Top 10 Bargain Goaltenders of the 2011-12 NHL Season

Adam Graham@@adam_grahamAnalyst IIDecember 17, 2011

Top 10 Bargain Goaltenders of the 2011-12 NHL Season

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    The goaltender is arguably the most important position on any hockey team.

    In the NHL, the best goalies are worth their weight in gold and are a paid handsomely.

    With that being said, there are some teams that are fortunate enough to have a strong goaltender who doesn't make a ton of money compared to the stars. These are known as the bargain goaltenders.

    Having a bargain goaltender is a huge bonus because it allows a general manager to go out and spend his money on a top forward or defenseman without going over the salary cap.

    So let's take a look at the top 10 bargain goalies that these GMs are extremely pleased to have.

10. Nikolai Khabibulin

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    Khabibulin doesn't have quite the bargain contract that most of the other goalies on this list have, but his goals against average is a minuscule 1.95 and he still makes a modest $3.75 million annually.

    The 38-year-old Russian has bounced back from two awful seasons in Edmonton and has surprised everyone with his heroics early in the season. Khabibulin has clearly rediscovered the skills that made him a perennial All-Star earlier in his career and he's the biggest reason why the Oilers remain in the hunt for a playoff spot.

    Even though he's earning more money this season than any of the other nine goaltenders on this list, Khabibulin is still a bargain given how well he is playing.

9. Jose Theodore

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    Speaking of veterans who have bounced back, Jose Theodore is having a great season with the Florida Panthers.

    With a 2.36 GAA, a .923 save percentage and 11 wins already, Theodore is one of the reasons that Florida is leading the Southeast division.

    This might sound surprising, but the 35-year-old Theodore has actually put up pretty decent numbers over the last four seasons. Kudos to the Panthers for giving Theodore another shot at a starting job because he's earning his money and has turned out to be quite the bargain, making just $1.5 million annually.

8. Jean-Sebastien Giguere

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    If the Colorado Avalanche played Jean-Sebastien Giguere on a more consistent basis, they might be a little higher in the standings.

    Instead, they've gone with Semyon Varlamov most nights and it has backfired monumentally. While Varlamov has a GAA above three and a save percentage below .900, Giguere has a GAA below two, along with a .923 save percentage and a .500 winning percentage on a subpar team.

    I realize that statistics don't always mean everything, but when there's that big of a difference, it's pretty obvious who the starting goaltender for the Avs should be.

    The problem is the Avalanche gave up a first-round draft pick to acquire Varlamov.and now they're desperately trying to prove he's worth it.

    Meanwhile, Giguere is a solid veteran who has performed extremely well and is only earning $1.25 million this season. What a bargain!

7. Tomas Vokoun

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    The one-year, $1.5 million contract that former All-Star Tomas Vokoun was signed to by the Washington Capitals over the summer was a huge bargain. In fact, it was probably the biggest bargain contract that any notable unrestricted free agent signed.

    Vokoun has been extremely consistent throughout his NHL career and has been among the top 15 goalies in the world for the last several years now. With that being said, Vokoun has admitted to struggling at times this season, even though he has still put up respectable statistics.

    If he was playing near the top of his game, he might be at the top of this list with his extremely modest contract. Regardless, Vokoun is still a bargain goaltender and good enough to grab the No. 7 spot on this list.

6. Tuukka Rask

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    If it wasn't for Tim Thomas, Tuukka Rask would be a starting goaltender in the NHL by now. In fact, Rask actually did briefly steal Thomas' starting job away from him in the 2009-10 season because he's just that good.

    Rask has posted great numbers since he entered the NHL, with a career GAA of 2.20 and a 9.27 save percentage. He'll surely get his opportunity to start for the Bruins once Thomas retires.

    For now, though, he's still a backup and for that reason he only has $1.25 million cap hit.

5. Cory Schneider

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    The introduction for Cory Schneider could be exactly the same as the introduction for Tuukka Rask, aside from the goaltender he plays behind.

    Schneider was a highly touted prospect in the Canucks farm system for quite some time before he showed the world that he was more than capable of playing in the NHL last season. In 2011-12, he's looked like an All-Star and has outplayed Roberto Luongo for the majority of the season to date, at least statistically.

    However, because the Canucks also boast an All-Star starter in Roberto Luongo, Schneider is still a backup and he's also a bargain goaltender for that reason.

    He earns $900,000 annually and might be the best goaltender in the world who earns less than a million dollars per season.

4. Jimmy Howard

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    Perhaps the most underrated goaltender in the entire NHL is Jimmy Howard. After all, no one ever thinks of goaltending when they think of the strengths of the Detroit Red Wings.

    Nevertheless, Howard has 37 wins in each of his first two seasons and was a Calder trophy candidate in his rookie season. As far as this season is concerned, Howard is an early candidate for the Vezina trophy with a microscopic 1.90 GAA, a .929 save percentage and a record of 18-7-1.

    Howard is a star in the making, but his cap hit is only $2.25 million right now, which makes him a great bargain!

3. Jonathan Quick

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    You can also put Jonathan Quick in the underrated goaltender category.

    In fact, Quick might be an even better goaltender than Howard, but the majority of attention he receives is usually negative. This is because Quick has struggled in the playoffs in each of the last two seasons.

    However, while the postseason criticism is fair, Quick's solid regular season statistics are often overlooked. He's improved every season and so far in 2011-12 he has a 2.09 GAA, a 9.30 save percentage and he already has four shutouts.

    Realistically, he's the only reason the L.A. Kings have a respectable record at this point because the rest of the team has struggled to put the puck in the net.

    The best thing about Quick for the Kings organization, though, is the fact that he only has a cap hit of $1.8 million. This is a huge bargain for a goaltender of his ability.

2. Carey Price

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    Carey Price is one of the top 10 goaltenders in the world and he's only earning $2.75 million annually. That pretty much tells the entire story.

    Price is the main reason the Montreal Canadiens even made the playoffs last season and he almost led them to an improbable first-round upset over the defending Stanley Cup champions from Boston.

    This season, he's performing well once again and will likely receive a raise when he becomes a restricted free agent at the end of the season.

1. Brian Elliott

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    Mr. Elliott is unquestionably the most pleasant surprise of the 2011-12 NHL season so far. He leads the NHL in both the GAA and save percentage departments, and has officially stolen the starting goaltender position away from Jaroslav Halak in St. Louis.

    It would be pretty difficult to argue against handing Elliott the midseason Vezina award (if there was one) and he's earning just $600,000.

    Perhaps Cory Schneider might be the best goaltender to earn less than a million dollars annually, but Brian Elliott is having the single best season of any goaltender in the NHL in 2011-12.

    Combine that with his low salary and not only is he the biggest bargain goaltender, but he's also the biggest bargain player in the entire NHL so far this season!


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