WHAT'S THE DEAL WITH ELITE GOALIES???
Updated: Dec 12, 2020
HOW CRAIG ANDERSON AND MATT MURRAY STACK UP AGAINST HOCKEY’S BEST GOALTENDERS
Goaltender might be the most fascinating position in hockey; to me, anyway. I’ve always felt like opinions change so much from year to year about which goalies are helping or hurting their team, and the margin for error is so slim. A replacement-level goalie can save 90% of shots on goal, while another can save 93% and be considered a Vezina favourite. Maybe this fixation came along when Craig Anderson took over the netminder position for the Sens. Dude carried us to and through the playoffs in 2016-17 in the performance of a lifetime. He was playing out of his head, probably made easier due to its baldness and tiny size. He then mentally retired for the next few seasons before we cut ties with him this summer.
My kids will watch highlights from the 2016-17 run every Christmas morning, as is tradition in my house, and I will make sure they grow up fond of Craig, the second-best goalie I’ll have seen in Ottawa Red by this point. Who’s number one? I think there’s a chance that could be Matt Murray.
MURRAY CAN REGAIN HIS CONFIDENCE IN OTTAWA
Matt Murray is coming along at a great time. He dealt with two very public crease battles with Marc-Andre Fleury and Tristan Jarry. Pittsburgh fans also apparently have short memories and a fickle nature, crying to trade the goalie who won them two Cups only years earlier. I think this may have shown in his play last season, where he looked like a gangly shadow of the player he was just a couple of seasons earlier. By contrast, Ottawa has thus far displayed nothing but trust in Murray, rewarding him with a long and fairly lucrative contract before he even put a jersey on. That’s got to be good for his mental. Ever worked a job where you don’t know how many hours you’ll get from week to week? It sucks to be without consistency or stability. I think Murray could turn the page and play like he has at his peak, which is to say like a damn good goaltender.
HOW TO RATE GOALIES
I reached out to Dom Luszczyszyn of The Athletic last week. If you don’t know him, he’s a major stat head. One of the most respected in the hockey world. He told me that the single-best metric for looking at goaltender quality is save percentage above expected (Sv%AE). It basically looks at how well a goalie performs relative to quality of chances and that sorta thing. So that’s what I used to look at the five-year trends of the best 10 goalies in the league, plus Murray and Anderson. Have a problem with my top 10 list? Well, I put out a tweet asking about it and nobody replied, so that’s on you. The trends show some pretty interesting data that I’ll try to break down into relatively interesting and digestible bits.
5 ON 5 SAVE PERCENTAGE ABOVE EXPECTED FIVE YEAR TRENDS
STEADY EDDY’S OR SYSTEM GOALIES? RASK, VASILEVSKIY, BISHOP
These dudes are considered top five goalies by most. They’re rarely detrimental to their team, only posting two stinker seasons between the 15 measured. They’re also rarely excellent, with just three above-average seasons among them. They all play on pretty good teams, and it seems they often make the saves they need to make. But they don’t often actually steal games in the traditional sense. I haven’t done a ton of research into defensive systems, but my guess is Boston, Dallas and Tampa are all excellent at limiting quality chances, making their goalies look good with easy work and inflated conventional stats. Or maybe they are just really good and this stat is dumb. But I don’t think that’s the case.
VOLATILE BUT WORTH IT, PROBABLY: THE OTHER SEVEN
Goaltending is such a crapshoot because of guys like this. They’ve all posted a Sv%AE of .600 or more at some point over the past five seasons (I’m including Gibson’s .596 season here) which is always good for a top-five spot in this statistic. It’s truly elite. They’ve also posted below negative .300 seasons, which is terrible, unless it’s Carey Price then it’s wonderful and please keep doing that Carey. There’s a ton of variance here, which lends credence to my theory that goaltending is incredibly tough to predict year to year.
HOW THE SENS’ BOYS STACK UP WITH THE ELITES
Matt Murray’s recent campaign was pretty awful by almost every metric known to man, this one included. He absolutely stunk. Historically poor. However, he has posted two full seasons with a Sv%AE above .400, which is very encouraging. He is probably most similar to John Gibson, someone considered to be a great young goalie, but who is actually a year older than Murray. Craig, by contrast, does not really measure favourably with any of these dudes. He’s only had one quality season, and four that were average or much, much worse. In conclusion, the best goalies might be riding their system, most others are impossible to predict one year to the next, and Matt Murray can run with the best of the latter group. Going forward, Murray could indeed be a top 10 goalie in the league for a decent stretch. Craig Anderson had his peaks, especially earlier in his career. But he hasn’t been much good for a few years now, and father time is not on his side.