Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Darryl Sutter and Goaltending

Darryl Sutter is getting a lot of credit for his impact on the Los Angeles Kings this season, which is perhaps not too surprising given that the team was 15-14-4 prior to his hire and 40-15-11 since, playoffs included.  Jon Quick is all over the headlines for his ridiculous postseason numbers, and certainly much of that is deserved, but there is also some historical evidence that suggests Sutter may be in the class of coaches that have a positive impact on the statistics of their goaltenders.

Throughout his career, Sutter's goaltenders have routinely been above average.  Sutter-led teams have only posted a below-average save percentage in two out of his dozen seasons as an NHL coach, and in every one of the remaining ten his team was at least .006 above the league benchmark in save rate:

1992-93: .901 in Chicago (.885 avg)
1993-94: .902 in Chicago (.895 avg)
1994-95: .907 in Chicago (.901 avg)
1997-98: .896 in San Jose (.906 avg)
1998-99: .915 in San Jose (.908 avg)
1999-00: .911 in San Jose (.904 avg)
2000-01: .914 in San Jose (.903 avg)
2001-02: .918 in San Jose (.908 avg)
2002-03: .897 in San Jose/Calgary (.909 avg)
2003-04: .919 in Calgary (.911 avg)
2005-06: .917 in Calgary (.901 avg)
2011-12: .930 in Los Angeles (.914 avg)

Overall:  .910 under Sutter, .903 league average

Sutter had Belfour for three seasons, Kiprusoff for two and Quick this past year, so he was partially lucky to benefit from some good goaltending.  However, the numbers before and after he arrived in the different towns seem to suggest that there was a consistent save percentage effect as a result of Sutter's hiring.  I looked at the full season prior to Sutter being hired and the full season after he was fired, with partial in-season results before he was hired/after he was fired also included in the before and after sample:

Chicago (before & after):  4352 SA, .898 save %, .893 average, +.005
Chicago under Sutter:  5940 SA, .903 save %, .892 average, +.011

San Jose (before & after):  6434 SA, .906 save %, .908 average, -.002
San Jose under Sutter:  11781 SA, .910 save %, .906 average, +.004

Calgary (before & after):  5738 SA, .909 save %, .907 average, +.002
Calgary under Sutter:  5545 SA, .914 save %, .906 average, +.008

Los Angeles (before):  3258 SA, .917 save %, .913 average, +.004
Los Angeles under Sutter:  1271 SA, .930 save %, .914 average, +.016

That's a consistent bump of .006 at each of Sutter's first three stops, with his L.A. numbers looking even better so far.

I should point out however that selection bias probably has an impact here, given that teams with low save percentages would be more likely to fire coaches and hire replacements.

Combined before sample:  .901 save percentage, .905 league average, -.004
Combined sample with Sutter:  .910 save percentage, .903 league average, +.007
Combined after sample:  .914 save percentage, .906 league average, +.008

Looking at it this way gives a potentially much less charitable interpretation of Sutter's true impact:  Maybe he simply coached some good goalies and was the beneficiary of teams bouncing back from poor seasons.  On the other hand, it does seem reasonable that the impact of a coach would continue in at least some fashion even after they leave town.  If Sutter played a key role in developing young players or established a style of play that the team continued to use under his successor then he could be partially credited for some of those continuing effects.

It is always important to take regression to the mean into account when evaluating coaches, or else guys hired by underachieving teams will look like heroes nearly every time as the team's results gradually change to more closely match their overall level of talent.  Sutter is not a miracle worker, and I think that Jack Johnson for Jeff Carter trade had a larger impact on the Kings' amazing transformation into a playoff juggernaut than their mid-season coaching change.  On the other hand, Los Angeles is certainly doing a great job of protecting their goaltender through great defensive play at the moment, and that reflects well on their head coach.

In the competitive world of the NHL, slight edges can sometimes end up being important, and Sutter's coaching may just be providing Jonathan Quick the defensive advantage needed to help the Kings' goaltender complete his memorable season with a great postseason run that currently has him holding the highest official playoff save percentage of all-time among goalies that participated in more than one playoff round.

7 comments:

Patrick Hare said...

Quick was great all year long - it was the King's offense which was lacking. I think both Sutter and Carter played critical roles in turning that around.

Anonymous said...

About the Carter-Johnson trade: Do you think that getting rid of Johnson was more important to the Kings' run than acquiring Carter?

The Contrarian Goaltender said...

I haven't done any sort of detailed analysis on it. The numbers I have seen suggest that Johnson was pretty terrible defensively and that while Carter played well it was mostly the Kopitar-Brown line that was truly dominant during the playoffs. Johnson might have helped the Kings produce a bit more on the power play, but I think the case could probably be made that the Kings benefitted most from getting rid of him at even strength.

Host PPH said...

I would like to know more about the Carter-Johnson trade as well, please make a post about it!! :D

James Benesh said...

Do this for Claude Julien!

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