I’m not sure what will happen with Jonas Gustavsson next year, but the ex-Toronto Maple Leaf is still a pretty important key in finding out exactly the effect a goaltender has on a team, or a team on a goaltender.
Gustavsson played three years in Toronto, all of them pretty mediocre numerically. He started 96 games, more than any Toronto goaltender in that span, but stopped just 90% of shots faced, held a 2.92 goals against average and had just five shutouts.
Even if Detroit’s defence could slip now that Nicklas Lidstrom has retired, it is a good opportunity for Gustavsson to show that he has more to offer.
So were Gustavsson’s struggles in Toronto due to bad defence or bad goaltending?
Part of the problem is there’s absolutely no way to watch each and every hockey game to determine whether or not some goalies look better than they are due to good defence, or where they’re in constant situations where they have to bail out their team because the defence is prone to lapses.
Watching and counting scoring chances for these teams, however, I can tell you there isn’t too much difference between the Vancouver Canucks and Winnipeg Jets on defence. Both teams were prone to lapses and in the games I quantified, would usually give up anywhere between 12 and 18 scoring chances a game on average.
But the Canucks allowed 198 goals and the Jets 246. How come? Because the duo of Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider was better than anything Winnipeg had to offer. Certainly, there are a lot of Winnipeg fans who take issue with the fact that a lot of writers in hockey’s statistical community don’t think too highly of Ondrej Pavelec, but Pavelec is a bleak goaltender.
He’s a lot like Gustavsson. Due to the quantity of shots he faces due to the quality of the Leafs’ team defence, he’ll get a few highlight-reel saves, but over the stretch of the game, will make less than the average goalie over that span.
Even Gustavsson had his defenders, which doesn’t explain why he was worse in the Ron Wilson era than any other goaltender hot named Vesa Toskala. The Leafs defence needs to improve, but not in restricting the quality of shots. There’s less of an overall team effect on goaltenders than I think a lot of goaltender advocates are willing to admit.
Average Leafs even strength save percentages (EVSV%) in the years that Gustavsson was a Leaf were .911, .921 and .913. Gustavsson was .911, .910 and .909, only slightly above the team average in 2010 because Toskala started 23 games (and had an .899 EV SV%).
In the past, I’ve used a metric called EVSV%+ that normalizes goalie’s even strength save percentages versus the League average. This table also shows EVSV%++, which normalizes a goalie’s even strength save percentage to the average of the Toronto Maple Leafs over the time he was with the team. The average is represented as .900.
Martin Gerber saw a few starts with the Leafs at the tail end of the 2009 season and played relatively well, and, as we know, won two games in April and the Leafs finished two points out of a lottery spot.
Joey MacDonald had some good singular appearances with the Leafs as well, putting up passable numbers in six games. James Reimer still has some potential. Not only is he much better than the average Leafs goalie over his tenure, but he’s better than the average NHL goaltender. There’s still some potential going forward.
But even averaged against Leafs goalies in the Ron Wilson era, Gustavsson was pretty bad, even being well below Toskala. Toskala flamed out after he left Toronto, seeing six more NHL appearances, and, at last check, put up the lowest save percentage among regular goaltenders in the SM-liiga.
Is there any reason to expect that Gustavsson does better in Detroit if he’s given a chance? Well, Detroit’s backups have seen EVSV% of .897, .905 and .908 in the last three years (Joey MacDonald in each year has put up better numbers than the backups) which are even below Gustavsson’s EVSV% totals in the NHL.
The difference in Detroit isn’t better shot quality, just fewer shots against overall. Despite being 18.3 goals below the NHL average in three seasons, those goalies are 17-18 in regulation with a 2.74 goals against average. Gustavsson’s surface numbers may work out to be a little more impressive than they were in Toronto, but I think a lot of people will misinterpret that as Gustavsson playing better behind the Detroit defence. Rather, a goaltender doesn’t have to be as good in Detroit as one does in Toronto, but that won’t affect their EVSV% numbers.
Going ahead, I may rank Leafs goaltenders by comparing their performance to Jonas Gustavsson. For instance, in the most recent season, Reimer scored a 5.4 GBTJ, or “Goals Better Than Jonas”.