Noon Number (December 9th): 95.30%

Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sport

Let's talk about the best stats to use when evaluating goaltending, because I'm seeing a lot of bad ones being quoted.

Josh Harding's stellar performances in net this season have promted endless stories, reports, comments and Tweets quoting his numbers, which are at the top of the rankings by almost every metric. The stats that are being quoted are usually Save Percentage (Sv%), Goals Against Average (GAA), Shutouts and Wins.

If you're trying to use numbers to evaluate a goaltender, then the best metric to use is Sv%, and specifically 5v5/ES (even-strength) Save Percentage. GAA and wins are extremely flawed and should not be used. In this article, I'll explain why.

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The Bad Ones

Goals Against Average

It's pretty obvious why GAA is terrible; it's driven almost entirely by team talent and not goalie talent. A goalie who plays for a team that is terrible in puck possession and gets routinely out-shot is at a disadvantage. One goalie concedes 2 goals on 10 shots, another concedes 2 on 50 shots; which one played better? Well if you're using GAA, they both played equally well.


Wins

Another stat that tells you more about the team's ability and almost nothing about the goalie is "goalie wins". Corey Crawford and Marc-Andrew Fleury were close to the top of the league in Wins last season. Is either of them a top-5 goalie in the NHL? Not even close. They record a lot of wins because they play for elite teams that have enough offensive ability to win without elite goaltending.


Overall Save Percentage

The problem with overall Sv% is that there is too much of a team effect caused by shorthanded play. It's more worthwhile to use just 5v5 play to find out a goalie's true talent.


The Good Ones One

Even-Strength Save Percentage

Even-strength save percentage is the best metric for evaluating goaltenders. Ideally you want to have more than 1 season of data on a goalie to negate any "shot quality" effects. The theory behind Save Percentage is that it doesn't punish goalies for playing behind a bad team.

A common argument against Save Percentage is that some goalies are benefited by playing behind teams with very defensive systems or teams who give-up a high number of "quality shots". While this is true in small sample sizes, it has largely been proven to be false over multiple seasons. There has been a lot of work done to show that limiting or creating higher-quality shots at even-strength is not a repeatable team skill, and therefore doesn't affect a goalie's save percentage.



Other Things To Consider

Goalie fatigue and games played are often cited as reasons for poor performance and factors to be considered in evaluation, but research has shown that any effect from it appears to be minimal.

Another factor that gets discussed is the effect on Sv% of high shot totals. That myth has also been pretty much busted.


Evaluating Josh Harding

-Here are the ES Sv% rankings for goalies who have played in 50% of their team's games so far this year. Numbers taken from ExtraSkater.com:

#

Player

Pos.

Team(s)

TOI

Sv%

1

Josh Harding

G

Wild

1018.1

95.30%

2

Carey Price

G

Canadiens

1126.3

94.50%

3

Tuukka Rask

G

Bruins

1168.1

94.20%

4

Jonathan Bernier

G

Maple Leafs

840.5

94.00%

5

Ben Bishop

G

Lightning

956.5

94.00%

6

Semyon Varlamov

G

Avalanche

931

93.60%

7

Steve Mason

G

Flyers

920

93.40%

8

Kari Lehtonen

G

Stars

978.2

93.10%

9

Corey Crawford

G

Blackhawks

1218.2

92.80%

10

Braden Holtby

G

Capitals

1058.8

92.70%

As you can see, Josh Harding is leading the rankings so far this year. There are quite a few goalies here who aren't normally that good who are posting strong numbers, Harding included, so this table is subject to change a lot before the end of the season as the usual suspects work their way back towards the top. Geerally. players who have compiled several seasons of mediocre performance are unlikely to suddenly be able to sustain excellent numbers over a long period (looking at you, Steve Mason).

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-Here's a look at which goalies have consistently been the best over the last 7 years (5000+ minutes played). Numbers taken from Stats.HockeyAnalysis:

#

Player Name

Team

TOI

Sv%

1

THOMAS, TIM

Boston

12199:33

93.5

2

RASK, TUUKKA

Boston

6209:07:00

93.26

3

LUONGO, ROBERTO

Vancouver

14165:52

93.03

4

VOKOUN, TOMAS

Pittsburgh

13814:19

93.02

5

SCHNEIDER, CORY

Vancouver

4119:03:00

92.99

6

RINNE, PEKKA

Nashville

13177:22

92.93

7

LUNDQVIST, HENRIK

NY_Rangers

17403:30

92.92

8

BOBROVSKY, SERGEI

Columbus

5178:35:00

92.9

9

HILLER, JONAS

Anaheim

11857:44

92.79

10

NIEMI, ANTTI

San_Jose

9805:28:00

92.76

11

HALAK, JAROSLAV

St.Louis

9028:57:00

92.75

12

ANDERSON, CRAIG

Ottawa

11156:02

92.68

13

REIMER, JAMES

Toronto

4529:57:00

92.62

14

HOWARD, JIMMY

Detroit

10375:59

92.58

15

MILLER, RYAN

Buffalo

16393:23

92.54

16

VARLAMOV, SEMYON

Colorado

6607:52:00

92.51

17

BACKSTROM, NIKLAS

Minnesota

14321:04

92.5

18

LEHTONEN, KARI

Dallas

11761:12

92.49

19

CRAWFORD, COREY

Chicago

6757:53:00

92.47

20

BRYZGALOV, ILYA

Philadelphia

15923:43

92.44

You'd imagine that a lot of these guys who aren't currently near the top of the Sv% rankings will be there by the end of the season and will put pressure on the new faces like Harding. I'll revisit this situation further down the line to se how things are panning out.

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To summarise, if you are using stats to illustrate goaltender performance, use ES Sv% and avoid GAA like the plague.

For more good stuff about goaltending, check out this amazing reference libabry from NHL Numbers that covers all bases.


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Follow me on Twitter for more hockey-ness and missed deadlines.

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Noon Christmas Tune:

Seeing as we're now into December and Christmas is fast approaching, I'll be featuring a different Christmas song in each of the Noon Number's I write up until the big day.

Your 4th song of the month is another festive favourite of mine:


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