Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Where have all the cowboy-goalies gone?

Obviously, the Oilers have had their worries about goaltending this year. But we're not alone by any stretch--St. Louis just waived Lalime, who was supposed to be their saviour, Cloutier is out for the year, meaning Alex Auld and whatever hobo they can pull off the SkyTrain are tending goal for Vancouver, Colorado can't seem to go more than two days without threatening Aebischer, San Jose's Russian duo has blocked fewer shots than Jason Smith--and, well, I could go on, but suffice to say that goalies just aren't performing the way we'd expect them to. Although, in certain cases, that's actually good (Tellqvist! Joseph!).

Anyway, for a fun Wednesday treat, below is a list of goalies. It's organized from best to worst, based on their starter's save percentage, the only stat that I feel is truly accurately reflective of a goalie's performance (bad teams give up lots of shots and don't score much, therefore GAA and W/L will get skewed, and while tight defensive teams might not give up as many quality shots, I think it's fair to assume it more or less evens out over the course of a season) . For my definition of starter, I took the goalie who has appeared in the most games. In the case of a tie, I took the goalie with the most starts (Caron counts over Thibault in Pittsburgh because of that fact). Goalies in bold were in the top ten last year in sv%, with a minimum of 25 games played(there are actually twelve of them due to ties), goalies in italics have been waived by their respective teams. I think the results here are interesting.

New Jersey--Brodeur/Clemmensen
San Jose--Nabokov/Schaefer/Toskala
St. Louis--Lalime/Sanford/Divis

-Seven of the twelve goalies are in the bottom half of the league this year, including Raycroft, Aebischer, Toskala and Nabokov, who were top-seven last season. Independently of that, essentially twelve of the bottom 15 were considered decent options as starters in this league before the season (except Garnett, Caron and Markkanen, I say), and seven have been or could easily have become All-Star selections (Nabokov, Belfour, Brodeur, Khabibulin, Raycroft, Theodore, Denis).

-Among the top 15, Gerber is actually less surprising when you consider last year's stats, but did anyone think Lundqvist and Joseph would be top-five? Six of these teams had question marks in goal (LA, NYR, Phoenix, Vancouver, and Carolina and Ottawa, though the later two probably wasn't entirely warranted, given past performance), and half went into the season with goalies who very few would have reasonably expected to be All-Stars (Washington, LA, NYR, Phoenix, Vancouver, Anaheim, Detroit, Carolina, again the last two not entirely justified).

-Fernandez and Roloson are 1/tied for 3 in sv%, and last season, Roloson tied for the league lead while Fernandez was just out of the top ten. Given how many teams need goalies, and how thin Minnesota is up front, it's amazing to me that they haven't dealt one of these guys for a mediocre back-up and a good winger or d-man. I also find it weird Minny is almost never mentioned in trade talks for goalies.

-Washington is atrocious, but Ollie the Goalie is still doing remarkably solid. It's worth pointing out, though, that his .901 this year is only seven points worse than last season, where he finished 30th among goalies with at least 25 games.

-If the Oil count Morrison (our best SV% guy) we're also tied for third. Wouldn't be fair, though.

Anyway, I guess my question is, why the discrepancy this year? Rule changes? I don't know, that might affect GAA, but SV%? And besides, we're talking relative ranks here. Bad conditioning leading to bad starts? We've certainly seen that players who played the full AHL season last year have been impressive early on (Spezza, Stoll, Richards, Auld), and most veteran goalies didn't go to Europe or anything substantial, but have been slowly improving. Did the year off artificially age people? For example, Brodeur is actually an extra year older and slower, and maybe people like Lundqvist and Auld would have had impressive rookie years last year. I'm leaning towards some combination of the last two, but what do all of you think? HUH?


Steve said...

I don't think you can discount the rule changes entirely. First of all, there's the changes to goaltender equipment, which should affect save percentage (which I agree is the most relevant stat). While you might expect that this would decrease save percentages uniformly across the board, it would probably affect some goalies more than others (for example, if Roy was still around, it seems reasonable to believe that that would hurt him). Also, the offensive rule changes are leading to better quality scoring chances, which reduces save percentage. Again, depending on goalies' styles, this could explain why some of them are newly flailing.

I don't know enough about the individual goalies' styles to verify whether or not I'm making any sense, and I think your explanations - especially the bit about conditioning - also make sense, but I think rule changes must be playing some part.

Colby Cosh said...

I agree with that 100%. Don't forget that the rule changes have created a lot more power plays, too, which are times when goalies face a completely different species of shot. If you have a strong disposition to cover up on close rebounds (thus killing the clock for the opposing team) and a weakness on point shots, the extra PPs might very well pull down your SV% more. Plus we are seeing a lot more breakaways, and some guys who are otherwise strong just suck at those.

Throw in equipment changes and an expanded factor #3--involving not just rookies but improved youngsters (and even renovated oldsters like Josieve)--and there's every reason to think the shakeup in the rankings would be greater than normal. Not that you've shown it's greater than normal...

Pleasure Motors said...

Hey, some of us have exams to write. If you want to spend the three goddamn hours it'll take looking through year-to-year stats to determine the average fall-off of a veteran goalie and the average improvement of a young one, be my guest. I have to finish Mrs. Dalloway .

But in any case, you have to admit it feels right in the gut. I mean, anecdotal can't trump statistical, but I can't remember a time when not only one but two goalies regarded league-wide as exceptional put up stats that ranked them bottom five in the league the following season, as is the case in San Jose (remember, they traded away Kiprusoff to keep those two). And consider Aebischer, Raycroft, and especially Theodore. These weren't just three come-out-of-nowhere goalies who put up fluke numbers one year (Jim Carrey!). Aebsicher was pegged as Roy's replacement years ago, the Bruins signed Richter a few seasons back expecting Raycroft to be able to step up soon, and Theodore was practically talked about in the same breath as Luongo two or three years ago.

I don't know, again, no stats, but certainly it seems a little odd. I'll think this way until someone shows me hard data otherwise. Yay ignorance!

Anonymous said...

Are they still beating students over the head with "Mrs Dalloway"? Just brutal.


mike w said...

Save Percentage is a good general measure of a goalie, although the idea of Quality Shots has been used by some fringe hockey stat nuts. Some teams give up a lot more shots in the high slot (ie. QSs), which is easy pickings for any NHLer. If there were some stat for that, like a QS Save %, it'd be easier to pick the bad from the good with goalies.

It's interesting to line your list up with a Yahoo Goals Against ranking; every team loosely lines up, showing perhaps that good defence and goalies help create one another. Therefore, it's hard to tease out much individually from the stats available, unfortunately.

What's interesting is we're seing a disparity in Save Percentage: The difference (so far) between best to worst is stretched, and half the league is below .900, something only a handful of crappy goalies pulled off in 03-04...

So then... maybe Atlanta should sign Tommy Salo?

Colby Cosh said...

I can tell you that in the Old NHL there was no significant correlation (negative or positive) between low shots-against figures and high save percentages. That's one of the good reasons for taking save percentage seriously. But things may have changed.

Theodore's early-season ranking isn't too surprising: he's always been prone to going AWOL for longish periods. One day he's posing with the Hart Trophy; seven months later Jocelyn Thibault is t-h-i-s close to taking away his job. Raycroft, I guess, is having a typical and not especially severe case of sophomore blues. And Aebischer was, is, and ever shall be the new Hardy Astrom; amen.