Vancouver goaltenders: A historical comparison

I work with a few numbers to judge goaltenders, usually in the modern era dealing with even strength save percentage, quality starts and blow-ups, looking for the right balance of overall value and consistency.

There is a bit of an issue with doing that over a year-to-year span, however. NHL save percentages have crept up since 1984 when the league started recording shots on goal, with better goaltending and better overall defensive schemes, keeping goals off the board.

So how can we stack Roberto Luongo up against his Canuck kin? Not by overall save percentage, since Kirk McLean’s .901 in 1992 is probably much more impressive than Dan Cloutier’s .901 a few years later. Luongo owns six of the top seven save percentage seasons in franchise history, with Cloutier’s 2004 mark coming the closest to him.

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Our friend Bruce Arthur at the National Post has suggested over Twitter several times about the prospect of coming up with an “era adjusted save percentage” statistic mirroring OPS+ in baseball, but I’d like to go a little further. What I really want to know when judging a goalie is “how valuable was he,” as in, “how many goals did he save the club?”

For giggles, I adjusted save percentage for every Canuck goalie since 1984 by year. The adjustment was simple, like the OPS+ formula, for SV%+, it was ( [ save percentage / { league combined save percentage } ] – 10% ) so the average goaltender would have a .900 save percentage.

Here are the 15 seasons where a Canuck goalie who faced 1000 shots was better than league average:

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Player  Season  NHL SV% SA  SV  SV%+
Roberto Luongo 2006-07 0.905 2169 1998 0.918
Roberto Luongo 2010-11 0.913 1753 1627 0.917
Kirk McLean 1991-92 0.888 1780 1604 0.915
Kirk McLean 1988-89 0.879 1169 1042 0.914
Roberto Luongo 2008-09 0.908 1542 1418 0.913
Roberto Luongo 2007-08 0.909 2029 1861 0.909
Roberto Luongo 2011-12 0.914 1577 1450 0.906
Corey Hirsch 1995-96 0.898 1173 1059 0.905
Kirk McLean 1994-95 0.901 1140 1031 0.904
Dan Cloutier 2003-04 0.911 1554 1420 0.903
Roberto Luongo 2009-10 0.911 1915 1748 0.902
Alex Auld 2005-06 0.901 1938 1749 0.902
Kirk McLean 1992-93 0.885 1615 1431 0.901
Kirk McLean 1989-90 0.880 1804 1588 0.900
Richard Brodeur 1984-85 0.855 1574 1346 0.900

This tells us two things and doesn’t tell us another. It tells us that the Canucks have had very lame goaltending throughout their history and that Roberto Luongo was definitely the best. It doesn’t tell us how many goals a goalie prevented.

For that I turn to something I’m developing I call “SOAG” which is “saves over average goaltender”. It tells us the value of a goalie, by calculating how many saves he made compared to what an average league goalie would make: (  goaltender saves – [ league combined save percentage x goaltender shots faced ] ). It’s simple because it adjusts for both era and for the number of shots faced.

Look at Cloutier from ’04 and McLean from ’95. Since Cloutier had a longer season to work with, he would up making nearly 400 more stops than McLean, saving an extra number of goals. Similarly, Luongo from 2010 was probably more valuable to the Canucks than Cloutier’s ’04 because he had to make more saves.

I generally work with this for even strength save percentage alone, but those only go back to 2002, so we’ll have to do. Here are the ten best seasons by a Canuck goaltender for SOAG:

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Player  Season  NHL SV% SA  SV  SOAG
Roberto Luongo 2006-07 0.905 2169 1998 35.1
Roberto Luongo 2010-11 0.913 1753 1627 26.5
Kirk McLean 1991-92 0.888 1780 1604 23.4
Cory Schneider 2011-12 0.914 945 885 21.3
Roberto Luongo 2008-09 0.908 1542 1418 17.9
Roberto Luongo 2007-08 0.909 2029 1861 16.6
Kirk McLean 1988-89 0.879 1169 1042 14.4
Wendell Young 1985-86 0.861 536 475 13.5
Steve Weeks 1988-89 0.879 953 851 13.3
Cory Schneider 2010-11 0.913 714 663 11.1

Not surprisingly, Luongo’s two Vezina-nominated years score very highly. I don’t know who Wendell Young is, but he had a .929 SV%+ in 1989 and having faced 536 shots, that was enough to give him 13.5 goals saved versus the league average that season.

Also, concerns about Cory Schneider tending the Vancouver net? Put them to rest. He has improved every year, with his SV%+ going from .865 to .905 to .917 to .925. He’s also second in team history:

Player SOAG
Roberto Luongo 108.1
Cory Schneider 27.5
Alex Auld 10.9
Steve Weeks 9.7
Wendell Young 7.2
Jason LaBarbera 1.6
Arturs Irbe 1.3
Dany Sabourin 0.3
Tyler Moss 0.3
Andrew Raycroft 0.0
Maxime Ouellet -0.8
Drew MacIntyre -1.0
Mike Fountain -1.0
Steve McKichan -1.1
Alfie Michaud -2.4
Mika Noronen -2.4
Curtis Sanford -4.3
Corey Schwab -5.0
Johan Hedberg -5.1
Martin Brochu -5.4
Peter Skudra -6.8
Bob Mason -7.6
Richard Brodeur -7.6
Bob Essensa -9.2
Sean Burke -11.8
Felix Potvin -12.4
Dan Cloutier -13.0
Kevin Weekes -13.1
Corey Hirsch -15.5
Garth Snow -16.2
Troy Gamble -19.3
Frank Caprice -21.1
John Garrett -21.7
Kay Whitmore -28.7
Kirk McLean -50.9

Combine the numbers, and, since 1984 when shots began being counted, the Canucks have allowed 116.5 extra goals compared to league average goaltenders. Yet since the lockout, they’re 129.0 above. Kirk McLean’s low number is compounded by his final three years in Vancouver, which were awful. From 1996-98, he cost the team 64.3 goals.

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Also, don’t worry, Wendell Young never really panned out as a journeyman backup. He had a good first season (and was also strong in 1994 with Tampa Bay) but he was pretty league average for most of his career, including his second year with the Canucks. Steve Weeks was also a journeyman who had a real strong 1989 season and nothing else in his career.

So, I hope some of this was illuminating. Draw from this what you will, be I’m pretty fine with knowing that the team is in good hands when Schneider takes over as the starter next season. I just don’t see Luongo staying after what he’s been put through in the last two weeks.

  • VBS6935

    Over at David Johnson has had a couple of posts about comparing goalies, and in particular looked at Luongo’s stats. He concluded that Luongo is a “middle of the road goalie and has been a consistently middle of the road goalie for the past 5 years.”

    I wondered if you had any comments about his methodology of comparing goalies?

    Zone Start effects on Goalie Save Percentage
    Should anyone want Luongo?

    “The easiest method to evaluate goalies is their save percentage but because of situational and score effect differences maybe the best save percentage to use is 5v5 close zone start adjusted save percentage.”

    • Certainly, but that’s a difference between a record and a rating. What lies above are “records”, what Johnson is doing is using the recorded statistics to create a rating.

      I’m queasy to rate guys 1, 2, 3… judged solely on a recorded metric, but I am willing to base conclusions on the records. If Luongo has shown to be 150 goals over the average goalie than Kirk McLean over his career, what does that tell you about both goaltenders?

    • David’s method doesn’t look anymore useful or predictive than plain old save percentage.

      Fort example, Kiprusoff’s ranks by score close, zone adjusted SV% starting this season are: 4th, 25th, 12th, 20th and 22nd.

  • VBS6935

    It’s interesting. Could you also do this for playoff starts, since most folks knock against Luongo has to do with “big game, big pressure” situations and regular season is always the first thing they try and dismiss? Love the blog, keep it up.

  • Cam,

    I also had a look at Vancouver’s history of goaltending for Cheers and Jeers . Of course, it wasn’t nearly as detailed as this. But it confirms that Vancouver is indeed a goalie graveyard.

    But not in the way that people think. People think its a graveyard because fans drive their goalies out of town. Not exactly. Vancouver is a goalie graveyard because the goaltending in this organization has been painfully and historically bad. I doubt that the goalies are bad because the fans are so vicious that they crumble under the pressure of fan expectation. Rather, fans turn on goalies BECAUSE they are so tragically bad.

    Unfortunately with Luongo, Canucks fans are so accustomed to hating goalies that they many of them have turned on him, truly for no good reason at all.

    Best goalie this city has ever seen. So far.

  • “I don’t know who Wendell Young is”

    Young pup. 😛 They were already making hockey video games with him in them, that’s how old he isn’t, heh.

    This list, interestingly, confirms two things I’ve always suspected about Kirk McLean’s tenure with the Canucks (apart from, as your data shows, that he generally got a free pass from fans and Quinn alike for how much his game slipped — and that Corey Hirsch absolutely outplayed him). Which is:

    1) People wax poetic about “McLean in ’94”, but that was only the playoffs. Your data confirms my suspicions that 1993-94 wasn’t among his better seasons.

    2) I remember it was a big deal when he made the 1989-90 All-Star Game, but it seemed that was purely retroactive for the year before. Lo and behold.

    I had thought Garth Snow was better for them during the 1998-99 season. I lived abroad and saw no games, but I remember the papers talking about him carrying the team. (And how that enigmatic Swede was scoring a lot suddenly).

    The list also shows confirms that fans were disproportionately nostalgic about Kay Whitmore, and disproportionately hard on Martin Brochu. I am surprised Essensa is so low down, but he was still better than Potvin. Fans were generally more correct than Marc Crawford on all goaltending issues, in fact.

    And lastly, Arturs Irbe was great on a terrible, terrible team. Why did they let him walk? The dude had a winning record on that club.

  • VBS6935

    Please ignore my post if you deem my questions not useful. I love reading this blog, don’t want to wear out my welcome, and will keep reading whether they are answered or not.

    My first question is related to your statement, “I generally work with this for even strength save percentage alone.”
    David Johnson stated, “While doing my earlier post on Luongo’s value I noticed that Luongo’s 5v5 close zone start adjusted save percentage relative to the rest of the league is much more mediocre than his 5v5 save percentage.  I decided to look into this further and realized that this is in large part due to zone start effects, and not score effects.  This got me to look into zone start effects on a goalies save percentage further.”
    Is it possible that while the even strength save percentage numbers can be compared as you do, the results would be different if you used 5v5 close zone start adjusted save percentage numbers (if they existed)? As you point out, some of the goalies did play in different eras, and with different teams, though it likely would not matter in the case of Luongo and Schneider (other than the old “the team plays better in front of Schneider” debate).

    Perhaps Kent Wilson’s comment is correct, and there wouldn’t be much difference if a different stat was used as the base. Its possible that David Johnson’s “mediocre” comment is based on a desire to not have Luongo go to the Leafs, rather than a statistically significant difference in the numbers. Also, I guess I am just one of those fans who have always thought Kirk McLean is the greatest and can’t get over it 🙂

    My second question relates to how you use your stats. For example, you define SOAG as “saves over average goaltender,” but then you use that as a header of a column in the table where you look at the ten best seasons by a Canuck goaltender, and the SOAG column seems to stand for goals saved versus the league average rather than saves. Then in the next table, the SOAG header is for a column that is not referring to one season, but rather “team history,” and I presume its goals saved you are talking about (and Schneider’s “history” with the team is much shorter than Luongo’s).

    I believe I understand your comment about the difference between a record and a rating, and agree. But, to me your comment about Johnson’s method vs what you are doing is semantics. It seems to me that using the recorded metric of even strength save percentage, calculating goals saved over the average goalie over the course of a career based on that, and “concluding” Luongo has saved more than McLean is not that much different than ranking them 1 and 2 in that regard 🙂

  • The goaltending problem in vancouver comes in many forms. Yes, they have had many -a – over rated goaltender, including the rest of the team, country club atmosphere, as mark messier once put it, lousy scouting, cheap or inept owners and of course, the dilusional homer fans who seem to think that its never anyones fault for losing, and that there is always hope every yea,r times infinity.

    Vanouver has always had a problem with ownership and management. Look at how they treated their best player ever, Bure. When your star player comes out to say that he never wants to play for your team gain, something is drastically wrong. The owners knew what Bure was worth, but was too cheap to pay him yet they wanted him to stay for next to nothing. Vanouver also has a great record of not wanting to, or being able to develope stars, remember ?Cam Neely Scouting? 40 years later and who do they have? The Sedins and their power of playoff invisibility? Laughable.

    Back to Meltdown Lu, I’ll be fair to say that not all is his fault, the team in front of him choked pretty bad too. But when you look at it more deeply, you cant blame a 4 year old for not being able to do calculus just like you cant blame average over rated players for choking. the players on that team just are NOT good enough. Those players were brought in by scoutig, by gilis, by mamangement. They hold the most to blame. With any company, any org, it starts from the top.This has been the Canuck problem for 40 years. Lousy lazy apathetic management who worry more about keeping their jobs than buiding a winning team. They sell false dreams to fans and the fans buy into it like zombies.

    In the end, year after year, the fans, the management, the sports casters offer the same buffet of excuses. It’s never the coaches fault, it’s never the golaies fault, it’s never the GM’s fault, it’s never the Sedins faults, it’s no ones fault, lets stay the course cause it’s easier and hope for the best.
    In the UFc , 3 losses for a fighter and he is practically out of the company. The Canucks have been losing for 40 years.That’s 40 chances. All successful companies or teams build on facts and hard work. The Canucks build on just hopes and dreams. Thank god Unicef does’nt feed starving children around the world with just hopes and dreams.