1022osgood

I’ve long been fascinated by goaltenders.  One of my most vivid early memories of watching hockey is of Kelly Hrudey backstopping the Los Angeles Kings to the 1993 Stanley Cup Finals, and of course of his memorable bandana.  The first hockey book I ever read, from around the same time, was Grant Fuhr’s guide to goaltending; reading that book immediately caused me to start utilizing the poke check in ball hockey games in the school hallways or floor hockey games in the gymnasium.

It’s always been difficult to evaluate goaltenders.  Once upon a time, goals against average was the primary measuring stick (and it remains an oft-quoted standard), despite the breathtakingly obvious flaws.  Save percentage has since become the dominant standard, since while it too has its flaws it is a far better measuring stick than something like GAA or wins.

Better than save percentage is even-strength save percentage, which helps to minimize the effects of special teams.  Some teams are better at killing penalties, some are worse; some teams don’t take many penalties, others take a lot.  It almost goes without saying that if two identical goaltenders played for two different teams – the first one rarely penalized and capable while shorthanded, the second often penalized and woefully inept while shorthanded – will finish with vastly different save percentages.

Unfortunately, that information is not easily available, so I’ve put together a chart of the last three years, ranking all the goaltenders between 2007-08 and 2009-10 by even-strength save percentage:

Player GP W L T/O SV% EVSV%
Tomas Vokoun 191 79 80 25 0.923 0.933
Jonas Hiller 128 63 45 6 0.92 0.931
Tim Thomas 154 81 48 21 0.924 0.930
Craig Anderson 119 61 38 13 0.921 0.930
Roberto Luongo 195 108 64 20 0.916 0.929
Martin Brodeur 185 108 61 15 0.918 0.927
Ilya Bryzgalov 198 96 76 18 0.915 0.927
Pekka Rinne 111 61 31 9 0.914 0.926
Henrik Lundqvist 215 110 76 27 0.917 0.924
Nikolai Khabibulin 110 55 37 15 0.913 0.924
Kari Lehtonen 106 42 48 8 0.913 0.924
Ryan Miller 204 111 63 24 0.918 0.923
Evgeni Nabokov 210 131 49 26 0.914 0.923
Carey Price 134 60 48 18 0.912 0.923
Dan Ellis 110 49 42 8 0.912 0.923
Cam Ward 184 94 71 15 0.911 0.923
Jean-Sebastien Giguere 139 64 50 19 0.911 0.923
Antero Niittymaki 109 48 35 13 0.909 0.921
Jonathan Quick 119 61 44 9 0.908 0.921
Niklas Backstrom 189 96 60 24 0.916 0.920
Martin Biron 146 68 53 18 0.913 0.920
Marc-Andre Fleury 164 91 49 15 0.911 0.920
Chris Mason 169 75 65 21 0.91 0.918
Miikka Kiprusoff 225 119 78 25 0.909 0.918
Dwayne Roloson 156 66 59 21 0.909 0.918
Steve Mason 119 53 46 16 0.908 0.918
Jose Theodore 157 90 45 15 0.907 0.918
Marty Turco 189 87 72 27 0.906 0.917
Cristobal Huet 141 78 43 14 0.909 0.915
Peter Budaj 106 41 44 11 0.903 0.915
Mathieu Garon 101 46 36 7 0.907 0.914
Mike Smith 117 42 55 16 0.906 0.914
Johan Hedberg 116 48 43 12 0.9 0.913
Pascal Leclaire 100 40 37 9 0.902 0.910
Vesa Toskala 151 64 54 20 0.895 0.909
Chris Osgood 112 60 27 16 0.897 0.907

Some of the more interesting points that stand out for me off that list:

  • Henrik Lundqvist, (ranked ninth) is a little lower than I expected him to be.  This is a result of filtering out penalty-killing results; the Rangers have had a top-seven penalty kill each of the last three seasons, finishing first in 2008-09, and this helps to bump his overall save percentage up from good to great.  Ryan Miller, (ranked 12th) was even more surprising, and again this is the result of his igh shorthanded save percentage being filtered out.
  • Nikolai Khabibulin (ranked 10th) finished higher than I’d expected.  He hasn’t played behind strong penalty kills the last few years.
  • On the bottom half of the scale are a few goaltenders who are generally highly regarded: Nicklas Backstrom of Minnesota, Marc-Andre Fleury in Pittsburgh, Miikka Kiprusoff in Calgary, and Marty Turco, until lately a member of the Dallas Stars.
  • I’d expected Vesa Toskala to run away with this and was very surprised to find, instead, Chris Osgood.  Somehow, Osgood has managed to compile a 60-27-16 record over the last three seasons despite an abysmal set of numbers.  While he’s outperformed his regular season results over the last couple of playoff years (and strikes me as one of the few true “clutch” goalies in the game), I wonder if at 37 he’s reached the end of the line.
  • Final point: when the Senators acquired Pascal Leclaire from Columbus, analyst Pierre McGuire, a candidate for two G.M. openings in the last two years, described him as the best goaltender in franchise history.