Monday, December 31, 2007

Life in the crease
A look at the goaltender's role

Time to shake off the cobwebs here a bit.

The one, never-ending discussion when it comes to the NHL is the decline in goal scoring over the past 15 years. It came up a number of times when I was back in B.C. over the holidays, including during a marathon Hockey Night in Canada session that saw four teams play 126 minutes of hockey and score all of five goals.

Last night, I caught the majority of the Flyers-Panthers game, a plodding 1-0 tilt where the only goal came from Derian Hatcher with 10 minutes to play. (The biggest surprise was the fact more than 18,000 fans apparently took in that dog of a game.)

Anyway, that's all old hat. But what it all really comes down to is the goaltenders and just how much players in the position have improved over the last two decades.

Martin Brodeur set two single-season records last season at age 34, one that received a lot of pub and one that didn't. The first — most wins by a goaltender, one season (48) — comes with an easy explanation: With shootouts, there are simply more wins to be had. (Which also explains why Roberto Luongo matched Bernie Parent's 33-year-old record last season.)

The second record, however, is the most minutes played by a goaltender in a season, which Brodeur set with a mind-boggling total of 4,697.

And now, this time around, Evgeni Nabokov is on pace for a 4,875-minute season.

What gives? Are there more minutes being played as the result of more overtime games? Or has the role of the backup, in some cases, shriveled even more into nonexistence because of the salary cap?

It's No. 2:

Goalies Mins Min/G
2003-04 94 149,267 60.678
2005-06 91 148,904 60.530
2006-07 84 148,975 60.559
2007-08 76 68,949 60.376
- projected
148,524 60.376

Games continue to be roughly the same length, but the number of goaltenders that played in 1,230 games last season is on the decline. I didn't pull-up all of the historical data on that, but it's safe to say that, in general, we're seeing less and less of the backups.

A few more trends for the 'tenders... including the fact that, while scoring may be down, empty netters are up (the goals against and GAA figure is only for when netminders were in the goal):

2003-04 189 0.076 6129 2.46 3.0%
2005-06 178 0.072 7264 2.93 2.4%
2006-07 205 0.083 6877 2.77 2.9%
2007-08 108 0.094 3031 2.64 3.4%
- projected 233 0.094 6529 2.64 3.4%

Why more empty netters? Closer games.

There's not often a lot of analysis done on empty netters, but it's interesting to quantify just how many there are — and 3.4 per cent isn't an insignificant number. (Gabe Desjardins has more about what happens when the goaltender is pulled.)

And, not only are goals going down, but shots against are, too, even as save percentages rise:

SA SA/60 SV SV/60 SV%
2003-04 68821 27.66 62692 25.20 0.911
2005-06 73573 29.65 66309 26.72 0.901
2006-07 72574 29.23 65697 26.46 0.905
2007-08 32682 28.44 29651 25.80 0.907
- projected 70401 28.44 63872 25.80 0.907

Goaltenders like Brodeur and Nabokov may be playing more, but their workload in games is a little lighter. We're projected to see netminders face more than 2,000 fewer shots than last season and see save percentages continue to rise toward historic highs.

A .907 league save percentage would rank the fifth highest in NHL history.

The better goalies are playing more and fewer goals are going in. No surprise there.


At 7:52 p.m., December 31, 2007, Blogger Kirk said...

Good goalie numbers, James. But when you started out by talking about the last 15 years I was looking forward to seeing numbers over that time frame. Do you have that data? Are shots down significantly? Are #1 goalie minutes up significantly? And how much bigger and lighter are J.S. Giguere's pads than Mike Vernon's?

I think we're seeing a combination of:
1. bigger and better goalies
2. lighter and bigger goalie equipment
3. a smaller effective rink size due to bigger and faster players
4. defensive style play

My solution: Design new, smaller kevlar goalie pads and carefully legislate the allowable size. Subsidize the cost for the kids by overcharging the pros. They can be significantly smaller and still provide the necessary protection.

At 8:04 p.m., December 31, 2007, Blogger James Mirtle said...

Kirk, I've crunched the historical goaltending numbers in the past, as seen here.


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