Drafting Goaltenders (1997-1999)

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This article is Part Three in my series on how well teams draft goaltenders.  Part One focused on the years 2003-2005 and Part Two focused on the years 2000-2002.  Today, I'll focus on 1997-1999 and tomorrow I'll be looking at 1997-2005 taken as a whole.  From 2000-2005, it seemed that certain teams consciously avoided drafting goaltenders in the early part of the draft.  Some of these teams consistently drafted a larger number of goaltenders than average, going for quantity over quality as it were.  It seems to me that this is a pretty good strategy given the low level of performance from many early picks.  After the jump, we'll take a look at the data from 1997-1999 and see whether or not these trends continue.

Once again, I'll post the criteria I've been using for these evaluations.  Although I will be using the same criteria for this article, I would like to thank both Dawgbone and Bruce McCurdy for their helpful suggestions in the comments of my last article.  I plan on doing a similar study next year at around this time and will make good use of their suggestions then.  Anyway, here's the criteria I've been using this year:

 

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With that criteria in mind, here are the results for each team from 1997-1999:

Goalies_1997-1999_medium

The first thing that jumps off the chart are the four teams who didn't draft any goalies at all.  For two of these teams, there's a pretty simple explanation: both the Minnesota Wild and Columbus Blue Jackets were embryonic hockey teams at this point and didn't yet participate in the draft.  It's pretty hard to draft a good goalie if you don't get any picks (note: it's also pretty hard to draft a good goalie if you're Doug MacLean).  Other teams who weren't around in all three years are the Atlanta Thrashers (no picks in 1997 or 1998) and the Nashville Predators (no picks in 1997).

Even still, that leaves two teams who didn't pick any goalies despite having a full slate of picks in all three seasons: the Dallas Stars and San Jose Sharks.  These teams didn't have young goalies at the time (the Sharks used Kelly Hrudey and Mike Vernon; the Stars used Andy Moog (hahahahaha, awesome!) and Ed Belfour (dammit)) and both teams drafted several goaltenders in subsequent seasons.  The best explanation is probably that they never came across a goalie they felt was a worthwhile pick when it came time for their selection.  And you know what, good for them.  These were not good years for goaltenders with only two consistent starters in the entire group: Roberto Luongo (top five pick) and Ryan Miller (drafted in the fifth round out of the "I-can't-believe-I'm-not-kidding" NAHL).  After that, it's a few temporary starters, a few perennial back-ups, a few guys who managed a game or two and a whole lot of guys who fell flat.

One of the more discouraging things in this exercise is not being able to see a consistent trend in terms of teams that do well and teams that do poorly.  There aren't any teams in the top ten for all three segments and there aren't any teams in the bottom ten either.  Now, it's a nine-year segment and organizations change over time but it may just be the case that NHL teams are about equivalent when it comes to the pre-draft evaluation of goalies.

But some teams do still show particular tendencies.  One of the more interesting trends noted from 2000-2005 was that some teams didn't choose a single goaltender in the first two rounds of any draft: the Flyers, Kings, Lightning, Predators and Sharks.  The Flyers, Kings and Lightning also consistently drafted more goalies than average with at least four in each of the three-year segments.  Both of these aspects continued for the Kings who, over a nine year period didn't draft a single goaltender in either of the first two rounds.  Of their fourteen drafted goaltenders in this nine-year period, their earliest selection was 2005 draft pick Jonathan Quick who was taken 72nd overall.  Now, in 2006 the Kings did select Jonathan Bernier in the first round, but that was after Dean Lombardi took over the team from Dave Taylor who was fired in April of 2006.  Taylor started his tenure as general manager of the Kings from in April of 1997.   It would seem, then, that Dave Taylor operated under the assumption that drafting goalies in the first two rounds was generally a bad investment.

Dean Lombardi's previous team, the San Jose Sharks, also finds a spot on this list, as they also didn't select a single goaltender in the first two rounds of the draft from 1997-2005 (Lombardi was there from 1996-2003).  In fact, the Sharks have never selected a goaltender in the first two rounds of the draft in their entire nineteen-year history.  I'm sure that the scouting staff there has undergone some turnover in those nineteen years, but that's still quite a pattern.  Lombardi, however, strayed from the philosophy that had been employed by both teams in 2006 with the selection of Bernier which leads me to believe that Jonathan Bernier must have blown these guys away.  So far, Bernier's AHL career is making that decision look awfully good.  Bernier has posted a combined .928 save percentage in his first two AHL seasons (3746 shots) and is considered a top prospect.  It seems at least possible that Bernier was an exception to Lombardi's general rule.

The Tampa Lightning are the next team on that list and, once again, they haven't selected a goalie in either of the first two rounds, though in this instance they selected only two goalies overall.  The Lightning had a revolving door of general managers over the nine-year period under analysis including Phil Esposito, Jacques Demers, Rick Dudley and Jay Feaster.  Feaster selected Riku Helenius 15th overall in 2006, so he may not belong in the "no goalies" category.  Esposito drafted a goalie 29th overall earlier in his tenure, so he can probably be thrown  out too, while Jacques Demers and Rick Dudley were each there for only a short time.  I don't know if the head scout was consistent over this period of time but of the three clubs to go with no goalies over the entire period, I'd say the Lightning are the most likely to do so by chance rather than by strategy.

This leaves the Flyers and Predators from the original list.  Both teams drafted goalies in the first round in this segment and the results were poor for both clubs.  Nashville selected Brian Finley 6th overall in 1999 missing out on other top ten picks available like Kris Beech, Taylor Pyatt, Jamie Lundmark and Branislav Mezei... er... other top fifteen picks available like Oleg Saprykin, Denis Shvidki, Jani Rita, Jeff Jillson and Scott Kelman... okay then... so they didn't miss out on much (though only Kelman played fewer NHL games).  At any rate, with the Finley selection as a backdrop, it seems possible and perhaps likely that the Predators didn't select goaltenders early for the next six years out of faith that Finley was their goalie of the future and there was no need to waste early-round picks on another one.  This narrative seems to fit best because the Predators haven't changed management and yet have drafted goalies high in the draft in two of the last three seasons, taking Jeremy Smith 54th overall in 2007 and Chet Pickard 18th overall in 2008.  Once Finley was a known bust, they weren't afraid to spend high quality assets to try again.

The Philadelphia Flyers seem to have had a different response.  After getting burned by Jean-Marc Pelletier at 30th overall in 1997 and Maxime Ouellet at 22nd overall in 1999, the Flyers never drafted another goalie in the top 100 picks for the rest of Bobby Clarke's tenure as general manager (Jakub Kovar was the highest pick, 119th overall in 2005).  And yet they drafted a tonne of goalies.  That looks an awful lot like strategy to me, a guy who is trying to learn from his mistakes.  Since Clarke's departure, the Flyers have been slightly more open to drafting goalies earlier in the draft, with two being taken in the top 100 picks under Paul Holmgren.  But even here, both picks were outside the first two rounds of the draft.

To wrap up, I believe Philadelphia, San Jose and Los Angeles are the only three teams that consistently try to avoid selecting goaltenders early in the draft.  Next up is the breakdown of how many goalies were selected in each round and each group performed:

Goalie_distribution_1997-1999_medium

These were very bad draft years.  You would have expected the average point totals to be higher in this period than they were from 2000-2002 since these guys have had three more years to accumulate points.  But it doesn't turn out that way.  In fact this group is worse than the 2003-2005 group in the first three rounds despite having six extra years of experience.  The first rounders in particular are poor.  Of the eight goalies selected in the first round only Roberto Luongo has started 40 games in a single season.  Ahem.  Don't draft goalies in the first round

Two final things from this period stand out.  First, the number of goalies taken per round is very consistent which differs from the six subsequent years in which more goalies were taken in the later rounds than the middle rounds.  I'm not sure of any reason behind this change.  Lastly, given the performance here and the relatively strong performance from 2003-2005 it's reasonable to ask whether, as a group, NHL teams are getting better at drafting goalies.  Were these just bad draft years, or are teams getting better at evaluating talent?  It's probably a bit of both, though at a guess, I'd say the impact of "bad draft years" is much larger.

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