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It's a trend you can't help but notice in the NHL playoffs this year.

On Tuesday night in Detroit, Petr Mrazek posted a shutout for the Red Wings in goal, with his 34 career starts and 23 years of age forcing Jimmy Howard's experience and enormous contract to the bench yet again.

In Chicago, Scott Darling did the same to Corey Crawford, playing brilliantly deep into multiple overtimes.

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Eddie Lack started again for Vancouver. And Braden Holtby won in overtime for Washington, tying their series with a terrific performance.

Of the four, Holtby was the big ticket at a $1.85-million cap hit.

It's been a weird year for goalies in general. Devan Dubnyk – who'll start for the Wild on Wednesday against another story along these lines in St. Louis's Jake Allen – was one of the stars, the likely runner-up for the Vezina Trophy, and he was playing on a bargain basement $800,000 deal he signed to be the Coyotes backup.

There were others like Darling, Andrew Hammond and Cam Talbot in that conversation, too.

Anaheim, meanwhile, went into the year with two young, cheap goalies and won the West.

It makes one wonder why teams keep paying big at the position with so much uncertainty and so much rising talent, year after year.

Aside from the Carey Price types – and there aren't many of those – it hardly makes sense.

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This feels relatively new – all these young, unproven goalies succeeding in the postseason – but the only unusual part is so many are being given the opportunity. In recent history, veterans with big contracts have simply been gifted more of the starts, even when their results have been weaker than the younger goalies given a chance.

Here's a demonstration of that. The chart below is all 72 of the goalies that have made any type of playoff run in the salary-cap era, going back to 2006. A "run" in this case is defined as appearing in at least eight games, meaning they were into at least the second round as a starter. Over all, the younger, cheaper goalies have had slightly better results.

PLAYOFF GOALIE SUCCESS (SINCE 2006)

 

Age

Goalies

Save pct

Salary

20-25

20

0.9196

1.649

26-29

25

0.9209

3.311

30+

27

0.9183

4.176

    

Salary

Goalies

Save pct

Age

Under $2M

29

0.9217

26.6

$2M to $4M

16

0.9212

29.3

more than $4M

27

0.9163

30.0

    

– minimum eight games played in one postseason

Now, this is only a brief snapshot, and it doesn't include all of the results from every postseason. But it does lend credence to the idea that NHL teams may be being too conservative in goal, too often going with the Howard instead of the Mrazek, and too often dedicating more salary-cap space to the position than they likely need to.

There are reasons for this bias. Part of what's tough for many organizations with goalies is that you need a large sample size from them before you know what you have. They need to start a lot to get there, and they typically need to play well to start a lot.

By the time many goalies have that sample size, they're often older, and more expensive.

But their performance typically declines after 30 as well, which was why the trend of older starters back in years like 2007-08 (when the average regular was more than 30 that postseason) was so odd.

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The other change happening is a flattening out of the talent level at the position. Very few poor goalies make it to the NHL level at this point, and the majority now play the same style. Many starters in the AHL are very, very good goalies and could be interchangeable with their NHL counterparts.

The other thing that's unique about the position is there are only 60 jobs leaguewide and only 30 for starters. Cut that down to playoff teams and you're at 16 goalies.

Generally speaking, there aren't enough starting goalies to get the separation of talent that you get between forwards – of which there are 400-plus every year – or defencemen.

You add all that up and it's to the point that, with many teams so tight for cap dollars, it makes less and less sense to spend big on a goalie when a) there's so much talent available, and b) who the best goalies are changes so frequently.

You're also not getting value for those dollars when the number of saves they're giving you is often not substantially above that of the potential replacement.

(That's why teams would actually be better off sinking some of that money on goalie scouts and coaches – money that doesn't count against the cap – rather than sinking it into one backstop. Creating organizational depth at the position is also getting more and more important, as who your No. 3 or 4 starter can matter if the first two options falter, like they did in Dallas.)

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There are exceptions to that – Price is an obvious one, given his performance and age – but so often goalie contracts like those given to Ilya Bryzgalov, Cam Ward and Mike Smith are becoming anchors early on.

There's no value there. Especially when you consider there are goalies like Darling who are coming out of nowhere in the span of only a couple of years and having success.

The question that always comes next is can you win the Stanley Cup with one of these cheap, unprovens in goal? Well, it's been happening, even when they haven't been given this many chances. Only six of the last 18 finalists had starters making more than $4-million.

And that appears to be a trend catching on – for those not lucky enough to have a Price, anyway.

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