Friday, August 24, 2007

Martin Brodeur From A Goals Saved Perspective

Martin Brodeur is one of the best goalies of all time. He is a three-time Vezina Trophy winner and well on his way to a Hall of Fame career where he might retire the all time wins and shutouts leader. However, he is a contreversial figure when looked at from a sabermetrics and hockey perspective. It is often hard to assess goalies statistically. It is the most team dependent statistics of wins and shutouts where Brodeur has most excelled throughout his career and some years he has not been among the league leaders in the somewhat more team independent measure of saves percentage (which is still team dependent because of shot quality). So how good is Martin Brodeur? This controversy gets discussed in my posts and comments here and here.

If we look at him using the goals saved method which is originated by Peter Albert (the hockey outsider) we can begin to get an idea.

Here is Martin Brodeur's career in terms of goals saved:

Martin Brodeur's Career in terms of Goals Saved
Season Brodeur's Goals Saved Goals Saved League Leader League Leader's Total
1991/92-0.5Patrick Roy54.2
1993/9426.5Dominik Hasek58.2
1994/952.6Dominik Hasek61.8
1995/9629.6Dominik Hasek37.9
1996/9742.1Dominik Hasek51.5
1997/9820.8Dominik Hasek50.1
1998/99-3.1Dominik Hasek52.2
1999/200012.2Olaf Kolzig33.8
2000/0121.4Sean Burke31.7
2001/0212.4Jose Theodore42.1
2002/0310.2Marty Turco35.6
2003/0412.0Roberto Luongo39.7
2005/0623.3Miikka Kiprusoff50.2
2006/0740.8Martin Brodeur40.8

Since goals saved is not a normal statistic, it is likely necessary to think about what these numbers mean. The number of goals saved a goalie has is the number of goals he would have saved relative to the average goalie in the league that season if he played on the average team. Thus a goalie with zero goals saved is an average NHL goalie. There is plenty of value to being an average NHL goalie, so a season with zero goals saved is not a bad season. One problem with the number is that it is compared to the average that season, which tends to rescale it from one season to the next and it is often helpful to keep in mind what the league leader did that year as a reference point.

Form looking at these numbers, we see that Brodeur was the person who should have won the Vezina last season according to goals saved (and he did). It is the only Vezina he ever deserved. He won in 2003 and 2004 with above average seasons that were well behind Marty Turco and Roberto Luongo respectively.

Several Martin Brodeur accomplishments are not measured at all with this analysis. His playoff record is not measured and he has an accomplished playoff record. Brodeur has won three Stanley Cups with the New Jersey Devils. He led the playoffs in goals against average three times and in shutouts three times. He has the best set of playoff numbers in recent history (at least since Patrick Roy). His international success is also not measured. He has been Canada's number one goalie in the last two Olympiads, with one gold medal win where he led the Olympics in goals against average. None of this is taken into account and all of it is an important part of Martin Brodeur's legacy.

The goals saved statistic is flawed because it does not take into account shot quality. Brodeur has consistently faced very low quality shots. New Jersey has consistently been a very good defensive team and played a very strong defensive system. Through much of his tenure, he played behind Hall of Fame defenceman Scott Stevens and future Hall of Famer Scott Niedermayer. If Brodeur faces weaker than average shot quality, then his goals saved numbers will be inflated. This is a common criticism of Brodeur and his legacy.

The goals saved statistic is also flawed because it does not take into account plays where a goalie is involved where no shot on goal is registered. In Brodeur's case, this is particularly true of dump-ins. Martin Brodeur is often regarded as the best puckhandling goalie in the NHL today and adds a lot of his value to his team by fielding dumpins before they become scoring chances. This was particularly true under the pre-lockout NHL rules where there was no prevention of goalies playing the puck outside the trapezoid behind the goal.

Shot quality data does not exist before the 2002/03 season and dump-in statistics do not exist at all so it is hard to quantify any of this. It is certainly possible (though hard to verify) that Brodeur really was much more of a Vezina Trophy candidate in 2003 and 2004 than goals saved tell us because of his puckhandling ability, however, this difference would have to be larger than the shot quality difference which reduces his value.

Over the course of his career, Brodeur has done very well. He is currently seventh all time in goals saved (though the data for this statistic does not exist before 1951/52 thus excluding many Hall of Fame goalies). He currently ranks behind Patrick Roy, Dominik Hasek, Jacques Plante, Tony Esposito, Ken Dryden and Glenn Hall. This is elite company. Only a very good goalie could be ranked this highly, although the problems comparing goals saved numbers from one year to the next make this number one to be taken with a grain of salt.

Martin Brodeur is clearly a top goalie. He is clearly a Hall of Fame goaltender. However, he is not the best goalie all time. There is little way to argue this point. Even if he becomes the all time winningest goalie, he will likely not be the best goalie all time. I think it is correct to leave him off the 36 best all time list as of right now, though another season or two like 2006/07 would clearly change that opinion. He is an example of why sabermetric analysis of goaltending is hard. He has several outstanding seasons with low shot quality against. Many times this low shot quality inflated his wins, shutouts and goals against average. While he was consistently well above average, he was not shown to have been the best goalie in any single season until 2006/07. He won Vezina Trophies that he probably did not deserve. There are mitigating circumstances. His 1996/97 season was good enough that in many years it would have won a Vezina, but it was in the middle of the run of Dominik Hasek's amazing six years in a row leading in goals saved. His puckhandling ability is not measured at all and likely gives him a higher value than these numbers show. His playoff and international successes are also not measured and also give him a higher value than these numbers show. Martin Brodeur is clearly one of the better goalies in history, but he is clearly not the best all time and is well back of Patrick Roy, Dominik Hasek, Jacques Plante and others.

I just want to point out that the Devils have been the least penalized team each of the past five seasons. This has inflated his svp% since short handed svp% is generally much lower than es svp%.
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