With Martin Brodeur expected to get the start in Canada’s most meaningful game to date – Sunday against the United States – it appears that head coach Mike Babcock has made his goaltending decision.
It’s certainly the expected choice, and the choice that the majority of people will support. Brodeur has rewritten the NHL record book, and given the number of championships he’s been involved in – three with the New Jersey Devils, and two previously with Team Canada (2002 Olympics, 2004 World Cup), it’s difficult to present an argument that this was the wrong decision.
Kostya Kennedy of Sports Illustrated believes that Brodeur’s playoff record makes this a non-argument:
Here’s something for you: Just in case you’re tempted to let Luongo’s sweet save percentages (a neat .920 in 2008-09, for one thing) get to you. Here is Luongo’s career playoff record after nine NHL seasons: 11 wins and 11 losses. Brodeur’s won about nine times that many postseason games. He’s won 15 in Stanley Cup finals alone. Marc-Andre Fleury, Canada’s third goalie, has 31 playoff wins. Luongo hasn’t had anything like the caliber of teams in front of him that Brodeur and Fleury have had, but still: 11 and 11.
I can’t believe we’re even talking about this. These are Martin Brodeur’s Games. Today. On Sunday. All next week and right through the medal round. That’s it.
It’s a perspective many will undoubtedly agree with. I don’t think wins is a relevant statistic for goaltenders, each of whom is one player on a 23-man roster, and I’ve said so many times. However, let’s assume I take Kennedy’s perspective: that wins matter, but team strength is obviously a factor. If I took that point of view, I’d say the fair comparison would be Luongo’s time in Vancouver vs. Brodeur over the same period in New Jersey. After all, the Florida Panthers’ inability to make the playoffs wasn’t Luongo’s fault, and since 2006-07 when he joined the Canucks his team and New Jersey have been pretty comparable: two division titles each and two 100-point seasons each. With those somewhat comparable teams in front of them, how have Luongo and Brodeur fared in the playoffs?
Brodeur’s low winning percentage here is as good a demonstration of why winning percentage is an idiotic statistic when it comes to showing goaltender worth; despite strong play on his part (as evidenced by his .922 save percentage) Brodeur has won less than 40% of his games since 2006-07. In fact, since his last cup win Brodeur has won just 15 of 37 contests – and 37 contests is more playoff games than many an NHL goalie will play in his career.
Despite what it may sound like, this isn’t an argument that Luongo should start because Brodeur has lost his ability to win when the games really matter. It’s an argument that when comparing goalies, quoting wins is just about the least relevant thing a person can do, because so many other factors go into a win that are completely unconnected to goaltender ability.