Wednesday, April 2, 2008

The Playoff Benchmark

In the current MVP debate, one of the most hotly debated points is whether or not Alexander Ovechkin deserves to win the MVP if his team misses the playoffs. This is quite common, to claim that someone is not really valuable unless their team wins. This is illogical, though, because Ovechkin's goalscoring dominance would be hugely beneficial to any team in the league, from Detroit to Los Angeles. The Caps are where they are in the standings mainly because of Ovechkin's teammates and coaches. If Bruce Boudreau was the coach and Cristobal Huet the goalie for the entire season, Washington would probably be the division champions even if Ovechkin only scored 40 goals. So picking Malkin or Iginla as MVP if Washington is eliminated is basically saying that Ovechkin is less valuable because his goalies and defence are worse, and where's the logic in that?

A great goalie will make more saves than an average goalie on any team. What is peculiar is that his contribution is valued much more highly on certain mediocre teams just because it made the difference between a playoff seeding and an early golf season. This, of course, has nothing to do with the goalie himself, merely the cumulative effort of his play and his teammates.

Let's say there is a goalie so good that he saves two goals per game compared to a lesser netminder. This is a vast exaggeration, as the margins between NHL goalies are very narrow and probably around a tenth of that, but it is just an illustration. Even with that overwhelming contribution, sometimes the team around him will play so poorly that they will lose even despite the extra goals he saves. Sometimes the team will be good enough that they would have won even if he never made those stops. And sometimes the goalie is the difference maker, turning a 4-3 loss into a 3-2 win.

In all three scenarios, the goalie's contribution to the team is EXACTLY THE SAME. He saved two goals for his team. The difference between winning or losing was simply in what the rest of the team added to the goalie's contribution. Therefore, it makes no sense at all to award extra bonus points when his teammates happened to play very well, or even when they were just good enough to allow him to be the difference maker. Forget "clutch" and "making the big save" and all that, the reason he lost one game and won another has nothing to do with his play and everything to do with the rest of the team in the team sport that they were playing as a team.

That is why Roberto Luongo never won in Florida (and why Tomas Vokoun isn't winning there now) because there were too many shots against and not enough goals for. On some of his best nights he may have been turning 5-2 losses into 3-2 losses, but according to the "wins are the only thing that matters" mindset he never got any credit for anything. Jose Theodore in 2002 was pretty similar, but his teammates were a little better, so he helped the Habs go from narrowly losing to narrowly winning. Different starting baseline, so therefore different result, and he ended up with the league MVP trophy. Theodore in 2002 wasn't better or more valuable than, say, Luongo in 2004, the Canadiens were just better than the Panthers.

Making the playoffs is obviously desirable, and results in additional revenues and exposure for the franchise. That doesn't mean that any effort that falls short of the playoffs is worthless, or that a player is better or worse because his team happens to be in a tight playoff race. The playoff cut line, arbitrarily drawn at 8 teams by the NHL playoff system, should not work as an irrational magnifier where all efforts are worthless up until they cross that line, at which point they become tremendously valuable.

Tomas Vokoun or Ilja Bryzgalov aren't any less valuable this year just because their teams miss the playoffs, just as Martin Gerber and Cam Ward aren't more valuable because they and their teammates might be fortunate to experience a likely very short postseason run. Vancouver could finish 8th or 9th and it wouldn't change the fact that Roberto Luongo is one of the best and most valuable goalies in the league.

So whether Washington wins or loses their next two games, vote Ovechkin for MVP.


Anonymous said...

Who will win the Vezina this year? Who deserves it the most in your opinion?

The Contrarian Goaltender said...

Well, since it usually comes down to wins, I think Brodeur or Nabokov will win it, and with Brodeur's history and reputation I guess he probably gets it again.

I'm not sure who deserves it most, to be honest. I'm hoping that Alan Ryder and Gabriel Desjardins and the other stats guys can weigh in with a bit more numerical evidence, because I'm not really sure about the team impact for some of the top guys. I plan to spend some time looking at it, and I'm sure I'll post something about it.

Anonymous said...

Even though you might think brodeur is overrated. THis year you can't deny the fact that he's probably the best. He's ahead of Luongo in almost every statistical category. And I think even you should agree this year(and last year) he deserves the vezina.

The Contrarian Goaltender said...

Yes, this year Brodeur is quite possibly the best. I think the team around him is generally underrated, but they still are obviously not as good as the pre-lockout Devils so I think Brodeur has a strong case. It helps that Luongo, Kiprusoff and Lundqvist all had down years as well. I guess it will come down to Brodeur vs. Nabokov, and of those two I'd go with Brodeur.

Last year is a different story. I argued at length that Luongo should have won and I still hold the same position.

Anonymous said...

By the way I agree with you about Alex Ovechkin.I love his style and I think he is the best player in
hockey. But do you think Malkin is the second best?
Also what I wanted to say is Brodeur is probably going to break the record for shutouts and wins. So do you think that it's mainly b/c of the team or mainly b/c of him.
And I read an article you wrote about who's the best puckhandling goalie in the league. You said Dipietro is for sure not the best.I want to tell you that he's the best in the league by far. Even brodeur say's he's the best.And I think he's an example of a great goalie who's not on such a good team. So his stats aren't that good

Anonymous said...

Just an interesting read.......

Anonymous said...

The bleacherreport indicates that Brodeur has faced only about 1 shot less per 60 min's than Luongo, over the past 2 seasons.

If you go back further than 2 seasons, you'll see that Brodeur often faced very few shots.

"Shot quality" has to be evaluated too.... see Alan Ryder's stuff.

For the past 2 yrs, Brodeur has had really good seasons, though.

Anonymous said...

luongo as good as he is, is more inconsistent than brodeur. i can not see how the devils team is underrated, if anything they are overrated. their tier 1 scorers are guys scoring 18-24 goals a year, with the exception of parise who had 33. after the three guys who had goal production in the 18-24 range, the next best are all guys who score 8-15 goals a year.
also, their trademark defense is anything but good. if you watch a couple of games, you will see how many defensive zone turnovers they allow, and how many break downs occur when the opposing team effectively passes or cycles the puck. if youve watched most of the devil games, you would see that this mediocrity/ lack of scoring is the reason brodeur didnt have 10 shutouts this year.
case 1: early in the year against penguins, johnny oduya overskates the puck breaking out, malkin puts pressure on, oduya falls over, malkin scores, devils won the game 3-1.
case 2: devils v. maple leafs, brodeur has shutout with just over 5:00 . devils take bad penalty, defensive breakdown plus colin white screening brodeur, sundin scores, devils win 2-1.

case 3: devils ranger. game is tied 0-0 going into overtime. enough said already, but leaving shanahan open in front of net for 1-timer instead of playing defense. ranger 1 devils 0 in overtime.

case 4: devils rangers a couple weeks ago. devils are up 1-0 with just over 4 minutes to go, three defenders pursue ranger foward behind net and then into corner, ranger foward throw the puck to drury who is standing uncontested in front of the net (and it was even strength) drury 1-timer, 1-1 game, rangers win in shootout.

case 5: devils sabres. a game or two after brodeur shutout the flyers in january or so. 1-0 devils with under 2 minutes to play. 2 on 2 rush, both devils pursue the guy with the puck, puck passes to open man, one timer goal, 1-1 with the devils winning in a shootout.

case 6: devils islanders. another 0-0 game that goes into overtime.

you can not tell me that brodeur would not have benefitted statistically from playing on another team this year. if he was on the rangers, canucks, canadiens, he would have had 12+ shutouts, and if he was on detroit he would have had more then 15.

which this does verify your point about the team being a variable in the goalies numbers, but the devils were only a powerhouse from 2000-2003. their teams before 2000 were good defensively, but very much overacheivers, and never had a prolific goal scorer which ment brodeur had to be sharp for the team to win. after the lockout, the devils have been average at best. they ride brodeur to the playoffs, and then can not compete either offensively or defensively with the better teams in the league.

also if you are able to get brodeurs all star game statistics, compare them to other goalies, they are pretty good considering it is the best players in the world creating breakaways and odd man rushes everytime down the ice, while playing absolutely no defense.
and just for shyts, go to youtube and check out brodeur jagr from 2000 or 2001 when jagr was THE elite player in the game. jagr was given either 30 or 45 seconds to score as many goals as he could, with unlimited attempts in a 1 on 0 situation against brodeur in an all star game competition. brodeur got em all.