The rumour is out there that Sunny Mehta has been hired as Director of Hockey Analytics of the New Jersey Devils (if true, a big congrats to Sunny). This sparked some twitter discussion about the Devils and analytics and Devils defensemen including Bryce Salvador.
— Fear The Fin (@fearthefin) June 12, 2014
— dsarch (@dsarch) June 12, 2014
I have been a bit of a fan of Salvador, at least statistically, though clearly there are a lot of Devils fans that do not like him and I think it is because of a focus on corsi. One person tweeted me an image of Salvador’s corsi rel % suggesting it was “pretty ugly”. While maybe true the game isn’t about Corsi it is about goals. Here is what I know about Salvador. In 5v5close situations he led the Devils defensemen in on-ice save percentage last season, the season before, and the season before that. He missed 2010-11 due to injury but in 2009-10 he was second best trailing only Andy Greene, his regular defense partner. Either he is extremely lucky (every year) or he is doing something right.
Lets look at this a different way. Over the past 3 seasons Bryce Salvador has had the third best 5v5close save percentage in the league when he is on the ice despite the Devils ranking 23rd in team save percentage. The two players ahead of him play for Boston (Dougie Hamilton) and Los Angeles (Willie Mitchell) who have significantly better goaltending (3rd and 8th best 5v5close save percentages over past 3 seasons) and again, they played in front of far better goaltending.
In February 2012 I wrote an article attempting to quantify a defenders effect on save percentage and in it I identified Salvador as one of the best defensemen at boosting his teams save percentage. In the 2 seasons since he has done nothing but support that claim.
So, what does this all mean? Well, it takes a player who had a team worst 15.9 CA/20 in 5v5close situations this past season to a team best 0.49 GA/20. Over the past 3 seasons only Dougie Hamilton (Boston), Willie Mitchell (Los Angeles) and Alec Martinez (Los Angeles) have seen goals scored against them at a lower rate than Bryce Salvador.
I know the majority of people are on the corsi bandwagon these days and some will dismiss any argument that runs counter to it but I think the evidence is clearly on Salvador’s side here. All evidence suggest he is really good as suppressing opposition shot quality and in turn suppressing the number of goals scored against the Devils. If I were the new Director of Hockey Analytics for the Devils I wouldn’t be recommending getting rid of Salvador.