It is said that you can’t win NHL championships without first rate goaltending.

Enter the 2010 Stanley Cup finalist Chicago Blackhawks and Philadelphia Flyers with Antti Niemi and Michael Creighton and the theory flew right out the window.

And so, apparently, has the respect for the 2010 goaltender free agent market. A total of thirty-nine goaltenders on NHL reserve lists opted for 2010 free agency. Fifteen of them are still without 2010-2011 contracts and four more have headed for Europe including San Jose’s Evgeni Nabokov.  Among the unemployed are Jose Theodore, Vesa Toskala and Ray Emery, all of whom have had multimillion dollar contracts in the past and all of whom will be taking major cuts in pay if they wish to continue in the game. 

This lack of commitment to the goaltending position may be having a profound affect on the Carey Price negotiations.  

The Niemi situation is instructive. As the winning goaltender in the Stanley Cup he exercised his rights to salary arbitration as a restricted free agent. When the arbitrator awarded 2.75 million dollars, the Hawks simply walked. So far Niemi has no other takers at the price.

And of course there’s the Cristobal Huet situation. He has two years remaining on a contract paying him 5.25 million per. The Blackhawks are in the process of shipping him off to Switzerland while absorbing the bulk of his contract on their books but avoiding the salary cap they would take if he remained with the team.

Dozens of others have been forced to take major cuts in pay.

Marty Turco’s contract with Chicago is one year at 1.3 million. Last year Dallas paid him 5.4 million. The best Andrew Raycroft could get was 700 thousand; down from 2.2 million last year. Chris Mason saw his paycheck cut in half. He’ll get 1.6 million this season. Dan Ellis, with whom the Canadiens unsuccessfully negotiated, took a 1.5 million contract with Atlanta, a 25% cut in pay. Martin Biron signed an 800-thousand dollar contract with the Rangers, down from 1.4 million with the Islanders last season. And on it goes.

What we may be seeing is the backlash from some pretty horrible contracts already in existance. Rick Dipietro is entering the 5th year of a 15 year 67.5 million dollar contract. There are rumours the Canucks are unhappy with Roberto Luongo’s 12 year deal that will give him 10 million this season. The Bruins Tim Thomas has in an unmovable contract that has three years to run. He’ll get six million in 2010-2011. There’s also Miikka Kiprusoff’s 4 year contract with Calgary at 5.8 million per season.

To be sure, there are contracts that return full value. Martin Brodeur, Ryan Miller, Ilya Bryzgalov, and Cam Ward to name four. That St. Louis contract signed by Jaroslav Halak at 3.75 million for each of the next four years seems pretty fair at least at first glance.

It remains to be seen how conditions are affecting the Carey Price negotiations, but you have to believe the depressed market are a factor, especially considering Price’s unproven reliability at this stage of his career.