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.
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:
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.
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.