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This offseason is shaping up to be a busy one for the Habs with still over 20 players needing new contracts. This is the fifth article of our series that will look at some of the pending unrestricted free agents and assess whether they should be brought back and if they're likely to return for the 2011-12 season.
When the Habs dealt Jaroslav Halak last June, it signaled that Carey Price was the goalie of the future. What the deal also did was ensure that the club would be shopping for a bargain backup. Last July, that bargain backup was Alex Auld who signed a one year deal with the team. Though he had an up-and-down year, he did enough to merit consideration for a new contract.
Inside the Numbers
Auld finished the 2010-11 campaign four games above .500, something he hadn't done since 2005-06 when he was the starting goalie in Vancouver. His .914 SV% was the best in his career in any year spent entirely in the league. (He had some better numbers in short recall stints when he was a rookie.) However, he also played just 16 games, the lowest since one of those recall stints in 03-04 so it is a small sample size to assess. He also faced a lot of weaker teams (he started against a grand total of one playoff team, NYR) which skews the numbers in his favour. Money wise, he made $1 million last season.
Argument to keep him
He is the prototypical backup, he won't win or lose many for a team on his own but he'll keep them in most games. Auld was content with his role in 2010-11 and there's no reason to believe he wouldn't be content again for next season, which includes keeping his salary around the same which is a little below average for an NHL backup. By all indications, he got along very well with Price; a quality rapport is never a bad thing. At the age of 30, he isn't necessarily on the last legs of his career which is a common element among a lot of the potential UFA replacements out there.
Argument to let him go
There isn't particularly a lot of upside to Auld's game, he's a dime-a-dozen backup. If Price were to go down for any more than a game or two, would anyone be comfortable with him assuming the reigns of the starter's role? If the Habs only intend to use their backup sparingly as they did in 2010-11, would they not be better off trying to find someone willing to play for closer to the league minimum and putting the extra cash (even if it's just a few hundred thousand) towards filling another need or keeping it in case of injury/trade? With him having some of the best numbers of his career, it's logical to assume next year's numbers may revert closer to his career averages which isn't particularly ideal.
As is usually the case every offseason, there are quite a few teams who will have a goaltending vacancy and as always, supply will outweigh demand. As a result, Auld doesn't have a whole lot of leverage on his side when it comes to negotiations, there are always other options out there. This means that he'll basically be signing a similar deal to the one he did last July, short-term, short money.
I think we'll eventually see Auld re-sign for at most, the same money ($1 million) that he made before. There is no rush from the Habs to get this done so I'd be surprised if such a deal gets done mere hours into free agency which is what happened last July 1. The Habs hold basically all the cards here, they'll play them right with Auld this time.