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Data Dump: NHL Goalies' Special Teams Save Percentage Since 1998

So a long time ago, while debating Brian Boucher and his talent level, HuckNZ did an amazing favor and went to and collected every single goalie who played in the NHL since 1998's numbers. This included a breakdown of save percentages at even-strength, on the power play, on the penalty kill, and total percentage.

If you've been reading any of the goalie conversations that go on here - or, really, many other corners of the interwebs - you'll know that the method for evaluating goalies is less than perfect. The three common (and really, only) categories by which goalies are judged are 1) Wins; 2) Goals Against Average; and 3) Save Percentage.

A good analogy is to pitchers in baseball. Wins are an absolutely terrible metric by which to judge pitchers and goalies for a multitude of reasons, not least of which is: You can pitch a shutout and still not get a win. The goalie/pitcher can be perfect, and still not record a W. Or, he could give up 6 runs/goals, but get a W anyway because his team happened to bail him out. Wins are terrible. So, kudos to Sweden for no longer counting goalie wins.

Second, and sticking with baseball, goals against average is similar to ERA, and thus similarly, though even more terrible. A simple perusal through the NHL stats page for goalies will show an obvious correlation between bad teams and high GAA for their goalies. Sure, maybe the goalies aren't very good and thus the teams aren't, but there's no denying that the number of goals scored by the opposition is not indicative of the goalies' performance, but rather of the 6 guys on the ice charged with preventing goals.

Lastly, save percentage is a much better - if still flawed - metric. Different arenas are known to record a disproportionate amount of shots, save percentage also fluctuates - although moderately - due to the team in front of the goalie as well, and most importantly, special teams play has a large influence on save percentage despite fluctuating due to the team's skill and luck.

So with that, the method currently preferred (although still flawed, it's simply the least flawed) for evaluating goalies is even-strength save percentage. Jump for some numbers.

First, here is the spreadsheet with all of the data for those interested.

But to make it simple, here's a table of all the Flyers goalies since 1998:

Name GP ES SV% SH SV% PP SV% Total SV%
Martin Biron 459 0.920 0.872 0.911 0.911
Jeff Hackett 274 0.918 0.872 0.900 0.910
Brian Boucher 280 0.910 0.862 0.892 0.900
Antero Niittymaki 210 0.912 0.871 0.925 0.903
John Vanbiesbrouck 225 0.915 0.853 0.901 0.902
Roman Cechmanek 212 0.931 0.865 0.919 0.919
Robert Esche 186 0.915 0.841 0.938 0.899
Ray Emery 163 0.922 0.859 0.879 0.908
Michael Leighton 103 0.908 0.877 0.907 0.902
Ron Hextall 69 0.911 0.886 0.871 0.904
Maxime Ouellet 12 0.923 0.842 0.867 0.903
Jean-Marc Pelletier 7 0.858 0.838 1.000 0.857
Neil Little 2 0.893 0.667 --
Johan Backlund 1 0.900 1.000 1.000 0.917
Jeremy Duchesne 1 0.667 1.000 --
Martin Houle 1 0.667 --

The table is sorted by Even-Strength Saves so the larger samples are atop. Hence why Martin Houle and his 2 career saves at even-strength are last.

The headings should be fairly self explanatory, with Games Played, Even-Strength Save Percentage, and Total Save Percentage. "SH SV%" is the percentage of shots stopped while the Flyers are shorthanded. (That may be different in the Excel file, FYI).

A few things should jump out at you: One is that goalies stop fewer pucks when down a man. Obvious. Second, save percentage while on the power play varies greatly, largely due to sample size. Third, Brian Boucher is not nearly as good as I expected.

Since 1998, NHL goalies average a 0.917 ES SV%, an 0.868 SH SV%, a 0.914 PP SV%, and a 0.907 Total SV%. The bolded numbers are those above league average.

So what does this tell us? Many, many things. So many things that I don't even know where to begin. So let's just go to the bullets:

  • As said earlier, Brian Boucher is worse than I thought. But if you think about it, it's not all that surprising. If 0.917 is league average for every goalie, that includes more starters than scrubs (due to the sample size), thus driving the percentage up. In other words, the bad goalies get eliminated quickly (Jean-Marc Pelletier?) and the ones who face more shots are going to be the ones who stop more shots.
  • Still, Boucher ranks 99th out of 131 goalies who have faced at least 1,000 shots at even-strength. (FWIW, I included Tuukka Rask and his 979 ESSA, so it wasn't a hard-line.) The only goalies to face more shots than Boucher with a worse ES SV% were Marc Denis and Dan Cloutier. Not exactly good company.
  • How is Boucher still in the NHL you ask? Since bouncing around between Phoenix, Calgary, Chicago, and Columbus in a two year period, going to the Phantoms, and getting back in the NHL, Boucher has been almost exactly league average: 0.917 ES SV%, 0.872 SH SV%, 0.886 PP SV%, 0.908 Total SV%. That's a slightly better total save percentage, exactly average at even-strength, slightly better at short-handed, and much worse on the PP. He's still in the League because he has been average since returning. But enough about Boucher.
  • Roman Cechmanek was really, really good. But since he also sucked so much, there isn't much to say. Such skill in such an ass.
  • Martin Biron was (and is) severely underrated. As someone who wanted him gone after his contract was up, I now see the error of my ways. Although I did know Glen Sather got a steal with a two-year, $875,000 cap hit.
  • While I may have been wrong about wanting Biron gone, at least he was replaced with Ray Emery, who was quite good himself. Maybe the Flyers should take a chance and offer him an AHL contract if they can find a way to get out of the horrible Michael Leighton contract.
  • Speaking of Leighton, there really isn't much difference between him and Boucher. Something we've been saying here for a really, really long time. And before you say he's turned a corner, just like Boucher, for the last three years (just like Boucher), Leighton had a 0.908 ES SV% and a 0.904 Total SV%. He is who he is, which is slightly worse than Brian Boucher.
  • Antero Niittymaki came out a lot worse than expected here. He's essentially the same goalie as Boucher, which is entirely surprising. The thing about Niitty, though, is that he had a rough start to his career, starting after the lockout. Since the year that shall not be named (which is also over the last 3 years), Niitty is at a 0.921 ES SV%. Maybe it was a learning period, maybe it was the team in front of him, maybe it was something else, but it seems as though Niitty is an above-average goalie in the NHL, even if the numbers above suggest a career equal to Boucher. And even if he's at 0.916 ES SV% this year.
  • Lastly, Jeff Hackett is someone I never liked. In fact, in the conversation spurring this data set on (again, thanks HuckNZ) I trashed him. Boy was I wrong. Apologies, Mr. Vertigo. You had a good run.

That's about it. Feel free to chime in with any observations, especially from the Excel file. There's a ton of information in there that I'm simply overwhelmed.

Also, thanks to Earl Sleek of Battle of California for helping with the spreadsheet as well. He's my go to Excel guy, even if I can't understand what he's saying.