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Big money goaltenders are big gambles in free agency

Sergei Belski/USA TODAY Sports

Hockey analytics pioneer Rob Vollman is ESPN Insider's armchair GM, exploring how modern statistics can inform front-office decisions.

In order to compete for the Stanley Cup, NHL teams sometimes have to take a few big risks in free agency, and goaltenders are rarely the safest choices. Beyond an elite few, a goalie's future performance is far more unpredictable than for skaters, whether using modern hockey analytics, traditional analysis or both. That's why the safest move is to pursue only the low-cost free-agent goalies and invest the savings up front or on the blue line, where you know the dollars will make a difference.

Based on what we've seen with the most recent signings, this is not what some NHL general managers believe. In just this past week, Antti Niemi signed in Dallas for an annual cap hit of $4.5 million, Devan Dubnyk re-signed in Minnesota for an average annual value of $4.33 million, Karri Ramo re-signed in Calgary for $3.8 million and Martin Jones ultimately wound up agreeing to a $3 million deal with San Jose -- and to nary an objection from the mainstream media. But should we be this quiet?