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The top goaltender of the 2000s

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Interesting discussion over at the Contrarian Goaltender’s provocatively-named blog "Brodeur is a Fraud" about who is the goalie of the decade (1999-2000 through 2008-09). Not surprisingly the Contrarian Goaltender has decided it’s not Brodeur, and equally unsurprisingly he has decided it is in fact Roberto Luongo, who is clearly his favourite goalie. CG and I have been frequent sparring partners for quite some time now, and while I often fundamentally disagree with his position – in which Save Percentage and its variants, Shot Quality Neutral Save Percentage and Even Strength Save Percentage, rule the day -- I respect the work he puts into his stuff, and have gained many valuable insights through reading his blog and researching my own comments there.

A former goalie myself, I have closely followed the custodians of the cord cottage all of my life and always keep an eye on them during games. At a live game by far my favourite place to sit is behind the net, at least close enough to the middle to be able to see right up both sideboards, which location affords a good sense of shooting angles, screens and so forth.

While there’s no doubt stopping the puck is the goalie’s main responsibility, I maintain that the modern goalie has a significant effect on the flow of play. To try to reduce his contribution to some sort of Grand Unified Statistic, even one as sophisticated as SQNSv%, doesn’t do justice to the goalie’s contribution IMO. I prefer to consider the whole gamut of statistics realizing that there are some aspects of the game which cannot be captured by a number of any sort.

To select "the goalie of the decade" my method was to pick threshold numbers of games played in each of the regular season and the playoffs. To me a goalie, or any player for that matter, should hardly be considered as the best if they are unable to lead their team anywhere meaningful. At first I thought to set the thresholds at 300 regular season games and 30 playoff games, but noted that CG himself had set his regular season standard at 250, in part to make room for Patrick Roy who played 251 games in his last four seasons before retiring in 2003. Those games were quality, and stand up well in percentage categories as we shall see. So sure, let’s give the man his due and make him eligible for consideration.

I wanted to go 250/25, except I noticed that even under this fairly lax requirement Luongo himself with his 22 playoff games wouldn’t make the cut. So I lowered the thresholds to 250/20 so that BobbiLu could at least be considered. 21 goalies qualified for consideration, listed after the jump in order of total GP:

Player GP ............... Reg + PO = Total GP
Martin Brodeur ....... 624 + 115 = 739
Roberto Luongo ...... 544 + 22 = 566
Evgeni Nabokov ...... 492 + 65 = 557
Jose Theodore ........ 466 + 44 = 510
Marty Turco ............. 456 + 47 = 503
Chris Osgood .......... 426 + 76 = 502
J-S Giguere ............. 434 + 52 = 486
Curtis Joseph .......... 419 + 58 = 477
Ed Belfour ............... 413 + 53 = 466
Martin Biron ........... 424 + 23 = 447
Nikolai Khabibulin .. 394 + 48 = 442
Miikka Kiprusoff ..... 385 + 56 = 441
Patrick Lalime ......... 382 + 41 = 423
Dwayne Roloson .... 374 + 29 = 403
Dominik Hasek ....... 321 + 63 = 384
Dan Cloutier ........... 317 + 25 = 342
Patrick Roy ............. 251 + 68 = 319
Ryan Miller .............. 264 + 34 = 298
Henrik Lundqvist ... 265 + 30 = 295
Roman Turek .......... 273 + 22 = 295
Felix Potvin ............. 255 + 20 = 275

A couple workhorses like Olaf Kolzig and Tomas Vokoun wind up being omitted because of lack of playoff time. Too bad, but seriously, given their complete lack of playoff pedigree is either guy going to get the slightest consideration as the best goalie of the past ten years? Not a chance, so let’s move on.

Of the goalies who achieved both thresholds, I simply combined all of their regular season and playoff stats to determine their overall performance. I thought about weighting playoff games since they have more significance but cast the idea aside as contrived. Nonetheless, there’s no way I’m going to exclude playoff stats the way the NHL itself seems to when considering statistical performance. (Pet peeve #13291)

While I looked at the accomplishments of all 21 guys, I focussed on five goalies in particular who were consistently excellent: the two retired greats Roy and Hasek, as well as Brodeur, Luongo and Giguere.

It was interesting to see the cream rise to the top in a number of disparate categories. Let’s start with keeping the puck out of the net, which is the goalie’s job over and above making saves. (Sometimes that can best be accomplished by not having to make the save.)

Goals-Against Average
1. Hasek 2.10
2. Roy 2.12
3. Brodeur 2.18
8. Giguere 2.41
15. Luongo 2.55

Hasek and Roy were quality right to the end, no decline years for either of them, which is a testament to their greatness. Indeed it’s tough to argue with the above being, in order, the top three goalies of the Dead Puck Era.

Of course the ultimate goal each night is to win the darn game, and for whatever reason the powers that be have decided to give the most important player on the ice recognition for the decision, the same way they do for pitchers in baseball and quarterbacks in football. It’s simplistic and of course incorrect to recognize one player for a team effort, but nonetheless it is an important measurement of that player’s results. (I wish they’d keep a W-L record for all players)

To keep Hasek and Roy in the conversation, let’s look first at Points Percentage. Sure enough:

Points Percentage
1. Hasek .659
2. Roy .629
3. Brodeur .619
11. Giguere .565
19. Luongo .498

Furthermore the ultimate goal each season is to make the playoffs, and win your way into the later rounds. One way to measure this among our double-threshold group was to determine what percentage of total GP occurred in the postseason. Here we go again:

% of GP in Playoffs
1. Roy 21.3%
2. Hasek 16.4%
3. Brodeur 15.6%
11. Giguere 10.7%
21. Luongo 3.9%

Patrick Roy has a reputation as a playoff performer and here’s another arrow in his quiver. Of course by that stage of his career he was not overused in the regular season but would get every last start in the playoffs, which explains the remarkable percentage above. Luongo is at the other end of the spectrum, 21st and last among the identified group.

Next up is a weird new stat I may have just invented, minutes per GP. Lest you think these small differences insignificant, consider the case of sometimes teammates Hasek and Manny Legace, who played 321 and 320 regular season GP respectively in the 2000s. Hasek played 3.5 minutes more per appearance, which worked out to almost 1200 more minutes. No doubt in Legace’s case many were relief appearances, but that’s not the case with Luongo who gets yanked far more frequently than the likes of Brodeur, Roy, or Hasek.

1. Brodeur 60.2
2. Hasek 59.6
3. Roy 59.5
14. Giguere 57.7
16. Luongo 57.4

Same three names at the top yet again, although now Brodeur has clawed his way to the top of the pile. These guys finish what they start, especially Marty, who has recorded decisions in an astonishing 736 of his 739 GP over the 9 seasons.

1. Brodeur 0.4%
2. Roy 1.3%
7. Hasek 2.6%
8. Luongo 3.2%
12. Giguere 4.1%

We’re now into endurance and longevity, where Brodeur rules the roost. To recap:

Games Played
1. Brodeur 739
2. Luongo 566
7. Giguere 486
15. Hasek 384
17. Roy 319

Even with last season’s major injury, Brodeur is fully 30% ahead of Luongo’s massive workload. (Of course a significant portion of that edge comes in the post-season, a.k.a. “golf season”.) These being full-blown counting stats, Hasek and Roy begin to slide out of the picture, as they played fewer games between them in the 2000s than Brodeur did by himself. Indeed, Brodeur is nearly in a class by himself in workload.

Minutes Played
1. Brodeur 44470
2. Luongo 32503
7. Giguere 28034
16. Hasek 22869
17. Roy 18985

With by far the most GP and with the most minutes per, Brodeur is far out in front, a staggering 37% ahead of second-ranked Luongo.

So what did they do with these minutes? Let’s check out a couple of counting stats:

1. Brodeur 82
3. Hasek 48
3. Luongo 48
9. Giguere 37
12. Roy 31

Employing the concept Jeff Z. Klein and Karl-Erik Reif call “Quality of Victory”, Brodeur had 55% more shutouts than second-place Evgeni Nabokov (53). His edge in results was even wider than his advantage in opportunities (GP).

Then there’s the ever-controversial Wins, which I will list the whole top 10 to illustrate:

1. Brodeur 420
2. Nabokov 281
3. Osgood 266
4. Turco 261
5. Luongo 241
6. Giguere 236
7. Belfour 235
8. Joseph 234
9. Hasek 230
10. Kiprusoff 229

Looks like one of those scoring races of the 1980s: Wayne Gretzky in a class of his own ~50% ahead of the pack, which consists of a tightly bunched group of highly competent players who collectively establish the benchmark for normal expectations. Gretzky was a point machine; Brodeur is a win machine.

Not much argument (surely!) about who is #1 in terms of counting stats. Let’s move on into the realm of Sv%:

Save Percentage
1. Luongo .920
2. Roy .919
3. Hasek .917
4. Giguere .916
6. Brodeur .915

Finally, here is Luongo at the top of a list, stopping pucks at a marginally higher rate than the others under study. Unfortunately, he has had many more pucks to stop:

Shots-Against per 60
2. Hasek 25.2
4. Brodeur 25.5
7. Roy 26.3
16. Giguere 28.7
21. Luongo 31.7

In case you’re wondering, #1 on this list is Roman Turek, who over his career posted outstanding low-shots-against numbers in three cities: Dallas, St. Louis and Calgary. The exceptional puckhandler Marty Turco, also a product of the Dallas school of shot prevention, is #3. Meanwhile, Luongo is 21st and last, fully 2.2 shots more per 60 than any other goalie on the list. Much, even most of that is due to playing on a poor team in Florida for 5 years, although the fact Luongo was never able to carry that club to a single playoff berth speaks against his superstardom IMO. It’s also interesting to note that Florida’s shots-allowed total dropped by 453 shots – 5.5 per game! – the year after Luongo left town. His style seems to invite a lot of shots.

Of all the above categories plus a whole bunch more that I spared you, Brodeur consistently ranks among the leaders, frequently The leader. No double digit rankings anywhere for him, unlike all of the other guys we examined. Brodeur’s 6th place rank in Sv% is his weakest category, where he still ranks in the top third of the first-rank group of goalies under review. While difficult to quantify, his shot prevention skills – puck retrieval, handling and distribution; rebound control; crease management – are universally praised as being among the best in the biz; indeed the trapezoid introduced after the lockout to restrict goaltenders’ puckhandling was widely interpreted as being the “Brodeur Rule”. If as conservatively estimated by CG, these shot prevention skills result in a reduction of even 1 shot per game, one can infer an increased Sv% of about .003. Similar adjustments for the likes of Luongo would be in the opposite direction, causing his supposed advantage in this category to melt away.

(Btw, of the 21 identified guys, the anti-Brodeur was Dan Cloutier, whose record is nothing short of terrible – 21st in GAA (2.82; 20th = 2.64), Sv% (.895; 20th = .902), MIN/GP (54.5; 20th = 56.9); Sv% below league average (-.011; 20th = -.004) and on and on. Brian Burke’s worst mistake.)

A final statistical breakdown is home/road splits. Obtained from, these show regular season numbers only and over the player’s entire career (or in Roy’s case, from 1989 on), but should serve as a reasonable proxy for splits during the 2000s. I’ll show as a ratio of home minutes to road minutes for our five highlighted goalies, with the player’s GAA in each venue in parentheses:

Home: Road Minutes Played since 1989
Roy 1.267 (2.35; 2.59)
Luongo 1.138 (2.48; 2.67)
Hasek 1.093 (2.07; 2.34)
Giguere 1.021 (2.42; 2.56)
Brodeur 1.016 (2.14; 2.28)

Wow, Roy was like the late-career Jacques Plante in picking his spots, while Luongo and Hasek both showed strong preferences for home cooking as well. All goalies, especially those top three, sported improved numbers at home in GAA. The effect was also felt in Pts%, from Hasek’s large difference of .180 (.704 at home, just .524 away) ranging down to Brodeur’s modest .075 differential (.668 to .593). Home to road Sv% was mostly flat, with two interesting exceptions: Hasek was .0065 better at home, Brodeur .0035 worse. Given that Brodeur’s team cut down its shots against by the largest unit margin (-11.2% fewer shots per 60 at home), Hasek’s clubs by the least (just -3.8%) is very strongly suggestive of a home scorer bias in both cases. Which is just another reason why we can’t put all of our analytical eggs in the Sv% basket.

Finally, there are the lists of accomplishments from 1999-2009:

Stanley Cups
Brodeur 2
7 tied with 1

Best-on-best gold medals
Brodeur 2
Lundquist 1

Jennings Trophies
Brodeur 2 (both as #1)
Hasek 2 (one as #1)
Fernandez 2 (neither as #1)
8 tied with 1

First All-Star Teams
Brodeur 3
6 tied with 1

Vezina Trophies
Brodeur 4
5 tied with 1

I suppose in all the above one can quibble here or there about how to interpret this category or that, but really folks, is there any doubt who has been the top netminder in the game over the past decade? Here’s my ranking:

1. Martin Brodeur
2. Dominik Hasek
3. J.-S. Gigeure
4. Roberto Luongo

... with the tie-breaker for third being Giguere’s far superior playoff performance. Roy gets honourable mention for four excellent years.

But over the last ten years, whether measuring quantity, quality, awards, championships, Marty Brodeur stands alone.