Despite expressing a desire to test the free agent waters, it was hard to imagine Martin Brodeur playing anywhere else but New Jersey.
On Monday, both goalies agreed to terms to stay with the only NHL clubs they’ve ever played for. But keeping these keepers was costly, and comes with some significant risk.
Price signed a six-year deal for $39 million, more than doubling his previous cap hit of $2.75 million to $6.5 million. Only two goalies, Nashville’s Pekka Rinne at $7 million and the Rangers’ Henrik Lundqvist at $6.875 million, carry a higher cap hit.
Lundqvist won the Vezina Trophy this past season, with Rinne one of the other two finalists. The other finalist was Jonathan Quick, who won the Conn Smythe after leading the Kings to the Cup and was rewarded with a 10-year, $58 million extension. That’s only a $5.8 million cap hit.
Price was not in the conversation for the Vezina and wasn’t eligible for the Conn Smythe with the Canadiens watching the playoffs on their couches. He wasn’t bad, especially within the context of playing for a last-place Montreal team. Still, his 2.43 goals-against average ranked just 18th in the league, and that was actually better than his career mark of 2.56. His .916 save percentage was identical to his career mark but just 20th among qualified leaders last season.
Price has won just one playoff series in his five years in Montreal, his first series as a rookie in 2008. The Canadiens did reach the conference final in 2010 with upsets over top-seeded Washington and defending Cup champion Pittsburgh, but that was only after Jaroslav Halak had supplanted Price as starter.
This isn’t an indictment of Price, who at 24 is clearly one of the top young netminders in the league with the potential to move up among the true elite at the position. He’s shown flashes of that ability and already been named to play in three All-Star Games.
And the Canadiens didn’t have a lot of options. They chose to stick with Price when they traded Halak to St. Louis after that 2010 playoff run. After Brodeur signed earlier on Monday, the best remaining free agents available included the likes of Dwayne Roloson, Dan Ellis, Ty Conklin, Andrew Raycroft, Brent Johnson and Marty Turco. Thus one can see the leverage Price held to command such a raise.
But his new cap hit pushes Montreal to over $61.3 million committed to the upcoming season, with P.K. Subban and Lars Eller among the restricted free agents still in need of new deals. That means Montreal is likely done with its offseason additions unless it can shed salary in a deal. The Canadiens already added some much-needed grit by signing Brandon Prust, Colby Armstrong and Francis Bouillon, but the core of the team has not been dramatically altered from last year’s debacle. Will the return of Michel Therrien behind the bench and the infusion of a little backbone in the lineup be enough to turn things around in Habsland?
In New Jersey, the Devils would love to simply return the core of their team from a year ago, but they still appear a long shot to retain forward Zach Parise. The New Jersey captain is the biggest prize on the free agent market. With their financial problems, the Devils will be hard-pressed to match the bids other teams are throwing at Parise, offers that will dwarf even Price’s pricey new deal.
All is not lost for New Jersey though, as the Devils did retain Brodeur, along with backup Johan Hedberg. Both signed two-year deals, Brodeur for $9 million and a $4.5 million cap hit and Hedberg for $2.8 million and a $1.4 million cap hit.
The rates are reasonable for the guy who has won more games (656) and posted more shutouts (119) than anyone in history and one of the steadier backups in the league. Brodeur even took a cut from his previous $5.2 million cap hit, not bad for a goalie that has hoisted the Cup three times and won four Vezinas.
The issue is their ages. With Brodeur 40 and Hedberg 39, both contracts are over-35 deals and the Devils are on the hook for those cap hits even if either goalie retires or if New Jersey wants to cut ties if they lose their effectiveness.
Prior to his resurgence in this year’s playoffs, Brodeur looked ready for retirement because his effectiveness had waned. He owns a career GAA of 2.23, but has been 2.41 or higher three of the last four seasons, and prior to this spring’s run to the Cup Final he hadn’t won a playoff series since 2007. The effects of the fountain of youth he found this spring may last for the next two years, but counting on that is a risk for the Devils.
Of course, like Montreal, New Jersey didn’t have a lot of choices with the current state of the goalie market. And it could be worse. The Canadiens and Devils could have even bigger questions in goal like Toronto, Columbus and Chicago, with the only answer left for those teams may be taking on an even worse contract with a trade for Roberto Lungo. And that’s only if Luongo is willing to go to any of those teams.