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2021 NHL Free Agency: Summer of young netminders

During the 2021 NHL free agency, we have seen goaltender contracts at the forefront. Whether it has been low-risk or high-risk contracts, it has shown fans just how valuable goaltending is to a hockey club’s success, especially when it’s young up-and-coming netminder.

Before we delve into the recent money handed out, we must go back to the basics of contracts. In hockey, and in any sport really, the terms of contracts indicate what a team believes a player will do in the future based on previous results. Essentially, a team is banking that a player will be as good, if not better, over the length of the deal.

Usually, a younger goaltender will be signed to a short-term deal if a team thinks that the player needs to prove more, while longer-term deals are based on years of success at the NHL level. Look no further than the eight-year deal Sergei Bobrovsky signed with Florida.

#FlaPanthers Sergei Bobrovsky with a highlight reel save! 👀 #LetsGoCanes — Hockey Hound ™️ (@HockeyHoundShow) April 7, 2021

Like all contracts, especially like the one just mentioned, there is a risk that a player will never live up to the expectation.

Although we have seen goaltenders on the move this offseason, like Calder Finalist Alex Nedeljkovic leaving Carolina for Detroit, or Frederik Andersen saying goodbye to the Toronto crowd for the “bunch of jerks” in Carolina, the focus is going to be on young goaltenders agreeing to extensions.

Brotherly Love for Hart

After a standout sophomore season in 2019-20, Carter Hart took a significant step back in 2020-21. Albeit the defense in front of him in Philly was abysmal, Hart did not help the cause. The 22-year-old netminder posted a .877 save percentage (SV%) along with a 3.67 goals-against average (GAA) in 27 games. To add insult to injury, Hart finished the campaign with the worst goals-saved above average (GSAA), at -22.6. It was just a rough campaign for the then-pending RFA.

NHL Standard career statisticsGoalie StatsScoringSeasonAgeTmLgGPGSWLT/OGASASVSV%GAASOMINQSQS%RBSGA%-GSAAadjGAAGPSGAPTSPIMAwards2018-1920PHINHL31301613181976895.9172.830171714.4674927.03.016.20000Calder-92019-2021PHINHL4340241339511001005.9142.421235625.6259964.52.576.70000AS-92020-2122PHINHL2725911589721632.8773.67114569.3608134- yrsNHL101954937926527972532.9052.882552948.50521104-11.23.0914.60002

Provided by View Original Table Generated 8/13/2021.

However, despite a down year, on August 9th, Hart signed a 3-year extension with the Flyers, which carries an AAV of $3.979 M. His contract comparison leads to names like Mackenzie Blackwood in New Jersey (85.3% comparability) which makes sense, given the results.

"He has all the weapons." Will Carter Hart have a bounceback season? #NHLTonight — NHL Network (@NHLNetwork) August 5, 2021

For the Flyers, this is a good contract. Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher prioritized defense this offseason, bringing in Ryan Ellis, Keith Yandle, and Rasmus Ristolainen with hopes that it will take the stress level off of the young netminder. Hart will still be an RFA when the contract expires and now must go out there over the next three years and show that last season was just a bump in what will be a well-paved road.

Shesterkin live on Broadway

Igor Shesterkin got paid. For a goaltender that has played only 47 games at the NHL level, general manager Chris Drury showed the utmost faith in his goaltender as he is paying him $5.66 M per season over the next four years. If I’m a Rangers fan, this deal seems like a bit much for a goaltender who has shown glimpses of greatness. But Drury considered the statistics Shesterkin showcased over in the KHL for many years, which undoubtedly led to Shesterkin getting the largest second contract for a goaltender in NHL history.

Hearing Igor Shesterkin's new deal with #NYR is 4 years, $22.666 million. AAV of $5.65 million. That is the most money ever handed out – in AAV and total dollars – to an NHL goaltender on his second contract. — Frank Seravalli (@frank_seravalli) August 9, 2021

Shesterkin, while having no. 1 goaltender value and potential, was never given full reign to the net by former head coach David Quinn. But that could change under the Rangers’ new coach, Gerard Gallant. Shesterkin could play closer to 60 games instead of splitting time with Alexandar Georgiev

The 25-year-old took a minor step back last season, sure, but that shouldn’t be too much worry. In his short NHL stint, the Russian netminder owns a .921 SV% with a 2.62 GAA. Yes, the contract is a bit steep given the sample size, but it’s a gamble worth taking. If Shesterkin lives up to the hype, the Rangers could actually be underpaying a premier netminder.

.@Panger40 assesses the deals signed by Igor Shesterkin and Ilya Samsonov.#NHLTonight — NHL Network (@NHLNetwork) August 10, 2021

On the flip side, if he tails off and never lives up to it, then money will seem wasted, but if I was a betting man, I would say this contract looks brilliant when it expires in 2025.

The Samsonov District

After the lackluster play from Braden Holtby back in 2019, then-rookie Ilya Samsonov took the reigns. But in year two, Samsonov could not escape COVID-19, and while he was out, Vitek Vanecek, the team’s third-string netminder, made a name for himself.

That led to Samsonov only playing 19 games. It was not a pretty 19 games either, with a .389 Quality Start percentage, along with an underwhelming save-percentage just a few ticks above .900. His GAA rose to over 2.60 and with Vanecek still on the roster (reacquired after Expansion Draft) the starting job is up for grabs entering this season.

That being said, Samsonov was given a 1-year, $2 M deal from Capitals’ general manager Brian MacLellan. This is an excellent deal for the Capitals as Samsonov has showcased the potential to be a strong goaltender.

Igor Shesterkin and the @NYRangers agree on new a four-year contract, while @Capitals have re-signed Ilya Samsonov to a one-year, $2 million deal. Carter Hart opened the floodgates! — Greg Wyshynski (@wyshynski) August 9, 2021

If he can play to the level he is capable of this upcoming season, the Capitals save money before he asks for an uptick when this deal expires. But it is also great for the Capitals because who knows how Vanecek plays in year two.

If last season’s surprise continues his strong play, it makes little sense to pay Samsonov big money to be a backup. For Samsonov, this deal should light a fuse to go out there this season and prove his worth.

With the flat salary cap, contracts have been like surgery for most NHL teams. For the goaltenders above, two of the three deals are low risk, but all have high rewards. Just how high remains to be seen. 

Carter Hart, Ilya Samsonov and Igor Shesterkin have all signed today. Big day for some of the top young goalies in the NHL. — Dan Rosen (@drosennhl) August 9, 2021

Featured Image via AP Photo/Derik Hamilton

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