Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Ken Dryden's Backups

One of the great benefits of the Hockey Summary Project has been filling in the gaps in the save percentage record going all the way back to 1952-53. That greatly expands the potential analytical work that can be done on hockey goalies throughout history before the NHL began officially tracking shots and saves in 1983-84.

I got the idea to run the numbers on Montreal backup goalies in the 1970s after following along with the terrific work being done by Black Dog Hates Skunks on the 1972 Summit Series. The scoring chance numbers being compiled there make a pretty good case that Canada was the superior team, but that perhaps the biggest reason the series ended up being close was lackluster goaltending by Ken Dryden.

It shouldn't be too surprising that it would be easier than normal to play goalie on a team that had Larry Robinson, Serge Savard and Guy Lapointe on defence in an unbalanced league further ravaged by player losses to the WHA. The question is how much? Here are the numbers:

Denis Herron:
Montreal: .901 on 2178 SA
Elsewhere: .889 on 9412 SA

Phil Myre:
Montreal: .904 on 1432 SA
Elsewhere: .881 on 11317 SA

Rogie Vachon:
Montreal: .912 on 5391 SA
Elsewhere: .890 on 16221 SA

Michel Plasse:
Montreal: .888 on 866 SA
Elsewhere: .880 on 8015 SA

Wayne Thomas:
Montreal: .906 on 1424 SA
Elsewhere: .886 on 5563 SA

Bunny Larocque:
Montreal: .894 on 5860 SA
Elsewhere: .861 on 1829 SA

Average save percentage for Dryden backups in Montreal: .902
Average save percentage for Dryden backups elsewhere: .885

I don't think anybody should be surprised by the confirmation that being the Habs' netminder in the 1970s was a pretty sweet gig.

That second number is actually even lower if you weight the other goalies' save percentages based on how much they played in Montreal, although Larocque's numbers have a big effect there since he makes up such a large part of the sample and has a comparatively low amount of playing time outside Montreal.

It's possible that the difference between some of these goalies is somewhat exaggerated as they would have been more likely to face expansion teams as a backup in Montreal and more likely to face the league's best teams (including the Canadiens themselves) as a starter in Pittsburgh or Kansas City or wherever else they played. It's not always an apples-to-apples comparison either because some of these guys were on their way up or their way down when they went through Montreal. Still it's a six goalie sample that supports what we already know: that the Canadiens had such a strong defence. On top of that, the Habs also did not take many penalties, which would be a further benefit for the team's goalies.

If we adjust Dryden's numbers based on the above difference, his career .921 becomes .907. That remains a very good number, given that the league average over that period was .893, but that certainly puts Dryden in the conversation with Tony Esposito (.912 over the same stretch) and Bernie Parent (.914 in the same seasons on a much more heavily penalized team) for the title of the best goalie of the 1970s.


David Hutchison said...

Interesting piece and nice to see that information. But, you make the important point yourself - you can't really compare the backups' time in Montreal to their time with other teams....so there is absolutely no way you can adjust Dryden's numbers based on this flawed comparison.

How did the numbers look though compared to the year Dryden took off and the others got to play against the best teams?

THe point about Parent and the Flyers' penalties is intriguing....

The Contrarian Goaltender said...

In 1972-73, with Dryden at law school:

Wayne Thomas: 42 GP, .905
Bunny Larocque: 27 GP, .908
Michel Plasse: 15 GP, .861

Those numbers aren't too far off what they were doing the rest of the time.

I definitely think it adds value to adjust based on comparing to the backup goalies when it's over a large sample size like this one, it's just important to be aware of potential confounding factors. I'm pretty sure that Dryden's true talent relative to league average was closer to the +.014 that I got after adjustment than the +.028 from the raw numbers. Maybe his real talent was somewhere in the range of +.010 to +.020, but the point is that by adjusting we arrive at a better guess. As long as you keep in mind that it's still a guess, I think we're better off than just saying that there are variables there that can't be exactly accounted for and therefore dropping the whole thing.

Anonymous said...

Great post. Still waiting for you to post on:

--the decline of Cristobal Huet
--the explanation for Raycroft's great rookie season

The Contrarian Goaltender said...

A post on Huet is on my to-do list. I don't know what to say about Raycroft other than he probably hit an insane streak of luck, he's never even come remotely close to even hinting at his 2003-04 form since.

Anonymous said...

As always I enjoy your posts and agree with most of them. An even better post idea might be on Kiprusoff. From several years of decline, to the point of becoming a below-average goaltender, he resurrected himself and played like the old days again. Your explanation?

Robert said...

In defense of Dryden, from 1971-1979 he went 80-32 and played every minute of every game of the Canadiens 6 Stanley Cup runs. His backups went 2-4 for that time period.

His sucessors - Herron (led the league in save percentage 1979/80 and 1981/82), Larocque, Sevigny (2nd in save percentage 80/81) and Wamlsey went a combined 8-13 in the next 4 years in the playoffs.

Host PPH said...

I think that it is great that they are saving all those record. I have to admit that I am quite addict to that kind of information.

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Junah said...

Fun fact: Jacques Plante had the highest save percentage of any goalie in the 1970s.

source: https://www.quanthockey.com/nhl/seasons/1970s-nhl-goalies-stats.html

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