Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Let Down by Goaltending?

I often point out how many overrate the importance of goaltending, and that plenty of good teams have had success with average goalies. However, that certainly does not mean bad goaltending cannot be very costly in some situations. I think there have been quite a few examples of very good teams who were dominant in the regular season but found themselves at a disadvantage when they went up against strong playoff opponents getting much better play between the pipes.

To try to identify some teams that were let down by goaltending, I looked at which teams had the best adjusted win threshold over five consecutive years without winning a Stanley Cup in that time span:

1. Boston Bruins (1974-1978) .849
2. Detroit Red Wings (1992-1996), .853
3. Boston Bruins (1980-1984), .863
4. New York Rangers (1971-1975), .864
5. St. Louis Blues (1998-2002), .865
6. Philadelphia Flyers (1976-1980), .865
7. Buffalo Sabres (1974-1978), .866
8. Ottawa Senators (2001-2006), .868
9. Calgary Flames (1990-1994), .871
10. Philadelphia Flyers (1996-2000), .871

Four of these teams won a Cup either shortly before or shortly after this particular streak, but six of them never won a single Championship despite putting together an excellent group of skaters.

Most of these teams may very well have won with a better netminder, but there are two legitimate reasons why that might not have been the case: Strength of opposition and the playoff performance of the rest of the team.

Sometimes even great teams are left playing second fiddle to an even greater team. The 1970s Bruins and 1970s Sabres teams had the misfortune of running up against the great Flyers and Habs teams of that decade. The 1980s Calgary Flames are another classic example. Despite averaging an .870 adjusted win threshold for an entire decade (1984-85 to 1993-94), the Flames won just a single Stanley Cup. I can sympathize with having to compete against a prime Wayne Gretzky, but the early '90s Flames don't have the same ready-made excuse of simply having a more powerful cross-province rival. That suggests more scrutiny needs to fall on the performance of Mike Vernon.

In other cases, it might have been the skaters that underperformed in the playoffs. For the most part, good regular season teams end up being good playoff teams, but there are some exceptions. One pretty clear example of that is the case of the Ottawa Senators. Ottawa's team save percentage actually improved from .910 in the regular season to .921 in the playoffs between 2001 and 2006. The team lost because they stopped scoring: Ottawa scored nearly a full goal per game higher in the regular season (3.27) than in the playoffs (2.29). That means Ottawa's adjusted win threshold went from an excellent .871 to a very average .905. Lalime and Emery may have had a few bad moments, but the goalies should not be the scapegoats for the Senators' spring collapses.

What do you think? Were these 10 teams let down by goaltending? Are there any other examples that did not make the list?


Anonymous said...

Miikka Kiprusoff in 2008 and likely also 2009. If he had not choked so badly in 2008 for sure the Sharks would have been knocked off in the first round, and in 2009 there is a good chance the Flames could have at least taken the Hawks to seven games.

Bruce said...

CG: Where do the modern Sharks fit by this metric?

The Contrarian Goaltender said...

Anonymous: I'm talking about teams that could have won the Cup with better goaltending, not #5 or #7 seeds that could have won another round if the stars aligned correctly.

Bruce: The 2004-2009 Sharks rank 15th on the list at .882. They are hurt by my 5 year criteria, since they had a poor year in 2003-04. I expect after this year is finished they would rank just outside of the top 10.

The Contrarian Goaltender said...

And on the topic of the Sharks, I think they're similar to the Senators in that the blame should go to the offence rather than the goaltending. Over the last 5 playoff seasons the Sharks have scored just 2.16 goals per 60 minutes in the playoffs.

overpass said...

While Lalime was mostly pretty solid for the 2001-04 Senators, there's a good case for Emery letting them down in 2006. He allowed 16 goals on 118 shots against Buffalo, and the Sens lost a series in which they significantly outshot Buffalo.

Also, the Sabres probably could have beaten the Flyers in 1975 if the goalies were switched, but that might say more about Parent than Desjardins.

Anonymous said...

I have to disagree with you on Calgary. The Flames of recent years have not been a bad team at all--in fact, the evidence is that they have been a very good, nearly elite team that has consistently been let down by Kipper's slide into mediocrity. The whole entire reason that they were a fifth and seventh seed rests at Kipper's feet and nobody elses; this is a team that has had the firepower and defense to take its division annually for a long time.

The Contrarian Goaltender said...

Still not convinced on the Flames. Quite frankly I never thought the Flames were nearly elite. They've typically been a team has been overrated because of their 2004 playoff run and their group of high-end talent, but they have not had the secondary scoring or depth to rank among the elite.

Let's look at the Flames' rankings in win thresholds, which again have nothing to do with the goalie:

2005-06: 20th
2006-07: 14th
2007-08: 11th
2008-09: 7th

If they truly had the firepower and the defence, then they haven't done a good job showing it. The only year you can make an argument for them being even near elite level is last year, in my opinion. Still, if you want to talk about the division, the Flames' team last year was still pretty much identical to the Canucks, and the difference was Luongo vs. Kiprusoff.

Bruce said...

Still, if you want to talk about the division, the Flames' team last year was still pretty much identical to the Canucks, and the difference was Luongo vs. Kiprusoff.

Said difference was 2 points.

Scott Reynolds said...

That suggests more scrutiny needs to fall on the performance of Mike Vernon.

Especially since he was the starting goalie for all of the 90-94 Flames and for the 95 and 96 Wings. Seven straight years of choke... preceded by a Stanley Cup win and followed by another, this time with a Conn Smythe trophy too. Weird.

The Contrarian Goaltender said...

Said difference was 2 points.

Canucks with Luongo: 33-13-7, 113 point pace
Flames with Kiprusoff: 45-24-5, 105 point pace

The Canucks went 3-7 in shootouts while the Flames were 3-2. The Canucks also had a decisively better goal differential. Calgary had a better record in one goal games while Vancouver had a better record in multi-goal games. The latter tends to be more the sign of a dominant team.

I think Vancouver with Luongo was a clearly better team than Calgary with Kiprusoff last season.

MikeP said...

2006 Wings maybe?

MikeP said...

Oops, can't count - they only went 4 years between championships.

The Contrarian Goaltender said...

I'd say the 2006 Wings would count as an example of a team that had everything except goaltending. They don't meet the 5-year criteria, true, but that was just a way to screen the results down rather than looking at every single team-season individually. I was focusing on teams that never won the Cup, but there are cases of teams that could have won more Cups, and the Red Wings would fit in that latter category.

Paul said...

As an earlier example, what about the 60's Blackhawks? I've noticed that some are beginning to rethink Glenn Hall's stature - largely due to his allegedly poor playoff record - but I suspect there was a considerable drop-off up front once you got past Mikita and Hull. What do you think was responsible for their post season underachievement?

Anonymous said...

The 2006 Red Wings had very decent regular-season goaltending. I don't think anyone could have foreseen Legace collapsing like he did. If he had provided even just moderately below-average goaltending, the Wings would have moved past Edmonton.

Chris Boyle said...

I love stats as much as anybody, but I believe conclusions cannot be made from statistics alone.

In order to make these conclusions, wouldn't you have to take a slice of what the teams did against each other? So to talk about win threshold, wouldn't the only number that would be of any consequence would be the two teams performance against each other.

What if a team is high scoring, but only averaged 2 goals against the team they faced in the playoffs? Are you using those numbers? Or are you using the numbers accrued against the whole league?

Say we blame the Sharks collapse last season on the offense and not Nabokov. Would you take into account that the Sharks threshold against the Ducks during the regular season would be? They only averaged 2 goals per game against the Ducks in the regular season, so when they scored 10 goals in 6 games in the playoffs, is it that different than the regular season? They struggled to score ALL YEAR against the Ducks and the difference amounts to 1/5th of a goal.

The Sharks gave up 12 goals in 6 games during the regular season, but 18 against in 6 games in the playoffs. That is a full goal a game worse in the playoffs.

If you use the Sharks regular season threshold that includes the rest of the league, is it really an accurate portrait of that particular matchup? The Sharks averaged almost a 1.25 goals more against the rest of the league.

The playoffs tend to be a different animal than the regular season. You play the same team every night, some teams excel in the regular season through special teams and perimeter play, but cannot repeat that success against a team that can identify tendencies and nullify them. So I don't think it is fair to take regular season success and apply it to the playoffs.

I enjoy the insight and appreciate the efforts and am no way trying to be negative. I just wanted to know if I have overlooked the explanation and this is what you have done.

The Contrarian Goaltender said...

Chris: To quote from the post:

"Most of these teams may very well have won with a better netminder, but there are two legitimate reasons why that might not have been the case: Strength of opposition and the playoff performance of the rest of the team."

Absolutely the team that you face in the playoffs matters. As you point out, win thresholds can only estimate the strength of the team against an average opponent. I agree that we need to look deeper at the specifics of a playoff series to determine whether a team lost because of their goalie, their skaters, or because the other team was just better.

seventieslord said...

Honestly, that list reads like a list of teams that should have won a cup, but didn't, particulary due to goalies in many cases.

The 92-96 wings, 71-75 rangers, 98-02 Blues, 01-06 senators, and 90-94 flames all stick out as good examples.

Punch Imlach himself said that the 1975 Sabres were better than the Flyers everywhere except in net.

I am sure the modern day Flyers would rank pretty highly on this too. They can't seem to get a good goalie to save their lives. I know they've won some playoff series here and there, but when was the last time their goalie really outplayed the other team's goalie in a playoff series?

The Contrarian Goaltender said...

Marty Biron certainly outplayed Carey Price in 2008, but in general you're probably right about recent Flyer goaltending. Although maybe the failures appear even more extreme because Philadelphia is one of those towns that always seems to end up blaming their woes on the goalie. Biron would also be a good example of that, going .915 in the regular season and .908 in the playoffs as a Flyer yet getting pushed out to make room for Ray Emery and Brian Boucher.

Anonymous said...

CG just to clarify (and I apologize if I missed it) but are these win thresholds just regular season?

It might be worthwhile separating the regular/post season. If the threshold is drastically different than that points to the team not being as good a "playoff" team as they were a regular season team.

The early 90s and mid 2000's red wings are great examples of this. Teams that scored a ton of goals in the regular season but seemed to score a lot less in the playoffs. Were these wings teams just boosting the offensive stats in the regular season against weaker opponents?

The Contrarian Goaltender said...

Yes, these are regular season numbers.