Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Kari Lehtonen Is a Star

This blog has long been a fan of Kari Lehtonen, who was dealt yesterday to the Dallas Stars for a prospect and a 4th round pick. I've made the case for Lehtonen in a couple of places, but the basic argument is that between his stints on the IR he has put together some pretty persuasive evidence of being a terrific puckstopper.

Even Strength Save Percentage Leaders Since the Lockout (min. 200 GP):

1. Tomas Vokoun: 282 GP, .935
2. Roberto Luongo: 328 GP, .930
3. Tim Thomas: 250 GP, .927
3. J.S. Giguere: 243 GP, .927
5. Miikka Kiprusoff: 353 GP, .926
5. Martin Brodeur: 314 GP, .926
7. Henrik Lundqvist: 316 GP, .925
7. Kari Lehtonen: 200 GP, .925
9. Ilya Bryzgalov: 238 GP, .924
9. Ryan Miller: 296 GP, .924

That is some heady company for Lehtonen to be keeping. However, it's not all positive for the young Finn. There are certainly question marks. The injuries, of course. Consistent rumours out of Atlanta questioning Lehtonen's motivation, conditioning and commitment. PK save % numbers that are nothing special and well below the rest of the above group. His shots against, which have been consistently higher than his playing partners, implying that his skill in terms of goal prevention may be slightly lower than his save percentage implies.

Dallas gave up one of their better prospects, which may indicate they have some long-term plans for Lehtonen. Changes of scenery can often be beneficial for athletes with elite potential but questionable work ethic. With Alex Auld and Marty Turco still in the mix in Dallas, Lehtonen will have to work hard to be able to play.

It's impossible to predict whether Lehtonen's injury woes are in the past or something that will continue to plague him throughout his NHL career. Nevertheless, if I was Dallas I'd probably rather bet my team's playoff chances on Lehtonen than on the apparently washed-up Marty Turco. It will be interesting to see how Lehtonen does in Dallas. I think he has a good chance of success.

I'll also be staying tuned to see the shots against numbers for Lehtonen as a Star, especially compared to Turco. We'll see what the gap is between a guy who has a track record of facing more shots than his teammates and one of the top puckhandlers in the league. That figure could shed more light on the boundaries of shot effects for NHL goalies.


R O said...

I've read your blog for a while so when I heard about the trade I immediately thought "good for the Stars". Especially since their current tandem blows.

Anyways, you said it yourself, Lehtonen could be top 10 (well, he is top 10 but his injury history raises question marks... I don't really put much stock into "motivation" murmurs in general). The return ATL got appears nearly worthless imo, the odds of 4th round pick turning into an NHL player is in the single digit percetanges IIRC and prospects in general don't excite me, if they are defensemen even less so.

So my question is, is the goalie market so saturated that you can buy good goalies this cheaply? Mudcrutch made this point clear with goalies near league-average, but Lehtonenn is not such a goalie. I'm interested specifically in higher-end goalies.

The reason I ask is I follow the Flames and I'm wondering what it would take to parlay Kiprusoff into a difference-making forward, and then replace him with a good young goalie in the Halak mold. This Lehtonen trade makes it clear that the former will be very difficult to do but if it were to happen, the latter could be accomplished without much difficulty.

The Contrarian Goaltender said...

I'd expect the injury risk alone would mean a team would have to pay more for someone like Halak than Lehtonen. Kiprusoff might have enough name recognition to get something worthwhile in return, but to get an impact forward would still probably require either a team with a bad GM or one that is desperate, and I don't see too many candidates out there. People keep bringing up Philly, but my impression is that Paul Holmgren knows what he is doing on the trade front.

I don't think that PR would allow a team like Calgary to swap out Kiprusoff for a younger goalie during a playoff run, but it's an interesting idea.

R O said...

Well I was looking at teams with awful goaltending so Philly might quality, but I had allowed myself to contepmplate Brad Richards from Dallas since they are having financial problems.

But now they have Lehtonen so that's not realistic, and probably never was.

R O said...

I agree on the PR point but if you look at it from a winning-games perspective, Kipper's good two-thirds-of-a-season has followed two very mediocre to bad seasons and he's not getting any younger. So from a risk management point of view it would make sense (to me) since I have no idea at what rate he would stop pucks in the next 20-40 games + next season.

So if he could be traded for an impact forward with predictable impact, I'd be for it in a big way.

The Contrarian Goaltender said...

Oh no question I'd give it a try as well if I was the Calgary GM. I probably would have done it last year, or even the year before that. I'm just skeptical that Darryl Sutter would entertain the notion with the current standings the way they are.

Kent W. said...

I don't think Sutter would consider it, outside of a collapse by Kipper himself. Of course, then he wouldn't be worth a damn anyways.

Flames are going to need to find creative ways to bring in impact forwards though - Iginla ain't it anymore and the cupboards are pretty bare otherwise. I'm on board with you in theory, but have little faith it will happen in reality.

Anonymous said...

I am quite confused by this comment from your blog.

"His shots against, which have been consistently higher than his playing partners, implying that his skill in terms of goal prevention may be slightly lower than his save percentage implies."

Since you are using shots against and save percentage, are you implying that save percentage and shots against are linked? Is each shot not the same likelihood of going in? Please explain. To me a goalie facing 30 shots with a .900 Sv% should expect to give up 3 goals in a game, and if facing 60, then 6. Do you not agree?

Thanks for explaining that line,

Bruce said...

Anon: Goalie A faces 30 shots with a .900 Sv% and a 3.00 GAA. Goalie B on the same team faces 27 shots with an .889 Sv% and a 3.00 GAA. If you drink the Sv% koolaid, Goalie A is better. That's because Sv% doesn't factor in any other aspect of the game except the actual shots a goalie faces. But their actual goal prevention (GAA) is the same.

CG: I agree it will be interesting to see how Lehtonen's SA compare to Turco's. That said, Turco's own SA numbers are way out of whack this year, up to over 30 shots a game after traditionally hanging around 25. So something's out of whack there, whether it's Turco or Dallas it's (as usual) hard to tell.

Meanwhile, the situation in Atlanta remains pretty interesting. Johan Hedberg continues to have vastly superior shots against totals than his creasemate, now Ondrej Pavelec. Hedberg is just over 30 shots/60 while Pavelec is just over 35! Moreover, Hedberg has a superior Sv%, a much superior GAA (natch), and a much better W-L record.

Despite all this, Pavelec has more GP and MP. Seems like the Moose doesn't get much respect even on his own team. He's been quietly having a mighty fine season.

The Contrarian Goaltender said...

Since you are using shots against and save percentage, are you implying that save percentage and shots against are linked?

The evidence suggests that goalies have some small impact on their shot totals. Over a three season period Lehtonen faced something like 2.5 more shots against per game than Hedberg in Atlanta. My operating theory is that in general we can expect goalies to have a shots against impact of 1 shot around league average. That is, the Brodeur types probably prevent about one shot per game compared to a typical goalie, while someone like Lehtonen probably faces one extra shot against above average.

What this implies is that some goalies either create shots or prevent shots against. And if this is true, then save % doesn't tell the entire story. Comparing goalies on the same team in terms of GAA is a way to adjust for this fact, although it is entirely possible that just by luck one goalie could face more shots than another. Or there could be other factors unrelated to their play, e.g. they trust one goalie more than the other and play more offensively, or one goalie spends more time in the lead and faces more "playing to the score" shots against, etc. So it's wise to be a bit careful, but comparing teammates' GAA is probably the best way to go.

Re: Hedberg, his save % numbers are completely off the charts relative to his career rates. He's been having a great season, but I think he's living on borrowed time as a .915 goalie.

R O said...

Also CG, chance might dictate for some goalies that they just face weaker teams, especially when we're looking at SA totals over a stretch of games within a single season. Over multiple seasons (say when you did the Brodeur vs. backups study) it's less of a factor I would imagine.

Bruce said...

Re: Hedberg, his save % numbers are completely off the charts relative to his career rates. He's been having a great season, but I think he's living on borrowed time as a .915 goalie.

Agreed. I just think he deserves his due for the fine season he's having. Even if the guys running his own team don't appear to quite believe it. :)

Bruce said...

R O: Certainly it depends on the individual situation. The Lehtonen vs. Hedberg comparison lasted for three seasons, and was pretty pure in that the Moose got the majority of his playing time when Lehtonen was injured, effectively randomizing any schedule effects (home/road, back-to-back, strength of opponents etc.) But results might vary in other starter/backup comps, for sure.

Had an interesting discussion a while back with the Falconer and others at Bird Watchers Anonymous which offers some background if you're interested. Read the comments section.

Anonymous said...

Somewhat OT, but how do you explain Evgeni Nabokov's performance this season? Is he genuinely better or has his team played better D?

The Contrarian Goaltender said...

I'd say Nabokov is probably genuinely better. He's always had the talent, he's just been one of those guys that has a gap between their talent and their performance. Look at his career record, his save percentages are all over the place. I'm not sure exactly what would be different, maybe he has a bit more technical consistency, I haven't watched the Sharks too much this year but his numbers are certainly much improved in 2009-10.

Bruce said...

I saw Nabokov live in November and was more impressed than I expected to be. Very sharp and focussed, and good with the puck too.

One weird thing, his shots against have soared with his Sv%. From <24 shots/60 2 years ago to about 27 last year to >31 this. I wonder if it's the change in coaches, or personnel.

Anonymous said...

If you think Lehtonen is good, this proves you know nothing about goaltending. He will never win a cup and thats because hes not a playoff goaltender. Hes just not good enough. Stop with your bull shit numbers, they dont mean as much as you make them out to. Have you overlooked he had Kovolchuk in front of him, a multi 50 goal scorer? He is not a star.