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The New Jersey Devils have not had goaltending for the better part of the last three seasons. With the way things are shaping up, they’re likely to own three top-18 picks in the draft.
This has naturally led to a lot of speculation – from fans and draft buffs – that the Devils could be the landing spot for Yaroslav Askarov.
While I’m not going to argue his standing as the top goalie prospect in this class, I will argue against the Devils taking him; especially in the top-10 (he likely wouldn’t be there by the Vancouver pick...where I still wouldn’t want to draft him).
Put simply, goaltending is a crapshoot. There is a *ton* of variance at the position. There really isn’t much correlation between save percentage and draft slot (or cap hit) and the names atop the save percentage leaderboard are quite different on a year-to-year basis. It’s just not worth investing big money or high-end draft capital into. You’re not going to get bang for your buck.
Take a look at the leaders in save percentage over the last three seasons and meet me after the jump.
2017-18 (40+ games)
Antti Raanta - .930
Marc-Andre Fleury - .927
Pekka Rinne - .927
John Gibson - .926
Connor Hellebuyck - .925
Jonathan Quick - .921
Sergei Bobrovsky - .921
Semyon Varlamov - .920
Andrei Vasilevskiy - .920
Devan Dubnyk - .918
2018-19 (40+ games)
Ben Bishop - .934
Robin Lehner - .930
Thomas Greiss - .927
Darcy Kuemper - .927
Andrei Vasilevskiy - .925
Anton Khudobin - .923
Jaroslav Halak - .922
Matt Murray - .919
Pekka Rinne - .919
Carey Price - .918
2019-20 (30+ games due to shortened season)
Anton Khudobin - .930
Tuukka Rask - .929
Elvis Merzlikins - .923
Pavel Francouz - .923
Connor Hellebuyck - .922
Antti Raanta - .921
Tristan Jarry - .921
Ben Bishop - .920
Robin Lehner - .920
Jaroslav Halak - .919
Notice anything? I sure did. There are a few beautiful takeaways from those leaderboards.
Connor Hellebuyck is the only goaltender with a current top-14 cap hit to finish top-10 in save percentage more than once. Why did I stop at 14? No. 15 is Robin Lehner, who was only able to get his money on a one-year deal.
It gets better.
Carey Price, Mr. $10.5 million himself, has one top-10 finish. Sergei Bobrovsky made the list in 2017-18 and has been one of the league’s worst goaltenders since. Henrik Lundqvist, though no fault of his own, didn’t crack the top-10. Want me to keep going? Good.
Marc-Andre Fleury, the NHL’s 4th highest paid netminder, has a backup with more appearances on the list. Tuukka Rask, the NHL’s 5th highest paid netminder, is in the same boat.
We’re also looking at Jonathan Quick, Cory Schneider, Martin Jones and (retired) Roberto Luongo sitting in the top-15 salary wise. I think I can comfortably say every team those goaltenders are paid by would use a compliance buyout in a second to get out of those contracts.
But wait, I’m still not done.
If you’re investing a 1st round pick – or, say, $7 million per season – you want a consistent top-10 goaltender. That means two appearances in the top-10 for save percentage over a three-year span. Fair? Fair.
Buckle up for this one. Over the last three seasons we’re looking at, more 7th rounders/undrafted goaltenders made multiple appearances in the top-10 than 1st rounders. Andrei Vasilevskiy was the lone 1st rounder to crack the list twice.
For fun, let’s be generous and say Askarov has an 80% chance of becoming the next Andrei Vasilevskiy. I’m talking about the exact same development path and the same results as an NHLer. Just roll with it.
That would mean a three year wait before NHL games, and a five year wait before he becomes an NHL starter. When he gets to the NHL, he’ll give you consistent .919 goaltending.
That sure is a massive step up from Mackenzie Blackwood and his *checks notes* .916 save percentage through 70 games with one of the worst defensive teams in the NHL.
It’s one thing to argue for Askarov if the Devils had no future in goal. It’s another to ignore the very promising 23-year-old.
‘But Todd, you always say draft the best player available regardless of who is on the team!’
Yes, with position players. You know why? You need a lot of them every single night. Let’s say the Devils were stacked on the wing and Lucas Raymond fell to 6th overall. I wouldn’t want them to pass because a) Raymond is awesome but also; b) eight wingers play every single night. You’re allowed to have multiple good ones.
You know what you don’t need every night? Two goaltenders. Let’s be conservative and say Blackwood will develop into an above average (not to the extreme) goaltender who can comfortably give you 47-52 quality showings a year. Are you investing a 1st round pick – 10th overall, let’s say – hoping for 30-35 solid starts on a yearly basis. I sure hope not.
The Devils need more scoring. Their defense is awful. They’re shallow on the wings. Even where they have depth (center), it’s arguably the most valuable position and having three high-end ones would give a massive leg up over other teams.
If the Devils want to take a chance on a goaltender in the middle rounds, fine, do it. But don’t use a top-18 pick and pass up the opportunity to (potentially) land three impact players who will play 75-80 times a year.
Info via NaturalStatTrick.com and HockeyDB.com.
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