It seems intuitive that both an excessive workload and an excessive amount of time off would be negative factors for a goaltender. The 2004-05 NHL lockout is an interesting case of the latter. Many of the goalies ended up playing somewhere that season, of course, but few of them played the same number of games that they would have if they had remained with their NHL clubs. There were also some significant changes to the game when they returned, including smaller goalie equipment, a stricter penalty standard, and rules that created a more open game.
Generally goalies have fairly consistent save percentage results, especially when taking team and situational factors into account. There were a number of goalies that had substantially different results after the lockout compared to how they did before, more of them than we likely would expect just to occur at random. Here are some of the most extreme results, with their even-strength save percentages from 1999-2004 compared to 2006-2009:
David Aebischer: .932 before, .908 after
Andrew Raycroft: .932 before, .905 after
Patrick Lalime: .918 before, .900 after
Marty Turco: .931 before, .916 after
Jose Theodore: .922 before, .909 after
Martin Brodeur: .918 before, .926 after
Tomas Vokoun: .919 before, .933 after
Cristobal Huet: .909 before, .926 after
Some goalies seemed to fall off a cliff after the lockout, while others got significantly better. Is there anything that might explain this result?
If an extended layoff has a negative impact, then the number of games played during the lockout is likely to be the significant variable. I decided to compare goalies who played during the lockout with goalies who decided to sit it out. I decided to look only at goalies who had a significant amount of playing time both before and after the lockout, and who were between 26 and 32 years old during the lockout season. This avoids picking out goalies like Sean Burke and Curtis Joseph, who did much worse after the lockout, or goalies like Rick DiPietro or Marc-Andre Fleury, who did much better after the lockout, since all of them obviously had age as a big factor.
I came up with a sample of 26 goalies that met the criteria. I then broke them down by guys who played during the lockout vs. guys who did not:
Played: .917 before, .909 after, -.008
Did not: .922 before, .916 after, -.006
The two groups had almost the exact same average age, so that wasn't a factor. This suggests that sitting out did not have much of an effect.
Some of the goalies played only a handful of games before getting injured or returning home. There was likely little difference between doing that and not playing at all, so I divided them up by goalies who played 15 games or more vs. goalies who played fewer than 15 games:
15 games or more: .919 before, .912 after, -.007
Fewer than 15 GP: .921 before, .916 after, -.005
Again, only a slight difference.
I also took a look at whether the younger guys were affected more than the older guys.
Age 26-28 during the lockout:
Played: .921 before, .918 after, -.003
Did not: .918 before, .910 after, -.008
Age 29-32 during the lockout:
Played: .916 before, .909 after, -.007
Did not: .922 before, .915 after, -.007
We're getting into some smaller sample sizes in the last one, but the results suggest the interesting idea that sitting out a season impacts a veteran less than it does a guy still in his prime. Every single goalie 30 years old or younger during the lockout who did not play that season did worse after the lockout than they did before. The entire list goes as follows: Biron (-.005), Denis (-.010), Esche (-.017), Grahame (-.009), Johnson (-.001), Lalime (-.018), Thibault (-.016), Weekes (-.014). Having said that, some slight decline would be expected for this group because of age factors.
When these results are combined with one of my earlier posts that showed that October is usually the worst month for goalies, I think there is some evidence to suggest that extended layoffs have a slight negative effect on goalie performance.
I'm still not sure why some of goalies were much improved after the lockout while others fell off a cliff. Cristobal Huet looks like the classic late-bloomer who finally got his shot, but both Brodeur and Vokoun were veteran NHL goalies in 2005 who went from good in the early '00s to top 5 guys post-lockout. It seems unlikely that we can point to their teams as a major factor, as both were playing on the same team as before. Nashville might have improved a bit defensively, but New Jersey got worse.
On the other side, Andrew Raycroft had some strong junior numbers, some nice age 21 and 22 AHL results (.916 and .917), and then a terrific Calder year with a .940 EV SV%. He looked set for a promising career, but then he went and played 11 games in Finland during the lockout and was never the same goalie again.
I wonder whether playing for a different team in a different country had an effect on the guys like Raycroft who played overseas during the lockout and seemed to have lost something from their games when the NHL resumed. One theory is that whoever was the goalie coach for the Swedish team Djurgardens in 2004-05 was not very good at his job, considering he had Jose Theodore and Marty Turco pass through that season, both of whom went from pre-lockout stars to post-lockout mediocrity. I doubt that really had much to do with anything, but that's at least an interesting coincidence.
Another theory is that the equipment reduction had something to do with it, but that doesn't really seem to fit the results. There were some athletic, reaction-type goalies who nosedived, like Turco, and some butterfly blockers who got better, like Giguere and Huet.
I'm not really sure what was going on, if anything. I would guess that some of the goalies who struggled post-lockout were guys who didn't stay in shape, but that doesn't apply to all of them (Martin Gerber and Jussi Markkanen were two guys with pretty decent pre-lockout numbers who played 50+ games in the lockout season, and saw their numbers drop substantially in the new NHL). It looks like there are too many variables in play that we can't conclude much at the macro level, other than to say that if there is another labour stoppage in 2011-12 I would likely advise goalies that they are probably a bit better off playing somewhere rather than sitting at home, and that they might want to be a bit wary of what the Swedish coaches tell them.