Therein lies the rub of signing Price, a world-class goaltender, to such a large contract, eating up so much cap space. Despite his brilliance, Price has been unable to get good not great teams over the hump, so far. And he’s far from the only high-paid, upper-echelon goalie to fall into this category.
Henrik Lundqvist of the Rangers, who used to be the league’s highest-paid goalie until Price inked his extension, also has amazing NHL and international credits, including a Vezina Trophy and Olympic Gold Medal. Yet despite three trips to the Eastern Conference finals since 2012, and an appearance in the 2014 Stanley Cup Final, Lundqvist and the Rangers have not won a Stanley Cup. Many argue that New York is anchored now by his long-term $8.5 million per year contract, especially with the 35-year-old Lundqvist showing a downturn in his game the past year.
In fact, the six highest-paid goalies in the NHL have only one Stanley Cup amongst them and Tuukka Rask earned that in 2011 as a backup to Tim Thomas with the Bruins. That group, consisting of Price, Lundqvist, Sergei Bobrovsky, Pekka Rinne, Rask and Braden Holtby, won each of the last six Vezinas, however, with zero Cups in that same span.
Clearly Zibanejad is trending up as an NHL player, with his prime years directly in front of him. His upside offensively is greater than Stepan, who recorded 50 or more points each of the past four years, but never topped the 57 he notched in 2013-14.
While likely miscast as a No. 1 center, Stepan was extremely important to the club on the defensive side of the puck, and was an excellent penalty killer to boot. Consistency was key with Stepan, and Zibanejad will need to prove that he can be as reliable while also building on the higher ceiling he has as a player.