Know who the happiest people to see Corey Crawford sign a six-year, $36 million deal with the Chicago Blackhawks were? Potential 2014 free agents Henrik Lundqvist and Ryan Miller.
Those two superstar goalies are set to be free agents next summer, and they're going to cash in from someone, Lundqvist especially. But how did Chicago come to pay Crawford so much for such a seemingly small sampling of work (152 career games)?
It would seem the Blackhawks took a page from what the Bruins and Predators did in signing Tuukka Rask and Pekka Rinne to big extensions over the past two years. Rinne's seven-year, $49 million deal and Rask's eight-year, $56 million contract makes them two of the highest paid goalies in the league. They're also former Vezina Trophy finalists.
Take a look at what Crawford’s done through his short career and compare that with the likes of Rinne, Rask, Lundqvist, and Miller.
The only guy who has worked less than Crawford is Rask and he's been even better in the regular season. Of course, when the two showed down in the Stanley Cup Final it was Crawford who came out on top in six games and it's there that he may have clinched his new deal.
His brilliant play in the playoffs included a .932 save percentage and a playoff-leading 1.82 goals-against average. He also didn't have to share the spotlight with backup Ray Emery the way he had to in the regular season. Now, the Blackhawks are betting $36 million that what he did last year and in the playoffs is what they’ll see for at least the next six seasons.
At 28 years old, it’s possible. Lundqvist, Rinne, and Miller all had their best seasons around the age of 28. But what does that mean for two guys who have numerous seasons of posting stellar numbers and can hit market this summer? You can back up the Brink’s truck is what.
Lundqvist, who turns 32 next year, is by far the most intriguing possible free agent next summer. He and the Rangers haven’t started any serious negotiations and he has said they've got some things to talk about.
He’s happy in New York, but there’s no doubt he’d have a line of suitors around the block for him should he become a free agent. Philadelphia, the New York Islanders, and St. Louis could all be in need of a No. 1 goalie next season and all would have cap room to burn on a superstar goalie.
Despite his age, teams are likely going to need to give him the maximum number of years in order to pay him what he'll have coming and not get killed by his cap number. Ponying up for a 32-year-old goalie for seven (or eight years in the Rangers' case) might be seen as big risk.
That said, with Crawford making an average of $6 million a year, can you say Lundqvist isn’t worth $8 million per?
Ryan Miller makes for an intriguing case as well. He too will be a free agent next summer and seems all but set to move on from the Sabres either this season via trade, or as a free agent.
While he’ll be 34 next summer and while his production has been eerily steady the past few seasons, his age makes it more likely that his salary comes back to Earth. At least it would in normal situations.
If/when Miller bolts Buffalo, how quickly would a team like the Flyers or Islanders offer up a three- or four-year deal at $6 million per year? Do you think any team could get away with telling him he's not worth it when compared (rather favorably) to Crawford? Not a chance.
Crawford’s deal sets a dangerous mark for teams looking to keep or sign a goaltender. If a team is holding out hoping to hit it big in the summer, they have to hope the salary cap takes a healthy jump next season (it likely will) and their guy doesn't want to bust the bank (good luck).
That’s what makes Lundqvist's situation all the more fascinating. He was already set to break the bank and become, probably, the highest paid goalie in the game. You’d have to think Crawford’s deal emboldens Lundqvist's agent to get every dollar he can from the Rangers or anyone else.