Vulgar Statistics: Goalie Value Revisited
Last year I took a look at the starting goaltenders in the NHL over the past three years and compared their save percentage (the best single stat for indicating goalie skill) against their pay. The goal was to figure out how an increase in pay correlates with an increase in overall performance. With the recent “controversy” between schools of thought over how much you should pay a goaltender (Miller vs. Enroth) , I have decided to take another look.
I didn’t feel it was right to include Tomas Vokoun among the cheap goaltenders even though that’s what he’s paid. He is most certainly not in that tier.
I’ll say up front is that it’s easy to look at the slight difference in numbers and instantly disregard them. After all, what does a .004 difference in save percentage really mean over the course of a season? Luckily I have an answer to that. The average team gives up around thirty shots per game. An optimistic scenario sees your best goaltender starting between 60 and 70 games a year which means that the .004 difference in save percentage between the top and middle tiers is roughly 8 goals over the course of a season. Again, this doesn’t look like much, but when you consider that around half of all NHL games are decided by one goal, that’s four more points you’re getting out of a top guy. The question is whether or not those four points are worth $2.5 million ($625,000 per point) to you.
And to be perfectly fair there are other factors at work. You can’t put a price on some of the intangibles that a lot of these top goaltenders bring. And despite what the stats say, or what your feelings are on goaltenders in general, I have to believe most would be more comfortable with a Ryan Miller in net than a Nikolai Khabibulin.
The goaltender position is notoriously difficult to get a firm grasp on. I tend to underrate it because the play of the skaters dictates so much of a game. But as the Flyers have learned in recent years, there’s something to be said for having a legitimate talent between the pipes, even if the only impact is in giving said skaters an extra bit of confidence. My personal feeling is that as long as you’re not getting completely ripped off (see J.S. Giguere last year), and your goaltender’s pay isn’t inhibiting building a good team around him (guess we’ll find out with Pekka Rinne), then money is no issue.