On Rollie Melanson’s Curious Interview

Screencap via Jason Botchford.

When Mike Gillis fired his coaching staff in late May, goaltending coach Rollie Melanson was retained. And why not? Cory Schneider has improved enormously under Melanson’s tutelage, Roberto Luongo has made some tweaks to his game under Melanson that have paid off, and the Canucks have been right at the top of the league in save percentage in two of Melanson’s three seasons with Vancouver.

Yesterday, Melanson gave a very candid interview to L’Acadie Nouvelle, a french language newspaper in New Brunswick, which was picked up by RDS. In the interview, Melanson discussed on the record his ultimate desire to return to Montreal as a coach, the easy to avoid Vancouver press, and the "deterioration" of Carey Price’s game in Melanson’s absence. We’ll unpack Rollie’s comments after the jump.

Here are Melanson’s comments on his love of Montreal, as translated by our senior french language correspondent Cam Charron:

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"I spent 14 great years in Montreal as a coach. During that time, I was always trying to improve the boys.

It’s something in particular to work with one of the original clubs. If the situation presented itself, I wouldn’t say no."

Some might want to read that as "Melanson isn’t fully committed to the Canucks job and would rather work elsewhere," but I think we’re better off treating it like a cliché. Melanson enjoyed his time in Montreal, believes the Habs organization is special (which, y’know, it totally is), and would enjoy working in the city again if the opportunity presented itself. Perhaps Melanson’s employers would prefer for that type of quote to not surface in the French press during the offseason, but ultimately it’s a pretty innocuous statement.

Less innocuous? Melanson’s indictment of the Vancouver sports media:

"I took (the scrutiny and criticism from the Montreal press) for 14 years! And then in Vancouver, I decided that I wouldn’t talk to journalists and I’d let my work do the talking. Alain respected that. We said ‘hello’ but we never talked about the goalies."

Pretty funny that Melanson has been able to get away with not talking to the press on the record in his three seasons in Vancouver. Some googling uncovered a video interview that Melanson did in September of 2010 with Jason Botchford, but I can’t find much else.

Last month we saw reporters in Montreal, and not Vancouver, break the news of Alain Vigneault’s firing. If I were an accredited Vancouver based sports journalist (instead of an occassionally-accredited Toronto based sports blogger) I think I’d view Melanson’s comments like he were rubbing salt in an open wound…

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Finally Melanson’s comments on Carey Price’s "deterioration" recieved the bulk of the attention from the National sports media today. Here’s a translation via the Canadian Press (via the National Post):

“Carey hasn’t stopped deteriorating since I left. He’s all over the place now. At some point, there has to be some accountability in the school yard. The position requires a lot of work and Carey hasn’t been consistent. He let things slide in practice and it caught up to him during games.”

Melanson is implying that he deserves a lot of the credit for Carey Price’s success, which basically invites us to look more closely at Melanson’s impact on the goaltenders he’s coached. So, yeah, invitation accepted.

Below you can find a list of goalers who have faced more than 500 shots while working with Melanson as their goaltending coach, and 500 shots without Melanson. Oddly enough Melanson’s star pupil Cory Schneider doesn’t qualify because Melanson has been his goaltending coach for very nearly his entire National Hockey League career. 

Goaltender SV% with Rollie SV% without Rollie Difference
Jocelyn Thibault 0.903 0.904 -0.001
Andy Moog 0.905 0.878 0.027
Jeff Hackett 0.912 0.897 0.015
Jose Theodore 0.912 0.906 0.006
Mathieu Garon 0.914 0.902 0.012
Christobal Huet 0.920 0.907 0.013
David Aebischer 0.898 0.915 -0.017
Jaro Halak 0.914 0.918 -0.004
Carey Price 0.912 0.917 -0.005
Roberto Luongo 0.922 0.918 0.004

Basically Melanson has improved the save percentages of six of the ten goaltenders that he’s worked with who also meet our criteria.

There are obviously some qualifers here, like the fact that Andy Moog played the majority of his career in an unthinkably high-event era, or that the sample size of the "with Rollie" portions for Price, Halak, Aebischer and Garon are pretty small.

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Still Melanson’s coaching abilities fare pretty well by the numbers. Based on the way team play impacts save percentage (i.e. barely) I’d have expected any Melanson effect to have been mostly negligible. And it is. Melanson does seem to have had a small positive impact more often than not, especially on the goaltenders who have spent the most time with him (Hackett, Theodore, Huet and Luongo all gave me 3000+ shot samples on both sides). 

While Melanson seems like a pretty competent goaltending coach, which might partially explain why he feels comfortable speaking so freely to the local press in New Brunswick, his boast about Carey Price’s atrophying discipline and effectiveness doesn’t hold up under scrutiny.

The methodology in this post is based off of work previously done by zone entry pioneer Eric T.

    • In addition to the .907 likely being a product of a tiny sample, Lou was also left in for two starts in which he normally would have been hooked (DET, EDM).

      Over a tiny sample, those blowups play a much more significant role than normal.

  • Mantastic

    “Basically Melanson has improved the save percentages of six of the ten goaltenders that he’s worked with who also meet our criteria.”

    Wouldn’t it take a lot more work to actually prove Mellanson made a tangible difference with these guys?

    For starters, we’d have to consider the “effect” a number of other goalie coaches had on goaltenders.

    Also, as you note, there are a number of external factors that need to be considered as well. Such as the save percentage environment in which these goaltenders played.

    In regards to Luongo specifically, is he actually a better goalie because of Mellanson?

    His 3 year save percentage total might be higher; but save percentages have gone up since Luongo’s days in Florida. Just as the average size of these goaltenders has increased.

    I’m not sure if there is a hockey equivalent to ERA+, but I’d be surprised if Luongo’s Save Percentage+ was significantly better under Mellanson.

    In regards to Schneider specifically, it’s hard to say that he wouldn’t have been the same guy with any goalie coach. He went from a highly regarded prospect to a highly regarded NHL goaltender. I’m not sure that coaching is the explainer.

    Whatever affect a goalie coach has, I don’t think quantifying it like this is enough to prove causation.

    • While I have heard this rumor…is there definitive evidence that FLA score keepers do this?

      To simplify this, let’s just look at Lou’s Vancouver numbers. Because he has pretty consistently hovered around his .919 career save percentage aside from 3 times:

      1) The period after the 2010 Olympics through the end of the 2009-2010 season.

      2) 2010-2011 regular season

      3) The 2012-2013 season

      A lot of that may just be noise. This past season was an extremely tiny sample. IIRC correctly, after Mitchell went down the Canucks let in a lot of PP goals in 2010. Please correct me if I’m wrong, though.

      Among qualified starters, these are Lou’s save percentage ranks beginning with his first Canuck season in 2006-2007:

      4, 14, 5, 16, 3, 12, 28

      Based on his save percentage relative to other qualified starters, nothing screams out that Mellanson has had a significantly positive effect on his game.

      Of course, relative save percentages don’t tell the whole story, either…

      • I should also add that Lou’s workload also decreased the first season that Mellanson was goalie coach.

        If you remember, there was a lot of discussion about how decreasing Lou’s workloads would improve his performance. Lou’s play at the end of 2007-2008 and 2009-2010 season may very well have been more about fatigue (and defenseman dropping like flies) than anything else.

        Since Schneider has been around, Lou has always had a more managable workload.

        To me, a smaller workload seems like a more logical explanation than the “Mellanson effect.”

  • Mantastic

    What a big mouth he has. Regardless of his accuracy, he should NEVER publicly say those things about another goaltender. Like who does he think he is? I’m sure Gillis was thrilled when he heard this. Let’s draw more attention and negative press to the Canucks org this summer. What an idiot he is.