Apr 172012
 

Last week I took a look at the Leafs forwards, today I’ll take a look at their defense and goaltending.  As with the forwards, I’ll evaluate the defensemen using their 5v5 zone start adjusted HARO+, HARD+ and HART+ ratings but with goalies I will evaluate them using their 5v5 zone start adjusted HARD+ rating and save percentage.  I have included the past 5 individual seasons as well as the most recent 3 year rating and 5 year rating.  Personally, I like to use 3 year ratings as the best guide for player value as it gives a large sample size but not too large that other factors come into play for most players (i.e. aging and natural career progression).

Dion Phaneuf

2011-12 2010-11 2009-10 2008-09 2007-08 2009-12 (3yr) 2007-12 (5yr)
HARO+ 0.975 1.083 1.023 1.355 1.125 0.996 0.955
HARD+ 0.866 1.069 0.941 0.741 0.972 0.969 0.928
HART+ 0.920 1.076 0.982 1.048 1.049 0.983 0.942

Phaneuf had a bit of an off year this year, particularly in the second half.  Both his offensive HARO+ and defensive HARD+ ratings are down from previous seasons.  Generally speaking over the years Phaneuf has been a good offensive player and more of an average defensive player over the several years.  He does seem to contribute quite well on the powerplay so if I had to define his role, he’d be an ideal #2/#3 defenseman on a good team who is relied upon heavily on the powerplay.  It is my opinion, he is not a top #1 defenseman and most good teams in the NHL have at least one defenseman better than Phaneuf, often significantly better.  Unfortunately this means he is significantly over paid at $6.5M/yr and his actual worth is probably more in the $5M/yr range.

John-Michael Liles

2011-12 2010-11 2009-10 2008-09 2007-08 2009-12 (3yr) 2007-12 (5yr)
HARO+ 0.884 1.035 1.011 0.909 1.145 0.957 0.848
HARD+ 0.848 0.860 1.090 0.847 0.952 0.909 0.916
HART+ 0.866 0.948 1.051 0.878 1.049 0.933 0.882

Liles offensive numbers really took a dip this year as he never really got his game back on track after returning from injury.  Before he suffered  his concussion he had 21 points in 34 games but after his return he had just 6 points in 32 games.  Taking that into account, Liles is an above average offensive player but an average to below average defensive player.  He is good on the powerplay but unlike Phaneuf not quite as reliable in defensive situations.  Liles is probably a #3/#4/#5 defenseman depending on the makeup of the team.

Luke Schenn

2011-12 2010-11 2009-10 2008-09 2007-08 2009-12 (3yr) 2007-12 (5yr)
HARO+ 1.165 1.083 1.204 0.924 1.117 1.121 0.940
HARD+ 0.713 0.878 0.912 0.792 0.808 0.844 0.837
HART+ 0.939 0.981 1.058 0.858 0.963 0.982 0.888

I have been extremely critical of Schenn’s defensive game over the years, but surprisingly he has been very solid offensively in 5v5 situations.  If you compare Schenn’s 5v5 point totals to Phaneuf’s and adjust for ice time they are awfully close.  Unfortunately Schenn’s defensive game is dreadful and it took a step back this season.  Of the 161 defensemen with 2000 5v5 zone start adjusted minutes over the past 3 seasons, Schenn ranks 151st.  Schenn is a perfect example of a young defenseman who was rushed to the NHL and asked to play under a coach that isn’t known for defensive structure and his development suffered.  I really hope that Randy Carlyle who is much more of a defensive structured coach than Ron Wilson can turn Schenn’s defensive game around because if he can Schenn could provide the Leafs with a lot of value as a #3/#4 defenseman for many years to come.  If Schenn can’t improve his defensive game he offers very value going forward.

Carl Gunnarsson

2011-12 2010-11 2009-10 2008-09 2007-08 2009-12 (3yr) 2007-12 (5yr)
HARO+ 0.967 1.004 1.221 1.007
HARD+ 0.989 0.856 0.969 0.952
HART+ 0.978 0.93 1.095 0.980

Gunnarsson is one of those defensemen who quietly goes about his business and gets the job done.  He is a perfect low maintenance top 4 defenseman who can generate offense when needed but can also be used in more shutdown situations when needed as well.  He and Phaneuf played quite well together for much of the season in both offensive and defensive roles.

Mike Komisarek

2011-12 2010-11 2009-10 2008-09 2007-08 2009-12 (3yr) 2007-12 (5yr)
HARO+ 0.900 0.965 0.800 1.069 1.109 0.876 0.850
HARD+ 0.676 0.743 1.022 0.945 0.923 0.788 0.875
HART+ 0.788 0.854 0.911 1.007 1.016 0.832 0.862

A lot has been written about the fall off of Mike Komisarek’s game so there isn’t a whole lot more to add.  His defensive numbers over the past couple seasons have been dreadful.  Unlike Schenn, I am not even sure if we can hope he will turn his game around under a more defensive structured coach.

Cody Franson

2011-12 2010-11 2009-10 2008-09 2007-08 2009-12 (3yr) 2007-12 (5yr)
HARO+ 1.074 1.057 1.299 1.094
HARD+ 0.917 1.391 1.625 1.264
HART+ 0.996 1.224 1.462 1.179

It was a bit of an unfortunate season for Cody Franson as he went from a regular role in Nashville to bouncing in and out of the lineup with the Leafs.  In Nashville he was paired mostly with more defensive minded and physical Shane O’Brien and his defensive numbers were extremely good, albeit against somewhat weak competition.  When he came to Toronto I wanted to see what he could do if given a more significant role, particularly defensive role feeling he had been typecast as an offensive specialist.  Unfortunately he was never given that opportunity as when he was in the line up he was paired with Liles or Gardiner.  It should be noted though, that he did make them both better defensively.  When Liles was not with Franson his GA20 was 1.116 but with Franson it was 0.639.  When Gardiner was not with Franson his GA20 was 1.056, when with Franson it was 0.782.    His .917 HARD+ was second best on the Leafs (to Gunnarsson) and I think he deserves to considered an option in more defensive situations.

Jake Gardiner

2011-12 2010-11 2009-10 2008-09 2007-08 2009-12 (3yr) 2007-12 (5yr)
HARO+ 1.277
HARD+ 0.809
HART+ 1.043

Jake Gardiner had an outstanding rookie season impressing everyone with his offensive skills anchored by strong skating and puck handling abilities.  As with most rookies his defensive game still needs growth, but if he continues to develop his offensive game he has the potential to be an elite offensive defenseman.  On the season he had 30 points in 75 games but had 21 of those 30 points in the 40 games after January.  Although it is just half a season, those are impressive point totals for a rookie defenseman.  His future is extremely promising as an offensive defenseman.

On the whole, the Leafs have a pretty good set of defensemen and you can argue that Phaneuf, Gunnarsson, Liles, Gardiner, and Franson can all be top 4 defensemen on good teams and Schenn has that potential if he can improve the defensive side of his game.  Unfortunately as a group the mix is all wrong.  There is no true #1 defenseman, there is no true defensive shut down pairing, and there are far too many one-dimensional offensive defenseman and a number of them are over paid for their contribution.  There is a lot of youth, but not a lot of veteran leadership (or coaching) to provide defensive guidance to these young players.  Furthermore Schenn was needlessly rushed to the NHL and not given proper instruction and I feel Franson has been unfairly typecast as a uni-dimensional player and thus have not gotten optimal return for his talents.  They need to jettison the contract of Komisarek one way or another (trade unlikely so buyout a possibility).  If they can’t develop Schenn into a shut down defenseman, they need to ship him out and find someone who can fill that role.  It would be nice if they could get better value out of the $6.5M they are paying Phaneuf but I don’t know how they accomplish that.  Related to Phaneuf, they really do need an elite #1 defenseman but with their salary cap restraints I don’t see how you do that this off season though I think there is reason to hope/believe that maybe Gardiner can (may) develop into that role (or at least into a poor mans Scott Niedermayer or Brian Rafalski type) so maybe it is worth waiting and seeing.

Now on to the goaltending.

Jonas Gustavsson

2011-12 2010-11 2009-10 2008-09 2007-08 2009-12 (3yr) 2007-12 (5yr)
HARD+ 0.808 0.803 0.903 0.850
Save% 89.2 89.7 90.4 89.8

Gustavsson wasn’t very good as a rookie, and has gotten worse since.  At this point there is very little reason to believe he will ever be a reliable starter in the NHL and you even have to question whether he can be a reliable backup except behind elite starters where he is only relied on to play in 20 games.  He won’t be back with the Leafs.

James Reimer

2011-12 2010-11 2009-10 2008-09 2007-08 2009-12 (3yr) 2007-12 (5yr)
HARD+ 0.898 1.035 0.991
Save% 90.6 92.7 91.7

It was a bad season for Reimer, getting injured early and maybe never really fully getting back on track.  I don’t think this season is enough reason to give up hope on him becoming a quality starting NHL goalie but I am a long way from suggesting he is the “Real Deal” as Brian Burke did in his year end press conference.

The Leafs need to add a quality experienced and reliable veteran goalie to support Reimer in his development.  It’s unfortunate they didn’t figure this out last season because they could have signed a guy like Jose Theodore who had a very good season in Florida and would have been a perfect fit for the Leafs.  This off season Vokoun could be an option but he is getting up there in age and has shown signs of slowing down the past couple seasons.  Josh Harding is a little younger and has been a quality backup for several years in Minnesota but has not proven he can handle starters duties (never had more than 34 games played) if needed so there is a level of risk with him.  Otherwise you are looking at second tier starters aged 35 and up or career backups, none of which are very appealing to me so they may have to go the trade route but I have no clue who might be available.

 

 

Feb 222012
 

Looking at this chart, I think only Lightning fans can sympathize with the torture that Leaf fans have suffered through with regards to their goaltending, but at least the Lightning have made the playoffs a few times and even had some success.

Update:  For interest sake, here are the post lockout shooting percentages and PDO (shooting percentage + save percentage).


 

 

Jan 152012
 

Not sure what led me to look into this but I took a look at poor defensive teams making the playoffs in the eastern conference.  Over the past 3 seasons there have been just 6 teams to make the playoffs in the eastern conference with goals against averages greater than 2.80.  They are:

  • Tampa Bay Lightning (2010-11):  2.80
  • Ottawa Senators (2009-10): 2.80
  • Pittsburgh Penguins (2009-10):  2.82
  • Montreal Canadiens (2008-09): 2.88
  • Washington Capitals (2008-09):  2.89
  • Ottawa Senators (2007-08): 2.92

Over the past 4 seasons there have been a total of 26 teams with gaa’s above 2.80 and just 6 of those made the playoffs (37.5%).  There have been 18 teams with gaa’s above 2.90 and only one team (the 2007-08 Senators) made the playoffs (5.6%).

What is interesting is that right now there are currently 4 teams in eastern conference playoff spots with goals against averages above 2.80.

  • Washington Capitals: 2.85
  • Philadelphia Flyers:  2.90
  • Toronto Maple Leafs:  3.03
  • Ottawa Senators:  3.07

There are actually only 6 teams in the eastern conference with GAA’s under 2.80 so at least 2 of them over 2.80 would have to be in the playoffs.  Those under 2.80 are the Bruins, Rangers, Penguins, Canadiens , Panthers and Devils.  If history is any indication that means Pittsburgh should be able to climb back into the playoff picture and who knows, maybe there is hope for the Canadiens (wouldn’t bet on it though).  But regardless, it appears there will be a few teams making the playoffs in the eastern conference with gaa’s above 2.80, and maybe even one or two above 3.00.  The only eastern teams to make the playoffs with a gaa above 3.00 post lockout are the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2006-07 (3.11 gaa) and 2005-06 (3.07), Carolina Hurricanes in 2005-06 (3.11) and Philadelphia Flyers in 2005-06 (3.04) but offense was significantly higher in those seasons.  Particularly in 2005-06 when only 5 teams had sub 3.00 gaa’s in the east, all making the playoffs.

I should also point out that of the teams that made the playoffs with a GAA above 2.80 in the past 4 seasons, both Ottawa teams missed the playoffs the following season, Tampa is certain to do so this season and Montreal squeeked into the playoffs in 2009-10 with just 88 points, the lowest point total for a playoff team post lockout.  Bad defensive teams don’t generally see much success and should they achieve some it is seemingly not a positive predictor of future success.

 

Jan 122012
 

There is a post over at Backhand Shelf today that lists 10 backup goalies that have out performed their #1 counterparts.  It is an interesting read but it may be a perfect example of how simple statistics don’t tell the whole story.

The first pair of goalies on the list are the Bruins Tukka Rask vs Tim Thomas.

Backup: Tuukka Rask (10-4-1, 1.59 GAA, .945 SV%)
Starter: Tim Thomas (17-7-0, 1.99 GAA, .938 SV%)

Now both goalies have exceptionally good numbers but on the surface you would probably conclude that Rask has superior numbers to Thomas and on the surface you would be correct.  But dig a little deeper and things may look a little different.

A few days ago I was wading through some statistics and made an interesting observation about the Bruins handling of these two goalies.  Specifically, Tukka Rask gets far easier starts than Tim Thomas.

Rask Thomas
Opp. Record 265-257-72 511-418-123
Opp. Points % 1.013 1.088
Opp. Points/82gms 83.1 89.2
Opp GFA 2.55 2.77
Opp Sh% 8.66% 9.29%

Thomas’s opponents have a better record, have a better goal scoring rate and have a better shooting percentage than Rask’s and generally speaking it isn’t very close.  Boston has the highest goals per game average in the NHL.  The next 6 teams are Philadelphia, Vancouver, Detroit, Toronto, Chicago and Ottawa.  Of Rask’s 14 starts he has 2 starts (14.3%) against those six teams, one against Toronto and one against Detroit.  Thomas has 25 starts, and 9 starts (36%) against those six teams (3 vs Toronto, 2 vs Ottawa, 2 vs Philadelphia, 1 vs Chicago and 1 vs Vancouver).

When you take Rask and Thomas’s individual numbers on the surface it appears that Rask has out performed Thomas but when you dig deeper and look at the quality of opposition it is far less clear that Rask has outperformed Thomas and in fact it may be the other way around.

(On a side note, the combined record of all of Boston’s opponents is just 776-675-195, the equivalent of an 87 point team so it seems they have had a fairly easy schedule thus far. )

 

Oct 022010
 

As we head towards the start of the 2010-11 season, lets take a look at 9 teams who may struggle in goal.

Philadelphia Flyers – Michael Leighton has been a waiver claim 4 times in the past 4 years and another time was traded straight up for a 7th round pick.  Despite playing well at times last year, he isn’t anyone I’d be comfortable depending on and he will be starting the season on IR with a bad back.  Brian Boucher has had moments of great play in his career too but has never been able to establish himself as anything more than a backup.  This is not the goaltending a supposed Stanley Cup contender should have.

Ottawa Senators – The Senators had the third worst save percentage in the NHL and they chose to come back with the same tandem and they haven’t looked any better in the pre-season.  Pascal Leclaire might be the worst goalie in the NHL over the past couple seasons (challenging Toskala for that title) though the Senators hope that is in part due to his injury issues.  Brian Elliot looked like he was in the process of transitioning from prospect to reliable NHL starter but he also struggled at times, and didn’t look good in the playoffs.  What Elliot’s NHL career looks like is still a big question mark.  Adding to the problem is the Senators lost a key defensive defenseman in Anton Volchenkov and added an offensive defenseman in Sergei Gonchar so the team may choose to go with a more offensive style of play which would only expose their goaltending issues even more.

Dallas Stars – Kari Lehtonen isn’t a bad goalie, just an unhealthy one.  Only once in his 5 year career has he been able to start more than 45 games.  Behind Lehtonen you have Andrew Raycroft who probably has been one of the worst goalies post lockout.  If Lehtonen gets injured yet again, it could be trouble for the Stars.

Toronto Maple Leafs – The Leafs have had terrible goaltending the last several years.  The good news is there is no one on the Leaf roster named Toskala or Raycroft so that has to be a positive.  But, with that said young Jonas Gustavsson hasn’t proven anything and has looked iffy in the pre-season and veteran Jean-Sebastien Giguere is past his prime.  That said, I think Giguere will have a more steady influence on the team even if he isn’t a great goalie anymore and at least there is hope that Gustavsson can provide some upside as he develops.

Montreal Canadiens – I don’t understand the logic of trading away Jaroslav Halak who in addition to being a playoff hero also posted a 26-13-5 record with a .924 save percentage in order to keep Carey Price and his 13-20-5 record and .912 save percentage.  Price has looked shakey in the pre-season and if he doesn’t turn it around it could be a long year in Montreal.  New backup Alex Auld can be a decent backup but not someone I’d want to have to depend on too much.

Washington Capitals – Like the Flyers, the Capitals are Stanley Cup contenders with big question marks in goal.  While the Flyers have a pair of goalies with more experience than the Capitals the Capitals have a pair of young goalies with potential to have very good careers.  Both Seymon Varlamov and Michal Neuvirth have been solid in goal at times but combined they have just 47 NHL regular season starts.  The good news is the Capitals have enough offense that they don’t need great goaltending but even so, that is a lot of pressure to put on a pair of youngsters with no veteran goalie around to support them.

Edmonton Oilers – Khabibulin is one of the most streaky goalies around.  When he is good, he can be really good, but when he is bad he can be awful, and there isn’t much behind him to support him during those bad streaks.  All that said, goaltending isn’t all the Oilers will have issues with.

NY Islanders – Rick DiPietro can’t seem to stay healthy and Dwayne Roloson is 41 years old.  The potential is there for the Islanders to have serious goaltending problems this upcoming season.

Tampa Bay Lightning – Both Dan Ellis and Mike Smith have shown potential to be decent NHL goalies but neither have played well enough to be called a reliable starter and neither are coming off good seasons.  Despite some good talent up front, it could be another long season for the Lightning if one of these guys can’t step up their games or the coaching can’t optimize the ‘go with the hot goalie’ strategy.

Honourable Mentions:  Chicago Blackhawks and San Jose Sharks.  I am not overly worried about Turco in Chicago, I think he can still be a reliable goalie for 50-60 games.  Can Crawford deliver in his 25-30 games though?  I am also not that worried about Niemi and Nittymaki in San Jose.  I think between them they will provide solid goaltending, but it probably won’t be as dependable as Nabokov’s.

Apr 292010
 

If you have not yet read Part I and Part II of this series, you should probably do that now so you will better understand Part III.

In this part I wanted to take a look at individual goalies and see how they compare to the average. The following is a list of the 19 goalies I used to create the goalie performance by age average chart that you see in Part II and if you click on their names you will be shown a chart of their performance compared to the average performance.

Chris Osgood
Chris Tererri
Craig Billington
Curtis Joseph
Dominik Hasek
Ed Belfour
Glenn Healy
Jeff Hackett
Jocelyn Thibault
John Vanbiesbrouk
Kirk McLean
Martin Brodeur
Mike Richter
Mike Vernon
Olaf Kolzig
Patrick Roy
Ron Tugnutt
Sean Burke
Tom Barasso

I’ll leave it as an exercise to the reader to go through each of the charts and draw whatever conclusions you can but there appear to be two different charts. The first is a typical curved chart where a goalie improves early in his career and tails off later in his career. There are of course varying degrees of this curve from the extreme like Jeff Hackett to a more moderate curve like Ron Tugnutt. The other type of chart which is quite common is the one where the goalie enters the league at quite a high level and then tails off over time. Again there are varying degrees as to which this tail off occurs from the extreme in Jocelyn Thibault or Kirk McLean to a more casual drop of as with Mike Vernon.

It is generally believed that the two best goalies of the past 20-25 years are Patrick Roy and Martin Brodeur. Not as often mentioned is Dominik Hasek and I can only assume that is because he doens’t have the win totals or Stanley Cups of the other two partly because of the teams he played for and partly because he started his career late compared to Roy and Brodeur. But, in the prime of his career he was truly dominating and in my opinion was by far the best goalie in the NHL through the late 1990′s and into the current decade. So, lets take a look at how these three stack up against each other.

Clearly all three have been better than the average of the other 19 goalies, but I was actually a little surprised to see how little better Brodeur has been for much of his career. Four times in Brodeur’s career has he performed below the average of the other 19 goalies at the same age where neither Roy or Hasek ever performed below the group average at any age. The other conclusion one must draw from this chart is simply how good Hasek was, particularly late in his career. Roy had dominating years in his early to mid 20′s but from age 29 on clearly Hasek was the more dominant goalie. As for Brodeur, he has had a few excellent seasons but generally speaking has been a step below the Roy and Hasek at all ages. The only other goalie who could possibly be considered as a similar talent to these three goalies is Ed Belfour who you could argue had a career quite similar to that of Brodeur.

In part IV, which I’ll either post tomorrow or early next week, I’ll take a look at a few current goalies in the middle of their careers to see if we can gain any insight into what phase of their career they are in and what the future might hold for them.

Apr 152010
 

I have always believed that goaltending is by far the most important position in hockey and have claimed it can make or break any teams season. I have claimed that the main reason that the Leafs have failed to make the playoffs post lockout is because of bad goaltending. Many others have scoffed at this claim blaming everything from bad defense to bad offense (which is mostly not factually true) to poor coaching, to a combination of all of the above. I have seen others claim that goaltending would account for at most four or five games a year. So, I have undertaken a bit of a study to attempt to figure out how important goaltending really is and how many points in the standings poor goaltending can cost you or great goaltending can gain you.

Most goaltending studies I have seen, and done myself, have to do with comparing goalies from one team to the next. The problem with this is people can easily choose to dismiss the study with claims like ‘but team x has such a bad defense you cannot blame the goalie for that’ and to some extent there is some validity in this claim (though I do not believe it to be as much as many do). There have been other studies that attempt to factor out the defense issue by coming up with some sort of shot difficulty rating based on shot type and defense. I believe that this has some merit and improves the validity of the study but people will simply jump in and claim that not all shots from the same distance are equal and teams with bad defense will inherently give up more difficult shots so the shot quality analysis is still far from perfect. Again, there is some merit to this.

So, with all that in mind I set out to study goaltending in a way that eliminates the quality of a team’s defense in a way that most sane people cannot dispute: compare goalies who play on the same team. If we are comparing two goalies who play on the same team we immediately eliminate the ‘but he plays on a bad team’ argument because they are playing behind the same players.

I collected all the goalie statistics from the 5 regular seasons since the NHL lockout of the 2004-05 season. For each team and season I identified each team’s starting goalie (the goalie with the most starts) and then grouped all other goalies who played for that team in that season and merged their statistics into a combined backup goalie statistic. For example, this past season Jonas Hiller was the starter for the Anaheim Ducks and JS Giguere and Curtis McElhinney also played for the Ducks so Giguere and McElhinney’s stats were combined into a single team backup stat. The statistics I am interested in are save percentage and points earned for their team and the number of games started from which we can calculate points earned per start stat for the starter and the combined backup. I next subtracted the backups points per start from the starters points per start and the backups save percentage from the starters save percentage. Here is an example for the Anaheim goalies.

Goalie Starts W L OTL PTS Pts/Start SV%
Jonas Hiller 58 30 23 4 64 1.103 0.9182
JS Giguere 17 4 8 5 11 0.9000
C. McElhinney 7 5 1 2 10 0.9167
Backups 24 9 9 3 25 1.042 0.9055
Starter-Backup 0.0618 0.0128

So, from that table we see that Jonas Hiller had a save percentage 0.0618 higher than his backups and produced more points for his team in the standings at a rate of 0.0128 per start. Now since that last stat is pretty meaningless I prorated it to 82 games and over the course of 82 games Hiller would produce 5.07 additional points in the standings over his backups.

Continue reading »

Apr 082010
 

If you polled hockey fans who the top contenders are for the Stanley Cup, four of the most frequent answers you will get will be Washington and Pittsburgh from the eastern conference and San Jose and Chicago from the western conference. What these teams have in common are very good groups of offensive forwards with multiple star players and some pretty good defensemen to go with them. But what they also have in common are question marks in goal that they will have to overcome if they are to go deep into the playoffs.

San Jose Sharks
We all know about the Sharks playoff failures of recent years and much of the blame has been placed on forwards like Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau. Starting goalie Evgeni Nabokov has been an excellent regular season goalie and been OK in the playoffs but he hasn’t stolen a series for the Sharks and his post Olympic play has to be a concern for Sharks fans. As you are all probably aware, Nabokov had a poor Olympics, and in particular, a really bad game against the Canadian team that cost the Russians a shot at a medal. Since the Olympics he hasn’t been any better having posted an 8-7-1 record with a 3.11 goals against average and a very mediocre .897 save percentage and in 16 post Olympic games he has given up 4 or more goals 7 times (including 5 goals Sunday against possible first round opponent Colorado). That isn’t going to cut it in the playoffs. We know Nabokov can play better, but will he turn his game around come playoff time?

Chicago Blackhawks
The Blackhawks goaltending is an interesting case study into inconsistency. They lead the league in shutouts and are 6th in goals against average but are 7th worst in the league in save percentage. Cristobol Huet can go on stretches where he looks solid and reliable (in his first 21 starts this year he only gave up more than 3 goals once) but then for other stretches he can look downright awful. The end result though is that he is unreliable. Then you have youngster Anti Niemi who has been the better and more reliable goalie this year and has a respectable .913 save percentage but he too has been inconsistent. In 33 starts he has 7 shutouts which is pretty phenomenal (Brodeur leads the league with 9, but he started 73 games) but in those 33 starts he has also given up 4 or more goals 8 times which is not so good.

Washington Capitals
The Washington Capitals are not unlike the Chicago Blackhawks as they too have a somewhat unreliable veteren (Theodore) and a quality young goalie (Varlamov) that may or may not be ready to carry the load. I have a little more confidence in the Capitals goaltending though as they have been a little more consistent. As a group they only have 3 shutouts, but they have fewer disaster games too and with the Capitals offensive capabilities that might be good enough but it still has to be a concern for Capitals fans.

Pittsburgh Penguins
There may be some that are surprised to see the Penguins make this list but lets look at the facts. As a team the Penguins have the worst goals against average of any playoff bound team and have the fourth worst save percentage in the NHL. Marc-Andre Fleury has a very mediocre .904 save percentage over the course of the season and a pretty bad .892 save percentage since the Olympics. Since February 1st he has started 20 games and given up at least three goals in 14 of them and four or more goals 6 times. We know Fleury can play well enough to win a Stanley Cup, but his performance this season, and over the past couple months in particular, has not been good enough. To make matters worst for Penguins fans, yesterday on TSN it was pointed out in 17 games against division leaders the Penguins have just 3 wins. Of the top four teams in the east, I think the Penguins are the one team most likely to face a first round playoff exit.

(cross posted at HockeyAnalysis.com)

Sep 302009
 

I am going to come out with complete 2009-10 season predictions for the eastern and western conferences later today or tomorrow but for now let me focus on my favourite team, the Maple Leafs.

Coming out of training camp there is a lot to be optimistic about the Leafs future. Nazem Kadri showed very well in his first NHL training camp and gave every indication that he has a bright future in the NHL. Youngsters Hanson, Bozak and especially Stalberg all played quite well and all showed that they have a future of some kind at the NHL level, especially Stalberg and Bozak who should make an impact this season. Furthermore, come some time in early November the Leafs should be inserting a 36 goal scorer into their lineup when newly acquired Phil Kessel returns from his shoulder injury. At that point there will be more speed and skill on this Leafs roster than we have seen since before the lockout. On defense the additions of Komisarek, Beauchemin and Exelby add additional toughness and a more balanced grouping and Ron Wilson informed us all that Tomas Kaberle is no longer fat so we can be optimistic that he can return to his 60+ point form.

But what Leaf fans need to be most optimistic about is goaltending. Ok, I realize that some of you may still be skeptics considering that Toskala gave up 7 goals on Sunday and looked bad and his backup is a raw rookie with just 3 periods of exhibition play, albeit good play. But what Leaf fans really need to be optimistic about is that last season the goaltending was truly dreadful and it is almost impossible for this seasons goaltending to be worse. As bad as Toskala was last season, and he was quite bad, the trio of backup goaltenders (Joseph, Pogge, Gerber) that were used were significantly worse. Last season Toskala had a record of 22-17-11 while the backup goalies had a record of 12-18-2. Even if Leaf fans assume no improvements in the forwards and defense and that Toskala is just as bad in 2009-10 as he was in 2008-09, if the backups, be it Gustavsson or MacDonald, can even be just as good as Toskala they would have posted a 17-14-1 record. Yes, if the backup goalies last season posted a similar record to Toskala, who was still a bad goalie, the leafs would have had 9 extra points. That would have given them a total of 90 points, just 3 points behind 8th place Montreal.

So, even if Toskala remains the same and the backup goaltending improves from horrific last season to a Toskala-like bad this season, the Leafs should be in playoff contention. If you believe that a now healthy Toskala can even be a little bit better or that Gustavsson is the real deal or if you believe that the there are improvements on defense or up front, you have to be optimistic that the Leafs have a very good shot at obtaining a playoff spot. If the Leafs goaltending can be anywhere close to middle of the pack they are probably a lock for a playoff spot. Even if they only take their save percentage from .885 to .900, which would put them on par with the Tampa Bay Lightning and New York Islanders of last year, the Leafs should make the playoffs.

In short, Leaf fans should be optimistic because the goaltending was so horrific last season that improving goaltending enough to make the playoffs is not really a difficult task and certainly one that the trio of Toskala/Gustavsson/MacDonald should be able to accomplish.

Nov 262008
 

For those that have been reading this blog for the past couple years know that I have been one of the harshest critics of the Leafs goaltending for a long time..

When Andrew Raycroft was setting records for wins by a Maple Leaf, I was contending that he was a bad goalie and benefited from a good team in front of him but far too many in the media and the Leaf fan base blamed the Leafs woes on their defense and lack of scoring punch (which was largely a myth). In the seasons since, Raycroft has proven to be a bad goalie at best.

Last year there were many calling Vesa Toskala very good goalie and the lone bright spot on the Leafs. Some were even calling him an elite level goalie. I on the other hand believed otherwise.

Most hockey analysts seem to believe that Vesa Toskala is a top tier goalie and that goaltending will be the least of the Leafs problems. I am not so sure. While Toskala looked good last year his numbers were still fairly unspectacular. His .904 save percentage was only good for 32nd in the league just behind Cam Ward and just ahead of Peter Budaj. Neither of those two goalies are anything to get excited about either.

The past two seasons have seen the Leafs have finished 4th last and second last in team save percentage and this season they sit in second last with a downright dismal 86.9% save percentage. That is measurably worse than last year. Toskala has been extremely bad, and Joseph has been worse.

Over the years media and fans seemingly often defended the Leafs goaltending by saying ‘but look at how bad that defense is, no goalie would be very good in the Leafs net.’ But the team in front of the Leafs has changed dramatically from last season, including bginging in new defensemen Van Ryn, Finger, Schenn, and Frogren as well as bringing in a more defensive minded coach. But the only thing that seemingly happened was that goaltending got worse. The Leafs defense actually gives up relatively few shots on goal, as it has the past several seasons. They were probably an average defensive team and yet they gave up a lot of goals.

As we approach the quarter pole of the 2008-09 season people are starting to take note of how sub-par the Leafs goaltending is. James Mirtle has written a couple of stories on it (here and here) and there have been several other stories (i.e. Leafs Toskala continues to Struggle, Toskala an early season Disappointment, etc.) and Coach Ron Wilson has publicly stated that Toskala needs to be better. I am fairly certain that he can be better, but can he be good enough to be worthy of a starting role on a playoff contender? That I am not so sure about and will be one of the key questions Burke needs to answer when he takes over as General Manager. As a Leaf fan I can only hope he sees Toskala as inadequite and puts finding a prime time goalie as his top priority.