SAN JOSE, CA - APRIL 16:  Tomas Vokoun #29 of the Nashville Predators makes a save against the San Jose Sharks in Game 3 of the 2007 Western Conference Quarterfinals on April 16, 2007 at HP Pavilion in San Jose, California. The Sharks won 3-1. (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)

Looking back at Jay Feaster’s time as general manager of the Tampa Bay Lightning, there is both a lot to like and a lot to dislike. Obviously, the 2004 Stanley Cup Championship sits at the top of his list of accomplishments, while the collapse of his team’s goaltending situation following the departure of Nikolai Khabibulin must rank near the bottom.

Back in October of 2009, Feaster wrote about an opportunity he had to address that goaltending situation, in a blog post for The Hockey News. In the summer of 2007, Feaster was asked by Nashville Predators’ G.M. David Poile if he had any interest in goaltender Tomas Vokoun, who was eventually dealt to Florida in exchange for one first round draft pick and two second round draft picks.

Why Feaster Declined

In his column, Feaster brushed over the goaltending problems his team had, and stated that his management team had no interest in Vokoun, partially because they weren’t convinced he could handle pressure situations and partially because of the dollars left on his deal.

Feaster was convinced he made the right decision when he wrote that column; he pointed out that Tampa Bay’s first round pick in 2008 was Steven Stamkos, and closed the column with the comment that “some of the best trades remain the ones you never make.”

How, though, would the Tampa Bay Lightning have fared if they made that deal? Assuming they had sent away draft picks for Tomas Vokoun that summer, would their performance have changed all that much? While it’s impossible to know for sure, we can make an educated guess.

A Model For An Alternate History

For this exercise, we’re going to make some assumptions, which are as follow:

- The Lightning would not have traded for Mike Smith from Dallas, but we continue to assume that they would have traded away Brad Richards, since they still would have needed to clear salary.

- We’ll further assume that all other moves up front and on defence would have happened anyway, independent of the goaltending situation. While this is implausible, it’s the best we can do since it is impossible to project how Feaster might have changed his strategy had he benefitted from a legitimate starting goaltender.

- Every year, we will take Vokoun’s save percentage rates by game state (even-strength, power-play, and short-handed) and apply them to the shots faced by Lightning goaltenders. We’re further going to assume that Vokoun would have played the same number of games in Tampa Bay that he did in Florida, with the backup goaltender getting the rest.

- Since the Mike Smith trade would not have happened, we will operate under the assumption that the remainder of the games would have been played by the next most prominent goaltender each season: in 2007-08, this would be Johan Holmqvist, in 2008-09 Karri Ramo, and in 2009-10 Antero Niittymaki.

That’s our model. It isn’t perfect, but it is the best we can do given the circumstances, and it should give us a good idea of how a trade of draft picks for Tomas Vokoun would have affected the Lightning franchise.

2007-08

In 2007-08, Tomas Vokoun started 69 games for the Florida Panthers, facing 80.5% of the shots for that team. We’ll use the latter number to determine what percentage of the Lightning’s shots to give him, with the rest going to John Holmqvist. During that time, he had an even-strength save percentage of 0.927, a short-handed save percentage of 0.882, and a power play save percentage of 0.950.

Combining those numbers with Johan Holmqvist (using an 80.5/19.5 weighting), we get the following team save percentages:

- Even-strength: 0.920%

- Short-handed: 0.881%

- Power-play: 0.941%

How do those numbers compare with the numbers actually posted by Tampa Bay’s goaltenders, and how many goals against would Vokoun have saved the team?

Tandem

EVSA

EVSV%

EVGA

SHSA

SHSV%

SHGA

PPSA

PPSV%

PPGA

Vokoun+

1825

0.920

146

404

0.881

48

69

0.941

4

Actual

1825

0.896

190

404

0.861

56

69

0.913

6

Difference:

   

-44

   

-8

   

-2

Our model tells us that employing a tandem of Tomas Vokoun and Johan Holmqvist, rather than a group featuring Holmqvist, Karri Ramo, Mike Smith and Marc Denis wo
uld have saved the lightning 54 goals against. That’s a greater than 20% reduction in goals scored against. How many wins would that have given the team?

In 2007-08, the average game featured 5.44 goals; meaning that for every additional 5.44 goals scored, or 5.44 goals against prevented, a team could expect to pick up an additional win. In the case of the Lightning, we would see their goal differential improve from minus-44 to plus-10, and that 54-goal impact likely would have shifted their record from 31-42-9 to 41-32-9: good enough to put them on the Eastern Conference bubble, but not good enough to guarantee a playoff spot.

2008-09

In 2008-09, Tomas Vokoun started 59 games for the Panthers, facing 65.5% of the shots against for that team. As before, we’ll assume that he would have faced the same percentage of shots had he played with the Lightning, with the remaining 34.5% being faced by Karri Ramo. This likely undersells Vokoun’s impact, as in Florida he was challenged by the very capable Craig Anderson (15-7-5, 3 SO, 0.924 SV%), while Ramo was nowhere near as formidable a backup (4-10-7, 0 SO, 0.894 SV%). During that time period, Vokoun had an even-strength save percentage of 0.935, a short-handed save percentage of 0.885, and a power play save percentage of 0.857.

Combining those numbers with Karri Ramo (using a 65.5/34.5 weighting), we get the following team save percentages:

- Even-strength: 0.925%

- Short-handed: 0.872%

- Power-play: 0.892%

Once again, we’ll compare the results to those posted by Tampa Bay’s actual goaltenders:

Tandem

EVSA

EVSV%

EVGA

SHSA

SHSV%

SHGA

PPSA

PPSV%

PPGA

Vokoun+

1981

0.925

149

604

0.872

77

106

0.892

11

Actual

1981

0.918

162

604

0.853

89

106

0.925

8

Difference:

   

-13

   

-12

   

+3

Here, our model suggests a modest improvement in goals against for the Lightning, with Vokoun saving the team 22 goals. As I stated earlier, I think the actual difference is being undersold because Vokoun would have played in more games for the Lightning, but once again let’s see what the difference would have been.

In 2008-09, the average hockey game featured 5.70 goals, meaning that for every additional 5.70 goals scored, or 5.70 goals against prevented, a team could expect to pick up an additional win. In the case of the Lightning, their goal differential would have improved from a dreadful minus-69 to a slightly less dreadful minus-47. The impact of that improvement probably would have altered their record from 24-40-18 to 28-36-18, which while better would not have been good enough to get them out of the draft lottery. It would simply have meant a slide from a second overall selection to the third overall selection.

2009-10

In 2009-10, Craig Anderson departed for Colorado via free agency, and was replaced with Scott Clemmensen, who was serviceable but a lesser goaltender all the same. Despite a slow start, Tomas Vokoun started 63 games for the Panthers, facing 74.6% of the shots against for that team. During that time period, Vokoun had an even-strength save percentage of 0.937, a short-handed save percentage of 0.861, and a power play save percentage of 0.925.

Combining those numbers with free agent addition Antero Niittymaki (using a 74.6/25.4 weighting), we get the following team save percentages:

- Even-strength: 0.932%

- Short-handed: 0.863%

- Power-play: 0.928%

As over the previous two seasons, we’ll compare our hypothetical results to those posted by Tampa Bay’s actual goalies:

Tandem

EVSA

EVSV%

EVGA

SHSA

SHSV%

SHGA

PPSA

PPSV%

PPGA

Vokoun+

1985

0.932

135

502

0.863

69

82

0.928

6

Actual

1985

0.912

174

502

0.867

67

82

0.925

6

Difference:

   

-39

   

+2

   

+/-0

We see that our model suggests a 37 goal improvement for the Lightning.

In 2009-10, the average hockey game featured 5.53 goals, meaning as before that a 5.53 goal shift in goal differential is worth one win. The 37 goal shift for the Lightning would have changed their goal differential from minus-43 to minus-6, and using our approximation would have given them roughly an additional 6.5 wins, shifting their record from 34-36-12 to 41-30-11. That record would have given them 93 points and a playoff berth.

In this case, however, we should also realize that the Lightning would not have had the benefit of Steven Stamkos had they acquired Vokoun; instead of finishing with the first overall pick in 2007-08 they would have seen their middle of the pack pick dealt to Nashville. While Stamkos is still not a complete player five-on-five, his 24 power play goals are significantly above what his replacement would have likely scored. In other words, that improvement in goals against would have been offset by a decrease in goals for.

Conclusion

It is amusing, at least for me, to see that Jay Feaster was both very wrong and very right when it came to his decision on Vokoun.

He was wrong because Vokoun would have had an immediate and significant impact on the Lightning, vastly improving their goaltending situation and turning what has been a gaping maw since the lockout into a position of significant strength.

At the same time, Feaster’s decision not to trade for Vokoun did benefit the Lightning. Despite Vokoun’s excellent performance in net over those three seasons, it seems unlikely that it would have been enough to compensate for a team riddled with problems, from the ownership to the coaching staff to the roster. Vokoun would have helped conceal those problems, and he would have kept the Lightning in the playoff hunt down to the bitter end in 2007-08. Ultimately, the team is now benefitting from disastrous seasons that wouldn’t have come about with Vokoun in net.

Comments (7)

  1. it was a good move, he saw how deep the draft was and knew it wasnt worth it, so pretty much it would have been steven stamkos, plus whom ever the other picks where for vokoun, i wouldnt have done it.

  2. Eddy:

    The Lightning had been in the playoffs the previous season; they weren’t a rebuilding club and had Vokoun been in net there’s no chance whatsoever they would have been in contention for the first overall pick.

    Feaster’s decision to leave the goaltending as it was turned them into a rebuilding club, and it’s a rebuild they still haven’t emerged from.

    If he was tnaking, not grabbing Vokoun was a great idea – but he wasn’t intentionally tanking, he was trying to ice a playoff team.

  3. “Feaster’s decision to leave the goaltending as it was turned them into a rebuilding club, and it’s a rebuild they still haven’t emerged from.”

    They’re in fourth in the East. I think it’s safe to say that the rebuild’s over.

  4. Stephen :

    Calm yourself lad, there is still a lot of hockey to be played.

    Habs where in 1st place a week ago, but I will never imagine they would finish there at the end of 82 games.

    I still think that it turned out great for Feaster. stamkos is already a superstar and counting…

    The Lightning are better off now with stamkos then with Vokoun. Especially knowing that this summer, goaltender, good one where up for grab in the UFA market .

    Good post though.

    keep up the work

  5. Fantastic “what-if” scenario, Jonathan. Linked in a FanShot.

  6. I second the comments of my South Florida counterpart–I, too, have linked your interesting take on alternative history. Very Harry Turtledove-esqe.

  7. [...] days (for comments on that post, I strongly recommend Kent Wilson’s take, and also offer my own counter-history write-up).In any case, here’s a comparison of the playoff success enjoyed by Vokoun and [...]

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