In this article, I will look at how his contract compares to those of other top goaltenders, at least those paid like one. The question at hand is how much he has to contribute for his $7M a year to be reasonable compared to other big-money goaltender deals. I am ignoring several key things like regression to the mean that might impact the overall value of goalies. In other words, I'm not looking at more general things like whether goaltenders as a whole are overpaid, or even if Rinne will be but rather what he has to do for us to say he's not overpaid relative to other top-dollar goaltenders.
Everywhere Is WAR
The nice thing about analyzing goalies is that we have a large number of discrete events and while there are teammate, opponent and rink/scorekeeper effects, the strength of a goaltender's performance pretty much boils down to how well they stopped the puck in different situations. Goaltender analysis is more similar to hitters in baseball than it is to skaters in hockey. The metric I'll use is WAR, Wins Above Replacement, which is very similar to the baseball stat of the same name. The idea is to look at how many goals the goalie in question gave up and compare that to what a typical replacement-level goalie (think free agent paid the minimum salary) would have allowed on the same number and type (ES, PK, PP) of shots. We can translate this number into wins to see how many wins each goaltender gave their team over what a replacement-level goalie would have.
I'm far from the first to use this method. As far as I understand it, GVT follows a similar approach for goalies. For a few other examples, Gabe Desjardins did something very similar two years ago over at Puck Prospectus and there was a fanpost on the subject by DoctorMyBrainHurts at Gabe's usual home, Arctic Ice Hockey. Philadelphia's goalie issues and the signing of Bryzgalov motivated some similar work by our friends Kent Wilson and Geoff Detweiler. With skaters it's rather more complicated, but for goalie analysis this approach is pretty clearly the way to go.
This is already one of the longest intros of all time so I won't go too far into detail about exactly how I calculated this. For replacement level, I took took the combined results of goalies that were not in the top 60 in games started for each season after the lockout. Another difference between my work and the others linked above is that I use 5.52 goals per win instead of the usual 6.0, which I feel is more accurate based on regressing league points on non-empty-net goal differential since the lockout. This warrants an article of its own, which I'll post later this week.
What does $4+ million buy these days?
Capgeek only goes back a couple years and nhlnumbers, which I used, only stretches back to 2007-2008. In those four seasons, we have a sample of 60 in which a goaltender had an annualized cap hit of $4M or greater. Here is a scatter plot showing the relationship between goaltender wins-above-replcement and the cap hit minus the minimum player salary. Something to note is that there isn't a very strong relationship between a goaltender's cap hit and how much value in wins he turned out to provide to his team. This is a sign that maybe high-price goaltenders as a group are overpaid, but I'll leave that for future work as it's outside the scope of this article.
The regression equation you see tells us what we should expect a goaltender to produce for a given cap hit over the minimum salary. The last two seasons the minimum has been half a million dollars. Going by that, here is what we should expect out of goaltenders in this range:
|Cap Hit ($M)||WAR|
So 4 million dollars buys you about three and a half wins.
How productive must Rinne be?
And finally we are ready to answer the question at hand. How well does Rinne need to play for his contract to compare well to other high-dollar goalie contracts? Looking at the last row of the table, we see that producing a WAR of about 8.57 a year is about right. Here are his last 3 seasons, which comprise 167 of his 168 career starts:
This averages out to a WAR of 6.56 per season, far below the expected 8.57. However, there might be two reasons to be optimistic. His number of starts per year has gone up each season and even on a per-start basis his WAR was substantially higher last year than the first two. While our gut instinct may chalk the latter up to random variance, the starts going up each year is obviously important since it's hard to provide value from the bench or IR. This raises two issues, how much he needs to play to get his WAR up to the 8.57 range and/or how much his save percentage might need to improve to do so. Let's consider those separately.
Rinne has faced an average of 24.35 shots at even strength, 4.32 shots on the PK and 0.67 shots with the Preds up a man per start in his career up to the current season. Based on his career save percentages in these spots (0.928/0.877/0.903) and the replacement group's (0.907/0.845/0.908) he has a WAR of 0.118 per start. To get to 8.57 for the season, he would have to start about 72 games a year! Keep in mind that this would be starting almost every game without seeing any dropoff in save percentage from his career average. Only Lundqvist has gotten close to that many starts and based on what Rinne has done the last three years I think we can all agree that this isn't realistic.
So, then, it would appear that he has to improve on his already high save percentage that most of us would guess is over expectation. How much improvement? Let's take his 64 starts last year as the jumping-off point. If he faces the same number and type of shots per start as he has in his career thus far that would be about 1,877 shots a season. A replacement-level goaltender would allow almost exactly 3 goals per start, or 192 goals for the season. At 5.52 goals per win, Rinne would need to concede about 47 fewer goals to be worth 8.57 wins above replacement. This translates to a save percentage of 0.923. Here is a table with all goaltenders with a career save percentage of 0.923 or above, minimum of 500 games played:
|Player||Starts||Career Save %|
Just off the list is Dominik Hasek with a career save percentage of 0.922.
For his contract to be about about equal in value to other goaltenders making $4M a year or above, all Rinne has to do is play at the Hasek level for 65+ games a year for 7 years.