Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Re-Evaluating Luongo To The Leafs

Elite goaltending is tough to find.  Top-tier goalies are almost never traded and rarely, it seems, hit unrestricted free agency.  The only way to get an elite goaltender is to develop one, or to trade for Roberto Luongo at one of the 5-year intervals in which he seems to consistently find himself on the trade block.

With those assumptions in mind, I've been of the opinion that a trade for Roberto Luongo - particularly in light of the fact that he'd be dealt at a value that was far from commensurate to the value he provides a team - would be a good move for the Leafs.  The team is more than one piece away, but this is a piece we can add now and we may not get another chance like this.

Over at Pension Plan Puppets there was a great fanpost that measured what the impact of Luongo's contract would be to the Leafs as it pertains to the cap re-capture formula.  The post looks at what the cap penalty would be if he retired in each year of the deal and charts the results.  In a nutshell, the penalties aren't all that significant.

So if the penalties aren't significant, the cost of acquisition is discounted, and Luongo is still a very good goalie (which in my opinion, he is) then it makes sense to make the move. Strike while the iron is hot, as it were.

Also at PPP, Steve Burtch had a look at how goalies age in an effort to see how many years of Luongo we were buying.  His conclusion was that there was virtually no correlation between a goalie's age and performance which was certainly promising, on the face of it.  Building off of this post, Eric T at NHL Numbers pointed out an oversight in the original post, namely, that survivorship bias was at work.  The question shouldn't be whether your average 34-year old goalie is better than a given 28-year old but rather whether the same goalie was better at 28 than at 34.  The conclusion, unsurprisingly, is that goalies tend to get worse as they age.

So if you're paying the price for Luongo, what are you buying?  I think we can safely say that you're getting at least two years of performance that would be worth both the cost of acquisition as it pertains to outgoing assets as well as the cap-related cost of his contract.  He's a good goalie today and the odds are that his play wont swan dive in the next year or two.

From there, it's tough to say what to expect from Luongo.  He's due a pretty hefty sum of money from whoever holds his contract so I think we can safely assume that he wont be retiring for the next 6 or 7 years minimum, irrespective of performance.  If his on-ice performance takes a serious tumble, you could be in for four years of a serious anchor contract, in addition to a cap recapture penalty that's more than nominal for a few years thereafter.

What we're left to consider is where the Leafs are in their own success cycle and I don't think it's necessary to weave a thorough argument in this regard: They're not a good team.  Whether with Luongo or without him, this team is not among the top handful of teams in the Eastern Conference.  Could they be a good team while Luongo is still more or less worth his cap hit? Possible but not something I'd want to bet on - especially given that you know Luongo is going to be a liability on the back-end of that deal at some stage or another.

The one consideration that could plausibly tilt the mental calculus in favour of a Luongo deal would be whether having a top-tier goalie improves your chance at landing an elite UFA like Corey Perry.  When trying to attract free agents the two most important factors, generally speaking, are 1) dollars, and 2) the prospect of on-ice success.  There's no doubt that the Leafs will have the financial flexibility to throw a heavyweight offer at a top UFA this summer but without Luongo, it will be tough to sell 'prospect of on-ice success'.

What I'm left thinking is that acquiring Luongo isn't something that I'm interested in, no matter the trade cost.  If we were at a different point in the success cycle then I'm probably willing to absorb the back-end cost on Luongo's contract but that just isn't where we are.  My inclination is to roll Scrivens and Reimer this year and figure out what we've got.  If the answer is 'nothing' then it's a good draft and I can take solace in that.  If the answer is 'something' then maybe we've saved ourselves some flexibility a handful of years down the line.

If there's one thing that Leafs fans have been trained to loathe since the last lockout it's uncertainty in goal, but another year of it might just be worth the clarity on the other side.

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