It really wasn’t all that long ago that Miikka Kiprusoff and Jean-Sébastien Giguère were considered two of the best goaltenders in the world.
And they still have the contracts to prove it.
Kiprusoff, the 34-year-old Calgary Flames backstop, is in only the third year of a six-year, $35-million (U.S.) deal he signed in 2008, two years removed from winning the Vézina Trophy.
Giguère isn’t so lucky, playing out the final year of a contract that came after he led the Anaheim Ducks to the 2007 Stanley Cup and wondering just where his next NHL opportunity will come.
Because it doesn’t appear to be with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Both are earning $7-million this season, putting them tied for third behind only Roberto Luongo and Henrik Lundqvist as the NHL’s highest-salaried backstops in an era when the trend is toward paying goalies less and less.
But when Kipper and Jiggy met on Saturday in Toronto in a sleepy game the Flames eventually won 2-1 in a shootout, their storylines had little to do with any run at a Vézina.
With both club’s playoff hopes of the slim-to-nil variety, Saturday was more about the two veterans fending off challenges from cheap, young goalies in their organizations, about their future in the league and all of the various rumours and intrigue surrounding their struggles in the crease.
For Kiprusoff, that has meant critical comments from coach Brent Sutter over his recent play, which after 37 games has him well off his career .913 save percentage.
After identical 32-save performances against one another, Kiprusoff is now at .903 while Giguère’s is only .899, putting them 31st and 35th among the 46 goalies who have played at least one-third of their team’s games.
“Of course you hear it, I can’t lie about that,” Kiprusoff said of Sutter’s criticism. “You can’t worry. I know pretty well myself what I have to do. I’ve been working hard. I felt pretty good.”
“I felt pretty good,” Giguère said after showing little rust in his first start in a month due to nagging, inexplicable groin issues. “It’s been a tough battle since Christmas trying to get myself back into the game.”
Where the pair goes from here is anything but clear. Both are presumably available via trade in the right scenario, although their contracts (which include no-trade clauses) and play present problems on that front.
Of the two, Giguère is the most likely to move by the Feb. 28 trade deadline.
Out of the picture for next season given the strong showing from rookie James Reimer and other Leafs prospects in goal, Giguère said he will be willing to waive his no-trade clause if asked in the hopes he can give a playoff team depth at the position.
By the deadline, Giguère’s $6-million salary cap hit will have only $1.3-million remaining, a reasonable charge for a team to take on to have a former Conn Smythe Trophy winner as an insurance policy.
An unrestricted free agent this summer, Giguère realizes he needs to show the rest of the league down the stretch he deserves a new deal in a climate where veterans like Jose Theodore have taken huge pay cuts and backup roles to stay in the NHL.
Kiprusoff, meanwhile, remains in the Flames’ picture for now, as unlike the Leafs, Calgary hasn’t pursued any type of youth movement.
Rumblings are that could be coming, however, and when it does, the fellow sitting only 20 wins behind Mike Vernon for most Ws in franchise history could get the tap on the shoulder from new GM Jay Feaster and a request to accept a ticket out of town.
Neither netminder is likely to fetch all that much these days, not in a league where, save for the ageless Tim Thomas, it’s been a trying year for goalies of a certain vintage, with Martin Brodeur, Marty Turco and Nikolai Khabibulin leading the way.
Big, young and cheap is quickly becoming the NHL’s winning formula in goal – and the rest of the season is vitally important for Kiprusoff and Giguère to prove otherwise.