Top 10 bang-for-the-buck goaltenders

Updated: December 26, 2006, 4:46 PM ET
By Terry Frei | Special to ESPN.com

If you're among the top 10 highest-paid goalies in the league, you should play like one of the top 10 goalies in the league. Sounds simplistic, doesn't it? But it's more important than ever.

If we put a hockey fan at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology onto it, we probably could have an effective, cold-hearted, completely objective system of calculating a goalie's bang-for-the-buck coefficient. Short of that, though, instinct and subjective judgment has to come into play.

Mikka Kirprusoff
Bruce Bennett/Getty ImagesFrei says Mikka Kirprusoff is the real deal for the Flames.

The initial test would be the Red Wings' Dominik Hasek. To not have him at the top of the list, at least at this point of the 2006-07 season, would be off-base.

As a member of the 35-and-over set, Hasek was eligible for incentives in a one-year deal. His contract -- $750,000 base salary with considerable playoff-based incentives -- was a fitting recognition that he was suspect physically and that postseason success is all that matters in Detroit. It's the perfect intersecting of mutual needs -- the Red Wings to obtain reliable playoff goaltending and Hasek to prove he can hold up physically, play well and help erase the memories of his brittle season in Ottawa.

In the pre-cap NHL, general managers could make a mistake by overrating the relative value of a player and overpaying him; they could inherit onerous contracts and later mitigate the damages, plus, if pertinent, the embarrassment.

One time-honored response was to shrug, admit that you win some and lose some, and some nights the Zamboni breaks down, and you just have to move on. That especially could work if the GM was working for one of the franchises willing to open the coffers and take chances, recognizing that occasional misjudgments were an inherent part of the process.

Now, the cap era, which (at least in theory) levels the ice and provides for some stabilization, puts far more of a premium on bang-for-the-buck value.

That's especially true in goal.

So, what follows are the top 10 goalies in the league on the bang-for-the-buck scale. It involves not just statistics, but also gut feelings and eyeball tests. It involves sliding values, as well, because it's unrealistic to expect Nikolai Khabibulin, at $6.75 million, to be a complete failure if he doesn't play twice as well as Miikka Kiprusoff, who makes a little more than half as much. Still, the standard for Khabibulin should be higher.

It's also a battle of perception. Great goalies earn leeway from their teammates, and those of us doing the evaluating, because of their perceived ability to bounce back. It can be about swagger, aura and sometimes self-fulfilling prophecies. The trick is to have a bad night be considered aberrational, and that enters into this, too.

1. Dominik Hasek, Red Wings
2006-07 compensation: $750,000
Bang for the buck: $6.23
That's right, the Red Wings are getting far more than their money's worth from Hasek, who will be 42 when the playoffs begin. Of course, all bets are off if he breaks down before the postseason and Detroit has to count on either Chris Osgood or Joey MacDonald in the playoffs.

2. Miikka Kiprusoff, Flames
2006-07 compensation: $3.5 million
Bang for the buck: $1.74 or $2 Canadian, which is a cheap way of saying he's a little Loonie.
And to think, he failed miserably in his chance to supplant Evgeni Nabokov in San Jose. Now, all he does is play almost every game -- quick, who's his backup? -- and is the second-best goalie in the league. Sure, he benefits from the Flames' style, but he's the real deal.

3. Martin Brodeur, Devils
2006-07 compensation: $5.2 million
Bang for the buck: $1.42
Brodeur is "only" the sixth-highest paid goalie in the league, and he still is the best. That disparity nudges him well above the $1 figure. He'd be even higher if he could still display his peerless ability to play the puck, and if his prowess actually was being watched by something other than empty seats in the lame-duck Continental Airlines Arena.

4. Chris Mason, Predators
2006-07 compensation: $1.25 million
Bang for the buck: $1.37
Mason, who has all his hair on his chin, won't last in this rarified realm, but you've got to give the guy credit. He has more than capably filled in for Tomas Vokoun after Vokoun's thumb injury. And despite his past stretches of Ironman-type work for the Preds, Vokoun's health and injury problems at least raise the possibility that though he's only 30, he's past the warranty. Mason wasn't up to the playoff challenge in the first round last spring, but he's still a bargain.

Dan Cloutier
Noah Graham/Getty ImagesDan Cloutier and his $2.55 million salary has given the Kings a 3.81 GAA, the worst in the NHL.
5. Cristobal Huet, Canadiens
2006-07 compensation: $3.0 million (including signing bonuses)
Bang for the buck: $1.35
What a story. A year ago, the Frenchman was making $456,000 and beginning to provide evidence that he might be better than the troubled and notorious Jose Theodore. The Canadiens showed that they believed last season was no fluke, signing him to a rich two-year deal in the offseason, even while also re-signing David Aebischer. Huet has more than lived up to the faith.

6. Jean-Sebastien Giguere, Ducks
2006-07 compensation: $3.99 million
Bang for the buck: $1.23
"Giggy" didn't rock the boat or the bench (much) in the playoffs when Ilya Bryzgalov got most of the work and the attention, and he has come back strong for the best team in the league. His arm's-length relationship with Randy Carlyle even can be a positive as he tries to show his coach he hasn't lost it, and still can be among the best in the game.

7. Vesa Toskala, Sharks
2006-07 compensation: $1.375 million
Bang for the buck: $1.21
This is a tough call because the Sharks are continuing to alternate him with Nabokov. GM Doug Wilson is pondering whether to trade either of his goalies as he weighs the offers in relation to their salaries and perhaps the widespread belief that Nabokov is flighty (even for a goalie) and ultimately unreliable. Nabokov is making $5 million, nearly four times as much, and the issue is whether there's going to be a desperate team out there, a la Edmonton last season, as the deadline approaches. But for now, both are playing well, albeit without either taking (or being allowed to take) a stranglehold on the No. l job.

8 (tie). Ryan Miller, Buffalo
2006-07 compensation: $2 million
Bang for the buck: $1.20
It's tempting to have him higher than this because of the most important standard of all -- winning. And while his other numbers aren't great, he's on track to play over 60 games, even as there are 18 goalies in the league making more than he is, including backup Martin Biron.

8 (tie). Peter Budaj, Avalanche
2006-07 compensation: $600,000
Bang for the buck: $1.20
There are some common themes here and one of them is Jose Theodore. Despite being one of the highest-paid goalies in the league, he wasn't able to unquestionably secure the No. 1 job in Montreal a year ago, giving Huet his chance. The same has happened in Colorado this season, forcing Joel Quenneville to give repeated chances to Budaj, who actually had played well for Slovakia at the Olympics in February. Budaj has been inconsistent, but he's in the first year of a three-year, $2.1 million deal that was designed for a rarely used backup. And as of this typing, he has played four of Colorado's last five, winning all four.

10. Marty Turco, Stars
2006-07 compensation: $6.0 million
Bang for the buck: 95 cents
The monkey on his back will reappear in April as Turco attempts to shake that reputation for playoff, um, underachievement. But it's hard to find fault with his solid work this season as the league's second-highest paid goalie.

At the other end of the spectrum, the "bad buys," at least to this point in the season, are easier to find.

The Kings' Dan Cloutier ($2.55 million), who has been nothing short of dreadful and hasn't rewarded the faith Marc Crawford showed in him; Theodore ($5.5 million), who beat out the Avalanche's Patrick Roy for the Hart Trophy four years ago, but now hasn't been able to beat out Budaj; the Senators' Martin Gerber, a disaster at Ottawa; and the Lightning's Marc Denis, who seemed capable of better things than he has shown so far after his escape from Columbus.

But until someone comes up with a foolproof formula, it's all in the eye of the beholder.

Terry Frei is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. He is the author of "Third Down and a War to Go" and "Horns, Hogs, and Nixon Coming."

Terry Frei

ESPN.com contributor
Terry Frei is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. He is the author of "Third Down and a War to Go" and "Horns, Hogs, and Nixon Coming."