Thursday, March 1, 2007

The Hall of Fame Standard for Goalies

A Poster on Battle of Alberta:
"I like Hrudey a lot, as a TV personality and as a player, but to punch his ticket to the Hall on the basis of save percentage seems a little thin...His overall career accomplishments don't seem to warrant it."

This illustrates the difference between the average fan evaluating a goalie and evaluating a player. For goalies, Cups and Vezinas are almost the entire story. Nothing else really seems to matter. For players, people look at counting stats like goals and assists, All-Star appearances and so on, and Cups are just one of the many factors that are considered.

According to this logic, the most important and valuable goalie stat (save percentage) is summarily discounted, and the goalie is not considered because he did not have the "accomplishments" (read: Cups). That is like saying a player can't go in just on the basis of points or goals, because they never won Cups. That can be held as a strike against players, but isn't nearly as decisive in determining their eligibility. This double standard has created the situation we have today, where unremarkable non-champions like Bernie Federko are in the Hall of Fame because they racked up the points, but goalies aren't allowed in unless they had good teammates around them.

This is very obvious when you consider goalies from the 1980s. Billy Smith, Grant Fuhr and Patrick Roy are in the Hall of Fame, and Mike Vernon has a good chance to join them. If he does, that means that all the goalies who won a Stanley Cups in the 1980s are in the Hall of Fame, and everyone else isn't. This despite only Roy ever leading the league in goals against average or save percentage during that time period.

Goalie play is difficult to separate from team play, but the effort needs to be made. Otherwise lazy analysis concludes that the best goalies play for the best teams, and goalies end up getting evaluating on something (Stanley Cups) which they have a relatively small amount of control over. Even if you consider a goalie to be worth as much to team defence as the rest of the team put together, you still have to factor in the offence, which the goalie can't impact at all, and therefore the goaltender becomes worth 25% of the team, max. There's a lot that can go wrong in the remaining 75%, almost no matter how good the goalie is (see Hasek, Dominik). On high-scoring teams like the 1980s Oilers and Islanders, the goalie contribution is quite insignificant to the team's success, and there is therefore no reason to give extensive credit to the Smiths and Vernons of the world solely because of the logo on the front of their sweaters.

It is much better to evaluate each goalie on their own merit, which focuses primarily on measures of performance (like save percentage) instead of "career accomplishments". Even though the task is often challenging and not completely conclusive, it is still infinitely fairer than the alternative, which unfortunately is also the status quo in the hockey establishment today.

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