With the Coyotes’ season winding down this week, attention is fast turning toward the key issues the team management will have to address this offseason to keep the upward trajectory of the team going after their excellent 2018. Key among these issues is the one to be found in net, where Antti Raanta is a free agent this summer as of this moment. His one-year audition with the Coyotes appears to have been immensely successful, with the 29-year-old Finn currently sitting as the best starting goaltender (playing 15 games or more) in the NHL bar none in 2018 – it’s no coincidence that his excellent play has been a key factor in Arizona’s young team beginning to turn some heads as the season headed from winter into spring.
There was a report that the team had already offered a new multi-year deal to the native of Rauma, Finland, reportedly at an average salary of between 4 and 4.5 million dollars a year, but these have been denied by John Chayka, with the Coyotes GM saying that while the team want to retain him, no official offer has yet been made. This deal, were it anywhere close to the real one would mean, along with Darcy Kuemper’s contract, the cap hit for BOTH of AZ’s top two goalies next season will be, at most, between 5.8 and 6.3 million. That’s cheaper for a goalie tandem than ten NHL teams are paying for their starters alone. Included in that group are teams like Montreal Canadiens, New York Rangers, Boston Bruins, New Jersey Devils, Chicago Blackhawks, Nashville Predators, and Washington Capitals.
It’s hard to believe that the Coyotes will get that lucky in a deal, though here, for a comparison, are the top paid goalie deals in the NHL – while many of the goalies mentioned above are getting on in years, these are still the benchmarks for a top tier NHL starter contract.
Goalies Paid Above AZ Goalies Combined
Note that with the exception of Braden Holtby and Sergei Bobrovsky all of these players are older than Raanta and Kuemper and are likely set to decline at some point over the next few seasons. The closest comparable in that group to Raanta is Holtby, at $6.1 million a year. Looking at that deal, maybe things start to come into perspective as to how good (and possibly unrealistic) this Raanta contract could be if coming in at $4 million after this season’s form, unless that form continues (bear in mind, after all, that this is only Raanta’s first year as a starter.)
But wait, as the informercials say, there’s more! Here is a list of all the currently active NHL goalies who will be paid more than the figures so far mooted for Raanta’s prospective contract next season.
Goalies Above Raanta’s potential next contract
|*Originally signed by a different team|
Now, while it can’t be denied that there are some very good goalies there again, look at the ages of some like, Craig Anderson and Roberto Luongo. Consider that Mike Smith is being paid more than the mooted figure for his play now even after Raanta’s new contract.
Then consider this. In 2017-18, Antti Raanta ranks above all but one of the goalies in the above list in save percentage this season. Marc-Andre Fleury is the only one who tops him. He ranks, in fact, third in the entire NHL in his first season as a starter. When you put Raanta’s contract offer like that, it goes beyond becoming a mere bargain. It becomes highway robbery. It also becomes more unlikely that Raanta will settle for it.
There is a ray of hope here, however, his comparables. Raanta is 28 years old and other goalies that signed deals at around the same age include Martin Jones, Steve Mason, Scott Darling, Cam Talbot, Devan Dubnyk, Fleury, Jaroslav Halak, and Jimmy Howard. According to CapFriendly.com all of these deals have an annual average value that ranges between $4.1 and $5.750 million dollars and term between 2-6 years. Even though the reported deal isn’t accurate it is certainly in the realm of possibility. Granted some of those deals have worked better than others but that’s the risk with any signing.
Realistically, though, in a free-agency climate when genuinely strong goalies are at a premium. In fact, the top 2018 FA’s in net besides Raanta are Jonathan Bernier, Kari Lehtonen and Ondrej Pavelec. Among those names Raanta could probably name his price, with a deal with any real term on it likely being nearer $5 million and possibly beyond it.
What are the options?
Aside from committing to Raanta as their defined starter for the next few years which gives security but risks overpayment, the Coyotes could in theory go for another one- or two-year bridge deal. This could spread the risk for them a little more thinly, especially as they are deep in net with Adin Hill, Hunter Miska, and Merrick Madsen all fighting for time.
This deal, however, risks having to find big money for Raanta just as he hits the wrong side of 30 or decide whether to cut ties with him at his peak in the hope his performance will go down in the worst case scenario. It also risks Raanta deciding to test free agency in the hope one of the teams struggling in net will risk a large chunk of their cap this season, which could set back the rebuild.
It does, however, allow both the breathing space and momentum of the team to continue unchecked while still allowing Hill and Miska, both of whom look incredibly promising prospects, to continue their climb towards NHL starter level without being pushed into the crucible of the crease too soon, and potentially increases the bargaining power and options of the Yotes down the road – if the form continues as it has for Raanta he can still take his big FA payday in two years regardless, but if it’s not in Arizona, the team have a ready-made replacement.
Right now, the best deal for the team – probably for all parties, in fact - would be a bridge, perhaps of around $4 million a year. A bridge deal like that gives short-term security, makes sure Raanta gets rewarded for his stellar work this season and continues to leave him with the option of an even bigger payday down the road.
The one thing the Coyotes can’t do is get trapped into an expensive long-term contract. The NHL is changing in the way it evaluates goaltenders and their value, and Arizona has plenty of long-term options. The last thing they need to do in these negotiations is panic too much and overpay.
If they can walk that tightrope and get Raanta re-signed quickly with such a deal, that would be the ideal outcome. Realistically, though, they may have to pay out a little more in cap-hit than they’d ideally like. Now more than ever is not a time to stint when it comes to writing the checks, though.
It’s going to be an interesting few months at the negotiating table for both sides and the deal could take on many different forms. It needs to be one that works for the Coyotes long-term as well as in the now.