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Lets Talk Save Percentages

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I’ve gotten into some arguments over the past couple of weeks about certain goaltenders. Recently, Marc-Andre Fleury and Jonathan Quick come to mind, because they’ve been standing on their heads for the past few playoff games. This, of course, makes them elite. Why? Because they are. Or, because it’s easiest to remember the events that everybody is watching in a scramble for a story to carry forever. But whatever the case.

For both of these goaltenders I tweeted charts showing their save percentages compared to the league’s average at the time. It’s not a crazy idea; I’ve personally spoken to professional goaltenders who think that Save Percentage is the most important, if not the only important stat for a goaltender. After all, he can look as weird as he wants while doing his job, but ultimately he needs to stop the puck. I figured that for the hell of it, I look at some more players. Here are my findings.

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The first 25 names (Halak and above) on this list are, in order, the 25 goaltenders in the National Hockey League according to ESPN on September 16th, 2013. Or, two weeks before the season started. After that, I took four highly argued about goaltenders who didn’t make the list, two I was personally interested in, and the two Vezina finalists who weren’t in the top 25 (!!) threw them in. They compete against the average SV%’s in the regular season and playoffs over the past five years. My observations are as follows.

  • There are only two “Elite” goaltenders in the National Hockey League. Their names are Henrik Lundqvist and Tuukka Rask. Forget having a “bad” season or playoffs, these guys have spent the last half decade never being below zero, and spending most of their time well above the league’s average.  They’re the run away leaders of the pack.
  • New Jersey messed up something fierce by starting Martin Brodeur so much this year. I understand that he’s going to go down as one of the best ever, he legitimately hasn’t been good in four years. Cory Schneider, on the other hand, is probably a top five goaltender in this league right now, and started fewer games. Maybe they’re in the playoffs if you switch the two around?
  • Why does Mike Smith have such a great reputation? Well, he has one great season, and two great playoff rounds where he ended up losing anyway. Hard to explain what suddenly went right in 2011/12 for him, but he’s been decidedly average since. This guy made it to Sochi?
  • Braden Holtby might have deserved more of a Team Canada look, however. He’s had good numbers since joining the league, and this was his first “average” year, one where Adam Oates basically requested that he be “rebuilt”. Maybe the Caps don’t have the goaltending problem, and it’s all in the now-departed management’s heads?
  • Jonathan Bernier looks like a keeper for the Leafs. His sample is small, but the trend gives you some confidence that he’ll be at least average when needed. And Reimer? Outside of the concussion year and the end of this season (which may have also been the concussion month, depending on who you ask about Jarret Stoll’s skate), he looks solid too.
  • Ryan Miller hasn’t been elite in a while, but until the series against Chicago, had very safe numbers.  I don’t think a team is going to regret signing him, but he likely won’t be worth the elite money he’s due for in July.
  • It’ll be interesting to see how Semyon Varlamov comes out after this year, but even moreso? Vezina co-finalist Ben Bishop. Either he’s on one of the biggest development curves of our time, or a bubble is about to burst.
  • Going back to Ryan Miller; it seems like Kari Lehtonen is of a similar mold. No “down” seasons at all in the past five years, and his only flaw is the first round of this season.
  • Jimmy Howard fared a lot better than I expected. Maybe we’re not giving him enough credit.
  • Minus the “I want a trade/my contract sucks” year, Roberto Luongo appears to still have it, at least in the regular season. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Panthers can eke some mileage out of him yet.
  • Philadelphia better hope that “change of scenery” is a thing for Steve Mason, because if he goes back to what he was before he left Columbus…
  • Marc Andre Fleury is pretty underwhelming in the regular season and matches it with terrible playoff stats. I think he actually is as bad as his detractors make him out to be. Granted, that still brings him to “average”, but the Penguins committed to him expecting more than that.
  • Despite stellar playoff numbers, the same goes to Jonathan Quick and Corey Crawford. Unless you think they have a “lazy switch” that the turn off come playoff time, or that there’s really a significant mental gap between players at this level, I wouldn’t buy into playoff spikes as being “wow’ing” for them. It’s worked for their teams in the past, but I don’t know if I rely on it moving forward.
  • I’m legitimately unsure how Ondrej Pavelec has a job in the National Hockey League, let alone three years left on a well paying contract with a commitment from management and the coaching staff..
  • His first three year samples are really small, and he really hasn’t played much NHL hockey period, but I was very high on Anton Khudobin last year. So much so, that I felt that he would be of similar impact to Jonathan Bernier, but cheaper to get. Sure enough, the Bruins didn’t qualify him and he exceeded league average by 12 points while Cam Ward went through his worst year in a while. The Hurricanes were smart to retain him, in my opinion.
  • I love Ilya Bryzgalov’s personality and wish that he wouldn’t be used as a whipping boy and joke butt-end, but my god, he’s fallen off a cliff.
  • Looking at this chart as a whole, you really see the correlation between highly approved of goalies and team success. After Ryan Miller, playoff experience effectively disappears. Some guys earned the accolades, some not so much, but the connection between good goalies and good teams is definitely made by subjective voters.
  • I was surprised to see that Tim Thomas didn’t have much to flaunt beyond the 2010/11 season. Though it was one of the best runs we’ve ever seen from a goalie.
  • This would be really fun to do with some of the all time greats. Maybe another time.

Have anything else you’d like to mention or contribute? Leave a comment!

About Jeff Veillette (Jeffler)

I'm a hockey writer, reporter, blogger, jokester.. it really depends on the team and topic. I'm at my most professional when writing about the Toronto Marlies, currently for The Leafs Nation. I also say stuff and things about other topics out of hobby interest, mostly music and gadgets. Occasionally an egomaniac, sometimes a self photographer. Often a ranter. I'm also 21, but who's counting?

Discussion

9 thoughts on “Lets Talk Save Percentages

  1. Great article. I’m absolutely FLOORED by how bad Fleury and Brodeur have been the last few years. I know Fleury is highly overrated but this is ridiculous. Also amazing how average Ryan Miller is…however this is on a Buffalo team that hasn’t been great.

    Posted by Spencer G | May 6, 2014, 3:24 pm
  2. This was a great article, but I think the data for Fleury is a bit misleading. We know he’s had a few bad years, especially in the playoffs; however, your data doesn’t go back to when the Penguins were in the finals 07-08 and when they won the cup 08-09. I would think that with that data it would hopefully show that Fleury is at least a really good goaltender with a few bad years (hopefully) behind him.

    Posted by Tim | May 6, 2014, 6:13 pm
  3. Save percentage is partly a function of the defensive team in front of the goaltender. Until that is properly accounted for, using it as a statistic to rate goaltenders is severely flawed.

    Not all opportunities are the same; a breakaway and a 50-foot slapshot both count as a single shot.

    Posted by FYSM | May 6, 2014, 6:51 pm
  4. Your analysis is wrong. When I watch hockey my eyes tell me that Reimer is a better goalie then the well dressed cocky tattoo artist Bernier. This is the problem with stats and #s they can’t capture intangibles like “compete level” and “battling” which makes Reimer a better goalie then Bernier. I suggest you watch hockey and push fewer spreadsheets.

    Posted by jvuc | May 6, 2014, 11:38 pm
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