The Goalie Dilemma in Ottawa

This past summer the Ottawa Senators decided to make a statement in the free agent market by signing Martin Gerber to a 3 year, $3.7 million per year contract hopefully ending all of their goaltending issues they seem to have always had. I didn’t like the deal at the time and next summer we will all find out why. The Senators have about $34.5 million in salary cap space already committed to 13 players. If we assume that the salary cap remains at $44 million (it may even drop), that leaves about $8 million to spend on 8-9 players and approximately $1.5 million in buffer space that every team wants.

Now the problem is that one of the players that needs their contract renewed is Ray Emery. Emery has not only clearly been the Senators best goalie, but he has been one of the better goalies in the NHL. Last season at times he showed he can be one of the better goalies in the NHL. So, is it unrealistic to epect that if he continues performing like he has that he doesn’t deserve at least what Martin Gerber is making? If that is the case Ray Emery is going to suck up half of that $8 million leaving $4 million for 8 players. That means those 8 players will have to be close to league minimum ($475,000) players. Problem is, only 3 defenseman (Redden, Corvo and Meszaros) are signed for next season and trust me, that will be a pretty horrible defense with 3 league minimum players playing on it.

So where does that leave the Senators? It leaves them in desperation to free up some salary cap room sometime between now and the free agent signing period of next summer. The obvious choice will be to try and dump Gerber on someone but as of right now, who would want Gerber with the way he has played and with other better goalies like Nabokov, Toskala, Bryzgalov or even Biron all potentially available. The only team in dire need of a goalie is Phoenix though Philadelphia and a few other teams might be looking to upgrade as well. But the way Gerber has played he wouldn’t even provide them with an upgrade. So if the Sens are to be able to trade Gerber between now and next summer they will need to play him and hope he can show that he can be at least a second tier starting goalie. Problem is, with the poor start the Senators have had to the season they don’t have a lot of room to play at the moment to let Gerber work through his game. To me it seems highly unlikely that they will be able to trade Gerber.

So, what are the other options? They could at some point demote Gerber to the AHL taking his salary off the salary cap books but the Senators aren’t a money making organization and I am not sure Melnyk would want to take that financial hit. They could buy him out resulting in a cap hit of approximately $1.23 million for the next 4 years but one has to wonder if that is a vialble option too because Melnyk would still be on the hook for paying him close to $5 million for not playing with the Senators. They could demote him to the AHL, recall him and hope someone takes him on recall waivers saving the Senators half his salary and half his cap hit. This seems to be the somewhat more vialble but still not ideal. since by the time you pay for half of Gerber’s salary and at a minimum $500,000 for another backup goalie you are still forking out $2.35 million for goalies after Emery saving just $1.35 million from the keeping Gerber option. You are still not going to sign any quality defensemen for that amount of money.

The only other option to free up cap room for next summer is to keep Gerber and trade another high priced player. I wonder who that could be.

This article has 17 Comments

  1. One thing to keep in mind is that Ray Emery, as a Restricted Free Agent, will not command anywhere near the price that Gerber did last summer. He will likely sign a one or two year contract for a mediocre price (ala Marc Andre Fleury last year), with the intention of bringing himself into Unrestricted Free Agency as early as possible in return for not demanding a huge raise.

    Another thing to keep in mind is the recent play of goaltenders like Evgeni Nabokov and JS Giguere, both of whom had pretty bad seasons last year and both of whom lost their starting jobs to younger guys. Both have now reaserted themselves pretty solidly (though both are still sharing starts, I think it’s fair to say that both are the starters on their teams).

    The Senators have started putting a few wins together and have started to play better hockey (including 2 wins over the Sabres in the last week or so). They’ll try to get rolling, get some confidence, and then throw Gerber into a game against a weaker opponent and see if they can boost his confidence. Doing so can’t possibly hurt his trade value and has a chance of getting him rolling again.

    If he doesn’t, he’ll probably get another chance next season. With 2 full years left on his contract, few teams will be willing to take a chance on him. The Sens will likely stick with him as their backup for the rest of the year and see if he can rebound next year. They’ll probably also try to get Emery to accept a smaller contract in exchange for a *wink wink nudge nudge* we’ll reward you later deal, like Brian Gionta signed this summer.

  2. “One thing to keep in mind is that Ray Emery, as a Restricted Free Agent, will not command anywhere near the price that Gerber did last summer.”

    A year ago at this time people were saying the same thing about Jason Spezza and look what he signed for. The problem is, draft pick compensation for salaries under $4 million isn’t huge if you are getting a top tier player back (like Spezza or like Emery if he continues to play as great as he has).

    The problem with trading Gerber is that you have to be able to convince other teams that he is capable of being a decent starting goalie. No one is going to pay him that much money to be a backup or even a third rate starter. Can playing now and again against weaker teams convince teams of that? I am not sure, but there does seem to be a never ending supply if dumb GMs (see L.A. and the money they gave Cloutier) so you never know.

  3. David,

    The scenario you describe is true for lots of teams if the salary cap drops or stays the same – almost every signing this summer was predicated on the salary cap continuing to rise at the same rate it did this summer. While the signing of Gerber was probably a mistake, it is hard to believe he’s been as bad as he has been.

    If it comes down to dealing Alfredsson for nothing or eating the money, they’ll eat the Gerber money. If the cap goes down, no one’s going to have the room to take on Alfredsson.

  4. Alfredsson has a fairly affordable contract considering his value. Teams will make room for him and might in fact prefer to trade for him than sign another free agent. Think Florida who has to decide whether to resign Bertuzzi or not.

  5. Good summary, I agree David. I don’t think Ottawa gives up on Gerber a quarter way into the first year of his contract, I think they’ll give him at least until next season to turn himself around.

    The problem is, even if they exercised any of the options you mention above, including an Alfie trade, it still won’t leave room for those 8 players. Ottawa will definitely trade a few players away before the end of this year, but I still don’t think it’s Alfie.

    – Phillips can get first line D money from some team in need of a shutdown guy who doesn’t put up points, has been in the dog house for the last couple of weeks for weak play and dumb, ill-timed penalties; he’s an assistant captain, and has been on the team through most of the playoff disappointments, and so might be targeted for the shake-up so many feel the team needs. I think he gets traded first, and soon.

    – People have been biting at Ottawa’s heels for Volchenkov for the last couple of seasons, and I think it’s finally the right time to get maximum returns on him. I don’t know if he’s unrestricted, but if he is we might very well see an offer akin to that given Pothier by Washington: something surprising that Ottawa can’t match.

    I don’t know the other players up (Fisher? Vermette?) but I don’t think trading them clears a whole lot of cap room, nor do I think they’ll sign for much more than they’re making now.

    As for trading Gerber, I agree: who would take him? The only teams I can think of are Phoenix, who might gamble on him for a late draft pick, maybe LA.

  6. muckler is obviously getting old. i always respected the sens cuz they draft amazing talent and continue to do so, but i cant understand for the life of me why they cant just trade for a goalie. luongo was available. between philips, volchenkov, meszaros, lee, they have tons of defence they can give up, and still have a good D corps, well good enough with luongo backing u up.

    anyway, i cant understand for the life of me how gerber got that big a contract. i can understand the sens taking a chance on him, cuz they should have expected emery to make a strong case for himself, so having a decent guy who can play 40 games would be ideal, but figure, 40 games at 3.7 million??? for 3 years??? man muckler has lost his mind.

    anyway, gerber will stay for the year, hopefully he should get his game going. if not, next season they will probably trade him along with a 1st rounder or a good young guy in exchange for prospects, kinda like how jersey traded away malakhovs contract.

    but even then. emery is no #1. he still lets in that weak goal. hes good, but i figure he will be one of those good goalies who arent good in big games. kinda like a choke artist. i mean hes good, and at times he can be great. but hes never consistently great. so he will never be one of the elite.

    and your right, no teams want gerber. there are much better goalies out there. and the only way a team would want gerber is if they have lots of cap room and dont want to give up ANYTHING for an NHL goaltender. toskala, bryzgalov, biron, and aebischer could command alot in a trade, more than people think. i mean if doug weight was worth a 1st rounder and then some, imagine what these low cost future #1 goalies would cost. these guys are all pretty much established, well at least proven, a guy like kipprusoff when he was traded was a gamble.

    anyway muckler is a moron. he should retire. the sens will continue to be a good team but will always fail cuz they dont have that goalie, and they always trade away the wrong players (hossa and havlat), yes, if it were up to me i would have kept hossa and traded away alfredsson instead of havlat, trade for luongo (alfredsson, smolinski for luongo, if they want more throw in volchenkov or a pick, whichever is cheaper and gets the deal done) then they would have a good top line with very solid defence and luongo in nets.

  7. Ok the idea that you could trade Alfredsson and Smolinski for Luongo is a bit silly to discuss since obviously the Luongo deal is gone. Get over it. Signing Gerber wasn’t touted as a mistake by anyone PRIOR to his poor play. The guy is coming off a 30+ win season for the Stanley Cup Champs, that isn’t a bad stat to toss on the ole goaltending resume now is it.

    Calling Muckler an idiot after he gave up Hossa for Heatley is also a bit of a stretch considering the deal led to the highest scoring line in the NHL last season playing for the Sens, and they had their first 100 point players. Hossa might have been a better individual talent, but last I checked Atlanta hasn’t won anything with him, OR Heatley, so that’s virtually a toss up. Playing a Canadian kid in the capital was also likely hoped to improve attendance, I don’t really think it has.

    Emery hasn’t confirmed whether or not he’s a #1 yet and it’s far too early in his career to decide he’s destined for the league of also-ran starter. The guy is at the same point in his career that Marty Turco was when he got the nod over Belfour in Dallas, or the same point as Hasek getting the nod over Belfour in Chicago, or the same point as Felix Potvin getting the nod over Grant Fuhr in Toronto. Every young goalie on a team that’s used to solid veteran goaltending has to prove he’s capable of carrying the load, and Emery still hasn’t really had the chance. He’s looked pretty good from everything I’ve seen though there are nights he fights the puck, but that’s true of every goalie so I wouldn’t freak about it.

    Either way, I think they need to trade Alfredsson and possibly either Vermette or Volchenkov, to improve their situation overall.

  8. Remember JS Giguere and Evgeni Nabokov before you throw in the towel on Gerber. This year they are having great years, but a year ago people were wondering how Anaheim and San Jose could get rid of their awful salaries.

    Now, one key difference is that Gerber really has no excuse. Giguerre and Nabokov could claim a long layoff from NHL hockey, new rules, new equipment… Gerber had almost 40 wins just a year ago.

    I look at Gerber’s play at the Olympics more than his season last year, and I see a guy who could be a very competent number 1 in a less pressure city. I wouldn’t be surprised if someone like St. Louis or Chicago or Columbus, all of whom have plenty of cap space and could use a shakeup, tried giving Muckler a call and tried to prise Gerber + a young defenceman or prospect in exchange for dead weight or a throwaway pick. But I would more expect the Sens to try and get Gerber rolling again a little later if the team gets some wins and there’s less scrutiny.

  9. “Signing Gerber wasn’t touted as a mistake by anyone PRIOR to his poor play. The guy is coming off a 30+ win season for the Stanley Cup Champs, that isn’t a bad stat to toss on the ole goaltending resume now is it.”

    I thought it was a bad move.

    “Remember JS Giguere and Evgeni Nabokov before you throw in the towel on Gerber. This year they are having great years, but a year ago people were wondering how Anaheim and San Jose could get rid of their awful salaries.”

    The difference is that those two goalies have had great years in the past. Gerber hasn’t. Gerber had a few good years as a backup and one OK year as a starter (his numbers were OK, but not great, last year). He started the season as a 32 year old goalie with just 114 games of NHL experience.

  10. For the record, I’ve long agreed with the assessment that signing Gerber was a mistake. I thought they should have shown more confidence in Ray Emery, who was stellar last year after Hasek went down and certainly wasn’t the reason they lost in the playoffs (though he didn’t steal them any games, either). For a rookie, he showed a lot of poise and maturity. I would have gone after someone like Mike Dunham, Manny Legace or even Johan Hedberg, given the reigns to Emery and seen what he could do. If Gerber was the guy they wanted, I certainly would have given him no more than a one year contract. If I had a guy who played like Emery in his first year, I’d want to see what he could do as a starter. Rather than throwing close to 10% of my cap space at a starter (ANY starter) I would have been looking for a mentor, a veteran who would be comfortable starting anywhere from 20 to 50 games, depending on how well Emery handled the pressure).

    But hey, it’s easy to point fingers in hindsight. Muckler gambled and lost. If the rest of the team played/plays like it should be capable of playing, a weak goaltender (*cough cough* Lalime) is much less noticable.

  11. the reason im calling muckler an idiot isnt cuz of the hossa deal or anything like that. that deal was a tossup, but i would have preferred hossa over heatley. at the time it was risky cuz heatley was coming off major knee surgery and had that whole accident thing. it was risky to begin with, and hossa was just coming into his own.

    but that isnt it. just like clarke is an idiot. sure he puts a good team out every year (save this year) but every year its the same old story. goaltending. and every year he refuses to believe that a good goaltender wins u games. i dont know how he still has esche. what has he EVER done. instead of signing derian hatcher to a crazy contract, he could have put that money to good use. he always comes up with these crazy trades, like fedotenko for a 1st rounder (pitkanen) yet he cant wheel and deal for a goalie? muckler is the same. he pulls of these magnificent trades (yashin for chara AND spezza), the redden deal, drafting gems like vermette, havlat, volchenkov, meszaros. but come goaltenders he refuses to get a good one.

    and yes i knew gerber was gonna suck. what did he do last season? sure 38 wins are good. but keep in mind wins arent solely a goalies stat. a good team helps the goalie get wins. look at save % and GAA. both of which he ranked in the 15-20 range. and he had a measley 3 shutouts. 905 save % is certainly not the sign of a good goaltender. signing gerber wouldnt have been so bad if they paid him less. then u could throw in that whole mentor for emery bit. but at 3.7 million for 3 years??? thats not what u pay a mentor. thats starting goalie $$$. i mean kipprusoff didnt even get that much. and its not like gerber WON the cup. he lost his job to ward. so for all intents and purposes, he didnt have a good postseason. kipper had a phenomenal post season.

    then u wanna throw in giguere and nabakov? they dont compare with gerber. u see those 2 goalies both had stellar seasons before going through a rut. giguere had to adapt to the new goaltending equipment. nabakov just went through a rut, god knows y. but theyre both bouncing back from bad seasons. gerber was never anything. he was a backup with the ducks. signed as a starter on an amazing team and rode them to a huge contract. like i said. he wo-uldnt be a bad mentor, only problem is u cant pay a mentor 3.7 million for 3 years. absolute lunacy.

  12. Actually, Muckler didn’t make the Yashin for Chara and Spezza trade. Muckler didn’t take over until 2002 and that trade took place in 2001 when Marshall Johnston was GM. Similarly, Muckler didn’t draft Volchenkov, Vermette, or Havlat. The only players he has drafted with the Senators who are now playing in the NHL are Jakub Klepis (traded to Buffalo for Varada, now in Washington) and Kaigorodov in 2002 (two weeks after he took over the job of GM), Patrick Eaves in 2003, and Andrej Meszaros in 2004.

    It is interesting though because Muckler seemed inclined to bring back Hasek. Maybe he was just keeping options open but he always talked about Hasek being a possibility right up until Gerber signed. Bryan Murray and the Senators media and most fans were the ones who never wanted Hasek back. One has to wonder if the backlash wasn’t quite so harsh if Muckler would have signed Hasek instead. You could have split duties between Hasek and Emery this season and then given Emery the full time job next year.

    BTW, Giguere had a better goals against average and save percentage than Gerber last year and a pretty good 30-15-11 record. Nabokov was the one who really slumped last year.

  13. Ok yes he was lower down the rankings in GAA and Save Percentage, but consider the following. He had 38 wins in only 57 starts.

    Here’s why the save percentage ranking isn’t particularly meaningful: 1) Every goalie in the league had to adjust to new rules last season, and frankly most of them took a hit in Save Percentage. Gerber had a better Save Percentage than Marty Turco, Kari Lehtonen, Marty Biron, Ray Emery (who apparently had great stats last year according to half of you), Vesa Toskala (who apparently showed up Nabokov leading up to the playoffs), Curtis Joseph, David Aebischer, Rick DiPietro, Marc Denis, Olaf Kolzig, Evgeni Nabokov, Jose Theodore, Patrick Lalime, Andrew Raycroft, Cam Ward, Ed Belfour, and Nikolai Khabibulin.

    Now… if those guys are all bad goalies because of their sub-par save percentage numbers, I guess that means that the following guys that finished ahead of Gerber are all-stars: Tim Thomas, Pascal Leclaire, Curtis Sanford, and Manny Legace.

    Ok lets review those “all-star” goaltender’s numbers from this season shall we? Thomas has a .901 save percentage, Leclaire has a .885 save percentage, Curtis Sanford has a .898 save percentage and Legace has a .877 save percentage. According to a few of you Legace would’ve been a better selection but thus far this season his numbers are worse than Gerber’s. So I’m not quite sure where the logic in this argument is going.

    Basically where I’m going with this is, YES Gerber’s giving up bad goals, and playing like crap, but the numbers justification is frankly inconsistent at best. You can’t knock a guy’s numbers selectively without comparing them to other player’s numbers. It’s inconsistent and irritating frankly.

    Oh and just so we can clarify, you think giving a $3.7 million a year contract for 3 seasons to Gerber was a bad move when he only had 144 NHL games of experience? So I guess that means Anaheim signing Giguere to a 5 year deal with only 174 NHL games of experience wasn’t a good idea? Or signing Cristobal Huet for 2 years with only 89 games of experience was even worse? I mean if experience matters then those deals should be problems also… unless you think level of play is more relevant, in which case Gerber having played for two teams that made the Stanley Cup finals, and having 3 seasons with a save percentage over .905 and a GAA under 2.80 meant not so much.

    By the by, Gerber’s career GAA is 2.55 and his Save Percentage is .911. Jose Theodore’s GAA for his career is 2.65, and his Save Percentage is .910. One of those two won an MVP. One of them won a Stanley Cup. I just don’t know that pure number crunching even has much to do with justifying all of this.

    Basically I think people should just accept that Muckler thought he was getting a decent NHL level starter for a reasonable amount at $3.7 mill per. That isn’t astronomical, and frankly Gerber’s health has been more stable than say… oh… Dominik Hasek’s. Basically I think nobody in Ottawa will ever be happy with anything until they win a cup. Accusing a guy of NOT going out to get goaltending when he’s brought in two Stanley Cup winning goaltenders, one of whom is currently leading the league in GAA with another team… what exactly does the man have to do? Muckler MADE moves that people expected and demanded. It’s not like teams just give up on TOP LEVEL GOALIES WHO ARE HEALTHY. The idea that they’d even trade for them is absurd… There’s no way San Jose trades away Kipprusoff if it doesn’t have Toskala and Nabokov… most teams don’t have that luxury.

  14. “So I guess that means Anaheim signing Giguere to a 5 year deal with only 174 NHL games of experience wasn’t a good idea?”

    Yeah, a bit questionable but he did almost single handedly take his team to the Stanley Cup finals, was much younger than Gerber, and has always been considered a top tier talent (drafted 13th overall), unlike Gerber.

    “Or signing Cristobal Huet for 2 years with only 89 games of experience was even worse?”

    Yeah, I don’t think the Huet deal was a great one but one could argue that he has had a better career than Gerber in his limited time.

    “Basically I think people should just accept that Muckler thought he was getting a decent NHL level starter for a reasonable amount at $3.7 mill per. ”

    Sure, I can accept that Muckler may have thought that, but that doesn’t make it a good deal. The Islanders probably thought they were getting a superstar when they traded for Yashin, but that doesn’t make it a good deal.

    Muckler’s big goalie mistake was not trading for Roloson last year. Look what he did for Edmonton and is continuing to do for them this year. Plus he’d be a great mentor for Emery as he has oodles of experience sharing #1 duties. But he chickened out because he didn’t want to give up a first round pick and instead traded for Arnason.

  15. Roloson’s numbers last season prior to the trade with Edmonton were pretty abysmal. In 23 starts for the Wild he was 6-17-0-1 with a 3.00 GAA. Yes he had a respectable .910 save percentage but the fact that he wasn’t winning probably wouldn’t have done much to put him in the sights of a team like Ottawa (who also still had hope Hasek would return if you recall).

    Roloson had 2 good seasons in Minnesota prior to his current decent run in Edmonton. He’s never won more than 23 games in a season, let alone 30 games. He’s never started more than 47 in a season. He hasn’t proven he’s a number 1 goalie in the NHL. He’s been in the league for 10 years and he has 274 starts to his credit. He’s also 37 years old.

    What Muckler was looking for was a starter that could carry 60 games and win 30+. Gerber started 57 last season and won 38. Gerber’s been in the NHL for 3 full seasons, having started 116 games already and he’s 32. 5 years younger than Roloson. If Gerber continues to play at his current pace by the time he’s 37 he’ll have 8 seasons of experience, and have played over 500 games.

    I’ll concede that Roloson’s numbers were good in Minnesota, but as you yourself said, he was platooning with Manny Fernandez (whom Minny obviously preferred, FOR A REASON… look at this year so far). I honestly don’t see why signing Roloson would’ve been preferrable. He too had 1 solid year in the playoffs… to go with his previous 2 SEASONS of playoff experience for a total of 33 games… in 10 years… that isn’t really that amazing.

    Gerber’s played 8 playoff games in 2 playoff seasons (basically working as a back up due to illness and being a rookie respectively). If he continues that rate by the time 10 seasons has past he’ll have played 6 seasons of playoff hockey and have 24 games… of course that’s assuming he isn’t starting in the playoffs which is unlikely if he’s being paid as a starter.

    All of this anti-Gerber sentiment is seemingly based on the fact that he got sick at the end of last year, lost his job to Cam Ward who ran with it, and the fact that he’s not playing stellarly for Ottawa. He is relatively sound fundamentally and I’m not exactly certain what you could point to on his resume coming into this year that wouldn’t make the $3.7 million per season fairly reasonable giving the going rate for starting goaltenders in the NHL.

    You’re saying it’s a bad deal, without doing any comparison to players at a similar level. Unless you think ALL of those deals are bad deals, which is a tad strange since the going rate is set by the market. You can’t just insist on paying people what you imagine their worth to be without comparing to things of similar value, that’s just not how economics works.

  16. It’s also amazingly absurd to compare the Yashin deal to the Gerber deal. Gerber for $3.7 million is entirely in line with the market value for starting goaltending. Yashin’s deal is a complete anomaly for the most part. Deals are good or bad usually based on whether or not players meet expectations, but the other side of that is whether or not the expectations are reasonable. The expectations on Yashin aren’t and never will be. THAT makes the deal bad from the ownership perspective. The expecations on Gerber ARE reasonable, and while he’s playing poorly I think that puts more of the onus on the player than management. This isn’t something you should be blaming Muckler for. Yes he should “scout” the talent and know what he’s getting, but based on past play, it’s reasonable to say he was paying a fair amount.

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