It has been shown pretty convincingly that the definition of a shot on goal can vary from rink to rink around the NHL. The problem is that there is still a fair bit of guesswork involved in trying to tease out exactly which rinks may be padding the stats and which ones may be shorting them, and even once we can prove that there has been a track record of bias in one city or another it could still change instantly with a single hiring decision.
In response to this uncertainty, I thought to take an ultra-conservative route in this post and assume that every official scorer in the NHL is so biased that they can't be trusted for anything at all related to the home team. Under that assumption we would have to throw out all home save percentage data and rely on road numbers only, hoping that any potential undercounting or overcounting will roughly balance out for goalies who play in a variety of rinks on the road.
In addition to the issue of scorer bias, it seems more likely that a team could control their style of play while in their home rink. To quote Vic Ferrari, "When a team wants to play a low tempo game, the opponent is more likely to oblige in your barn than in front of their own fans." The home team has last change and can decide whether it wants to shut down the opposition's best players with a defensive line or whether to slug it out power vs. power. It seems that the level of parity in today's NHL is such that there is little difference in shot quality from team to team, but if there are any persistent team effects on a goalie's numbers from style of play it seems more likely that they would appear in the home sample than in the road sample.
I'd like to break these down by game situation, ideally, but that special teams goaltending data only goes back about a decade or so whereas detailed home/road splits for all goaltending stats are available going back to 1988 on Hockey Reference. For each season, all home games were thrown out and the road numbers were adjusted based on the league average that year. Current season results were not included.
Nothing changes much in terms of rankings at the top of the list, but there are a few goalies with unusual results that either indicate that there may have been something going on with the shot counting or with the team's style of play at home. On the other hand, perhaps they really enjoyed that home cooking, or maybe it is no more than a statistical quirk arising from cutting the sample size in half. Nothing can be proven with any certainty by this type of surface analysis, but there are some team situations that definitely seem to warrant a closer look.
The goalies are sorted by road goals saved over average, calculated by subtracting the league average save percentage from the goalie's road save percentage for each season and then multiplying by the number of shots faced on the road. Note that since goalies typically have better numbers at home than on the road, comparing to league average means that this definition of average is a slightly higher standard than usual. Current goalies with fewer than 450 career games played were not included for now, but will be discussed in a future post. Keep in mind also that these numbers represent partial career results for goalies who played in the NHL prior to 1987-88.
Tier 1: The Elite
1. Patrick Roy: +.015 save %, +180 goals
2. Dominik Hasek: +.017 save %, +163 goals
3. Martin Brodeur: +.010 save %, +145 goals
4. Ed Belfour: +.009 save %, +110 goals
5. Roberto Luongo: +.010 save %, +92 goals
Tier 2: The Good
6. Marty Turco: +.006 save %, +40 goals
7. Curtis Joseph: +.003 save %, +36 goals
8. J.S. Giguere: +.005 save %, +35 goals
9. Felix Potvin: +.003 save %, +27 goals
10. Dwayne Roloson: +.003 save %, +25 goals
11. John Vanbiesbrouck: +.003 save %, +25 goals
Tier 3: The Average
12. Evgeni Nabokov: +.002 save %, +14 goals
13. Chris Osgood: +.001 save %, +12 goals
14. Tomas Vokoun: +.001 save %, +11 goals
15. Sean Burke: +.001 save %, +10 goals
16. Nik Khabibulin: +.001 save %, +5 goals
17. Guy Hebert: +.001 save %, +4 goals
18. Jose Theodore: +.001 save %, +4 goals
19. Ron Hextall: .000 save %, +3 goals
20. Mike Richter: .000 save %, +2 goals
21. Martin Biron: .000 save %, -1 goal
22. Andy Moog: .000 save %, -2 goals
23. Tom Barrasso: .000 save %, -2 goals
24. Miikka Kiprusoff: -.001 save %, -8 goals
25. Jocelyn Thibault: -.001 save %, -10 goals
26. Jeff Hackett: -.002 save %, -12 goals
27. Arturs Irbe: -.002 save %, -16 goals
Tier 4: The Mediocre
28. Ron Tugnutt: -.003 save %, -19 goals
29. Kelly Hrudey: -.003 save %, -26 goals
30. Olaf Kolzig: -.003 save %, -32 goals
31. Tommy Salo: -.005 save %, -33 goals
Tier 5: The Dinosaurs
32. Ken Wregget: -.006 save %, -39 goals
33. Grant Fuhr: -.006 save %, -46 goals
34. Mike Vernon: -.006 save %, -57 goals
35. Kirk McLean: -.007 save %, -58 goals
36. Bill Ranford: -.007 save %, -65 goals
Some points of discussion:
- The top five really separate themselves from the field by this metric. All are 50+ goals better than the rest. Both Brodeur and Belfour had higher save percentages on the road than at home over the course of their careers, and both benefit quite a bit from going on away numbers only. In fact, assuming the road numbers accurately reflect the overall level of performance and taking into account shot prevention while also recognizing both Roy's team advantages in Montreal as well as the weaker pool of goaltending talent that Patrick was competing against in the late '80s, plus the fact that Roy retired younger than the other two and skipped his decline phase, there may not actually be that much separation between the three of them in terms of regular season results.
For example, if we add one shot prevented to Belfour's save percentage and assume that Brodeur's shot prevention is balanced out by his special teams advantages, then both are around 145 goals saved. All it would take to drop Roy to roughly the same career number is to assume that either he created one extra shot per game against on average or that his expected save percentage was understated by .003 because of weaker competition or Montreal's defensive play and team discipline. Having said that, this doesn't take into account playoff play and the 1988 cutoff means Roy isn't getting credit for two of his seasons. Brodeur is also on pace to give back around 15 goals compared to average this season if he can't fix his struggles in the second half.
- In his first 12 seasons in the NHL, Curtis Joseph saved his teams 68 goals compared to league average on the road. In his final 7 seasons, he gave 32 of them back. Joseph's early career peak would have put him near the elite group, but he did not have anything close to the staying power of the top 4.
- Sean Burke is the anti-Cujo, with -41 in his first dozen seasons and +50 in his final six. If you want further evidence of my argument that it was technique not equipment that was driving the changes in goaltending through the '90s, you'd be hard-pressed to find better examples than Burke and Joseph. Joseph's athleticism allowed him to excel early on, but when that faded as he aged the game rapidly passed him by. In contrast, Burke remodeled himself into a butterfly blocker and put up his best performances in the twilight of his career.
- If you define a goalie's peak as his best five consecutive seasons with a significant number of games played (and including numbers from light workload seasons that fell within the same stretch), Burke ranks an impressive 7th in peak road goals above average per game, trailing only Hasek, Roy, Joseph, Belfour, Luongo and Brodeur.
- Other surprise goalies in the top 15 for peak road results include Jeff Hackett (9th), Dwayne Roloson (10th), Felix Potvin (11th) and Arturs Irbe (15th).
- Arturs Irbe had an eight season stretch where he was 37 goals better than average on the road, playing three of them behind the fledgling San Jose Sharks. His overall numbers nosedived when he stuck around too long after his game fell off a cliff in Carolina, but that was a pretty impressive run without much team support at all.
- To show the kind of impact playing on the Sharks in the early '90s had, Jeff Hackett was -44 goals in San Jose in the first two seasons of that expansion franchise and +32 everywhere else.
- Trivia question: From 1992-93 to 1997-98, which goalie ranked third behind Hasek and Roy in most goals above average on the road? Not Brodeur, not Belfour, not Joseph, not Vanbiesbrouck. Would you believe Felix Potvin? Potvin was a lot like Cujo in that he didn't age well, but there was a lot to like early in his career, even though a lot of people underrate him because he played for mostly mediocre teams.
- Chris Osgood ranks 13th in career total, but just 25th in peak. Osgood has a close comparable in Evgeni Nabokov, who ranked 12th and 29th respectively. Nabokov had a few more peaks and valleys than the fairly steady Osgood, but the end result is that neither was able to put together a five season stretch on the road that was any better than slightly above average for a starting-calibre goalie.
- The biggest surprise on this list has to be Miikka Kiprusoff coming out as slightly below average. Throughout his career, Kiprusoff has a .920 save percentage at home compared to just .906 on the road. Even in his 2006 Vezina year Kiprusoff did not have great results on the road (a mere .904 in 35 games played). The confusing thing is that his shots against split is 27.0 per 60 at home compared to 29.6 per 60 on the road, which really doesn't seem to suggest a generous home scorer.
If there is a logical explanation for this, I'm not aware of it. Was Calgary more disciplined at home, did they change their style of play, did they benefit from lots of back-to-back games against teams that had just played the Oilers? I really have no idea.
- Olaf Kolzig is another guy who had underwhelming results relative to his reputation on the road both overall and in a Vezina winning season (.903 in 1999-00).
- Tomas Vokoun is another interesting case. His save numbers have been very good, especially post-lockout, but he has a Kiprusoffian home/road split of .923/.910. Vokoun's road numbers in Nashville were actually below average, which makes it seem even more clear that there is something going on in Nashville. Vokoun's numbers are better in Florida, although some remain skeptical about his performance there as well.
- I strongly suspect that Guy Hebert got his stats padded in Anaheim. He is a guy that I've noted before as often doing well in various save percentage rankings, but that's probably a bit misleading as Hebert was very average on the road and has another extreme home/road split (.916/.902).
- I still have no idea where to rank Tom Barrasso. Like the rest of his stats, his road numbers are all over the place throughout his career, although he'd presumably rate above average if his extra seasons from the mid-eighties were included.