Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Questioning Ed Giacomin

(Like Tyler Dellow, I usually feel like I don't have much to talk about early in the season. Anything involving goalies is going to necessarily be an attempt to find meaning in impossibly small sample sizes. My posts will be mostly focused on historical items until we can be in a better position to guess at how things are shaking out.)

If you were asked to list off the easiest goalie jobs in NHL history, there would be a number of dynasty teams that would come immediately to mind. Right after those powerhouses, I think a high ranking on that list should be reserved for the starting role on an Original Six team shortly after expansion in the late '60s and early '70s. That was a position that was pretty much guaranteed to make you look better than you were.

To nobody's surprise, the teams that were already full of NHL talent dominated the expansion teams in the first few seasons after the league doubled in size. This effect lasted for quite some time as new expansion fodder kept getting tossed into the mix throughout the decade, until the late '70s when the Hawks, Leafs and Wings had fallen back into the pack and a number of expansion teams including the Flyers, Islanders, and Sabres had become legitimate contenders for the Cup.

There were 11 Hall of Fame goalies that were active during the period from 1968 to 1975, but a handful of them were at the end of their careers (Plante, Worsley, Hall, Bower, Sawchuk), and another (Billy Smith) was suffering through the growing pains on an expansion team and had yet to make his mark. That leaves Ken Dryden, Tony Esposito, Gerry Cheevers, Ed Giacomin and Bernie Parent as the goalies who had their peak in the post-expansion period.

Or, to express it in a slightly different but perhaps more meaningful way, Montreal's goalie, Chicago's goalie, Boston's goalie, New York's goalie, and Bernie Parent.

The Leafs and Red Wings might have been able to put somebody in the Hall of Fame too if they hadn't spread the workload around. Both teams used 14 different goalies in those 8 seasons, and Roy Edwards was the only one who played in over 200 games. The Leafs did have both Plante and Parent on their team at times during this period, which helped both of their resumes although both of them would have become honoured members even without their tenures in Toronto.

If team effects had the potential to create Hall of Famers, then which goalies got lucky and which ones were unlucky? I'd submit Ed Giacomin as probably the worst of the lot. If you look at the Rangers' year-by-year GAAs against Original Six teams compared to expansion teams, you start to get a sense of the lack of balance in the league:

1967-68: 2.76 vs. Original Six, 1.88 vs. Expansion
1968-69: 3.15 vs. Original Six, 1.94 vs. Expansion
1969-70: 2.80 vs. Original Six, 2.14 vs. Expansion
1970-71: 2.73 vs. Original Six, 1.98 vs. Expansion
1971-72: 3.10 vs. Original Six, 2.06 vs. Expansion
1972-73: 3.31 vs. Original Six, 2.35 vs. Expansion
1973-74: 4.26 vs. Original Six, 2.67 vs. Expansion
1974-75: 4.52 vs. Original Six, 3.07 vs. Expansion
Period Averages: 3.14 vs. Original Six, 2.34 vs. Expansion

That's a 34% increase in GAA when playing against a fellow Original Six team. The Rangers also shut out the expansion teams 39 times, compared to just 17 blankings of their older foes.

Giacomin was voted the best goalie in 1966-67, which appears to be an impressive feat given that there were still only five other teams that season. However, that was an unusual year where most of league's netminders were in platoon situations. Roger Crozier was the only other goalie who played in more than 44 games, and considering Crozier played on a much weaker Detroit team it looks like Giacomin was named the best goalie more or less by default.

Giacomin also was voted the top goalie in 1970-71, a year where he finished second in save percentage with an impressive .922. Although this was Giacomin's career year, he still never should have received that honour, not when Jacques Plante posted an incredible .944 save percentage in just 5 fewer games played. In addition, Giacomin's journeyman backup Gilles Villemure had very similar stats (2.30, .919 compared to Giacomin's 2.16, .922), which suggests that the Rangers were making it tough for the opposition to score.

In this period Giacomin got many of the typical edges of a goalie playing for a defensive, disciplined team. New York faced fewer opposing power plays than average every year between 1968 and 1975 except for 1971-72. The Rangers were also routinely among the top teams in shots prevention. Newly released shot data shows that Giacomin's career shots faced per game rate was 28.8, just 0.3 higher than Ken Dryden's career mark. Giacomin also got a ton of starts, which can be interpreted as either a fortunate opportunity or evidence of his durability, depending on your outlook.

Giacomin did not have much longevity, and he only had about 5-6 peak seasons (which with the single exception of 1966-67 came in the post-expansion period). His career save percentage of .902 exactly matched league average for the seasons he played. He was nothing special once he was shipped out from Broadway to the Red Wings. His playoff record was also decidedly mediocre. The main argument for Giacomin seems to be his award recognition. In addition to being twice named the best goalie as mentioned above, Giacomin was voted the second best goalie at season's end an additional three times. Given that he did not rank in the top 5 in the league in save percentage in any of those three campaigns, despite the advantages mentioned above, it seems reasonable to question whether he truly deserved that recognition.

When evaluating players, I think it is a fair argument to claim that someone with a Hart Trophy or an Art Ross Trophy should have an advantage over a similar player without similar award recognition. With goalies I am hesitant to give the same weighting to individual awards. The two reasons for that is that I believe writers are more likely to get the voting wrong with goalies than with forwards, and that there appears to be more of a luck element involved in a single season's worth of goaltending than for a single season by a forward. Giacomin was repeatedly recognized as one of the game's best, which could have been because he was actually one of the best or it could have been because he was an established goalie playing in a large market on one of the league's best defensive teams that profited greatly from pounding on the league's weak sisters.

As for which goalies were unlucky, I think it is extremely unlikely that Rogie Vachon was a worse goalie than Ed Giacomin. Vachon was much younger when he broke into the NHL and had a longer career, he had a better save percentage (.905) over the seasons that Giacomin also played in the NHL, he played well on more than one team, he had a better Hart Trophy voting record and he represented Canada internationally. I think it's a pretty open-and-shut case, and it makes no sense to me that Giacomin is in the Hall of Fame while Vachon is not.

In a very unbalanced competitive environment, I think it is right to at least question any goalie who only had elite success for a short period of time in a single team environment. It is possible that they had a short peak and then tailed off, but I think the more probable explanation is that they had team advantages during a certain portion of their career that they did not have at other times.


Bettman's Nightmare said...

A great post. I've always been a bit sceptical of Giacomin's HOF credentials. Now if you could only sneak your way onto the HHOF committee before Chris Osgood gets there...

Agent Orange said...

To your point about a skater with an Art Ross comparing better to one with out. Can you explain a little more on why you don't think this applies to goalies?

Is it strictly a team effect? Shouldn't we consider team effect for skaters as well.

In addition how would you evaluate which goalies should/shouldn't be in the Hall of Fame. The obvious answer would be the best goalies and its pretty easy to point at Hasek and say he should be in based on stats/awards but what about other guys?

Should Roy get in? Brodeur? Belfour? Cujo? Should a certain number or % get in per era? Whats more valuable a short amount of greatest or a long time of being good?

I'm interest in your opinions on how the evaluation should be made. The real question is who should go into the Hall of Fame. Should it be strictly the best players. Should a guy like Lindros get in because he was so dominant before injury? Or do we consider his totals which make him borderline.

The Contrarian Goaltender said...

My personal Hall of Fame would probably be quite different than the actual Hall of Fame, because I would induct the Lindros-types and leave out the Mike Gartners. That's because I value greatness over being good for a long time. Others may have the exact opposite perspective.

I think it's best to evaluate the Hall of Fame based on the established standard, although I do think they are inducting too few goalies. If they put a lot more goalies in there then Giacomin might not be particularly undeserving, but I simply don't think he was as good as the other goalies in the Hall, or even some others who aren't (e.g. Vachon).

As for the goalies you asked about, I think Roy, Brodeur, Belfour, and Cujo should all get in.

Re: trophies, voters tend to rate goalies based on wins and GAA, while rating skaters based on points. Neither of those are perfect, but ranking skaters by points is likely to be a lot more accurate than rating goalies based on wins. Of course there is a team effect on skaters as well, it just seems to have less of an impact on voting (having said that, Henrik Sedin last year would be a good example of someone who had possible inflated stats because of how he was used primarily in offensive situations).

drhockey13 said...

Having watched and rooted for Ed Giacomin during his NYR years, I find this post fascinating.

Giacomin was a career minor-leaguer rescued by Emile Francis at age 25. He struggled for parts of 2 seasons as Francis started putting pieces together, then had a breakout season in '66-67, when he was by far the best goaltender in the NHL and got the Rangers to the playoffs for the first time in 5 years.

After 3 seasons of playing him into the ground (great regular season, crappy playoffs -- think Marty Brodeur in the last three seasons -- Rangers finally started getting somewhere in the playoffs when Villemure came as an effective backup in 70-71. They won the Vezina and NYR won first playoff series in 21 years.

He was done by '75, and Rangers let him go to Detroit that October. He did nothing for Wings, though I doubt anyone could have.

I suspect that if we'd had the stats that are available now when Eddie was playing, opinions about him would change. But he was the backbone of the Rangers' best teams between 1940 and 1994, and for the span from 66-67 to 74-75, he was arguably the most productive goaltender in the NHL.

And for the Chris Osgood haters: Ozzie's career is basically Ken Dryden x 2 in a much tougher league.

Bettman's Nightmare said...

You really need to back Ozzie up with evidence. The kind of data covered here doesn't support him at all, and I'm not arguing for Dryden either. I don't think people should get in based on comps with people in completely different generations, but rather with players from roughly the same time frame. Hence why Contrarian brings up Vachon.

Anonymous said...

Eddie Giacomin is my all time favorite sports hero. As a kid, I lived and mostly died following the Rangers and the netminding of Eddie. I am now supposedly a mature adult and, though you may very well be correct, I am still a child as i cannot accept to hear anything negative about him. Ed giacomin and his legions of fans suffered enough, please let us have our memories in piece...That being said, great article and I loved those 10-2 wins over the Oakland Seals...LOL

Anonymous said...

As a life long Ranger fan who had the great fortune to see Eddie Giacomin play, I think your conclusion is based on numbers and the hypothtesis that the Rangers were this defensive powerhouse that minimized Giacomin's contribution to the team and his stature in the league at that time. There were many nights that the only thing between a win or disaster was Eddie Giacomin. He was fearless! Ed Giacomin was the soul of those Ranger teams!!!
Eddie! Eddie! Eddie!!

nightfly said...

Sorry to point it out, but the soul of those Ranger teams may have been Giacomin.... but the skill of those teams was Vic Hadfield, Jean Ratelle, Rod Gilbert, Brad Park, and Rod Seiling.

Anonymous said...

Let me just say, that Eddie Giacomin was the most exciting goalie of his era. He may not have been the best, but he had skills that made him a prototype for future goalies. No goalie of his era could skate or handle the puck better than Eddie Giacomin. As far as making an impact with the Redwings, all I can say is they were the worst team in the NHL at that time, and he was an upgrade even at an advanced age. Coming back to beat the Rangers 2 days after being released is impact enough, and a memory that will last a lifetime. He led the league in wins 3 times, shutouts 3 times, played in 6 allstar games, won a Vezina, and is the Ranger all time shutout leader. Richter has more wins, but he played more games than Eddie. His only blemish, is he never played on a Stanley Cup winner, but that does not mean he is not a hall of famer! Rod Gilbert, Bill Gadsby, Marcel Dionne, Dino Ciccorelli, etc never did either, but they too are hall of famers. If it wasn't for Billy Smith's playoff record, He would never be in the hall. His regular season stats make him an average goalie at best. He is in the Hall, and Giacomins career season stats destroy his record. Giacomin is a very deserving Hall Of famer who's goaling led the Rangers to 9 straight playoff appearances. In 1971, when the Bruins beat the Rangers, Giacomin's GAA was 2.21 for the entire playoffs! If the Rangers would have scored some goals, maybe they would have won that Stanley Cup! Either way, Giacomin was not only one of the most popular Rangers in history, but between 1965-75, he was one the most beloved athletes in New York period.

SELBY said...



Anonymous said...

Couldn't agree more on "Questioning Ed Giacomin". Very well documented points, especially regarding Vachon's exclusion from the HHOF. 3 time cup winner, literally put LA on the hockey map in the 70's, Canada Cup 76...still the sgreatest performance by a Canadian goaltender in international play. Similar, and in some cases, better stats than Giacomin, Cheevers, Parent, and Esposito (another overated goalie) I would argue that if not for Tony O., the Blackhawks would have won at least 1 cup. (1971) Say what you will about Osgood, but I don't recall any of his soft goals costing the Wings a cup. Tony does have his name on the cup once with the Habs (1969) and guess who the number one goalie was for the Canadiens was that year?...Vachon.

Unknown said...

I enjoy hockey, but my goodness you people need a constructive hobby or something to pass the time better. Gives fans a bad name ... everyone who didn't have the skills is apparently a friggin expert on those who did.

Host PPH said...

Goalies are something that you have to get back time to time. There are different in quality and some get stick to you.

Anonymous said...

It is a travesty that Vachon isn't in the hof. If Giacomin had played the vast majority on any team that wasn't the Rangers, he would not have been put in the hof.

That doesn't make him a bad goalie or any less special to the Rangers fans who loved him. Too many people allow personal feelings towards a player to cloud their judgement in regards to whether they deserve to be in the hof.

The author certainly has been guilty of this, most noticibly against Billy Smith and Chris Osgood.

Anonymous said...

Okay, as far as Rogie Vachon and the HOF! He certainly deserves induction, but in comparing Rogie to Eddie Giacomin, I have noted the following. Rogie won 355 games compared to Eddies 289. Having said that, Rogie played 186 more games than Eddie, so if Eddie had those extra games he probably would have more wins. Rogie had 51 shutouts, while Eddie had 54 playing in 186 fewer games. Rogie's GAA was a very respectable 2.99, as was Eddie's at 2.82. Rogie had a career 355 Wins 291 Loses 127 Ties. Eddie was 289-209-96. So no one can tell me that Eddie was overrated and any less of a goalie than Rogie Vachon.

Anonymous said...

One can argue that Rogie won some Stanley Cups with Montreal, but who's kidding who here! Those Montreal teams were some of the most powerful teams ever to be put on the ice. Eddie Giacomin would have easily won some championships if he was tending goal for those Canadien teams as well. I think Rogie should be a HOF'er as well, but to say he was better than Parent, Cheevers, Esposito, and Giacomin, is a ridiculous argument.

Anonymous said...

Giacomin was a top-notch goalie, although the point that he was on a league power club is valid. It's doubtful Ken Dryden would be in the HHOF if he had played for the Seals. Somebody like Gilles Meloche or Jim Rutherford would have been there if they had played for the Habs or Bruins...

I would still put Giacomin in the hall ahead of Gerry Cheevers. Same with Vachon. Cheevers always played on a strong team in the NHL but was usually part of a tandem. His rep and career is like Billy Smith's - part of a goalie tandem and the 'money goalie' for the playoffs. Vachon and Giacomin were number #1 goalies with the games played to prove it. The best goalie of the era is Bernie Parent.

Anonymous said...

You can't depend solely on statistics. A goalie who faced very few shots, like Dryden, needs a special skill set that not every goaltender possesses. It is difficult to stop three or four shots, do nothing for five minutes and get cold, then have to be ready for two or three more. Thus Dryden was a perfect fit for the Canadiens, whereas Vachon was better suited to the Kings. If it had been Dryden that was traded to the Kings, we wouldn't even be talking about him now.

Rogie should easily be a Hall of Famer, especially in light of the fact that Tretiak (who only played 30 games against professionals) is in the HOF. The other absurd exclusion is Roger Crozier. Rookie of the Year, Conn Smythe winner, and one of the developers of the modern butterfly ... the only reason he was left out boils down to statistics and Stanley Cups. Playing on woefully weak defensive teams like the late sixties Red Wings and the early seventies Sabres, Crozier probably had more three star selections than any other player on his team. But if you are facing 40 shots per game, your GAA is not going to be terribly impressive, and your team is unlikely to make the playoffs, let alone vie for the Cup.

Anonymous said...

Billy Smith was never allowed to be as great as he could have been. Al Arbour never played him 65-70 regular season games like other goalies. Smith alludes to this quite often saying that he would have had a lot more wins if Arbour allowed him to play more. But then, let the cups speak for themselves, for nearly a decade he was ready to go when the playoffs and it is possible that the Islanders may have won one more cup - I doubt more than that - if Arbour didn't insist upon switching goalies in the playoffs before 1980.

Unknown said...

This article is a fraud. Anyone who watched Giacomin for a season knows he was the best among his peers during his career. He was the only reason why the Rangers could even stand against the Canadiens or the Bruins. Proof is that the only defensemen of true quality he ever played behind was Brad Park. Jim Neilson, Arnie Brown and Rod Seiling wouldn't even make the Top 200 Defensemen on anyone's list. It was ALL Eddie, and anyone of the era knew it.

Anonymous said...

I didn't see any comment saying Vachon was better than the other 4 goalies you mention. Only that Vachon had "similar, and in some cases, better stats"......"some cases" being the operative words. It wasn't a blanket statement of Vachon's superiority.

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