Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Goalie Point Shares

Hockey Reference introduced a new point shares metric recently. Is it a valuable stat that sheds more light on historical goalie performance?

Let's look at the all-time top 20 list:

1. Patrick Roy
2. Martin Brodeur
3. Terry Sawchuk
4. Tony Esposito
5. Glenn Hall
6. Jacques Plante
7. Curtis Joseph
8. Ed Belfour
9. Dominik Hasek
10. John Vanbiesbrouck
11. Roberto Luongo
12. Rogie Vachon
13. Sean Burke
14. Harry Lumley
15. Gump Worsley
16. Tomas Vokoun
17. Grant Fuhr
18. Tom Barrasso
19. Bernie Parent
20. Billy Smith

I conclude pretty confidently that the above list doesn't come close to passing the common sense test, as it deviates significantly from virtually every other ranking method out there. There's lots that I could nitpick, but I'll just point out that I don't think I've ever seen any other career list, statistical or subjective, that had Joseph, Belfour and Hasek ranked in that order.

It looks like the percentage of credit given to the goalies for team results is too high, and longevity has an excessive impact on the rankings. I probably rate Sean Burke higher than most, especially for his work in the second half of his career, but he still shouldn't be anywhere close to 13th all-time. In fact, given that Burke ranks 12th in career games played, he's a pretty good test case to see whether you are evaluating a goalie's actual performance or just giving them points for showing up for work. I can't help but conclude that Goalie Point Shares does far too much of the latter.

If you're looking for a one stat representation of a goalie's career, I'd still recommend sticking to era-adjusted save percentage or GVT.

Monday, March 7, 2011


Here are some career games played numbers, counting all games played in the regular season and playoffs in the NHL, all games played in a major European professional league and all games played in senior international competitions:

1. Dominik Hasek: 1,358
2. Martin Brodeur: 1,325
3. Patrick Roy: 1,282
4. Ed Belfour: 1,153
5. Curtis Joseph: 1,092

Brodeur and Roy have been rightly praised for their excellent longevity, but it's the guy at the top of the list that might surprise some NHL fans.

Hasek was the youngest professional hockey player ever as a 16 year old in the Czech League, and he led the KHL in shutouts this season three decades later at the age of 46. To put that into perspective, Gordie Howe's professional career spanned 34 years, just 4 more than Hasek's to date.

Hasek ranks 5th all-time among NHL players in career GVT, even though just 63% of his professional games were played in the NHL. Give him credit for those European games (the vast majority of which were played while Hasek was good enough to play in the NHL but prevented from doing so by communism), and there's probably a good argument to rank him no worse than 3rd behind only Howe and Wayne Gretzky for the highest total value career ever.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Get 'Em While They're Hot

Through December 31, Antti Niemi had a career save percentage of .907 on his first 2,197 shots faced in the NHL, including his playoff run with Chicago. That's not enough to even cover league average, which has been north of .910 for the last couple of seasons. Given that Niemi is an undrafted free agent who has never stood out from the pack in any professional league has played in, that doesn't seem to indicate much of a future as an NHL starting goalie.

In the 2011 calendar year, though, things have turned around for the Finnish netminder. Niemi has stopped 670 of 716 shots for a .936 save percentage since January 1. The result is that the Sharks recently signed him to a 4 year, $15.2 million deal.

Chicago wasn't willing to pay Niemi $2.75 million for just one season, yet San Jose apparently thinks he's worth a million bucks more than that for each of the next four years. This is also after the Sharks signed Niemi for $2 million during the offseason, and after Niemi struggled early on. Two bad months + two good months = roughly two times the paycheque? Both the term and the money make that a pretty baffling move from San Jose's perspective. Perhaps they're so desperate to finally win something in the playoffs that they're willing to overpay anybody with a Stanley Cup ring on his finger.

To quote Gabe Desjardins in a comment written as a follow-up to his terrific post on a goalie's first 15 NHL games:

"The main point here is that you need 2000+ shots to make a decision about a goalie…And that to get a 2000-shot tryout, you’re best off hitting a performance high in your first few hundred shots…"

Niemi did it backwards. He got his 2000 shot tryout, and he couldn't even manage to be league average despite playing on strong teams the entire time. Then he hit a performance high in his next 700 shots and cashed in. The result is that he'll have a higher cap hit next season than either Pekka Rinne or Kari Lehtonen.

Rinne, Lehtonen and Niemi are all Finnish starting goalies, but I'd still maintain that one of them is not like the others. Whether it was a result of falling in love with his recent form or overrating his playoff team success, San Jose appears to have made a pretty bad bet with the Niemi contract.