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Goalies Of A Certain Age

In my post this morning I explained why I felt that the Oilers would once again be the worst team in the NHL's Western Conference. My reasons for expecting another season of futility are threefold: the lineup for the upcoming season is essentially unchanged from the squad that just finished last, the defense needed help but didn't get much, and Nikolai Khabibulin will still be the number one goalie to start the season.

Coming off one of the worst seasons of his career some would argue that Khabibulin couldn't possibly be worse. While I would normally agree with that statement I said the same thing about the Oilers last year, and I learned that just as lousy is another available option. So what can we expect from Khabibulin this season: better, the same, or worse? After the jump I'll look at how other goalies on the verge of collecting a pension cheque have fared in the NHL. 

So what I've done is compile all the seasons where a goalie 38 years old or older played at least 10 games since 1983/84 when the NHL first started tracking shots. In all I found only 25 seasons that met the criteria; that's not a big number, but of the 25 seasons 17 have occurred since the lockout so most of the data is coming from a similar time frame. Then to get an idea of how each goalie played that season I've compared each goalie's save percentage to the league average that season.

Player Season Age SV% Diff
Tony Esposito 1983-84 40 0.859 -0.014
Glenn Resch 1986-87 38 0.904 0.024
Billy Smith 1988-89 38 0.852 -0.027
Reggie Lemelin 1992-93 38 0.862 -0.023
Glenn Healy 2000-01 38 0.885 -0.018
Mike Vernon 2001-02 38 0.899 -0.009
Dominik Hasek 2003-04 39 0.907 -0.004
Ed Belfour 2003-04 38 0.918 0.007
Curtis Joseph 2005-06 38 0.902 0.001
Dominik Hasek 2005-06 41 0.925 0.024
Ed Belfour 2005-06 40 0.892 -0.009
Sean Burke 2005-06 39 0.895 -0.006
Curtis Joseph 2006-07 39 0.893 -0.012
Dominik Hasek 2006-07 42 0.913 0.008
Ed Belfour 2006-07 41 0.902 -0.003
Sean Burke 2006-07 40 0.901 -0.004
Dominik Hasek 2007-08 43 0.902 -0.007
Dwayne Roloson 2007-08 38 0.901 -0.008
Curtis Joseph 2008-09 41 0.869 -0.039
Dwayne Roloson 2008-09 39 0.915 0.007
Dwayne Roloson 2009-10 40 0.907 -0.004
Chris Osgood 2010-11 38 0.903 -0.010
Dwayne Roloson 2010-11 41 0.914 0.001
Martin Brodeur 2010-11 38 0.903 -0.010
Nikolai Khabibulin 2010-11 38 0.890 -0.023
  • In total 72% - 18 of the 25 - seasons resulted in a save percentage below the league average. 
  • Dominik Hasek was a freak of nature to put up the numbers he did. Seriously 0.024 above average at 41 years old, wow.
  • Khabibulin's differential last season is the fourth worst on the list. With two more seasons before his contract expires he should have a good chance to post the worst differential.
  • Six goalies posted a save percentage more than 0.010 below the league average; only Joseph and Khabibulin returned to play another season. Joesph didn't improve with age and posted the lowest differential two seasons later.

Generally the data supports what I had assumed, namely that old goalies aren't very good. With the limited information available I'm not willing to say Khabibulin absolutely can't bounce back this season, but it certainly seems unlikely that he will. To be honest, I'd settle for average, but even that seems like a long-shot considering how far below average he was last season. Stopping the puck tends to be fairly important in the NHL and if Khabibulin plays like I expect him to and the team chooses to stick with him as the number one it will be very hard for the Oilers to avoid another last place season.