Wednesday, December 8, 2010

GMs and Goalie Stats

The 1994-95 NHL regular season was very unusual. A lengthy lockout shortened the schedule to just 48 games per team, and to make the scheduling work every team only played against opponents within their own conference. The condensed schedule also gave teams fewer off-days, meaning they had less of an opportunity to catch up with the goings-on around the rest of the league.

The short season made it tough for all awards voters to identify the league's best, but it had to have been especially difficult for the league's general managers required to vote on the 1995 Vezina. Many of them would not have seen much at all of the other conference, and likely would only have seen the best goalies in their own division 3-4 times. Based on this I expect that 1994-95 was probably the season where GMs were most likely to rely on statistics when filling out their award ballots.

If that's true, then looking at the voting results should give some insight on how general managers rate goalies based on their performance numbers (the full Vezina ranking can be found here). How did they fare? In my opinion, not very well. Most of them voted for Dominik Hasek, but that shouldn't have been a very difficult choice at all given that Hasek was the defending Vezina winner and led the league in GAA, shutouts and of course save percentage, where he crushed the field by .013. The other rankings were less clear, and some of the choices left something to be desired.

In particular, there were three voters that seem to have completely failed the test, the trio of league decision-makers who rated Mike Vernon as the best goalie in the league.

Compare the stats:

Vernon: 19-6-4, 2.52, .893, 1 SO
Hasek: 19-14-7, 2.11, .930, 5 SO

I really hope those were Western Conference GMs who just saw Vernon really good against their own teams and didn't feel comfortable ranking Eastern goalies that they hadn't seen play. Even in that event they still made a very poor decision, but it would have been completely embarrassing for them if they actually looked at everyone's numbers and decided that Vernon had the best season based on wins and losses.

Detroit had a terrific team as usual that season, with a defensive unit led by Nicklas Lidstrom, Paul Coffey, Slava Fetisov and Vladimir Konstantinov, plus their usual strong group of forwards. Backup Chris Osgood actually had better numbers than Vernon (14-5-0, 2.26, .917). On the other hand, when Hasek wasn't in net Buffalo's goaltending numbers were 3-5-0, 3.86, .864.

Any given shot was 67% more likely to go in against Vernon than against Hasek. Vernon allowed 3.21 goals per 30 shots against compared to Hasek's 2.10. If you were to swap Vernon's goal support in Detroit with Buffalo's goalscoring during Hasek's first 30 games of the season (excluding one short relief appearance), it would have had a dramatic effect on the records of both goalies. Vernon would have had a losing record at 11-15-4, while Hasek would have improved to a spectacular 22-3-5. And that's based on raw goals against without even taking into account the fact that Vernon faced nearly 7 fewer shots against per game.

It wasn't even remotely close, that's the point I'm trying to make.

Looking at the Vezina votes overall, they ended up being split around a number of goalies, which was perhaps to be expected given the peculiar circumstances. In addition to Hasek and Vernon five other goalies received at least one first place vote, only two of whom ended up in the top 10 in save percentage, and 15 goalies ended up with at least one vote. No other season has ever seen more different goalies get named on Vezina ballots than 1994-95.

If you remove Hasek from the sample, since he was so obviously the best goalie that even a voter who never saw him play and was just going by traditional numbers like GAA or shutouts should still have been able to figure out that the Dominator was the most deserving, here are the correlations between the Vezina voting and other statistics among all other goalies with 20+ games played that season:

GAA: -.591
Win Percentage: .589
Wins: .536
Shots/60: -.534
Shutouts: .455
Save Percentage: .290

That makes it seem pretty apparent that most early '90s NHL general managers rated goalies based on wins and the strength of the defence in front of them. That's scary stuff, and is yet another reminder that we should be cautious when using historical Vezina voting results to rank goalies.

6 comments:

Agent Orange said...
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Agent Orange said...

You did a couple of "They picked the wrong guy" posts for the Vezina trophy. Any plans to do anymore? I thought those were pretty interesting.

Couple things about the 94-95 Wings.

In 93-94 the Wings were an offensive powerhouse and were not a very good defensive team. They were 4th worst of the playoff teams in goal against. In 94-95 they had a great defensive turnaround and became a very balanced team. Couple of changes were going on.

1) Peach-fuzzed kid Chris Osgood gained another year of experience and was improving.

2) The Wings acquired wily veteran and Stanley Cup winner Mike Vernon from the Flames. Bowman had his experienced goalie he could go to in the playoffs.

3) The Mastermind himself Scotty Bowman was secretly unleashing his master plan to turn Detroit into a fortress of a defensive team.

What was the biggest contributor to the turnaround? Clearly #3 as Detriot was quite good defensively with differing goalies between 95 and 02 (when Bowman retired).

But what was more visible to a GM which only saw them 3 times a season? I would guess 1 and 2. In addition Osgood was just coming off passing the puck away in game 7 against the Sharks to lose that series in 94. But here we were a new year, a new goalie and a suddenly staunch defensive Detroit team. Any surprise a couple GMs were won over?

About the defensemen you listed. At the time only Paul Coffey had been to an All-Star. In addition he was mostly a defensive disaster. Fetisov was an international superstar who's NHL level ability was overshadowed in Jersey with Scott Stevens. Lidstrom and Konstantinov were a couple of young bucks that shown a lot of potential but weren't really stars yet.

I'm not saying the top 4 for Detroit wasn't great at the time

Coffey - Hall of Famer
Fetisov - Hall of Famer
Lidstrom - May never retire so he might not get in
Konstantinov - All signs pointed to a Hall of Fame player but might have been overlooked due to his defensive mentality

but when the league thought of Detroit they didn't think defensive powerhouse. They were thought of as an offensive team that liked to trade scoring chances (because the years before that they were) and that Mike Vernon came into town and went Grant Fuhr. He was there to save the day.

I'm not saying overlooking Hasek was justified but the guy won by a landslide let someone else get a vote (or 3). SHARE THE LOVE!

The Contrarian Goaltender said...

Sure, I've got a few writing ideas on historical Vezinas that I have yet to get around to, but likely will at some point.

Great point about the team factors, you're right that it's very likely Vernon got some of the credit for Detroit's defensive improvement. It's always easy to point to the one guy in net when trying to explain a big improvement or decline, but there's usually a lot more going on than that. Good call.

Agent Orange said...

Thanks. The Wings of those years were a strange bunch. They were a pretty good team from 86-87 on (although 89-90 was a disaster). But it was always based on the premise that they would out-score you by a lot.

In 94-95 there was a big change due to the system Bowman implemented and they started the transition to a shutdown team that could score which lead to the back to back Presidents's trophy seasons including the 62 win season.

Then in 97 they fell back into the pack and weren't playing well going into the playoffs. There was a lot of talk that they had peaked and their run was over, Bowman didn't know what he was doing and Yzerman should be traded for Alexi Yashin(!).

Vernon gets a lot of credit for the 1997 season as shown by his Conn Smythe. I know you disagree with him winning the Conn Smythe but I don't know if you've covered who you think should have won the Conn Smythe that year. No need for a full on post just a quick opinion.

The Contrarian Goaltender said...

I think Eric Lindros was the best player throughout the 1997 playoffs, but I realize that nobody is going to vote for a Smythe winner on a team that got swept in the Finals. My #2 choice would be Sergei Fedorov.

Host Pay Per Head said...

I do not know how you do it, but this is another great post with accurate information, and by this I mean the GMs and goalie statistics!