Tuesday, April 17, 2007

The "System" - Part 2

Having established that Jacques Lemaire's system has been successful in Minnesota, let's look at how the system impacts goaltenders.

As an expansion team in 2000, Minnesota needed to fill out their roster. There wasn't much goaltending talent available, so they had to scour the league for usable backups. The two goalies they chose were Manny Fernandez and Dwayne Roloson. Fernandez was 26, a 3rd round draft pick with just 33 games of NHL experience over 5 seasons with Dallas, who dumped him to the Wild for draft picks. Roloson was never drafted, had bounced around as a backup in Calgary and Buffalo, and came to the Wild at the age of 32, coming off of a season spent entirely in the AHL.

So, neither of these goalies was expected to perform particularly well, especially since the Wild roster was stocked with castoffs and hopefuls. Let's compare the first five years of Minnesota Wild goaltending with the 5 years of goaltending Martin Brodeur gave Jacques Lemaire during his time in New Jersey:

Minnesota, 2000 - 2006:
2.42 GAA, .918 save %, 28 shutouts, 29.4 shots/game

Brodeur, 1994 - 1998:
2.15 GAA, .917 save %, 32 shutouts, 25.9 shots / game

The stats are very similar. The only difference is that the Wild allowed more shots per game, which resulted in slightly more goals against. What was the only thing that an expansion team with two career backups in net had in common with the Stanley Cup champion New Jersey Devils and their highly touted star goalie? A similar style of defensive play, and that is what drives the numbers.

This was, of course, early in Martin Brodeur's career. His Vezina-winning seasons came later on. Therefore, let's look at a comparison of Minnesota's goalies vs. the contemporary Martin Brodeur:

Minnesota, 2000 - 06:
2.42 GAA, .918 save %, 28 shutouts, 29.4 shots/game

Brodeur, 2000 - 06:
2.22 GAA, .914 save %, 38 shutouts, 25.7 shots/game

Again the numbers are very similar, Minnesota's goalies face more shots, but are slightly more efficient. Shot quality studies have indicated that although both teams are excellent defensively, New Jersey has been consistently better than Minnesota. Those numbers, therefore, indicate that Minnesota got even better work between the pipes than New Jersey.

This year? Again, almost exactly the same production. Minnesota's goalies have a combined .922 save percentage, exactly equal to Brodeur. Goals against averages are 2.18 for Brodeur, 2.19 for Minnesota. Hockey Numbers has the shot quality neutral save percentages as .912 for Minnesota, .905 for Brodeur. This is mostly driven by Finnish rookie Nicklas Backstrom, who has been off the charts with a .929 save percentage. Even in this season of accolades for Brodeur, Minnesota's goaltending has been just as good.

Jacques Lemaire's system works, and it makes life very easy for his goaltenders. Just as Brodeur did early in his career in New Jersey, Minnesota's goalies have put up excellent numbers. Despite playing behind an expansion team that has missed the playoffs four times in six seasons, they have been every bit as good as Brodeur. Maybe the only reason that none of Minnesota's goalies are considered the best in the game is because Lemaire has developed a habit of platooning them. Regardless, this is further evidence that team defensive play has a very large impact on goaltender success.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The Wild picked up Fernandez and McLennan their first year. roloson came along their second year