Darryl Sutter: We Fired Mike Keenan Because Miikka Kiprusoff Played Poorly

That isn't the exact quote, but it's close.  Here's what Darryl Sutter had to say about Keenan's firing, courtesy of Canwest News Service:

Mike Keenan lost his job as head coach of the Calgary Flames for reasons other than the punishing workload of goalie Miikka Kiprusoff and the first-round playoff loss to Chicago.

Flames GM Darryl Sutter said Tuesday that he decided to dismiss Iron Mike because one statistic stuck in his craw.

Team defence.

In 2004, the Flames led the NHL in that category. This season, they dipped all the way to No. 23.

The year after the lockout we were No. 1 in team defence,” Sutter said in his first public comments since firing Keenan on Friday. “The general consensus after the year was ‘you guys have got to score more goals.’ Well, that’s not really the case

We were fortunate to be a playoff team.”

For a turnaround on defence, Sutter said he needs the change in philosophy to start with his big names — a group that includes captain Jarome Iginla and top blue-liners Robyn Regehr and Dion Phaneuf.

For fun and handy reference, here are the goals-against totals from the year after the lockout and this season for Calgary:

  • 2005-06: 200 goals against
  • 2008-09: 248 goals against

Now, here are some numbers for Miikka Kiprusoff during those two seasons; shots face and save percentage:

  • 2005-06: 1951 shots faced, .923 SV%
  • 2008-09: 2155 shots faced, .903 SV% (in two more games)

Obviously, Kiprusoff faced more shots this season than he did in 2005-06 - in fact, 2005-06 was his lowest shots against total over a full season to date, giving evidence to the stingy defensive game Calgary played.  But how much difference would have been made if Kiprusoff had maintained his save percentage?

With his .923 save percentage in 2005-06, Kipprusoff allowed only 151 goals on those 1951 shots.  This year he allowed 209 on 2155 at a .903 SV%; if he had posted a .923 SV% he would have allowed only 166; that's an incredible 43-goal difference.

We can see that those 43 goals would have almost completely erased the gap between the 2005-06 and 2008-09 versions of the Flames; so when Sutter talks about systems play and stars needing to be better, let's all try and remember that exactly one player needs to perform better to make a dramatic difference in the Flames fortunes: Miikka Kiprusoff.

And to the inevitable counter argument about shot quality, I'd suggest taking a look at Gabriel Desjardins' goaltender rankings; based on his work, Mikka Kiprusoff could have been expected to move up 9 save-percentage points at even strength just to be a league-average goaltender.

In short: hanging the ugly goals against totals on Keenan is wrong.  The blame should be directed at the goaltender, and indirectly at the man who signed him to a big-money, long-term contract.

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