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Vulgar Statistics: Goalie Value

01/02/11
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Earlier this week, a friend and I were discussing NHL goaltenders.  After some back and forth, the question became, ‘what do you really get with a $5 million + guy that you’re not getting with, say, a $2 million guy, and is it worth it?’  The Sabres do have one of those afore mentioned expensive goalies, but this entry is not meant to say anything about Ryan Miller, other than comment on the effectiveness of his and similar contracts.  So let’s begin.

I will start by saying right away that while I think an expensive goalie can be worth it, I think that most of the upper echelon goalies in the NHL are overpaid.  Personally, I don’t want to give more than $5 million to a position whose performance is dependent upon so many other variables.

I began with a list of every starting goaltender in the NHL.  For teams where the top guy is a little harder to figure out, and for teams that have a cheap guy outperforming a higher paid guy, I included both players.  Then I split them into three categories based on what teams have decided to pay them.  The great goaltenders make over $4 million, the good goaltenders make between $2 million and $4 million, and the adequate goaltenders make under $2 million.  There are flaws to this method (a bit more on those in a minute), but it creates a way to tell just what the extra cost is getting you in terms of performance.  “Performance” is going to be defined by probably the best statistical indicator of goalie skill, save percentage, for the past three years.  The goal is to figure out what the difference in save percentage is between pay scales, and what that means in terms of goals prevented over the course of the season.  Whew.

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Wow, it looks like Ilya Bryzgalov ($4.25M), Jaroslav Halak ($3.4M) and Craig Anderson ($1.81M) are huge steals and that J.S. Giguere ($6M) and Pascal Leclaire ($3.8M) are huge wastes.  Using the data above, the averages for each pay tier look like this:

  • Great Goaltenders – $5.56 million and a .916 save percentage.
  • Good Goaltenders – $2.96 million and a .909 save percentage.
  • Adequate Goaltenders – $1.31 million and a .910 save percentage.

Now you can probably spot the reason for that discreppancy between the two lower tiers pretty quickly.  There are two or three goalies that are still on early or rookie contracts that are playing above their pay scale and will probably find themselves within that upper echelon when it’s time to hit the negotiating table, mainly Jonathon Quick, Jimmy Howard, and Tuukka Rask.  And you can make the case that Craig Anderson, Ondrej Pavelec, and  Sergei Bobrovski will move up at least one tier as well, but those are a bit less obvious, especially considering the small body of work Bobrovski has, so we’ll leave them alone .  If you slide Quick, Howard, and Rask up into the green and keep the salary averages the same, the breakdown looks like this:

  • Great Goaltenders – $5.56 million and a .916 save percentage.
  • Good Goaltenders – $2.96 million and a .909 save percentage.
  • Adequate Goaltenders – $1.31 million and a .908 save percentage.

So on average, if you want one of those upper tier guys, you can expect to shell out about $2.6M more for .007 worth of save percentage.  What does that even mean?  Well, the average number of shots an NHL team faces in a game is around 30, or 2,460 over the course of a season.  A save percentage that is .007 better means a difference of 17 goals (on average) over the course of a season.  Awesome…so what does that mean?  After all, who cares about an extra goal here or there if you’re up or down 5-1?  How often will those goals matter?  Well, the average number of games that are decided by a single goal for a given team in a given year is between 39 and 40, or just under half.  So it stands to reason that just under half of those 17 goals will be meaningful in deciding the outcome of a game.  So basically that $2.6 million that you’re giving to say Ryan Miller instead of Pekka Rinne is going to mean about 8 more games a year where you’re either going to OT when you would have lost in regulation, or winning in regulation when you would have gone to OT.  That’s as much as a 16 point swing.  I don’t know about you, but that seems worth it to me.

Moving down a tier, that $1.65 million difference is only netting you an average difference of .001 in save percentage, or two goals a year.  Since the averages tell us that only half of those are going to matter, that’s $1.65 million for one game, not exactly important in the grand scheme of things.

Now obviously, this is based on a series of averages and is thus a simplification.  If you’re paying J.S. Giguerre $6 million, you’re still an idiot, and if you’re paying Craig Anderson $1.81 million, you’re still a genius.  The other thing this doesn’t take into account is the fact that the money saved in dropping down to a “lesser” goaltender can be used to bolster the rest of the team, thus nullifying the goaltender disadvantage.  Considering that recent cup participants have been Antii Niemi, Michael Leighton/Brian Boucher, Chris Osgood, and Ray Emery, there is something to be said for that strategy.  But it’s nice to at least be able to put a bit of a value on what that extra cash is getting you.

The Final Word:

I was very intrigued in going through these stats because I had no idea what I was going to get.  Initially I thought that a .007 difference in save percentage (or even a .015 difference which was what I initially guessed it would be) would be inconsequential.  But changing the face of that many games over the course of a season is huge.  However, I still have some trouble justifying paying much over $5 million for a goaltender because a crappy team can make any guy look awful.  Just look at Marty Brodeur’s sub-.900 save percentage this year.  I think Lundqvist ($6.88M) and Ward ($6.3M) are vastly overpaid, and that everyone from Miller ($6.25M) to Luongo ($5.33M cap hit and making $10M in salary this year!!) is at least slightly overpaid.  I would take Miller over 90% of the guys on that list, but I think I would rather have Bryzgalov, Halak, Niemi, or Turco at a smaller price tag and bolstered corps of forwards and defensemen.

One Comment leave one →
  1. mike permalink
    01/02/11 3:43 PM

    ITS. ABOUT. FUCKING. TIME. SOMEONE. GOT IT!

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