Monday, June 11, 2007

Vezina Trophy: The Worthlessness of Shutouts

Shutouts are an arbitrary stat. For forwards and defencemen no single-game performance, no matter how good, is treated specially in any way. Instead, it is the end of the season goal and assist totals that are used to judge how good they were. For some reason, goalies get bonus points when nobody scores on them through 60 minutes, but give up just one goal and they get no credit at all.

The closest player equivalent to a shutout is probably a hat trick, or a multi-goal game. But nobody would use the number of hat tricks a player has scored to determine who is a better scorer. They would look at the entire season's performance as a whole.

Teemu Selanne had 12 multiple goal games this season, including one hat trick. Dany Heatley had 11 multiple goal games, including 3 hat tricks. Both of them also had many games where they didn't score at all. They are the equivalent of a goalie who racks up a lot of shutouts. But neither of them are going to receive the Art Ross.

Vinny Lecavalier is, and he had only 6 multiple goal games, one of them a hat trick. His goal scoring was consistent, and didn't come in bunches. Nobody cares how he scored them, though. What matters is that he scored 52 times, the most in the league, and therefore he was the league's top scorer.

There are many who claim that Brodeur should be ranked ahead of Luongo, because he has 12 shutouts to Luongo's 5, and that should be the tiebreaker given the closeness of the other goalie stats. This is really absurd. The shutouts are already taken into account in the GAA and save percentages of the two goalies. If goalies have the same save percentage, and one has more shutouts than the other, that just means he also had more bad games than the other. Luongo is like Lecavalier, Brodeur is like Heatley. Who would you rather have, the guy more likely to score a hat trick, or the guy more likely to score?

Shutouts are also a team stat. Teams that allow fewer and easier shots make it easier for their goalies to get shutouts. A league average goalie playing behind a defence that only gives up 23 shots per game is more than twice as likely to get a shutout as an average goalie that faces 30 shots per game.

Shutouts have the advantage of guaranteeing a win, but in most games teams score 2 goals or more, meaning that there is very little difference between a shutout and giving up one goal, or even two. I have already discussed in a previous post how shutouts add very little to the expected team winning percentage, as compared to one goal games.

Shutouts are arbitrary, improperly weighted, strongly team-dependent, and poor measures of goaltender ability. They are an anachronistic goalie statistic that should be given almost no weight when evaluating goalies.

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