To deal with this issue, I have developed another way of looking at shutouts. It is based on comparing a goalie's shutout performance to how many shutouts an average goalie would probably have recorded while playing the same minutes and facing the same shots. The expected number of shutouts was based on the goalie's minutes played and the predicted probability of a shutout for an average goalie, which was calculated by raising the league-average save percentage to the power of the number of shots faced per game by the subject goalie. For example, if a goalie faced 30 shots per game when the league average was .900, the expected probability of recording a shutout in any given game would be .900^30, or .042. If the goalie played 4000 minutes that season, that would project to an expected season total of 2.8.
This probability calculation is based on the assumption that the goalie would face exactly the same number of shots every game, and that each shot against is equally likely to be stopped, two assumptions which are obviously not true. However, since it is based on averages, it is likely that the method will come up with a predicted shutout total that is within a reasonable range from the actual result.
To test whether this method approximates reality, I compared the expected results against actual (not including the current season). Since 1983-84, i.e. the seasons Hockey-Reference has save percentage data, the expected shutout percentage has been 4.4% of games, and the actual has been 4.8%. This is pretty close. I expected the actual result to slightly exceed the expected result because goalies do not face the average number of shots every game and it gets exponentially easier to get a shutout whenever you face fewer shots. For example, a goalie who faces 20 shots one game and 40 the next is much more likely to get a shutout in one of those two games than a goalie who faces 30 shots per game twice in a row. This method has no corrections for shot quality, so goalies that face higher than average shot quality have a more difficult time recording shutouts regardless of their shots against totals. With these issues in mind, we need to interpret this statistic by looking at ranges and relative rankings, rather than raw totals only.
To show how this works, let's look at a couple of specific examples. Cristobal Huet has 17 career shutouts, while Dan Cloutier has 15. On the career rankings list, they look pretty similar. But are they? I calculated Cloutier's expected career shutout total to be 22.7, meaning Cloutier is 7.7 shutouts (or 34%) below average. Huet, on the other hand, has just 9.8 expected shutouts, meaning he has outperformed the metric by 7.2 shutouts, or 73%. Even though they have similar career totals, Huet is among the very best and Cloutier is among the very worst when you look at performance relative to expected.
Unfortunately I cannot apply this ranking to every goalie throughout history because we have limited shot data. I therefore had to focus on goalies who played mostly in the save percentage era, and if shot data was missing I filled in the league average shots per game for those seasons. Here are the top 20 goalies who have at least 20,000 career minutes between 1982 and 2008, ranked by ratio of shutouts to expected shutouts:
The two usual suspects, Hasek and Luongo, end up at the top. Martin Brodeur's record compared to average is good but not exactly dominant. Brodeur does have a high career "shutouts above average" mark with +18.4, second only to Hasek, edging out Roy's +18.3 with Luongo right behind at +18.2. Hasek crushes the field with almost 38 more shutouts than average. If Hasek played Brodeur's minutes and outperformed average by the same 88% margin, the Dominator would have had 146 shutouts. Just something to keep in mind whenever somebody tries to argue that Brodeur's eventual shutout record means that he was the best.
I'll finish for now by identifying some potentially overlooked goalies who did well but have played fewer games. I'll set 10,000 minutes as the cutoff here (note that both Kari Lehtonen (+75%) and Marc-Andre Fleury (+45%) narrowly missed the minimum but would have made this list):