Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Cujo the Choker

Curtis Joseph is a playoff choker, a loser, someone you can't count on when the games get really important. He has some great playoff performances, but they all were in the first round. When the games really start to get tough, then Cujo just disappears. He just doesn't have that clutch ability, that calmness under pressure that separates him from winners like Brodeur. Or so the conventional wisdom goes.

Let's look at how Cujo did in the first round:

Won 8 of 12 series, 39-29 record, .922 save %

That's pretty good. In fact, it's strikingly similar to Brodeur's line:

Won 8 of 12 series, 40-26 record, .927 save %

But in the second round, the tables turn.

Curtis Joseph: Won 2 of 8 series, 20-29 record, .914 save %
Martin Brodeur: Won 5 of 8 series, 20-22 record, .916 save %

What happened? Did Cujo choke? Not at all. His save percentage is almost the same as Brodeur's. His win/loss record isn't too far off either. Let's look at the teams he was playing on:

Average Cujo team, 1st round: 91 points
Average Cujo team, 2nd round: 93 points

So on average, Curtis Joseph was playing on teams that were just a little bit above .500. What about his opponents?

Average Cujo opponent, 1st round: 92 points
Average Cujo opponent, 2nd round: 101 points

This explains the first and second round splits. In round one, Cujo's teams have been about as good as their opponents on average. He has a winning record, including several times when he stole games against teams much better than his own. In the second round, Cujo's opponents are 100 point teams that have almost always been much better than his own team. When his team was better, Cujo went to the Conference Finals in 2 times out of 3. The rest of the time they were huge mismatches against better opponents, and Cujo and his teammates lost out every single time.

How about Martin Brodeur? Is he also facing tougher competition in the second round? Not really.

Average Brodeur team, 1st round: 100 points
Average Brodeur opponent, 1st round: 88 points

Average Brodeur team, 2nd round: 99 points
Average Brodeur opponent, 2nd round: 93 points

Thus the secret for Brodeur's playoff success is revealed: Play on the better team. Brodeur's teams have been better than Joseph's, and his opponents have been weaker. In that context, his second-round performance is not more impressive than Joseph's, it is actually worse.

Curtis Joseph has probably been better than Martin Brodeur in the first AND second rounds of the NHL playoffs throughout his career. The average team that Cujo lost to in the second round had 107 points. In his entire career, he only once lost to a weaker opponent in the second round, and that was despite a .928 save percentage in the series, because his Red Wings could not score on Miikka Kiprusoff (back-to-back 1-0 losses in games 5 and 6). Martin Brodeur has a sub .500 win/loss record and only a slightly higher save percentage than Joseph in the second round, despite playing on better teams that outshot and outplayed their opponents.

Curtis Joseph is not a choker, a loser, or any such thing. He has been an excellent goalie throughout his career, including in the second round of the playoffs. His career is yet another cautionary tale about the folly of rating goalies based on team accomplishments.


Anonymous said...

This explains Joseph's collapse in the Olympics...who replaced him anyway? Did Canada go on to win the Gold after switch?

Cuchoke, never was and never will be a money goalie, get your head out your sorry ass!

Anonymous said...

To Anonymous:

I believe it's your ass that's found a head in it.

Cujo was not a playoff choker. While with the Oilers, he almost single handedly defeated Dallas (1997) and Colorado (1998).

Anonymous said...

so again we want to skew brodeurs numbers by saying his first round opponent had an average of 88 points? this is outrageous, are people really stupid enough not to notice that this clown factored in 94-95 which he conveniently forgot to mention was the strike season in which teams got into the playoffs with 50 something points. which that year the devils just so happened to be the 6th, or 7th seed.

so again, cherry pick your numbers, and make them as deceiving as possible. factoring a season in which the likely devils opponent had 50 points will drastically make the average 1st round opponent seem much weaker.

Bill Morran said...

CuJo made the playoffs in 1995 too...