Cory Schneider’s odd career trajectory

The amazing thing about Cory Schneider’s career is the lack of valleys along the way. You can’t point to a grouping of ten games in a row where Schneider’s performance has been substandard except for right at the start of his career.

I’ve organized a chart looking at Schneider’s career save percentage cumulative and from a rolling 10-game average. After the jump…

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What struck me as odd is that this looks like a major junior goaltender. A good CHL goaltender will have a tough couple of years as a backup as a 16- or 17-year old, develop into an average starter by 18, and then have a great percentage in his 19-year-old campaign.

I looked at junior goalie Laurent Brossoit earlier in the season over at Buzzing the Net. Brossoit is a good example of this mould of goaltender, who posts a progressively better save percentage each season as he grows, learns the position as it relates to the league, and lets his talent take over. He’s currently in the middle of a playoff run with the Edmonton Oil Kings, on a collision course with the Kamloops Blazers for Western Hockey League superiority.

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But it’s not necessarily a thing at the NHL-level. Steve Mason, for instance, was a pretty good junior goaltender who won a Calder Trophy after having an incredible first half of his rookie season. Since those first 40 games or so, he’s fallen off the map and re-surfaced in Philadelphia, a franchise known for making intelligent, data-driven decisions, particularly when it comes to goaltenders.

I think what’s scary about Schneider isn’t that his rolling 10-game save percentage is .958, it’s that .958 isn’t the highest 10-game segment in his career to date. After a .959 between Games 63-72 in his career, he wound up with a .928 in Games 73-82.

The lowest 10-game segment of his career since the modest beginnings are Games 77-86, which began 1/19/2013 against Anaheim and ended 2/26/2013 against Phoenix. On, uh, 3/6/2013, I wrote a theory that the Canucks problems lay in goal, that they were playing the wrong goaltender and looking to trade the wrong goaltender.

Since then, Canucks goaltending has been excellent and the team has been winning.

Schneider’s a weird goalie to analyze. He’s played behind a pretty good PK for his career so his overall save percentage numbers work out to be a little higher than what you might expect from his even strength numbers (here’s a good bit on how the team influences save rates on the penalty kill). Eric T. has also looked at it from a predictive standpoint and noted that “until the goalie has about 150-175 starts, the two measures perform almost identically in predicting a goalie’s future—it doesn’t matter whether you use career SV% or career EV SV% early in his career.”

100 games isn’t enough, also, to determine whether Schneider will continue to grow at this rate. You need about 200 starts to really make the call, but the Canucks aren’t working with that kind of time, so there’s a bit of a gamble in going with Schneider.

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Switching gears now, there’s only one goaltender who is on a similar career trajectory as Schneider as far as games played and shots faced. That would be Toronto’s James Reimer, a goaltender who is better than his surface numbers indicate because he’s played behind a god-awful penalty kill for his first two league seasons. His EV SV% has been near the top of the league since he showed up in the winter of 2011.

Look at Schneider’s 10-Game line in comparison to Reimer’s:

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There isn’t too much different. Adjust that for Schneider’s great PK SV% and Reimer’s poor PK SV% and the lines act more in concert, except for a brief spell between Games 55-70 when Schneider was putting up league-high PK SV% numbers and Reimer was playing with a concussion.

There’s also the reality that Reimer isn’t on a hot streak like Schneider that’s bringing up his overall number. I do find it quite funny that there’s so much talk of Luongo’s natural destination being Toronto when we really know, from the data, about as much as Schneider as we do Reimer.

Anyway, here’s a look at some other goaltenders who finished a season before Age 26, with a similar number games played and shots against as Schneider, and how they performed in the future. Save % 1 is the early segment of their careers, and Save % 2 is everything since:

  Save % 1 Shots Faced Save % 2 Shots Faced
Josh Harding 0.915 2050 0.916 1042
Patrick Lalime 0.911 2474 0.901 7730
Mike Smith 0.910 2641 0.915 4568
Antero Niittymaki 0.896 2910 0.907 3689
Sebastien Caron 0.892 2684 0.877 57

Hockey Reference unfortunately can’t break things out by mid-season. Sebastien Caron hardly counts since he was below replacement-level coming in and has faced 57 shots since. Josh Harding is the same. Antero Niittymaki and Mike Smith regressed upwards while Patrick Lalime trended downwards.

Lalime’s even strength numbers are actually similar to both Reimer’s and Schneider’s when you adjust for league average after his first two seasons as a starter, and he was the only one in this group who was a starter, so…

Point is, goaltending is voodoo and tough to predict. Schneider appears to continually improve. Bold prediction: Probably, he’ll eventually fall back to earth and it will be during that sequence that Alain Vigneault loses his job.