Steve shared this bit from Kevin McGran on Twitter this morning. It was a mostly factual, albeit obvious, bit about how the Pittsburgh Penguins are so good because of their depth. Depth, moreso than top talent, is what drives team’s success through the regular season and into the playoffs when too often blame for a team’s elimination is placed squarely on one guy.
But then McGran started getting into goaltending. The stats community, I guess you could call us, have been pretty “anti”-Marc-Andre Fleury for quite some time now. Straight up, his save percentages aren’t good enough to warrant the talk of him being an elite goalie. Jared Lunsford covered this to some extent in his Penguins preview at NHL Numbers from the from this fall.
This season, Shero acquired Tomas Vokoun to be the steadying force behind Fleury. When the bad Fleury emerged in the first round against the New York Islanders, Bylsma felt confident turning to the veteran Vokoun — a starter most of his career. Vokoun has been in the Pittsburgh net ever since.
That’s the dilemma the Leafs face.
If Reimer gets hurt or goes cold, is Scrivens good enough to pick up the slack?
Nonis tried to address that very issue at the trade deadline.
First off, I don’t think that Vokoun was the right guy for the Leafs. He’s 36, and it’s something that I wrote about when he went off the market. Vokoun signed the same day that Curtis Sanford went to the KHL, who I wrote at the time was the veteran that the Leafs could have given a backup spot to. It’s not about having two superstars in net. It’s good in theory, but ultimately, good goalies know they’re good goalies and want to play. It’s sort of why Roberto Luongo’s being pushed out of Vancouver this season and why Anaheim once waived Ilya Bryzgalov.
As for which tandem you’d prefer… I’d prefer Scrivens and Reimer, at least for this season, because it’s a much better price. Remember, James Reimer did go down to injury this season, leading to eight consecutive starts by Ben Scrivens including starts in back-to-back nights.
During that stretch, Scrivens posted five quality starts—starts with a .913 save rate or better, or an .885 save rate and a goals against average of two or less. He had a .928 save percentage and posted two shutouts—in consecutive starts.
If you’re looking at this season, sure. Fleury and Vokoun both played well in Pittsburgh and that team was fourth in the league in save percentage at even strength, behind just the New York Rangers, Detroit and Ottawa. The Leafs finished 15th.
Depth is created by efficiency. If you find a cheap good player at one position, you can have another player who is good at a different position that is more expensive. You’re looking to get the most value at each position.
Let’s do the math
So, look at it this way: the Penguins two goaltenders had a .932 even strength save rate this season [NHL.com]. Over the 1164 shots they faced, two replacement goaltenders, that each stop .912, would have made 23.4 fewer saves over the course of the season.
Divide that by 5.5, roughly the amount of goals it takes for an added win in the standings, and the Penguins goalies combined for 4.3 WAR, or 4.3 Wins Above a Replacement goaltender.
For the Leafs, Screimer combined for a .923 save rate. That’s 14.1 saves better than a replacement goaltender, or 2.6 WAR. While the Penguins appear to be better, consider the costs.
Our two replacement goaltenders cost us $525,000 against the cap—the NHL minimum salary. Since you need two of them, your two replacement goaltenders cost you $1.05M. The Penguins are paying $5,950,000 above that for 4.3 wins, while the Leafs are paying $1,362,500 above that for 2.6 wins.
Do the division, and the Leafs are paying $524,038.46 per win from the goaltending position while it’s costing the Penguins nearly a million dollars more: $1,383,720.93.
Now, being economical with goaltending isn’t going to get you very far. The point is to be “good” with goaltending, something both the Leafs and Penguins are. The Leafs economy in net didn’t help them be better up front or on defence, which is ultimately why they lost in the first round and the Penguins are playing in the third round.
The Leafs didn’t back into three consecutive draft lotteries and get to select two of the top five players in the game in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. That is ultimately the difference between the Penguins and the Leafs. It’s not between the pipes.
Between the pipes, the Leafs are solid. Even when Reimer was hurt, the Leafs weren’t in a position this year when you though “oh man, if they’d only given Tomas Vokoun that second year, or had traded for Miikka Kiprusoff”. Just didn’t happen this year. May happen next year, certainly happened in 2012, but didn’t happen in 2013, which is the year in question.
Toronto has a whole other offseason to get a veteran backup. Can the Leafs get 60 starts out of Reimer in a full 82-game season?