Mike Richter is a goalie that is remembered pretty fondly by many. That shouldn't be too surprising, as he played a long career on a big market team, he won a Cup, and he represented the U.S.A. admirably in a number of international tournaments. However, looking at his career numbers and especially his Vezina and All-Star voting record makes it pretty clear that Richter was not a member of the goaltending elite. Pretty much the only thing that was elite was his paycheque; in his entire career nobody ever gave Richter a first place vote for the postseason All-Star teams.
I recently realized, however, that Richter may not even have been as good as his numbers suggest. The reason is that there is some evidence that Richter may have benefited from a generous home scorer during the prime of his career in New York. Madison Square Garden has long been known as a rink that produces abnormal statistics for things like shot distance. During the mid-1990s, they might have been recording some screwy numbers when it comes to total shots as well.
For seven consecutive seasons from 1991-92 to 1997-98, Mike Richter's backup goalies faced a higher rate of shots against at home than on the road. Richter faced a higher rate himself in five out of the seven seasons and narrowly missed the two other times, finishing 0.8 lower in '91-92 and 0.5 lower in '97-98. Having a higher rate of shots against at home in any season is relatively rare, given that teams typically play better at home. When it happens seven years in a row, it is a major outlier.
Home: 99-60-24, 2.71, .911, 30.5 SA/60
Road: 71-66-13, 3.01, .896, 29.1 SA/60
NYR backup goalies ('92 to '98):
Home: 45-25-18, 2.81, .910, 31.2 SA/60
Road: 47-60-14, 3.01, .894, 28.4 SA/60
The home/road GAA splits are quite normal. The backups had a very skewed record at home vs. on the road, which implies that the Rangers played a lot better in front of them at home. Given that, one would not expect shots against to go up by nearly 3 per game. The only effect that could somewhat account for that would be score effects. The Rangers playing to the score might explain why the backups had more of a differential between home and road than Richter did, but Richter himself had a more typical home/road split yet still had a higher shots against rate at home. Thus it seems that all Rangers goalies were getting extra credit for saves at MSG.
It is at least possible that the Rangers played a very high event game at home, although if that were true it would be expected that the goalie's home save percentages would have dropped or stayed the same rather than rose substantially compared to their numbers on the road.
Richter's numbers at home and on the road were almost identical to those of his backups. For a several of those seasons that was nothing to be ashamed of, as quality veteran John Vanbiesbrouck was Richter's playing partner, but for the rest of it the Rangers had a fairly undistinguished collection of backups, led by Glenn Healy. Healy's numbers cratered once he left the Rangers to play on the Leafs, which probably had a lot to do with age, but may have also had something to do with artificially inflated home numbers.
League average over the period was roughly .898. Richter's overall save percentage checked in at .905, suggesting that he was a pretty valuable goalie, worth nearly two wins above average to his team per season. However, the numbers show that nearly all of his excess value was coming based on the performance he recorded on home ice.
If we assume that in reality Richter faced the same rate of shots against at home and on the road and that the difference was due to generous scorekeeping, his home save percentage would drop to .907 and his overall save percentage for the period would fall to .902. If Richter actually faced one fewer shot against per 60 minutes at home, his numbers would fall even further to .904 at home and .900 overall, a result that would leave him about 20 goals above an average goalie. That's still pretty good, but it would have a pretty dramatic impact on Richter's career numbers. It would cost him about half of his career value in terms of goals above average, causing him to plunge well out of the "decent starters" range on this list.
On the road, Mike Richter was almost exactly an average goalie, based on his save percentage numbers. At home, his numbers were up among the best in the league. Given that the numbers of his backups followed the same pattern, it seems unreasonable to conclude that this was due to anything related to Richter himself. Furthermore, it seems unlikely that the Rangers would have been successfully suppressing shot quality against at least 10% better than an average team while playing at home yet for some reason choosing not to do the same thing on the road. Perhaps there were some team effects, but on the whole it seems like the best explanation is probably that there was some degree of shot padding at Madison Square Garden in the mid-1990s which boosted Mike Richter's statistics.