Saturday, April 07, 2007

Goalie Wins Records

In 1973/74 Bernie Parent set the NHL record by recording 47 goaltender wins for the eventual Stanley Cup champion Philadelphia Flyers. He did so in a 78 games season where games that were tied after regulation were ended as ties (Philadephia had 12 of them that season). Philadelphia had a 50 win season that year, leaving only three wins for backup goaltender Bobby Taylor.

There is a new set of rules governing goaltender wins that makes them far more plentiful today. Not surprisingly, this leads to a new goaltender wins record. In today's NHL, teams play 82 games a season and no games end in ties. Games that are tied after regulation go to overtime and then to a shootout and every game produces a win for some goaltender.

Martin Brodeur of the New Jersey Devils "broke " Parent's with his April 5th victory over the Philadelphia Flyers. It was Brodeur's 48th win of the season. He has one more game to play and therefore might wind up with 49 wins. Fourteen of Brodeur's wins came after regulation time expired. Those would have been ties in Parent's day. Parent recorded 47 regulation wins in 73/74 and Brodeur has so far recorded 34 regulation wins in "breaking" the record.

Roberto Luongo of the Vancouver Canucks also has the potential to "break" this record. So far, he has 46 wins and he has two games remaining, which could allow him 48 wins. He has 13 of his wins in overtime and shootouts, thus leaving 33 regulation wins.

Neither Brodeur nor Luongo has come close to the achievement Parent had when he set this record. Nevertheless, Brodeur (and possibly Luongo) will go down in the record books with this record. With the increase in wins available per season, the potential does increase for an elite goalie on an elite team (a la Parent in 73/74) to compleletly destroy the old mark, instead of increase it by a small amount (as we are seeing this year).

It is not only single season wins records that are getting beaten because of the increase of goalie wins available. The all time wins list is dominated by modern goalies. Here it is:

Top 10 Winningest Goalie Careers as of April 6th, 2007 Games
Name Teams Seasons Played Wins
Patrick RoyMon Col1984-2003551
Martin BrodeurNJ1991-Present494
Ed BelfourChi SJ Dal Tor Fla1988-Present484
Terry SawchukDet Bos Tor LA NYR1949-1970447
Curtis JosephStL Edm Tor Det Pho1989-Present445
Jacques PlanteMon NYR StL Tor Bos1951-1973437
Tony EspositoMon Chi1968-1984423
Glenn HallDet Chi StL1951-1971407
Grant FuhrEdm Tor Buf LA StL Cgy1981-2000403
Mike VernonCgy Det SJ Fla1982-2002385

Here we see that everyone of the top ten goalies in terms of career wins played from 1949 onwards (this was the season that the games played in a season shot up from 60 to 70). More games played is more chances to win. In the 1983/84 season, a five minute overtime was brought in at the conclusion of tied games. Six of the top 10 goalies played the bulk of their careers after that point (a seventh, Tony Esposito played the final season of his career after regular season overtime was brought back). Three of the top 10 have played in the shootout era where there are no more ties anymore (thus producing more wins). They are three of the top five all time in wins.

Wins are a team stat, but any goaltender who has a long enough career to get to the top of this list must have been a good goaltender. Except, that wins have become more and more plentiful in recent history, thus making it easier for modern goalies to get to a higher position then deserved on this list. Two of the top 10 goalies in wins are not goalies I consider Hall of Famers. One is Mike Vernon (who I once wrote a post about why he is not a Hall of Famer and one is currently active Curtis Joseph who is quickly moving up the all time wins list. If Joseph does continue to climb (and especially if he looks like a dominant goalie who is not merely hanging onto a career and puffing up his career totals) eventually the point will come where he would have to be considered a Hall of Famer. That point has not come yet, but it might be on the horizon if CuJo can manage one or two more good seasons.

It probably would be meaningful to present an adjusted goalie wins leader table now - except I do not have one (one day maybe). I suppose one would correct for length of season, rules regarding what is a win etc. In order for that to be meaningful, one would have to not normalize away the ability of the team the goalie played for. Otherwise you would get a list like this which attempts to rank the 10 best goalies of all time - which is valuable but misses the point of a discussion on goalie wins.

Since the definition and frequency of wins has changed over time to make them more common today, the raw win totals are flawed to attempt to evaluate the winningest goalies of all time. They are showing their biggest weakness in the single season statistics where Bernie Parent's single season wins record is falling to goalies who clearly have not had a dominant a year (in terms of wins). Evaluating all of this in a meaningful way is a sabermetrics and hockey project. The modern day goalies would find their win totals downgraded by a dignificant margin.

I am afraid CuJo might already be hanging on. His save% over the last three seasons are .909, .902 and .891 and his goals against averages are 2.39 2.91 and 3.24 and he has just 17 wins this season. That isn't a good trend. Maybe there are enough lowsy teams willing to give him 50 starts a season so he might have a chance at 20 wins but I can't see any quality teams bringing him in to be another more than a backup.
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