Are Bigger Goalies Better At Stopping Medium Or Low Danger Shots?

The biggest roster move the Leafs made this summer was acquiring Frederik Andersen from the Anaheim Ducks in exchange for 30th overall, a 2017 second round draft pick, and Jonathan Bernier.  One of the things that jumps out about Andersen is his size.  At 6’4″ and 230 pounds, he’s one of the NHL’s larger goalies, both in terms of height and width.  Lamoriello said that was one of the things the Leafs liked about Andersen: “He gives us size which today is a necessity the way the game is played.”  Lou followed up by adding that, “his athleticism is exceptional.”

While goaltending analysis has a lot of room to grow, we have a couple of extra tools available today than we did a few years ago.  One of the things we can do is splitting up the shots a goalie faces based on “danger zones”.  If we divide shots into low, medium, and high danger zones (far, medium, and close distance, respectively), it turns out that whether low or medium danger shots become goals is almost entirely random.  It seems to be the case that the only shots where differences in goaltender talent matter much are high danger shots.

I wanted to dig into this a bit deeper to test a hypothesis.  I noticed that Ben Bishop, despite having pretty average HD SV%, has had very good low and medium danger SV% for a while now.  It occurred to me that maybe the reason for that was his size.  Bishop is unusually large for an NHL goalie, standing 6’7″ tall.  I wondered if the reason he seemed to do so well stopping lower danger shots was that his large frame simply made it more likely that pucks would hit him.  That’s not really a skill per se, but it could be a repeatable talent.

This question was even more interesting to me because the Leafs recently acquired one of the NHL’s bigger goalies, another player who didn’t look too impressive based on HD SV% but had pretty good numbers overall. So the hypothesis I decided to test was whether bigger goalies do better at stopping low or medium danger shots than smaller goalies.  In favour of the hypothesis was that it just seems to make sense geometrically – a bigger goalie should have more pucks hit him by accident than a smaller goalie with similar positioning and reflexes.  Against the hypothesis was the fact that so far no real repeatable skill in stopping those kinds of shots has been found.

This is pretty easy to test.  I collected all of the seasons goalies played in the past three years where they were on the ice for at least 1500 minutes (about 35 games or more).  That cut-off was to ensure I was looking only at goalies who had already been filtered somewhat by skill, so I wouldn’t just be muddying the waters by adding replacement level goalies into the mix.  I came up with 102 goalie seasons worth of data, which is a pretty good sample size.

HEIGHT VS SV%

First, we’ll compare SV% in the three danger zones for goalies based on their height, and after that we’ll run the numbers again using weight.  First up is HD SV% filtered by goalie height.

height hd

No link at all.  What about medium danger shots?

height md

Still nothing.  How about low danger shots?

height ld

Still nothing.  In all three plots, the lowest SV%s are found near the middle, which makes sense if there is no repeatable skill involved since that’s where the largest sample of seasons is.  It’s true that the few tallest goalies are above average in terms of stopping low danger shots.  But then, the shortest goalies mostly are, too.  That’s not at all what we’d expect to see if there was a distinct advantage to being taller.

WEIGHT VS SV%

But maybe height isn’t the deciding factor.  Maybe weight is.  Maybe what’s important is being wider, not taller.  That’s pretty easy to test.  Let’s start by looking at high danger shots:

weight hd

And medium danger shots:

weight md

And low danger shots:

weight ld

Once again there’s no real effect.  There’s a slight upward trend on medium danger shots, but there’s still no clear impact there.  There’s still significantly more difference within weight bands than between them. Neither height nor weight shows any tendency to predict whether a goalie will be better at stopping medium or low danger shots, so my initial hypothesis is false.

The results here do not necessarily mean that size isn’t important.  NHL goalies, in general, are fairly tall.  Only 7 of the 102 goalie seasons looked at here are by goalies under six feet tall, while 78 of the seasons are by goalies 6’2″ or taller.  What we’re likely seeing is that among goalies who are good enough to play as NHL regulars, size does not impart much of an advantage.  It could very well be the case that being larger makes goalies more likely to be good enough to make it to the NHL in the first place.  But once they’ve passed that hurdle, it doesn’t look like size has any impact.  Being taller or heavier among NHL goalies has no discernable impact on SV% on low, medium, or high danger shots.


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  • tony

    How about tall and wide vs. short and skinny? End the debate about bigger equipment being a factor, as well as being bigger being an advantage. IMHO it won’t matter. Either you’re good enough to be square and track the puck, or you’re not.

  • Richard

    There are always other factors to consider in statistics……what if more shots miss the net because there is less to shoot at? What if a shot is not even taken because the shooter feels he has nothing to shoot at with a bigger goalie? Maybe a taller goalie can poke check further out resulting in no shot? A taller goalie can probably stop shoot ins from going around the boards behind the net because he can reach it with his stick quicker…..