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:
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.