NHL

Cullen: Goalie performance varies, makes big difference

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Scott Cullen
1/18/2011 1:11:24 PM
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What a difference a year makes.

This started (at least in my head) as a comparison between two goaltenders, Boston's Tim Thomas and Calgary Miikka Kiprusoff, who are having decidedly different seasons.

Thomas, at 36 with a surgically-repaired hip, has been sensational, posting a .944 save percentage that sits well ahead of any others in the modern era. After recording a .915 save percentage in 2009-2010 and losing his starting job to Tuukka Rask, it was fair to wonder if Thomas was destined for a backup role for the rest of his career.

Kiprusoff played so well last season that he helped hide some of the deficiencies of the Flames, at least for a while, as his .920 save percentage was his best since 2005-2006.

It's been a different story for Kiprusoff this season as his .901 save percentage is his worst since 2002-2003 when he was with San Jose.

It seems like a fine line, the difference between stopping 90% and 92%, but when a starting goaltender faces so many shots, those couple of percentage points add up to goals against.

Whether it's saving the team additional goals, like Thomas, or costing the team additional goals, like Kiprusoff, the play of the goaltender often has a dramatic impact on a team's fortunes.

The variance from one great season to one so-so campaign makes it easier to understand why, for example, the goaltending free agent market was depressed last summer. What team wants to pay big money for a great year followed by a disastrous one?

Using Kiprusoff as an example, the Flames wouldn't complain too much about paying a cap hit of $5.83-million when he played as well as he did last season, but subpar play is only magnified when it is attached to a big salary and it's tough to hide a goaltender.

As a comparison, here is a look at starting goaltenders for all 30 NHL teams (note: used Brian Boucher for the Flyers because he's playing more recently, but also because Sergei Bobrovsky doesn't have NHL numbers from last season for comparison purposes) and the change in their save percentages from 2009-2010 to 2010-2011.

The final column, goals, indicates how many goals are either saved or allowed by the improved or declining save percentage from last year to this year.

It's a simple measurement, multiplying the numbers of shots against each goaltender this season by the difference in save percentage, ignoring the fact that playing time is often affected by how well or how poorly a goaltender is playing.

How this comes to affect the fantasy owner is that goaltenders should not be overvalued.

Ryan Miller was on top of the world last season, not so much this year. Marc-Andre Fleury was below average last season and a deserving All-Star this time around.

Addressing goaltending, then, requires flexibility - a willingness to react to evidence from the current season when it becomes apparent that last year's performance is, for better or worse, left in the rearview mirror.

(A few exceptions should be noted as well. Corey Crawford, Kari Lehtonen and Rick DiPietro didn't play much last season, so their save percentages weren't necessarily as  representative as those with more games.)

Goaltender Team 09-10 SV% 10-11 SV% Difference Goals
Tim Thomas BOS 0.915 0.944 0.029 30.19
Ondrej Pavelec ATL 0.906 0.926 0.020 21.52
Marc-Andre Fleury PIT 0.905 0.920 0.015 14.52
Niklas Backstrom MIN 0.903 0.919 0.016 13.25
Pekka Rinne NAS 0.911 0.927 0.016 13.23
Jonas Hiller ANA 0.918 0.926 0.008 10.46
Jonathan Quick LA 0.907 0.918 0.011 9.57
Carey Price MTL 0.912 0.920 0.008 9.46
Roberto Luongo VAN 0.913 0.922 0.009 8.75
Semyon Varlamov WAS 0.909 0.926 0.017 8.53
Brian Boucher PHI 0.900 0.916 0.016 8.21
Kari Lehtonen DAL 0.911 0.918 0.007 7.46
Henrik Lundqvist NYR 0.921 0.927 0.006 6.53
Cam Ward CAR 0.916 0.920 0.004 4.86
Dwayne Roloson TB 0.907 0.913 0.006 4.68
Corey Crawford CHI 0.914 0.920 0.006 3.91
Antti Niemi SJ 0.912 0.910 -0.002 -1.56
Ilya Bryzgalov PHX 0.920 0.918 -0.002 -2.11
Tomas Vokoun FLA 0.925 0.922 -0.003 -3.00
Steve Mason CBJ 0.901 0.897 -0.004 -3.23
Jean-Sebastien Giguere TOR 0.907 0.899 -0.008 -3.90
Rick DiPietro NYI 0.900 0.892 -0.008 -4.24
Brian Elliott OTT 0.909 0.900 -0.009 -8.51
Craig Anderson COL 0.917 0.905 -0.012 -8.98
Jaroslav Halak STL 0.924 0.910 -0.014 -13.48
Nikolai Khabibulin EDM 0.909 0.894 -0.015 -13.59
Jimmy Howard DET 0.924 0.906 -0.018 -17.35
Ryan Miller BUF 0.929 0.911 -0.018 -18.92
Miikka Kiprusoff CGY 0.920 0.901 -0.019 -19.49
Martin Brodeur NJ 0.916 0.890 -0.026 -19.92

Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@ctv.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen. For more, check out TSN Fantasy on Facebook.

Miikka Kiprusoff (Photo: Mike Stobe/NHLI via Getty Images)

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(Photo: Mike Stobe/NHLI via Getty Images)
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