The Risky Road of Trading a Top Goalie

TORONTO CANADA - JANUARY 15: Miikka Kiprusoff #34 of the Calgary Flames. HIs possible appearance on the trade market this off-season would be a rare opportunity for Goalie hungry teams. (Photo by Abelimages/Getty Images)

In preparation of my Miikka Kiprusoff trade speculation article, I've done some research on Goalie Trades. Goalies are a tough area to explore, a mystery, an enigma with a lot of uncertainty. It is dangerous waters to venture into and even the advanced stats folks are reduced to chicken bone throwing soothsayers. When the math fails, one looks to history for lessons.

How do you value a starting G of Kipper's stature? A top G safely in the top 10 in the NHL?

There is actually not a lot of precedent of a top G being traded. Most teams hang onto them and for good reason.

If the Flames were to move Kipper, what kind of return would he garner? It is very hard to value him and for the purposes of this article I am going to research past G moves for historical context.

Make the jump for some historical trades on G's and note that top G are very rarely moved. G's who are proven, consistent, healthy and at their peak very rarely hit the market.

Lower level bottom 10 starter G's to back-ups in today's NHL market are exchanged for paltry returns. Low draft picks, 3rd line players and bottom pairing D men.

It is a cubic zirconia and diamond situation with nothing really valued in the middle, unless it is a G for G swap.

The Flames are certainly not going to move Kipper unless the return is impressive. They may be more inclined to keep him for the remaining years of his contract and there is good reason. Historically, when the top G is traded, the team dealing the G loses the deal. If there is any lesson to be learned in the last ten years it may be not to move the the top G at all because the return simply isn't worth it.

Trade value is always in the mind of the team that needs the trade the most.

The Flames do not need to move either of their blue-chips in Iginla or Kipper. They could continue on next season with them, just as they have done for the last three non-playoff seasons. So I do not see the Flames in any way as a team under pressure or needing to move their stars this off-season.

The logic of moving them is that the Flames have been a non-playoff team with them, so why keep them? They are getting older, do have value and can jump start a rebuild / retool. Trade speculation of either one is certainly worth considering at this point but why should the Flames do another team a favor if they are not getting proper return.

How do things turn out for teams that move a top G?

  • Le Trade & Patrick Roy

Patrick Roy along with Mike Keane were traded from the Habs to the Avs on Dec 6th, 1995 for Jocelyn Thibault, Martin Rucinsky and Andrei Kovalenko. The Avs went onto win the Cup and the trade is indisputably won by the Avs.

In fact it is considered one of the most unbalanced trades in NHL history.

In fairness to the Habs, Roy stormed out of a game and vowed to never play for Montreal again; he forced them to this trade under difficult circumstances. This is not a good trade to use because circumstances were at play in the background but still, even under pressure the Habs should have gotten more.

  • Luongo's Travels

Roberto Luongo was already a high draft pick (4th overall) and the Islanders moved him as a surplus G in light of the highly touted Rick Dipetro coming aboard. A historically fatal move for the franchise but Luongo was unproven at this stage of his career. This isn't the trade to focus on.

In Florida Luongo established himself as a true #1 G and it is this trade we can gauge.

With his contract expiring the Panthers traded Luongo, along with Lukas Krajicek and a 6th round pick to the Canucks for Todd Bertuzzi, Bryan Allen and a serviceable G in Alex Auld.

At the time this was seen as a very good trade for Florida.

The background was that Todd Bertuzzi was surrounded by outrage over the Steve Moore incident and Vancouver had to get him out of town. Bertuzzi was seen as a premier power forward and in the background it was rumored that Flordia could not meet Luongo's contract demands. He had turned down a 5 year 30 million dollar contract publicly. Upon arriving in Vancouver Luongo immediately signed a 4 year 27 million dollar deal.

Time would prove that the Canucks easily won this trade.

  • Dominik (Old Man) Hasek

Hasek had a common trajectory for Goaltenders, like Tim Thomas, Kipper and others he started slow and did not emerge early. At the age of 25 he was still playing in the Czech Republic. At the age of 27 the Blackhawks traded him to the Sabres where he emerged to take over the starting position at about the age of 30.

We can mark his trade value in 2001 when he was dealt to the Red Wings at the age of 36. In this manner he is similar to Kipper in age, in proven performance and we know what happened after. Unlike Kipper he had some negative surrounding him regarding injuries. Kipper has no injury issues, in fact he is one of the most impressive work-horse Goalies in the NHL.

He was traded to the Red Wings for Vyacheslav Kozlov, a first round pick and future considerations.

The winner on this trade was clearly the Red Wings hands down and Hasek sipped from Stanley in 2002. The Sabres went from the 8th overall in 2001 to 20th in 2002 after Hasek left. They finished 26th in 2003 etc.

Roloson is not even a star goalie but again the value of a proven Vet G is illustrated.

Once again the initial optics mark the team acquiring the G as losing the trade initially. Kevin Lowe is widely lambasted at the time for giving up a first round pick and a 3rd for a 37 year old Roloson who was not even considered elite.

Roloson lead the Oilers to the Stanley Cup finals and if he had not gone down to injury in the Cup Finals the Oilers may have gotten their 6th Cup.

Bottom Line - the Oilers won this trade even if all that came of it was their last post-season run to within a hair of the Stanley Cup. Roloson illustrates, just as Kipper did in 2004, what a strong G can do for a playoff team. I doubt any Oiler fan or anyone would trade their 2006 playoff run for having Trevor Lewis on their roster at the moment. He is the 1st round pick that was lost and currently a 3rd line RW on the Kings at the moment.

  • J.S. Giguere - Giggy-Giggy-Goo

Another trade that shows a top G is dumped for too low a value. Burke gets a Vet G on Jan 31, 2010 snaggin J.S. Giguere for a declining Vesa Toskala and Jason Blake a 2nd / 3rd line Winger.

In fairness to the Ducks, Giguere had announced he would not take a back-up position to Hiller and they were in a position of being forced to trade him. Giguere has injury issues though and does not perform well in Toronto.

Burke lets him go UFA and decides to roll the dice on his young G. A move that turns out to haunt him in the 2011-12 season. Giguere signs as a FA with the Avalanche on July 1, 2011 - the Avs wisely taking out insurance on the young Varlamov. Giguere plays 32 games and posts a 0.919 SV% but again injuries plague him and he is sidelined later in the season.

Bottom line - Watch the injuries on the older G but still the proven performance is there.

Roloson now at the age of 40 is practically given away to the TB Lightening on Jan 1, 2011 for Ty Wishart. The Lightning surprise in the playoffs and march all the way to the Conference Final upsetting the Penguins and sweeping the Capitals.

Roloson does not hold up in the regular season the next year but again the message of a Vet Goalie in the playoffs should be clear.

And again Roloson is no ones idea of a top Goaltender.

Vokoun has a serious blood clotting condition that the Preds announced publicly in 2006. He had health issues surrounding him but he was clearly a proven top G by 2007 and had been the Preds starter since 2002.

He was traded for a 1st round, pick 9th overall (Josh Bailey) a 2nd round pick, 58th overall (Nick Spaling) and another 2nd round pick, 40th overall (Aaron Ness)

In another one of those trades where you are thinking "Wow, that is a great return for a Goaltender" once you see the names that came from the picks you may hold up a bit. The risk of the draft gamble is obvious.

The Preds likely knew what they had on their hands with Pekka Rinne at the time of the trade and they also were a team on a budget. In dealing Vokoun it makes sense for them due to internal money issues to get rid of him, at the time he was the most expensive player on their roster.

At the bottom line this trade is a bit of a draw. It did not hurt the Preds because despite all the draft pick busts they had Rinne ready to step in on a cheaper contract. The Panthers didn't lose either because their issues in upcoming seasons were nothing to do with Vokoun. Even though they continued to miss the playoffs, Vokoun is what made that team respectable and it was in no way his fault for their state of affairs.

Young Goaltenders - G is for Gambling

If we leave behind the examples of the older, proven G and venture into G trades on younger unproven ones, a general NHL principle appears to be inverted.

Generally speaking younger players are more highly valued than older ones who can be anticipated to be on the decline. Not in the case of Goaltenders. They are more like fine wine who get better with age, if they prove themselves to be consistent, which is a hallmark of all top G.

The uncertain waters of young G trades are illustrated below.

Semyon Varlamov

The Washington Capitals traded Varlamov to the Avalanche last off-season for their first round pick and a 2nd round pick in 2012 or 2013. The trade was widely seen as a win for the Capitals due to Varlamov being so young and unproven.

At this early stage those analysts concerns have been verified. Varlamov stumbled in Nov and lost the starting job. The Avs have also delivered the 11th overall pick to the Capitals this year for him.

Kari Lehtonen

Former 2nd overall pick was dealt to the Dallas Stars on Feb 9, 2010 in a disaster of a trade for the faltering Atlanta Thrashers who received Iven Vishnevskiy and a 4th round pick (Ivan Telegin).

In fairness to the Thrashers, injuries were plaguing Lehtonen in the years prior to the trade and he was looking like a 2nd overall bust from the draft. He has found his game in Dallas and they are clear winners in this trade at this point.

Bottom line - Injuries on a young G may not be such a big deal. Older ones yes but not younger ones.

Jaroslav Halak

With both Carey Price and Halak becoming RFA's, the Habs had to deal one of them. Halak was traded for Lars Eller and Ian Schultz in the 2010 off-season. Eller is a 13th overall pick doing time on the 3rd line in Montreal at the moment, so the jury may be out for awhile.

The Risks of Young Goaltenders

Nothing more clearly illustrates the dangers of young G than the Colorado - Ottawa G swap on Feb 18, 2011. Craig Anderson had a great season for the Avs in 2009-10 taking them to an unexpected playoff berth.

Suddenly he fell off the next year and lost his starting job to Peter Budaj, the club dealt him to Ottawa for young and not especially impressive Brian Elliot. He performed dismally in Colorado and was tossed away. Elliot signed a one-year contract worth 600,000 for the St. Louis Blues and then a two-year extension later.

How painful is this for Avs and Sens? Elliot lead the NHL this season with a 1.56 GAA average and a 0.940 SV%.

But no one is going to bet the farm that Elliot will continue to dominate in performance between the pipes. You simply never know with young Goaltenders, only the older established ones with a body of consistent work under their belt can garner any degree of confidence from a team seeking to acquire them.

So why are they not valued much higher?

Conclusions

When I started researching the Miikka Kiprusoff trade speculation article I was enthusiastic about moving him. It is time to move on for the Flames. With or without Iginla and Kipper, the Flames are a non-playoff team. I now certainly am having second thoughts about that when it comes to Kipper and the reason is history shows that a star or top Goalie is almost never traded.

When they are the team that moves them has never in retrospect been seen to win the trade. Unless I missed a G trade in the last ten years I did not find one where the dealing team came up on top at the end of the day.

The current NHL market is depressed for Goalies, they are literally thrown around for paltry to nothing returns and it gives a misleading impression of what the value of a star Goalie is because they are almost never traded. The top Vet Goalie has been undervalued in the past because of it.

A Vet Goalie like Kipper who does not have any injury issues surrounding him, who has a consistent and proven record, performs well under pressure and can steal games should be one of the most valuable trade assets there is but reality will tell you that offer will not be out there.

Despite the fact that a G like Kipper can give you 10 points extra in the standings and steal games for you, taking you into the playoffs. Can stand on his head and take a team on a playoff run and unlike young G's with a spotty record they can garner a greater degree of confidence in doing so, they are undervalued.

If Kipper is traded I would expect a historic return. Yes, a historic return, one that strikes everyone in the NHL as outrageous and the reason why is that the bar set in past trades for a top G has not proven adequate for what those G's delivered.

Goalies can play at an elite level much later in life, unlike skaters who usually peak at 35. (Edit: 25) They are safer bets the older they get because you know what you are getting as the acquiring team.

Kipper very well may have another 5 years of play in him and the Flames do not owe any other team in the NHL any favors. Why should they trade to the Blackhawks and potentially hand them another Cup or the Leafs and get them into the playoffs for a run?

One may want to consider just keeping him if a very good return isn't there.

I'll speculate on candidate teams and trade scenarios in a future article but get ready for ones that lean to a historically heavy price for the team interested in the Kipper.

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