Luongo Liability


Whether or not Brian Burke should trade for Roberto Luongo (or even Tim Thomas) is contingent on a number of issues that many, (including The Leafs Nation’s own John Lofranco) have already discussed. There are a number of potential wrinkles, from cap space, to the asking price, to what the Vancouver Canucks or Boston Bruins currently need.

Before we begin to consider any of those issues however, I think it’s critical to assess the risk that Luongo represents as a 33-year-old-goaltender. While it’s true that $5.33M isn’t a bad price to pay for top-flight netminding, the length of the term on the contract would make it a terrible burden if Luongo performed poorly.

Jump for a couple graphs.

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So how do we begin to determine the risk that Thomas or Luongo’s respective play drops off dramatically in the not-so-distant future?

Naturally, age will take its toll on the best of players, so it’s really a question of ‘when’, not ‘if’.

If we look at the total number of games played by goaltenders that faced more than 1000 shots in a season, sorted by age, we can see a distinct drop-off after the age of 31:

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The thing is, Roberto Luongo and Tim Thomas are no ordinary goaltenders. If we look at goalies that see a minimum of 1000 shots per year, but then calculate their aggregate save percentage by age, the results look dramatically different:


We can see from this graph that save percentage doesn’t drop off if we only look at the goalies that continue to get ice time as they age, and it only makes sense. Old, bad goalies are going to get the boot when young, bad ones are given second chances. In other words, the only reason you’re still seeing significant playing time as as goaltender in the NHL at the age of 34 is if you’re still competent.

So, goalies that remain in the league past the age of 31 are generally of a higher pedigree, and therefore don’t drastically drag down the aggregate save percentage until the very end of their careers. Even then, the drop-off in save percentage at the ages of 38 and 39 can probably be somewhat accredited to smaller sample sizes.

This gives us some reason to believe that not only could Luongo continue his current level of play, but that he could conceivably maintain it for several years.

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Of course, anything can happen to older goaltenders. One injury to the groin, knees, hips, or any other major joint in the body is all it would take to permanently derail the tail end of even the most illustrious career. 

Brian Burke has been known to gamble big on trades, and it wouldnt’ surprise me to see him roll the dice on this kind of deal, either.

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  • nhlcheapshot

    Nice work JP. I love a good graph.

    Works well with intuition as well – GOOD goalies can be good well into their late 30s, and only goalies who are good make it that long. And Ty Conklin.

    But eventually they all succumb to their age… I guess the trick is to not be stuck with the hot potato when their bodies can’t keep up anymore. (i.e. Roloson, Khabibulin, … Brodeur)

  • nhlcheapshot

    Hi, mom. After watching the performances of messieurs Smith and Holtby in the first round of the playoffs, it’s clear that finding a stud goalie is a real crapshoot. Check out Mike Smith’s career stats and you’ll see that his save percentages and frequent flier miles are both right up there. The goalies currently playing for the Leafs’ minor league teams all seem to be serious prospects. Time will tell as well about James Reimer. Somewhere within that group is a front-line NHL goalie (I hope.)

  • Clyde Frog

    The problem isn’t that he CAN be good for the next decade, its that he HAS to be… well past his prime. Sure, he could live up to the contract, but honestly its a franchise crippling decision if it turns out wrong.

    5.3 mil is a lot for a crowded goalie market and becomes ridiculous when you compare the save %’s between a 1-3 mil goalie and a 4+, yes there is a jump, but not a huge swing.

    You also have the fun of weighing the fact that Vancouver doesn’t even want to play him and when you add an asking price of futures or picks, how can any GM even consider this?

  • Clyde Frog

    Canucks fan here. Interesting article, love the stats stuff. Canucks Army has a similar blog with great statistical analysis.

    Re: Lu. It’s not that Canucks didn’t want to play him in the playoffs, it’s that they were playing so poorly a goalie change was needed to change momentum. And once Schnieder got the net -well he never left, cause he’s that good. Lu is still an outstanding goaltender. Having watched every single Canucks game for forever, I can honestly say him and Schneider stole this team the Presidents Trophy this yr. The team in front was playing garbage hockey for the last half of the season, goaltending stole them games. Lu will steal the Leafs games, no doubt about it. The defensemen will make mistakes, the guys infront won’t score goals, but you’ll still see a win with Lu in net.

  • Clyde Frog

    As a Leafs fan, Luongo is worth the gamble if the price is right. If I were in Leafs management, I would offer a contract such as Komisarek and a middle-end prospect such as Rynnas. The real benefit for Vancouver is to get Luongo off the books and allocate that money towards another player (Komi only has 2 years left on his contract). Rynnas is a legit prospect and Komisarek is a small salary dump (compared to Luongos contract) that makes the salaries balance and frees up a million or so for Vancouver. In saying that I am not indicating that Luongo is worth Komisarek (obviously that is not the case) but its the way the modern NHL works with the salary cap.