Feb 032010
 

We all know that Vesa Toskala had a bad season last year and is having an even worse season this year, but how bad is Toskala historically? The short answer is he is probably having the worse season by any goalie in recent history.

It is generally believed that the best simple statistic for evaluating how good a goalie is is save percentage because it factors out the quality of the team in front of the goalie more than any other simple goalie statistic (i.e. wins, goals against average). Save percentage still isn’t perfect because not all shots are created equal, but it is the best simple stat we have. So, in an attempt to put Toskala’s 2009-10 season into perspective I took a look at the past 10 seasons and which goalie had the worst save percentage in each of those seasons. Here is what you get:

Year Goalie W L T/OTL GAA Save%
1999-2000 Damian Rhodes 5 19 3 3.88 0.874
2000-01 Mike Vernon 12 23 5 3.23 0.883
2001-02 Manny Fernandez 12 24 5 3.05 0.892
2002-03 Arturs Irbe 7 24 2 3.18 0.877
2003-04 Sebastien Caron 9 24 5 3.74 0.883
2005-06 Andrew Raycroft 8 19 2 3.71 0.879
2006-07 Marc Denis 17 18 2 3.19 0.883
2007-08 Johan Holmqvist 21 16 6 3.04 0.889
2008-09 Manny Legace 13 9 2 3.18 0.885
2009-10 Vesa Toskala 7 12 3 3.66 0.874

Only Damien Rhodes, of the 1999-2000 expansion Atlanta Thrashers had an equally bad .874 save percentage as Toskala this season and I can guarantee you, as bad as you think the Leafs team is this season, they probably aren’t as bad as the expansion Thrashers which finished the season at 14-57-7. Aside from Rhodes, the only other two goalies with a save percentage under .880 are Arturs Irbe in 2002-03 and Andrew Raycroft in 2005-06.

Arturs Irbe’s 2002-03 season took place during the pre-lockout defense first era which likely means that he faced fewer tough shots than we would expect a goalie to face post-lockout when both scoring and power play opportunities have increased. In the 2002-03 season Carolina’s starting goalie was Kevin Weekes who posted a solid .912 save % which was significantly better than Irbe’s .877.

Andrew Raycroft’s dismal 2005-06 season came in the more offense oriented post-lockout era so we have to take that into account but it didn’t hurt Raycroft’s teammates all that much as Tim Thomas posted a .917 save percentage and Hannu Toivonen (what ever happene to him?) posted a nice .914 save percentage. We have since learned that Thomas is an awfully good goalie posting a league best save percentage last season but even so, Raycroft’s season looks awfully bad in comparison.

This season Toskala has shared dutied with Jonas Gustavsson who has generally been ordinary at best with a .899 save percentage But since Gustavsson is a rookie and we don’t really know how good he is it is difficult to evaluate exactly just how bad Toskala has been this season. I’ll be interested in seeing how Jean-Sebastien Giguere performs behind a Phaneuf-upgraded defense the remainder of this season as well as how well Toskala will do in Anaheim in what I expect will be a very small number of starts. This will help put Toskala’s season in perspective for us.

Another way to look at it is to look at how much each goalies save percentage is below the second worst goalie in the NHL in that particular year. Of the 10 goalies listed above, Toskala trails the second worst goalie by the greatest margin trailing Pascal Leclaire and Steve Mason by .016. Next is Sebastien Caron who trailed Mike Dunham by .013 and Damian Rhodes who trailed Dan Cloutier and Rob Tallas (who?) by .011. Next were Irbe and Vernon who trailed the second worst by .006 while everyone else trailed by .002 or .001.

It is almost impossible to perfectly compare goalies from season to season on different teams but when all things are considered, if Toskala isn’t having the worst season by a goalie in the past decade, he is awfully close.

Feb 012010
 

It seems everyone believes that the Leafs newest goalie, Jean-Sebastien Giguere, is being brought in to help ease Gustavsson’s transition into a starting NHL goalie and act as a veteran mentor and tutor for the remainder of this season and next. But should we really assume that both Giguere and Gustavsson will be Leafs next year?

Next season Giguere is set to make $7 million and will have a cap hit of $6 million. That is a lot of money to spend on a tutor and mentor. Today coach Ron Wilson said that Giguere will get the majority of the starts through the remainder of the year. If Gustavsson is the goalie of the future (and Burke yesterday said Gustavsson is still in the Leafs long term plans) then why give Giguere the majority of the starts? Wouldn’t a 50-50 split be more prudent if in fact Gustavsson is the long term answer to the Leafs goaltending woes?

My theory is that the Leafs management believes that Gustavsson hasn’t shown enough to be given the starting job (or even the majority of the starts) next season so they need a goalie capable of playing in around 50 or so games next year at a reasonably good level. That would give Gustavsson the opportunity to develop in a lower pressure situation than he has this year when Toskala just wasn’t getting the job done. But is Giguere that goalie? Is he good enough to give the Leafs average or preferably better than average, goaltending for 50 or so games next year? I don’t know and I am not certain the Leafs know either so that is why they intend on giving Giguere a lot of starts the remainder of the season.

The outcome of this third of a season stretch with Giguere as the Leafs starting goaltender will guide what the Leafs do with their goaltending in the off season. Based on this Giguere tryout I can envision three scenarios unfolding.

  1. Giguere plays great and shows he can be a top starting goalie in the NHL again. If this is the case, I can envision a scenario where the Leafs consider using Gustavsson as a tradable commodity to possibly acquire much needed help up front. Both San Jose and Dallas were highly interested in signing Gustavsson last year and both will potentially have goaltending issues to deal with this upcoming off season as both Turco (who won’t be re-signed) and Nabokov are set to be unrestricted free agents.
  2. Giguere plays well enough that Leaf management feels they can give him 50-55 starts next year and he’ll play well enough and consistent enough to give the Leafs a chance to win the majority of those games and in the process he can help tutor and mentor Gustavsson.
  3. Giguere doesn’t perform well and doesn’t look like he could even be a second tier starter in the NHL. In this scenario the Leafs might simply buy out Giguere’s contract for a cap hit of $1,333,333 next season and $2,333,333 in 2011-12. That would still present a significant savings over what Jason Blake’s cap hit ($4M in each of those seasons) or Jason Blake’s buyout cap hit ($2M in each of the next 2 seasons and $1M for the following 2 seasons) would have been so the trade still makes sense even in a buyout scenario. Alternatively they might hide his contract in the AHL (I believe he has a no trade clause, not a no movement clause) and have a full $6M in extra cap space out and find another goalie (Nabokov, Dan Ellis, Pekka Rinne, Turco, Biron, etc) to be the starter or a cheaper Gustavsson mentor.

Part of me really feels that scenario 2, where both Giguere and Gustavsson are Leafs next season, might in fact be the least likely scenario. It might cost $2-3 million per season to re-sign Gustavsson on a 2-3 year deal an does it really make sense to allocate $8-9 million in cap space to a pair of goalies where neither of them are really quality #1 goalies? No, it doesn’t, so I have my doubts it will happen. My belief is the Leafs might be hoping for scenario 1 but when they made the trade they were in fact expecting scenario 3 to be the likely outcome.

Update: You can read a Ducks fans thoughts on JS Giguere here and you can read my thoughts on the Calgary-Toronto trade in an interview I did with Chiller Instinct.