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Hot Goalies, Conference Finals & Save Percentage

An old NHL adage that actually holds up.

Rick Stewart

The Stanley Cup is the ultimate prize in hockey, but it's not the only measure of success at a team level. If the NHL were Soccer, for instance, the President's Cup winner would be viewed as the most successful team in the league. It's far more difficult to perform at a high level over an 82 game span than it is over a maximum 28 game span.  But because North America has a playoff-centric sports culture, success is wholly defined by playoff outcomes, performances of small sample sizes. So I've come to measure team success based on conference final appearances, an idea lifted from Lowetide's pennants.

By measuring team success in Final Fours, crude comparisons can be made from the original six era to the post-expansion era, i.e. a cup winner in 1967 rough compares to a conference finalist in 2008. The odds are not exact, but as a crude comparison, it works.

Tyler Dellow wrote about NHL General Managers and their inability to grasp the goaltending market, most notably when they sign goaltenders who have a strong playoff run or Stanley Cup to their credit.

The number at the left is the individual save percentage rank in the NHL that season for qualifying goalies. In this case a "qualifying season" is one in which the goaltender played in 25 regular season games or more (15 in 2012-13). The number to the right is the individual save percentage rank in the NHL since the lockout based on qualified goalies with more than a single season. There are 76 such goalies since 05-06.

Yr. Rank 2005-2006 Ovr. Rank
10 Ryan Miller 15
11 Jean-Sebastien Giguere 29
16 Dwayne Roloson 48
43 Cam Ward 33

7 Ray Emery 45
8 Jean-Sebastien Giguere 29
13 Dominik Hasek 24
16 Ryan Miller 15

5 Marc-Andre Fleury 36
13 Martin Biron 37
16 Chris Osgood 67
24 Marty Turco 51

6 Nikolai Khabibulin 57
14 Cam Ward 33
21 Marc-Andre Fleury 36
44 Chris Osgood 67

4 Jaroslav Halak 10
6 Evgeni Nabokov 35
20 Antti Niemi 9
33 Michael Leighton [NR]

1 Tim Thomas 3
4 Roberto Luongo 8
13 Antti Niemi 9
26 Dwayne Roloson 48

34 Martin Brodeur 25
5 Jonathan Quick 18
3 Mike Smith 21
3 Henrik Lundqvist 5

6 Corey Crawford 27
3 Tuukka Rask 2
16 Tomas Vokoun 4
36 Jonathan Quick 18

Except for 2010-2011, getting to the conference finals and a shot to play for the Stanley Cup is more about riding a hot streak, as demonstrated by the rankings on the left, than it is having a franchise goaltender. Of course, as Tyler notes, it's after the hot streak that goaltenders land their big contracts, but a deep playoff run, a Stanley Cup or a big contract aren't a guarantee of future success as demonstrated by the rankings on the right.

So at least one NHL cliche is correct: you need timely (lucky) goaltending to win a Stanley Cup. A General Manager that's ridden three different goaltenders to the Conference Finals in the last five years should understand that.