a case for a contract even bigger than Pavelec's.

Pavelec, who turns 25 in August, has by far the worst numbers of the group. He was 29-28-9 last year with a 2.91 GAA and a .906 save percentage, though those stats are a bit deceiving. He was playing behind an often porous Winnipeg defense and was largely responsible for keeping the Jets in many games and even in the playoff chase until the final days of the season.

Unlike Rask and Schneider, Pavelec has also established himself as a starting goalie in the NHL, playing 68 games last year and 58 the season before. Rask played a career-high 45 in 2009-10 and Schneider's high was the 33 he played last year. Pavelec also had some leverage that none of the other restricted free agents held, as he reportedly had a lucrative offer from a KHL club.

That competition for his services may have forced the Jets to spend a little more to keep him, but it should be clear from these negotiations that none of the other teams are going to get any discount this time around.

Rask holds plenty of leverage himself with the Bruins now counting on him as their starter with Tim Thomas announcing his plans to take the season off. Thomas did hamstring the Bruins a bit with that decision, as his $5 million cap hit will remain on Boston's books. That leaves general manager Peter Chiarelli to find a way to balance the need to pay Rask a salary commensurate with his new status as a starter without tying up too much cap space at a position that already has $5 million worth of dead money.

At least the Bruins should go into the agreement with confidence that Rask can do the job. He led the NHL with a 1.97 GAA and a .931 save percentage after supplanting Thomas as the starter in 2009-10 and he put up better numbers than Thomas last year with a 2.05 GAA and a .929 save percentage, but that came in just 23 games as Rask's season was cut short by a groin and abdominal injury.

Rask, 25, has played less career games (102) than Pavelec (187), but his stats blow him away (2.20 GAA, .926 save percentage to Pavelec's 2.99 GAA, .907 save percentage) and he's starting from a higher base, having made $1.25 million last year. That means the Bruins are likely looking at paying at least in the ballpark of the $3.9 million a year Pavelec got, though that could be mitigated by the length of term Rask is seeking.

The Canucks are in a similar situation with Schneider, who has made Roberto Luongo expendable. The Canucks would like to trade Luongo, but 10 years remaining at $5.33 million a season and a no-trade clause make moving him difficult. So far reports have Luongo only willing to waive the no-trade to go back to Florida, but the Panthers are unwilling to give up the kind of assets the Canucks are demanding.

Schneider, 26, made $900,000 last year and will be commanding a hefty raise of his own if he's going to take over as Vancouver's No. 1, as he did in the postseason with a 1.31 GAA and .960 save percentage in three starts.

Price's situation is a bit different, but that won't make things any easier for the Canadiens. He's been established as a starter much longer, playing the bulk of Montreal's games for the past five years. Price, who turns 25 in August, has already earned decent money on his second contract, which carried a $2.75 million cap hit the past two years, and the Canadiens elected to go to arbitration with him. They can still work out a deal before the hearing, but other teams cannot sign him to an offer sheet.

Rask and Schneider will be eligible for offer sheets on July 1, and while teams have rarely gone that route, the unsettled situation both teams are facing with veteran netminders clogging up cap space could entice someone to try such a tactic.

Much remains uncertain about the future of several of the league's key goalies, but the picture has come into a little more focus with Pavelec's deal now in place as a point of reference.

Have a question for Douglas Flynn? Send it to him via Twitter at @douglasflynn or send it here. He will pick a few questions to answer every week for his mailbag.

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