Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Goalies With the Easiest Jobs

Which goalies had the lowest career win thresholds? Win thresholds measure how effective a team is at scoring goals and preventing shots, so a low win threshold means that a team provides a high margin of error for a goalie. Even if they are playing poorly, the other team has a limited number of chances to score, and even if a few pucks end up in the back of the net the rest of the team might just outscore the opposition anyway. It's a nice safety margin to have for any goalie. The problem comes when people try to compare goalies based on win/loss records without taking those situations into account.

I ran the numbers for every goalie with 300+ games played since 1955 (for goalies who played part of their careers before 1955 I was only able to include the portion that came after because of the lack of data). It doesn't take a vast knowledge of hockey history to know that Ken Dryden is going to come out ranked #1, but the identities of the other goalies at the top of the list is of some interest. The numbers are adjusted to a baseline of .900. Here are the 20 goalies with the lowest career win threshold:

1. Ken Dryden, .850
2. Gerry Cheevers, .861
3. Michel Larocque, .868
4. Gilles Gilbert, .873
5. Chris Osgood, .873
6. Mike Vernon, .875
7. Andy Moog, .879
8. Patrick Lalime, .880
9. Jacques Plante, .881
10. Rick Wamsley, .881
11. Tim Cheveldae, .882
12. Pete Peeters, .882
13. Grant Fuhr, .882
14. Roman Turek, .883
15. Ed Giacomin, .884
16. Marty Turco, .885
17. Martin Brodeur, .886
18. Manny Legace, .886
19. Wayne Stephenson, .886
20. Ron Hextall, .887

There are 3 teams that are mainly responsible for the top 6 goalies on the list: The 1970s Canadiens, the 1970s Bruins, and the 1990s Red Wings. All three teams were dominant teams that scored a lot of goals and did not allow many shots at their own end of the ice.

Six of the 20 goalies are in the Hall of Fame or will be when they retire (Dryden, Cheevers, Plante, Fuhr, Giacomin, Brodeur). If we increased the minimum games played to qualify we would catch a couple more (Ed Belfour .887, Patrick Roy .888). A few others, like Vernon, Moog, and Tom Barrasso (who just missed making the list) have been in Hall of Fame discussions or at least have sparked Hall of Fame debate. There are even some crazy Detroit fans out there who will do their best to try to convince you of the merits of Chris Osgood.

Playing on a strong team helps pad a goalie's win totals, and it brings them extra attention. It also sets them up for the postseason success that is an excessively important criteria in the way most people rank goalies (and regrettably, this group apparently includes the Hall of Fame voters). Win thresholds illustrate the unfairness of comparing win totals across goalies, and when combined with other performance statistics they can help us get a better sense of who was driving results on their team and who was just along for the ride.

The goalies with the hardest jobs are coming tomorrow. Stay tuned to see how many Hall of Famers are on that list...