Greetings all, I hope everyone’s season ended successfully and hope everyone’s enjoying their Summer. First let me say thank you all for the overwhelmingly positive response my last 2 blogs received from everyone. Your kind words meant so much to me, and to the wonderful People here at Paramount Hockey.
My spring was occupied mainly with recruiting so I spent most of my time doing one of my favourite things, watching Goaltenders. This got me to thinking (Always a bad sign) about something myself and many other Goaltending Coaches have long discussed, a better way to evaluate Goaltenders. Obviously stats can be completely misleading when it comes to Goaltenders because of many different factors. For example, a Goaltender on a terrible team will obviously have worse numbers than one on a good team, but even that assessment can be completely skewed by other factors. To help illustrate this I’ll use a couple very specific examples.
This season’s Ontario Hockey League Champions the Erie Otters were an offensive juggernaut featuring an absolutely ridiculous abundance of talent and firepower up front. Even their defensive Corps had a ton of offensive skill and put up points regularly. With that kind of offensive skill they had the Puck a lot. A LOT. When you have the Puck as much as they did you don’t give the opposition time to get a lot of shots. However, they tended to be a bit leaky defensively so the few shots they did give up were usually high quality scoring chances. Needing to upgrade their Goaltending to Championship level the Otters made a trade before the season to acquire Troy Timpano from the Sudbury Wolves. A VERY, VERY good Goaltender, Timpano’s career numbers in Sudbury were nothing special since the team was in rebuild mode during 2 of his 3 seasons there. The Otters were first in their division all season long but his numbers in Erie outside of his W-L record weren’t a lot better than they were in Sudbury. How can this be you ask? Simple, while he wasn’t seeing the QUANTITY of shots he did in Sudbury, 35-40 regularly, the QUALITY of scoring chances he saw in Erie were in excess in the 20-25 shots per night he would see. 3 goals on 25 shots will produce a fairly pedestrian Save Percentage and GAA which would certainly not impress anyone. But those 3 goals were almost always a result of the team’s leaky defensive play, odd man rushes, ect, than it was a reflection of Timpano’s play. Sure, Erie won because they scored 5-6 goals per game, but they also won because Timpano would always have to make 1-2 big saves when the games were still tight, on grade A scoring chances. In their Championship Playoff run, particularly in their epic 7 game series against London, everytime, every single time they needed a big, clutch save he always provided one. Despite coming up 1 goal shy of winning the Memorial Cup, Erie has an OHL Championship which, ignoring his pedestrian statistics, Troy Timpano played a very large role in them earning.
Speaking of Championships, One of the most decorated Major Junior Goaltenders of all time also didn’t post a lot of eye popping stats in his career either. In fact, in only 2 of his 4 seasons in the QMJHL did he have a Save Percentage above .900. (.909 was his career high, still not exactly what a lot of people would consider overly impressive) Zach Fucale has a QMJHL Championship, a Memorial Cup Championship, and a World Junior Gold Medal. One of the best Goaltending prospects in the game, he was taken in the 2nd round, 36th overall, by Montreal in the 2013 NHL Draft. But if we didn’t have his name and performances to attach to those numbers a lot of fans, and even a lot of Coaches and Scouts wouldn’t have given him a second look. Fucale’s lukewarm regular season stats are a result of playing in the QMJHL where offense is the first priority and they have yet to decide on a second so he saw a lot more than his share of good scoring chances. His overflowing ring collection is a result of him being clutch and understanding that when you make a save is often more important than how many saves you make. Much as we already talked about with Troy Timpano, Fucale won because he would always make a save when his team needed it. He maybe gave up 5 goals but when it was 5-5 in the 3rd period he always came up with the save that kept it tied and allowed his team to score the game winner.
Timpano and Fucale are just 2 of, but by no means all, the examples why stats can be completely irrelevant when evaluating a Goaltender. It works both ways of course, as a guy can put up really good numbers, but is he seeing quality shots and quality scoring chances? If he’s seeing 17-20 shots a game all from the perimeter and gives up 1 goal his numbers will be deceptively padded. The type of goals also needs to be considered heavily as well. The same Goaltender seeing his 17-20 perimeter shots per game is hard to evaluate with numbers because if that 1 goal he gives up is on a non-quality shot and a bad goal, the numbers will still look good but it raises the question of how good the Tender actually is. Lastly, Save Percentage and Goals Against Averages can be wildly fluctuated by as little as 1 shot. 3 years ago I was with an NAHL team and we went into our last game of the season with our Goaltenders 1st and 2nd in the league in Save Percentage. Their numbers were an accurate reflection of them because, well, they had a really good Coach. They were set to finish that way until the meaningless last shot of the season that turned a 6-1 game into a 6-2 game, and that 1 shot, one goal, dropped our Tender from 1st to 3rd and meant that our Tenders finished 2nd and 3rd instead of 1st and 2nd. One shot. One shot can make or break a Goaltenders numbers.
So what’s the point of all this you ask? Troy Timpano and Zach Fucale are good. OK fine, it’s also to help illustrate how irrelevant stats can be when it comes to Goaltenders. Sadly there’s really no accurate way of evaluating a Goaltender WITHOUT WATCHING HIM PLAY. Timpano and Fucale won games and Championships so maybe that’s the bottom line when all is said and done. Myself personally, I never look at any stats at all until I watch a Tender play. I won’t even look at what level he plays at or the league he plays in because those things too, like stats, can often be affected by non-performance factors. There’s simply no other way to accurately evaluate a Goaltender other than actually watching him play. As I mentioned back at the beginning of this blog finding an accurate universal evaluation process for Goaltenders is something a lot of Goaltending Coaches have long tried to develop to no avail. So for now, until that method is discovered, we’re still left with our most accurate evaluation tools, our eyes and our minds. At least in my case, those have never failed. I certainly hope they don’t start now. Enjoy the rest of your off-season everyone.