SUNRISE FL - FEBRUARY 16: Goaltender Tomas Vokoun #29 of the Florida Panthers makes a glove save on a shot by the Philadelphia Flyers on February 16 2011 at the BankAtlantic Center in Sunrise Florida. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)
Would it surprise you to know that one of the big stories in Philadelphia this offseason surrounds the goaltending? Shocking, right?
There is no denying that each of those three goalies would be an improvement over Brian Boucher and Michael Leighton, and they may even be an improvement on Sergei Bobrovsky. But what people are forgetting -- or choosing to ignore because it doesn't fit their narrative -- is that the Flyers got pretty damn good goaltending this year.
Boucher stopped 92.5 percent of all even-strength shots this year, while Bobrovsky stopped 92.3 percent. Both goalies were better at even-strength than Michal Neuvirth, Jonathan Quick, Jonathan Bernier, Craig Anderson, Jimmy Howard, Jaroslav Halak and others.
Oh, they both also stopped more than Vokoun and Kiprusoff. And that's aside from Boucher stopping 93.6 percent of all even-strength shots against Buffalo in the first round of the playoffs.
But that doesn't stop the stories about the goaltending not being good enough. Not after the team got unceremoniously swept out of the second round by Boston.
Obviously, Brian Boucher is not a better goalie than Vokoun and Bryzgalov, but he stopped more shots than they did last year. There are many reasons for that, but the biggest two are luck and team defense. We've been over this earlier in the year when talking about media perception on goalie skill, but let's look at it more concretely.
How many goals would the Flyers give up if they acquire Vokoun, Bryzgalov, or Kiprusoff? We'll compare that versus how many they would give up if they kept Bobrovsky as the starter and have either Boucher or Leighton behind him next season.
First, the method.
In order to figure out how many goals the team would give up with certain goalies in net, I first looked at what the Flyers' did in 2010-11. NHL.com breaks it down into three situations -- even-strength, power play, and penalty kill -- and shows how many shots the Flyers gave up in each situation.
Since different situations lead to a different quality of shots (a shot is much more likely to go in when you have one less skater than the other team) and there are a lot more even strength shots than special teams shots, this allows for a more accurate picture of a goalie's skill.
From there, I calculated how many shots per game the Flyers gave up and multiplied that per-game rate by how many games next year's "starter" would play in, coming up with an expected shot total for each game situation.
Then, I took career save percentages of those goalies rumored to be on the Flyers' wish list to determine how many of those shots we should expect each goalie to stop next year. Naturally, this doesn't account for the luck factor, but we'll even do a hypothetical goalie who puts up a Vezina-winning season to see what they would change.
This year, the Flyers gave up 2,465 shots, ranking 13th in the NHL in shots against per game. The numbers above are based on the Flyers giving up the same number of shots.
It's crude, sure, but there isn't a better way to predict how many shots the Flyers will give up next year. Also, the above gives the No. 1 goalie 52 starts, and the backup goalie 30. Not coincidentally, that's exactly how the Flyers allocated their starts this past season.
If the team sticks with Bobrovsky and Boucher next year, they can expect to give up ten more goals than they did this past year, mostly as a result of Boucher reverting to his career norm.
Now, some of that is because he was playing behind a better team defense. Some of that is luck. Maybe the team defense holds and single-handedly makes Boucher four goals better. Who knows.
Either way, ten goals equals less than two wins.
If the team signs Vokoun to replace Bob, and then Bob replaces Boucher as the backup, they can expect to give up six fewer goals than they did last year. Bryzgalov saves them four. Miikka Kiprusoff saves them one. The fact is that these goalies just aren't that much better than how well Bobrovsky and Boucher performed in 2010-11.
It is perfectly reasonable to say the Flyers need a better goalie because Boucher will not replicate this past season again next year. The Flyers can expect to give up ten more goals next year if they stick with their current tandem, based solely on regression to the mean.
But the Flyers spent less than $2.7 million on their two goalies last year, and those goalies managed to be just six goals worse than the $7.5 million hypothetical Vokoun-Bobrovsky tandem. Spending $4.8 million to get two additional points is ludicrous.
Over on the right in the table, you see the hypothetical Vezina-winning goalie. That Vezina-winning goalie is based on the averages of the last three individuals to win the Vezina -- Ryan Miller, Tim Thomas and Martin Brodeur. This hypothetical goalie would save the Flyers 16 goals over the course of a season, which equates to a little less than three wins.
The question then becomes, how do you know who that Vezina-winning goalie will be? Did anyone think it would be Miller last year? Thomas the year before? What about Kiprusoff in 2006? The point is, you have no idea who it will be in any given year. Goalies are fickle like that. Thomas alone proves that quite well.
If the Flyers could somehow locate who the 2012 Vezina Trophy winner will be and acquire him, they will get an additional three wins next year.
... except for the fact that they have to fit him under the cap, and in order to do that, you probably have to trade a high-priced skater, who both scores and prevents goals, or you don't re-sign someone who both scores and prevents goals ...
Goalies aren't free.
In order for the team to acquire Miikka Kiprusoff, the Flyers would have to find over $5.8 million to afford him. (And again, Kiprusoff would only add two wins for that money.) How do you pay for that?
You aren't just subtracting a high salary to afford Kiprusoff, since he would require a trade. You're subtracting a high salary, losing a roster player and likely more while saving, at best, eleven goals against.
If you sign Tomas Vokoun, you save sixteen goals. But can you then afford to re-sign Ville Leino? Probably not. Where do you replace his production?
Point is, you don't. You went from a net-gain in net to a net-loss as a team.
If you are familiar with GVT -- an advanced metric attempting to replicate VORP in baseball -- you know that it is a fairly decent metric for comparing player contributions across teams (even if there are some flaws).
Last year, Vokoun contributed 16.7 GVT to his team while Bobrovsky recorded a 8.7 GVT. That increase sure looks good until you realize Vokoun has to be paid. Do you not re-sign Leino and lose his 7.2 GVT, thus making the move sideways? How about trading Jeff Carter and his 13.4 GVT for Miikka Kiprusoff and his 7.1 GVT?
You don't have to believe in GVT, or even fully understand it to see that in a salary cap world, an improvement in goal means a reduction in another area. If the Flyers pay Vokoun $4 million to be their goalie, they almost certainly can't re-sign Leino. And if they really want to re-sign Leino, they have to trade someone else
Those are sideways moves at best, painful moves that wind up hurting the team at worst.
Ed Snider gave an exclusive interview to the Philadelphia Inquirer on Wednesday, and he expressed a pretty strong feeling about the goaltending in that talk.
"So either one of the goalies we have has to step up in training camp, or we have to make improvements to make sure it happens. But we are NEVER going to go through the goalie issues we’ve gone through in the last couple of years again."
With all due respect to Mr. Snider, what exactly is he talking about? What is he so upset about? A difference of six goals against should not make anyone this angry. Six goals against should not make anyone think that the Flyers goaltending was a problem this year, but won't be next year if they get Tomas Vokoun.
But if he means the team won't be re-signing career AHL goalies to multi-year, multi-million dollar contract, then I'm glad the Flyers won't be going through that again.
Further, when Mr. Snider says:
"We were beaten by a totally better team," he said. "The extremes in the goaltending, from their goalie (Tim Thomas) to ours, had an effect on our team. I don't look at it as why this guy only had one goal or this guy played that way. The bottom line is, when you have a goalie playing out of his mind (like Thomas), that confidence spreads to the whole team; the whole team becomes confident. And when your goalie is not playing well...."
Help me out here, Mr. Snider.
You admit that Tim Thomas was unconsciously good in the Boston series, but you also admit that the Bruins as a team were "totally better." Why do you think that replacing a goalie will make your offense score more than seven goals in four-plus games?
Call me crazy, but "confidence" doesn't beat a "totally better team," especially when that "totally better team" also has a goalie "playing out of his mind."
Further, how do you know who will play out of their minds next year? Look at Jaroslav Halak taking Montreal to the Eastern Conference Finals last year, "playing out of his mind." How did that help St. Louis this year? Sergei Bobrovsky put up better numbers than Halak this year, and that's the guy you're trying to replace.
If a goalie is "playing out of his mind," isn't that like saying "he isn't that good, but for four games, he was better than can be expected"? How do you find a guy you expect to play better than you expect?
The actual bottom line is that a big name goalie acquisition will result in a minor improvement from last year, and in order to make that acquisition, it will require weakening the team in front of the goalie, thus rendering the improvement moot.
In a short playoff series, nobody can predict which goalie will "play out of his mind."
In fact, the Flyers had a goalie play out of his mind in the playoffs this year. His name was Brian Boucher, and while he had 15 bad minutes in one game that was blown out of proportion by a reactive media, he stopped 93.6 percent of all even-strength shots Buffalo took.
During that series, the team failed to put the puck in the net and got shutout. Twice.
Did he not give his team confidence? If not, you have a problem with your team, not your goalie.
What about the reigning Vezina Trophy winner, Ryan Miller? He only stopped 91.8 percent of the shots the Flyers took against him in the 2011 playoffs. If he was the best goalie in the NHL last year, and the best goalie in the world last year (according to most people who watched the Olympics), how was he outplayed by a guy you are desperate to replace?
Maybe Boucher played out of his mind against Buffalo, thus giving his team confidence. Isn't that what you said you need? Isn't that what the Flyers got last year, after signing a goalie who "played out of his mind" for five months to a two-year contract?
Maybe small samples like the playoffs are a crap shoot. Maybe the difference between the best goalie in the world and a journeyman backup in a seven-game series comes down to the team in front of them. Maybe, just maybe, the Flyers need to play better in front of Bobrovsky, and not worry about spending $4 million for three extra wins.
If the team went out and signed Josh Harding, a UFA this summer, to backup Bobrovsky, based on Harding's career numbers, a Bob-Harding tandem would give up the same number of goals as a Kiprusoff-Bobrovsky tandem. And it would cost millions and millions of dollars less.
So, can we please stop with the "this team needs a big-name goaltender"?