Wednesday, November 12, 2008

More Musings on Career vs. Peak

I think one of the irreconcilable differences when it comes to doing all-time rankings is an observer's personal perspective on the weighting of peak vs. career. I dislike the expression "agree to disagree", because I think it is usually a retreat tactic employed by someone who has run out of arguments, but I think it sometimes legitimately comes into play during all-time debates when an impasse has been reached because of a fundamental difference in evaluation criteria.

Conceptually, I think there is one group of people that approaches the issue as if they were a general manager looking to build a hockey team in an expansion draft. The draft eligible group consists of every 18 year old kid that has ever played hockey, and their goal is to pick the one that provides the highest contribution to that team over their entire career. In this scenario, things like durability, consistency, and longevity are important considerations.

The other group comes at it from a totally different angle. They tend to think of themselves as the coach of a one game playoff. They can pick anybody who has ever played to be on their team, and each player will participate during the prime of their careers, at the absolute height of their skills and abilities. In this scenario, durability and longevity are very much secondary considerations.

This is an oversimplification, because I don't think you will find many people that will take either case to their extremes (e.g. take Mark Recchi over Guy Lafleur, or Jose Theodore over Ed Belfour). Both peak and longevity should have some weighting, but at the end of the day everyone is going to favour one or the other.

Anyone who has read more than a few posts on this blog will be aware that I fall into the second group. For that matter, anyone who has just read this website's title could probably guess that correctly. I've said this many times before, but I am far more interested in how good somebody was than how valuable they were. When a player has retired, and a few decades have passed, and the memories have mostly faded away, the only thing that sticks in the collective recollection of hockey fans is the talent and skills that player displayed when they were at their best. Bobby Hull unleashing a wicked slapshot, Rocket Richard cutting towards the net, Bobby Orr wheeling up ice, and so on. For anyone who is over 25, picture Wayne Gretzky as a player. Is he wearing the jersey of either St. Louis or New York? I didn't think so. When your grandchild asks you, "How good was Dominik Hasek?", he is going to be a lot more interested in how Hasek played against the Canadians and Russians in Nagano than how he did as a 40 year old platooning with Chris Osgood.

If you had a time travelling machine and you went back in time, collected every goalie who has been a top starter in the NHL at their peak, gave them all access to the same nutrition, training, equipment, etc. (to minimize era effects, as otherwise you would just take whoever is the best in the league today), and then lined them up against a wall to pick sides, I might not even glance Brodeur's way until a dozen guys are already off the board. But if I am a GM looking over the 18 year old versions of every goalie who has ever played NHL hockey and trying to figure out who I want in net for my team for the next 2 decades, I would give Brodeur a much closer look.

In summary, when I rank hockey players, I tend to divide them into tiers. Within each tier, things like longevity and durability and so on become important, because if you had to choose between two guys of similar abilities then you would rather have the guy you can count on to deliver every single night. But a flaky superstar always beats a consistent very good player because he is on a different level, and all the consistent 30 goal or 80 point seasons in the world don't bridge the gap, in my estimation. Which is why I don't consider career records to be that important, whether they are career wins, shutouts, goals, assists, passing yards, strikeouts, whatever.

Here's a discussion question, for those who like the career value approach: Let's say Chris Osgood, through some experimental genetic engineering or possibly a fortunate archaeological find, is able to stay eternally youthful and play goal in the NHL for as long as he wants. Let's also say that Osgood stays on a perennially strong team in Detroit, continues to put up his customary slightly-above-average save percentages, and averages 30 wins and 5 shutouts per season and one Stanley Cup win every 10 seasons. How many more years would Ozzy have to play before you would rate him ahead of Dominik Hasek in your all-time goalie rankings?

(In the unlikely event that there is someone reading this that doesn't like goalies, I'd suggest substituting Rod Brind'Amour, 70 points, and Mario Lemieux into the previous paragraph to get a more-or-less equivalent scenario for skaters).

24 comments:

Tim said...

Good discussion idea. I'm glad you've acknowledged the fact that you are more interested in peak ability than career endurance (you may have already done this but I haven't read all of your posts).

There has to be some kind of value associated with long-term production, in terms of career comparisons. You can't just wipe away that part of the disussion and focus on short-term performance when trying to assess who is the best goaltender of all time.

Now I'm not saying that this is exactly what you advocate, but for discussion purposes it will suffice. If Corey Schwab came into the league for two seasons and posted a .945 save pct facing 40 shots/game, then blew out both knees in an offseason unicycle accident, you can't just say that he was one of the best ever. Yeah - those were two awesome seasons, but how do you know he'd reproduce those results?

Brodeur needs to be given some credit for the fact that he's been there and has been relatively consistent. Was he tested as much as Mike Richter was in the late 90's? Of course not, and that probably had something to do with his career endurance.

As far as the Osgood question, I would never rate him ahead of Dominik Hasek - even if he played 100 more years. Hasek was around, and dominant, for quite some time and provided all of us with memories of some of the craziest saves we'd ever seen. But had he only done what he did for 2 years, I don't think I could say that I'd rather have a consistent Osgood for a flash-in-the-pan Hasek.

Tim said...

edit to the last sentence - should read *I could say

Bruce said...

But had he only done what he did for 2 years

Think: Bernie Parent, who had a respectable career that was cut short by injury, but had exactly two seasons of peak value and won the Conn Smythe Trophy both years. Alas, his name isn't referenced too often among the top ever goalies, although for those two playoff runs he was as good as any goalie I ever saw. But he didn't surround them with enough of a career in the manner of Roy, Hasek or Brodeur, nor for that matter Plante, Hall, or Sawchuk, to make too many people's A List.

Btw, CG, there's a terrific discussion going on over at MC79hockey about shooting and save percentages that I found very illuminating. Casts a different light on expected Sv% on a team that regularly outshoots its opposition. Worth going to the old thread Tyler references in Post #18 as well.

Anonymous said...

yea the discussion on shots against vs save % has some very good points, and whether there is a way to prove it or not, facing more shots does in fact result in a higher save %.
as far as the longevity vs peak argument, its stupid. its an apples vs oranges type case. everyone will agree martin havlat is easily a top 10 player in the league as far as talent goes. but hes always injured. he has no longevity or consistency. so frankly i would not say he is better than even a mediocre player who played 82 games and put up average numbers such as kristian huselius.
best of all time is a reference to guess what, TIME. there are single season records for those less durable players to go after, and then the ALL TIME marks for the true greats. was pavel bure better than mike modano? no. was he more exciting and did his best 5 years trump modanos? absolutely.
in assessing how good a player is, it has to be viewed in a relevant context. today there are players that would qualify as good, and then some that are great. in comparing great players of today, and great players of 10 years ago, then all the great players get lumped together and only the ones who really stand out would qualify as the greatest of the great. going through all the players who ever played, the list of greatest of all time, are guys who displayed excellence not just for 5 or 10 years (hasek had 7, dryden had 7/bure had 4), but in almost all cases 15-20(sawchuk, roy, brodeur/gretzky, howe, lemieux, messier).
if you want to label hasek the guy who had the "best season ever" or as "the greatest peak performer" then thats fine because those are much more accurate assessments of hasek then greatest of all time. calling hasek the greatest of all time is just ridiculous because his numbers, for whatever reason you want to make, just dont cut it compared to the greats, over a course of a CAREER, which is the standard for "greatest of all time".

Anonymous said...

Anon:

1. Brodeur "displayed excellence not just for 5 or 10 years... but in almost all cases 15-20" ?

Not really. He often played 65+ games, but until post-lockout he was certainly not consistently excellent with respect to stopping the puck (aka save pct.). Yes, pre-lockout he had a low GAA, above-avg # of shutouts, & a high # of wins... but this is mainly due to playing 70 games per season for a team that allowed few shots against per season.

2. "... and whether there is a way to prove it or not, facing more shots does in fact result in a higher save %."

There is a way to prove it... I believe that the stats show that there is little consistent correlation between shots/game & save pct.

Bruce said...

I believe that the stats show that there is little consistent correlation between shots/game & save pct.

Anon2: the stats at the above-linked post at MC79hockey show a huge differential. Tyler looked at the even strength S% and Sv% of teams outshooting in games (3690 of them, over three full seasons) vs. the teams that were outshot. From the defensive perspective, the goalies on the outshot teams carried a collective Sv% of .92443; those on the outshooting teams just .90682. That's an efficiency difference of some 23.3%! While I have long maintained that shots taken against the flow of play are generally of higher quality, I was frankly shocked by the extent of this spread.

It follows that a goalie on a team that consistently outshoots its opposition -- as Brodeur's did throughout his so-called "down years" -- should have an expected Sv% well below league average. That he kept his Sv% above league norms throughout this period was no small achievement. His Sv% numbers still appear anomalously low compared to his otherwise elite numbers across the board, but perhaps this explains that anomaly.

Now that the Devils are a weaker club allowing more shots post-lockout, it also follows that Brodeur's Sv% should rise, as indeed they have, back to elite levels.

Anonymous said...

Shots/gm & svpct -- I'm basing my conclusion (of little correlation) on individual goalie seasonal totals... e.g. take a season & look at individual goalies' season totals.

I suppose a "per gm" look might result in something different.

overpass said...

Bruce

It follows that a goalie on a team that consistently outshoots its opposition -- as Brodeur's did throughout his so-called "down years" -- should have an expected Sv% well below league average.

Suppose that teams that are losing take more shots than they otherwise would, and teams that are winning take fewer than they otherwise would. I don't have any stats on this, but it seems very plausible, based on observation.

The supposition above could be the cause of the fact that outshooting teams tend to have a lower SV% and lower shooting%. In short, outshooting is sometimes an effect of low save percentages and low shooting percentages, not a cause.

Even a small tendency for outshooting to be an effect and not a cause will result in a selection bias where some of the outshooting games are outshooting games because they had a poor shooting % and SV%. I think it may be sufficient to describe the result found at the link you provided.

If this selection bias is the main thing driving the results, then goalies on teams that outshoot the opposition would not tend to face tougher shots overall. The outshooting results would simply be a within-team phenomenon, not applicable when comparing teams. I believe this is consistent with the fact that CG and others have found no correlation between SV% and shots against.

A breakdown of outshooting by period instead of by game would remove much of this selection bias and give better information on whether "shots taken against the run of play" are in fact more likely to score.

Anonymous said...

anon 2.. are you kidding? thats the stupidest point ive ever heard.
..... Brodeur "displayed excellence not just for 5 or 10 years... but in almost all cases 15-20" ?

Not really. He often played 65+ games, but until post-lockout he was certainly not consistently excellent with respect to stopping the puck (aka save pct.). Yes, pre-lockout he had a low GAA, above-avg # of shutouts, & a high # of wins... but this is mainly due to playing 70 games per season for a team that allowed few shots against per season.........................................................

you cant just say "well aside from excellent gaa, wins and shutout totals, his save percentage wasnt that good"

thats bs hahaha i mean i could say, aside from haseks save % in 94,95,96,97,98,00, he really wasnt that impressive a goalie. get with it dude.
furthermore, brodeur did have an above average save% pre lockout, and if we want to adjust it like we do for everyone else's numbers here, we could see, as bruce said, that brodeurs save percentage versus league average for teams who outshoot their opponents, is very high.
but let me guess, we arent going to adjust stats here because it doesnt help cg prove his case against brodeur.

Anonymous said...

Anon - really? Facts are "the stupidest point" you've "ever heard"?

There have only been 3 post-lockout years, & yes Brodeur's ability to stop the puck (aka sv pct) has been impressive -- during those 3 yrs.

But go look at the pre-lockout years, which greatly outnumber the past 3 yrs in duration. During the pre-lockout, Brodeur did not consistently display excellence in stopping the puck.

A goalie with an average, or even below-avg, can have a superficially impressive GAA & win total when playing for a very good team that allows few shots & outscores the opposition. Basic math.

Yep, during Hasek's prime, the Dominator was amazing.

Anonymous said...

"you cant just say "well aside from excellent gaa, wins and shutout totals, his save percentage wasnt that good""

Huh? Of course I can. Anyone who knows anything about hockey, as well as basic math, can certainly say that with 100% authority.

If a goalie plays on a team that allows 2 shots/gm, he could have the best GAA, most wins & SO's, & yet be a below-avg goalie. He might only save 50% of shots... he might be a TERRIBLE goalie. Yet he might have a GAA of 1.00 & have 25 SO's & 65 wins. But I guess you'd say he was amazingly fantastic.

Anonymous said...

name 1 goalie who has faced 2 shots a game. this site is full of theoretical bullshit, lets start being realistic here. the fewest shots per game brodeur faced during any season was around 20. yet he has NEVER had a save
% below league average. thus in its simplest form, he has been at the least, above average every year of his career, and in most of those seasons he has been in the top 5 in every important goalie category. but i guess doing that for 15 years is something everybody is doing. like hasek, right?

Anonymous said...

Anon - Really? Brodeur has been above avg in sv pct every yr of his career?

Actually, just since 98-99 he's been below avg in sv pct 4 times (PK svpct), & lower once/tied once while at EV strength.

Of course there has not been an NHL goalie that only faced an avg of 2 shots per game. But I was providing an easy example of why your statement about wins & GAA was incorrect.

As for Hasek, if he came to the NHL at 20 (& didn't start his career playing for Keenan, who in his great wisdom didn't even use him), then yes he would've likely had a solid 15+ yrs of excellent play. But Hasek was in his mid/late 20's before he was given a chance to start.

Anonymous said...

oh so what you mean is that you cant prove your point so you diverge into smaller more obscure categories. pk save %?? haha good one. obviously i am talking about overall save % not "save % on the first thursday of each months following a leap year only when the election coincides" are whatever other stupid points you want to make.
also you once again blindly fail to acknowledge what bruce showed earlier. that league average for teams that play the same system as brodeur is significantly lower, meaning his save %'s are even more impressive.
again though even without adjusting numbers like everyone here likes to do, brodeur overall save % is still better than average provided you dont split hairs with stats.
and hasek, who cares... woulda coulda shoulda, he only had 7 above average years in the nhl.

Anonymous said...

Anon - No, you should break down the stats into EV, PK & PP. Some teams kill their goalies by taking a lot of penalties, forcing the goalie to try to make a higher % of saves while PK'ing -- which is much harder than while EV. (The NHL really should provide a normalized sv pct, where EV/PK/PP time evened out.)

Re: "what bruce showed earlier" - there have been comments on this site as well as the MC site that answer that.

Hasek was only above avg 7 NHL yrs in his career? Where did you get THAT from?

Anonymous said...

haha, again with the woulda shoulda coulda bs. the fact is the nhl doesnt break down save% into all the different scenarios you cyber geeks do. going by the nhl standard for save % brodeur has been better than average every year of his career.

haha and hasek? so am i to assume hasek was the reason detroit won both their cups this decade? hasek had 7 excellent seasosn with buffalo, aside from that his years with detroit and ottowa he was nothing more than a role player or a platoon playing on a powerhouse. in fact he was so good in detroit that TWICE chris osgood took the starting job from him. thats where i got THAT from.

Anonymous said...

You're right, a 40+ yr old Hasek was mediocre the last couple of yrs of his career. Big surprise, at that age.

Prior to his injury (?) with Ottawa, he had one of the highest sv pct's in the league that year.

You say you can't find the EV-PK-PP SV% breakdown? Now, is that my fault or yours?

I think I'm done responding to you, moron. Your arguments are too weak.

Bruce said...

Re: "what bruce showed earlier" - there have been comments on this site as well as the MC site that answer that.

Not to my satisfaction, they don't.

hasek had 7 excellent seasosn with buffalo, aside from that his years with detroit and ottowa he was nothing more than a role player or a platoon playing on a powerhouse.

Hasek "dominated" whatever league he played in for 20+ years. In the Czech League he was goalie of the year his last 5 years and player of the year 3 times. In his one year in the IHL he was a first team All-Star, the next year in Chicago he made the NHL All-Rookie Team. In Buffalo he was goalie of the year (Vezina Trophy) 6 times and player of the year (Hart Trophy) twice. In Detroit he won two Stanley Cups and two Jennings Trophies. In Ottawa he was much more than a role/platoon goalie, playing lights out (2nd in GAA and Sv%, 4th in Pts%) until he got hurt in the Olympics. Speaking of which, he's one of only three goalies (Brodeur, Khabibulin) to win both Olympic Gold and the Stanley Cup. In 12 NHL seasons of 30+ games his second worst GAA was 2.27. So to belittle his accomplishments to make a case for Brodeur is just as silly, and unnecessary, as vice versa. Both were/are great, among the best in the history of the game. Give them credit.

Anonymous said...

czech league numbers are not comparable to nhl stats. especially in an era when guys like gretzky, messier, lemeiux, kurri were all in their prime.

numnuts has tried to argue that the nhl uses pk save%, pp save% and all of his obscure statistics, well they dont. go to nhl.com or espn.com go to the stats section. where is it?

basically aside from cockboys silly argument, in which the foundation is to hype up hasek and downplay brodeur, he has nothing.
if we want to bring haseks czech league numbers into the equation, well then its only a matter of time before we start seeing subjective usage of peewee hockey stats from when guys were 12.

overpass said...

if we want to bring haseks czech league numbers into the equation, well then its only a matter of time before we start seeing subjective usage of peewee hockey stats from when guys were 12.

Time for a history lesson. In the 1980s, Czechoslovakia had a totalitarian government that restricted the movement of its citizens. Several other countries, including the Soviet Union, did the same. During this time, hockey was played in these countries, and despite the fact that it wasn't the NHL, some of these players were very good, even great. They played hockey in the best leagues they were able to play in, and it was the same game they were playing over in the NHL. The great players that were unable to join the NHL are no worse for having played in a different league. It's just harder for us to evaluate them at a distance.

czech league numbers are not comparable to nhl stats. especially in an era when guys like gretzky, messier, lemeiux, kurri were all in their prime.

OK, so it's not always easy to compare across leagues. But consider that Hasek was named the best goalie in the league 5 times and the best player 3 times. As soon as he was able to come to North America and start, he played goalie better than anyone else ever has. Is it that much of a stretch to imagine that he might have been among the best goalies in the world before coming to North America, especially since he was considered to be so at the time by many hockey people? Or is your brain incapable of having any thoughts about goaltenders outside of HOCKEYGOALIEGOODNESS=SUM(NHLWINS)?

Anonymous said...

overpass, your nothing but a flaming hasek fanboy, so i get your point.

for those of you following other than overpass and cockboy, its this simple. too bad hasek lived somewhere that didnt allow him to go to the nhl. satchel page dominated the negro leagues for over a decade, and then had a few dominant years in the mlb, only once blacks were allowed to play. he set every pitching record in the negro leagues, and yet no one is going to argue he is the best ever because he had a few excellent seasons in the mlb. same with josh gibson. crushed all of ruths homerun records, in a different league. so what? who gives a crap how well hasek played in the czech leagues. its not even comparable to the nhl.

despite what this site says, or the fanboy, or even the cockboy for that matter, the greatness of a goalie is not ONLY found in save %. If you ask the high majority of nhl fans, wins, shutouts, gaa, and save percentage all factor into the equation. these people also seem to agree at an alarming rate, that career numbers are more important than just 4 or 5, heck even 7 years of play. these people also decisively agree that brodeur is the best, and at worst second to roy. hasek really doesnt even come up until outside the top 3. so for every cyber geek who gets all fired up about a bunch of stats on a blog, i suggest first checking out real websites, with people who's opinion matters. or at the minimum, people who get payed to give their opinion, not some resentful hasek fan who devotes hours of time to come up with these "adjusted" numbers to prove his case.

Bruce said...

the greatness of a goalie is not ONLY found in save %

That's one thing you said that I can agree with. But the rest of your argument, insults and all, is pretty thin gruel.

If you ask the high majority of nhl fans, wins, shutouts, gaa, and save percentage all factor into the equation.

This NHL fan pointed out that "in 12 NHL seasons of 30+ games [Hasek's] second worst GAA was 2.27", and now I will point out that despite not establishing himself as a starter until the advanced age of 28, Hasek ranks 6th on the all-time list of shutouts with 81, and 10th on the list of wins with 389, while spending his prime years on something considerably less than a powerhouse. He was great. So too is Martin Brodeur great. I don't get why people have to belittle either one in making a case for the other.

Anonymous said...

What's with this "cockboy" fixation of yours, spelling-deficient Anonymous?

Weird. (The problem with tne 'net is you can't talk face to face over a beer... I suspect you'd be far more polite if you had to look someone up & down before spewing.)

Anyway, I don't really care what the majority of fans think... I don't even care what NHL coaches, GM's, scouts etc. think. I just care to examine the data to try to determine who is the best. (Ever read Moneyball?)

Guess you should go back to your mainstream sites where numbers & analysis won't confuse you so, eh? Either that or take another prozac.

The Contrarian Goaltender said...

Anonymous (the one accusing people of being fanboys), I'd ask that you tone down your rhetoric to keep this discussion civil. Please also re-read Bruce's comments in this thread and realize that Hasek's greatness is beyond question, and certainly does not depend at all on anyone being a "fanboy" or any other alleged "bias". I am not a fan of Hasek as a person, or any team he has ever played for. I rate the Dominator highly because my interpretation of the evidence is that he is the best goalie ever.

I've mentioned this before, but team and player affiliations do not matter, only arguments, numbers, and evidence. If somebody can post some conclusive evidence about Brodeur's puckhandling skill, then I don't care whether they are a fan of the New Jersey Devils, the Edmonton Oilers, or the Moscow Dynamo, I am only interested in their argument. If the argument is based on numbers and evidence, which is usually the case here, then it doesn't matter at all who it is coming from - attack the argument or the data, not the person.