Does Niemi’s Abritration Award Affect Price?

The Montreal Canadiens have been busy over the last few weeks signing prospects, depth players, administrators, and scouts. While these moves will serve to strengthen the administrative levels and fringes of the team, there remains one gaping hole in its core: Carey Price.

Handed the reigns of the No. 1 goaltender the same instant playoff hero Jaroslav Halak was traded, Price has yet to come to terms with the Habs for the upcoming season.

So does that mean that we should all be panicking? Hardly.

If you go back a few years, you’ll remember that fresh off of winning his Hart and Vezina trophies, Jose Theodore did not sign a new deal with the Habs until their annual golf tournament—just before training camp. So, while it is still very likely that both sides will get something done, there is always the possibility of the Price contract getting stretched out till September.

But this begs the question, why?

In Theodore’s case, it made a little more sense. This guy was coming off of the career-year to end career-years, and held the long end of the stick in negotiations. Theodore was good-looking, bilingual, a hometown hero and the future marketing face of the franchise. There was no way the Canadiens could escape with anything less than a one-sided deal.

With Price, however, the Canadiens are in a totally different boat, or at least they should be.

At 22 years of age, Price has the pedigree to become an elite goaltender in the NHL but he has not yet hit that level of play. Now keep in mind that goaltenders don’t tend to hit their stride until their mid-twenties, so Price still has ample time to get there. That being said, he is coming off of a season where he posted a 13-20-5 record over 41 games played. While his win/loss record was nothing to write home about, Price still managed to maintain a respectable 2.77 GAA and a .912 save percentage.

I won’t go into the details of how Halak simply got more offensive support from his team than Price did and how this played a large part in Price’s win/loss record—because it has been discussed to death—but suffice it to say that, from a negotiation perspective, Price doesn’t have much to stand on. In addition, Price is a Restricted Free Agent, who is not arbitration eligible so this negotiation should have been a slam dunk.

So why is it dragging? There is one well discussed—but unsubstantiated—theory on the matter that I also tend to espouse, and it is a dollars and term idea i.e. Price likely wants more of each and the Habs want less dollars over fewer years. That tends to make sense since Price probably now feels that, as the anointed No. 1, he should be making more money, say, in the $3 million-plus range.

For the Habs, they see potential in Price, but are probably understandably wary of signing him long-term to large dollars while he is still unproven.

So, while we wait and speculate as to what will happen with Price, a good comparable just came onto the market in the form of Antti Niemi’s arbitration award.

For those who haven’t heard, Chicago’s Antti Niemi was awarded $2.75 million from an arbiter—which the Hawks have subsequently walked away from to sign Marty Turco to a one-year deal instead.

While Price’s situation is unique in the current RFA market, the Niemi award provides a nice benchmark in the Price negotiations. While Niemi’s win/loss record was much better than Price’s last year—39 GP, 26-7-4—his individual stats were comparable with a 2.55 goals against and a .912 save percentage.

The most important factor, however, has to be the Stanley Cup ring that Niemi now wears. If we look back at Niemi’s career and see that it is somewhat spotty, there fact remains that he is a Stanley Cup winning goaltender and that had to factor into negotiations.

So, if we say that Niemi and Price’s stats were similar—notwithstanding their win/loss record—and that the Stanley Cup win is worth a 10-20 percent premium on salary, then extrapolating from Niemi’s $2.75 million award, Price should be making between $2.2 and $2.475 million per year.

So, will this new data help move the Price negotiations forward or will the deadlock continue? If I’m Price, I sign a short-term deal and go out there and work my butt off to prove that I deserve the big bucks. But that’s just me.  At the end of the day, I can see both sides will come to an agreement because they have no choice. Or rather, the Canadiens have no choice.

Pierre Gauthier’s poorly timed strategy with his goaltenders has put him in a bind and he might have no choice but to bend to Price’s demands, if he decides to play hardball.

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