Tuesday, March 20, 2007

The Best Playoff Goalie

I have looked at clutch play, game-stealing ability, team support, and overall playoff performance to try to determine who is the best playoff goalie of this generation. Taking all those factors into account, the goal is to arrive at a ranking of goalies in terms of their true playoff performance.

As stated at the start of this exercise, goalies are often judged on one stat alone: Stanley Cups. Based on that statistic, the rankings go: Roy 4, Brodeur 3, Belfour 1, Hasek 1, Joseph 0. However, my analysis so far has demonstrated that those rankings are not representative of each of the goalie's true performance. Too much of it is the team effect.

One of the goalies benefitted extraordinarily from team effects. That goalie was Martin Brodeur. Advantages such as facing a mere 23.8 shots per 60 minutes, facing nearly six shots less per game than his direct opponent, and rarely being severely outshot or even outshot at all contributed to Brodeur's gaudy win total and multiple Cup rings. Brodeur's head-to-head winning percentage is significantly worse than his actual winning percentage, indicating that many times the team won the game for him. In the 2001 playoffs, for example, the Devils went all the way to game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals. Despite that, Brodeur was outplayed by his opponent in net in terms of save percentage in over half the games in that playoff season, indicating it was the team driving the success rather than the goaltender. Analysis of clutch play and individual game-winning ability were unfavourable to Brodeur relative to his peers. Brodeur's overall performance is decent, but after adjusting for his era and the team in front of him, he drops behind the other four. Therefore, Martin Brodeur ranks as the 5th best playoff goalie of his generation.

Curtis Joseph has the worst numbers of the five, but he, like Brodeur, has hidden team effects. Cujo's are the other way - he faced the most shots, almost certainly the hardest shots, and got the least goal support. He almost always had to be perfect or close to it for his team to win a game. When he was at his best, he was very tough to beat, and was second only to Hasek in terms of ability to steal a game for his team. Despite his team disadvantages, his head-to-head record was almost as good as Brodeur's. Overall, this ranks Curtis Joseph as the 4th best playoff goalie.

Ed Belfour has had a solid playoff career. He was the most clutch, didn't always have the best team in front of him, and stole a few games here and there as well. However, Hasek and Roy clearly separated themselves as the best two goalies of their generation, both in the regular season and in the playoffs. Eddie the Eagle was excellent, but never raised his game to another level the way the Dominator and St. Patrick were able to do. As a result, he takes 3rd place.

Patrick Roy has an outstanding playoff reputation, and is considered by many to be the best money goalie of all time. His performance in the 1993 playoffs is one of the top goaltending performances ever. His playoff overtime record is phenomenal. There are also of course the 4 Stanley Cups and 3 Conn Smythe Trophies. It is difficult to rank him second to anyone, given all those accomplishments, and it certainly is close. But Hasek's performance is just a little bit better overall, both in terms of save percentage and head-to-head record. Hasek was also a little more likely to steal a game on his own, and Roy had the advantage of better teams. Roy certainly has a sparkling playoff career and is one of the all-time greats, but the honour of the best playoff goalie of his generation does not go to him.

The best playoff goalie, therefore, has been Dominik Hasek. This viewpoint would be considered controversial to many because Hasek ranks behind Roy and Brodeur in terms of Stanley Cups. However, just as in the regular season, Hasek's overall performance simply overwhelms his peers. He was consistently excellent in all situations. His teams were not weaklings, but they were definitely not powerhouses either. His 1999 run to the finals was one of the all-time great playoff performances, even though Buffalo fell just short. In the only time Hasek had an outstanding team in the playoffs, he won the Stanley Cup.

Final Rankings:
1. Dominik Hasek
2. Patrick Roy
3. Ed Belfour
4. Curtis Joseph
5. Martin Brodeur

Despite his often jawdropping statistics and saves, Hasek has been largely underappreciated in his time. Often dismissed by unknowledgeable fans as "lucky" and injury-prone, he has the best regular season statistics and a slew of trophies, and this analysis indicates that he has the best playoff performance as well. Imagine what he could have accomplished if North American coaches were better at evaluating goalies, and he was able to add three or four more seasons as a starter in the early '90s. I find it difficult to argue for anyone other than Hasek as the greatest goalie in hockey history.

This analysis is further evidence of Martin Brodeur's overratedness. His mention in the discussion of the greatest goalie of all time is proof of that. His playoff stats do not merit it, nor do his regular season stats. Study after study has revealed the same basic truth: Brodeur has had a massive advantage playing for the New Jersey Devils, a team that consistently outchecked, outshot, and outscored the opposition. I have him ranked as the 5th best playoff goalie of his own generation, never mind all-time. Others may disagree with the ranking, but I think even the most charitable assessment would place him no higher than the third best playoff goalie of his time. Dominik Hasek and Patrick Roy both have him trumped in regular season and playoff play, and Hasek has a better international record as well. Longevity is the only advantage that Brodeur will have in the end, but that should by no means be the decisive factor in this debate. Brodeur has had an excellent career, and has been a key member of one of hockey's all-time best defensive teams. He is a good goalie, one of the best of his time, and merits discussion as one of the top 20 ever. If he could be viewed in that perspective, rather than being hyped up to unrealistic levels on the basis of his team's accomplishments, the entire hockey community would be better for it.


Anonymous said...

I agree with mostly everything you say in your blog about playoff goalies. But to say that Roy ranks behind Hasek as best playoff goalie of all time is just ridiculous. If you really want to analyze the numbers in depth, then you have to factor in that Patrick was winning cups and going deep into the playoffs as early as the mid 80's, when the league was in the middle of its wide open high-goals era. So his number would obviously be affected by that. The fact that Roy won the Cup AND Smythe as a 20 year-old rookie eclipses everything and anything Hasek could ever do in the playoffs. Sure, Hasek's number in the late 90's and early 2000's might have been slightly better than Roy's, but Roy was already past his prime, while Hasek was in the thick of it while playing in the boring, clutch-and-grab, low-goals-defense-first and oversize goalie equipment era of the NHL. Point in case, regardless of what the numbers may show, there has never been a better playoff goalie that Patrick Roy.

Anonymous said...

Not to mention the '93 run....

Anonymous said...

Have to agree with everything you said. Growing up I played goalie and my idol was Roy. His magical 1993 run was the first time I watched hockey and that really made me love this great game.

That said, I have to agree that Hasek was the better goalie. As you said, his unorthodox style had everyone calling him "Lucky" but the fact is the guy was unbeatable in his day.

And yes, Brodeur is way overrated and Joseph is underrated. I hate the leafs and I can't count the number of times he frustrated me by just stealing games for them.

GoalieStar said...

Excellent analysis! Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Asking who was the best goalie ever is like asking who was the best quaterback ever. You might get a different answer if you ask who was the best passer ever. I can argue Dan Marino as best passer, but no way can I argue him as best quaterback.

Roy is the best goalie ever....but no one can compare to Hasek at saving the puck