What do you really know about the men behind the masks, the ones who patrol your team’s crease?
Are they nice guys; do they talk to their goalposts; can they clear the puck well?
Most importantly, when your team really needs them, can you trust your goaltender?
Batting around that question in our heads, we at The Hockey News devised the Goalie Confidence Index or GCI: an objective formula concocted to measure how effectively a team can rely on its netminders.
Tracking both starters and backups, we ranked the NHL’s 60 goalies based on save percentage, goals-against average, save percentage on the penalty-kill, percentage of games in which the goalie was pulled, percentage of games giving up five goals or more, winning percentage and shutout percentage.
By adding together a goalie’s rank in each category, we came up with a score. Obviously, the lower the number, the better.
Since having the best backup in the world doesn’t matter if he’s never playing, each duo’s combined score was weighted based on how often each is expected to play. Martin Brodeur’s score is worth 90 percent of New Jersey’s total, for example.
All numbers are from the 2007-08 regular season.
As starter last year, Carey Price proved he’s ready for prime time. The keeper was pulled in just five percent of his starts as a rookie, but it was a sick .615 winning percentage that really boosted his stock. And the Habs lose nothing when Jaroslav Halak is in net; he actually led the league with an overall score of just 48, courtesy of his stellar work during spot-duty in 2007-08.
It’s no surprise Vezina finalist Evgeni Nabokov would help propel San Jose to the runner-up position, what with his sparkling .613 winning percentage, but Brian Boucher actually did more than his part here, too. Boasting a 1.76 GAA and a shutout in seven games last year, Boucher was second only to Halak in overall GCI proficiency and the only other keeper to score under 100, at 78.
Why anyone would have questioned Chris Osgood’s chops last year seems so ludicrous after Detroit’s Cup run, but his regular season stats set him apart anyway: Ozzie was the best overall starter in the GCI, scoring a paltry 111 on the charts. Ty Conklin proved worthy of fill-in status in Pittsburgh last year, now he and Marian Hossa take their acts to Motown for a redux.
In losing Ilya Bryzgalov in a salary squeeze last season, the Ducks looked vulnerable in net. Evidently, they knew better in Anaheim.
Not only did main man J-S Giguere rule the league in keeping piles of pucks out (he didn’t allow five goals or more in a game all season), but rookie Jonas Hiller showed why the Swiss rarely miss in net, ranking top-five in three of seven categories.
As has been the case for more than a decade now, the Devils’ success starts from Martin Brodeur on out. Despite lip service about cutting down on the reigning Vezina champs’ minutes, Brodeur still racked up 77 appearances last year and made them count, ranking top-20 in five categories. With Kevin Weekes putting up low-end results, look for more Brodeur again this year.
Rank: 6 a
Dan Ellis certainly had his coming-out party last season in Nashville and now he’s got the reins all to himself. An incredible .929 save percentage on the penalty kill helped vault Ellis up the rankings, while his .639 win percentage was behind only Osgood. Rookie Pekka Rinne had just one appearance last year, so he’s still an unknown quantity.
Marty Turco finally got his proper respects in the playoffs last season, but there was never a doubt about his prowess in the first 82 games. Turco can be found in the top 20 of five categories and was the top starter in terms of not getting pulled from games. Rookie Tobias Stephan made just one start in ’07-08, but acquitted himself well in that appearance.
A stellar defensive team to begin with, the Rangers rarely worry when ‘King’ Henrik Lundqvist is between the pipes. His 10 shutouts in 72 games helped him to seventh place in that category, only to be outdone by his own backup; Stephen Valiquette was fifth, notching two goose eggs in 13 appearances. Valiquette’s frugal 2.19 GAA didn’t hurt matters, either.
Niklas Backstrom is the man in Minnesota right now and top-10 finishes in winning percentage and penalty-kill save percentage are the proof. He also ranked top-15 in three other categories. Youngster Josh Harding will get some more reps this year and will aim to use them to improve upon a rather pedestrian 2.94 GAA, which saw him sit 53rd in that category.
With the surprise signing of Cristobal Huet this summer, the crease got crowded in Chicago all of a sudden. Huet’s superior winning and save percentages gave him the inside track over Nikolai Khabibulin, who’s on his way out of town. Khabby’s numbers aren’t too shabby, however, so the vet can still be valuable wherever he eventually ends up.
We assume Marc-Andre Fleury has finally earned coach Michel Therrien’s full trust with a trip to the Cup final and a top-five win percentage finish under his belt. On the other hand, Fleury was also bottom-10 in getting pulled last year, so there’s always room for improvement. Dany Sabourin has work to do, statistically speaking, in replacing Conklin.
Another young goaltender who made noise in ’07-08, Pascal Leclaire was lights-out when it came to shutout percentage, leading all starters at 16.7 percent, though getting pulled in seven of 52 contests took a bit of the shine off. Fredrik Norrena will get his share of starts as well, where he can show off a top-20 finish in penalty-kill save percentage while attempting to hide his overall save percentage (56th in the league).
Superstar starter Roberto Luongo cracked the top 20 in just three GCI categories, but with the attrition sustained by the Canucks’ usually solid ‘D’ last year, it’s fair to say the normal support wasn’t there. The bigger concern for Vancouver fans is when Luongo takes his rare night off: Curtis Sanford was bottom-15 in five categories. On the plus side, he had no five-plus goal games.
As crucial as Tomas Vokoun is to the success of the Panthers, backup Craig Anderson actually had better GCI numbers, albeit in far fewer appearances (17 to Vokoun’s 69). Vokoun excelled at keeping pucks out on the penalty kill while Anderson was top-10 in least pulls, shutout percentage and save percentage. For Cats fans craving the playoffs, that’s some nice security.
The Capitals will have a new look in net with incoming starter Jose Theodore, but will he be the netminder who dazzled in Colorado last year or the one who fizzled late in his Montreal tenure? With Washington’s offense, it shouldn’t matter that Theodore’s numbers were all middle-of-the-pack. Brent Johnson brings one of the best penalty-kill save percentages in the league at .921.
Everything got a lot sunnier in Glendale once stopper Ilya Bryzgalov sauntered into town last year and Coyotes fans can expect to see a large dose of ‘Cool Bryz’ again in ’08-09. The Russian kept five-goal games to a minimum and his .920 save percentage was impressive on a non-playoff team. Mikael Tellqvist will have to boost his middling GCI numbers in relief.
Martin Biron made his major hay in the playoffs, so his rating wasn’t as high as expected. Biron cracked the top 20 in just one category (shutout percentage), though none of his numbers were awful. Sidekick Antero Niittymaki was similar, posting up a top-20 finish in least five-goal games allowed, but delivering nothing spectacular outside of that. Biron’s stock will surely improve this year.
If shootouts counted in the GCI, we all know which team would rule, but it is not so. Mathieu Garon seized the reins in Edmonton last season and the proof is in top-15 placings in win percentage, penalty-kill save percentage and shutout percentage. Veteran Dwayne Roloson will get his share of reps in the crease again, but must improve on a 3.05 GAA, one of the worst in the biz.
Based on Manny Fernandez’s injury history, rookie Tuukka Rask may end up with a fair share of starts. But we assume good health and Fernandez needs to get back on track from his rocky four-game ordeal of ‘07-08, which saw him fall to last or near-last in several categories. Tim Thomas was consistent all year and also consistent in the GCI, though no numbers were huge.
Mike Smith won’t have the same defense in front of him as he did in Dallas for the lion’s share of last season, but maybe he can inspire the Bolts blueline with his play nonetheless. Top-15 finishes in least pulls, shutout percentage and penalty-kill save percentage are all good omens in Tampa. Veteran Olaf Kolzig, on the other hand, was bottom-10 in three rankings.
The venerable Miikka Kiprusoff looked decidedly less so in ’07-08. Bottom-20 rankings in three categories were only off-set slightly by a top-20 finish in least five-goal games given up. On the rare occasion Kipper isn’t in the crease, Calgary will throw out unknown quantity Curtis McElhinney, who racked up just five NHL appearances last year.
Senators fans may be giving Ray Emery’s Russian agent a call if things get off on the wrong foot in Ottawa. Martin Gerber was top-15 in win percentage, which isn’t surprising considering who he plays for, but his other numbers were quite pedestrian. New backup Alex Auld wasn’t exactly a game-stealer either, only excelling in shutout percentage, while struggling elsewhere.
The job of post-lockout starting goaltender in Toronto has been a thankless one and Vesa Toskala’s stats suffered accordingly behind a porous defense. Top-20 in least pulls is the highlight of an otherwise ordinary GCI stat pack. And while Leafs fans are loving the return of Curtis Joseph, the affable vets’ time in Calgary was a rough one which saw him in the bottom five of two categories, including second-last in getting pulled.
The weight is firmly on Rick DiPietro’s shoulders in Long Island, which is better than it being on his surgically-repaired hips. D.P. was entrenched firmly in the bottom-third of the league in most GCI charts and the Isles being the Atlantic Division’s whipping boy again this year certainly won’t help. New backup Joey MacDonald played just two NHL games last year.
Much like Vancouver, the Sabres defense was lacerated by injuries in ’07-08, so Ryan Miller can be excused if he was exposed often last year. Armed with a new contract extension, he’ll look to improve on very average numbers. When Miller takes the night off, Patrick Lalime will get a chance to improve his GCI numbers, three of which were bottom 10.
Sure, Cam Ward won a Stanley Cup and the Conn Smythe Trophy, but hockey’s all about what you’ve done lately. And lately, Ward has been pitching mediocre numbers – a .552 winning percentage being the lone highlight in the top 20. Michael Leighton will get his chance to show what he can do at the NHL level this season after a three-game audition which saw him bruised up last year.
The revolving door of goalies in St. Louis has seen numerous promising prospects fail recently, so the Blues went with a little more experience for a backup in Chris Mason this summer. Unfortunately, Mason was available because he flamed out in Nashville. Starter Manny Legace wasn’t much better, garnering no top-20 placings within the GCI matrix.
There are at least five different names who could see crease time in Hollywood this season, but the first two to get a crack at it are returning starter Jason LaBarbera and Swedish upstart Erik Ersberg. LaBarbera was dynamite at killing off penalties, but dreadful elsewhere in the GCI. Ersberg ranked very high in shutout and save percentage, but faltered elsewhere in his 14 appearances.
Peter Budaj isn’t the worst starter as far as the GCI is concerned (LaBarbera was) and Andrew Raycroft isn’t the worst backup (though it was close), but the combination of the two isn’t exactly intimidating. Raycroft was bottom five in five categories, while Budaj was hampered by three journeys to the bottom 15. He did go top-20 in win percentage and five-goal games, though.
Another tandem victimized by the players in front of them, Kari Lehtonen and Johan Hedberg did not fare well in the GCI. Lehtonen was bottom-10 in both win percentage and five-goal games, while Hedberg struggled mightily, garnering the highest total score in the league and finishing no better than 44th in any one category. The silver lining is rookie Ondrej Pavelec.
This article orginally appeared in the Sept. 16 edition of The Hockey News.
For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.