Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Overworked Goalies

One method to survive in a salary capped environment is to have one number one goaltender and a bargain basement backup, who is seldom played. There are more and more teams that are playing their number one goalie more and more games and very seldomly playing their number two goalie at all. Is this strategy one that leads to overwork of your starter and you eventual downfall when this occurs?

Last season, five goalies appeared in 70 or more games. They were Martin Brodeur of the New Jersey Devils (78 games), Roberto Luongo of the Vancouver Canucks (76 games), Miikka Kiprusoff of the Calgary Flames (74 games), Andrew Raycroft of the Toronto Maple Leafs (72 games) and Henrik Lundqvist of the New York Rangers (70 games). These were the four best goalies in the league (the 2007 Vezina nominees) and Andrew Raycroft, who was not as successful in goal.

Any goalie on pace to play 70 or more games this season would have missed at most four of his team's games. This list this season includes: Evgeni Nabokov of the San Jose Sharks (appeared in every game so far), Miikka Kiprusoff (missed one game), Rick DiPietro of the New York Islanders (missed two games), Henrik Lundqvist and Ryan Miller of the Buffalo Sabres (missed three games), Martin Brodeur, Roberto Luongo, Johan Holmqvist of the Tampa Bay Lightning and Tomas Vokoun of the Florida Panthers (missed four games). That is a full nine goalies on pace for 70 or more games played. That is up from the five who did it last season (although the number may drop between now and the end of the season). Four of the goalies on the list were there last year as well as this year.

The question is do goalies burn out? Is this counter-productive to play a goalie this much? It is hard to say. There are still relatively few cases of modern day goalies getting this many games played. Should any of these goalies have successful Stanley Cup playoff runs, they could have over 100 games played all season. That would be an unprecedented total. The most games played by a Stanley Cup winning goalie to date is Martin Brodeur in 2002/03 who played in 97 games (73 regular season and 24 playoffs).

Is it meaningful that of the five goalies that were heavily played last season, none made it beyond the second round of the playoffs? Jean-Sebastien Giguere won the Stanley Cup with 74 total games played. That is approximately the regular season workload of one of these goalies and it includes playoffs.

Here are the games played totals for Stanley Cup winning goalies since 1980 (when the playoffs became four rounds long):

Games Played For Stanley Cup Winning Goalies
Season GoalieTeamGames Played TotalReg Season Playoffs
1979/80Billy SmithNYI583820
1980/81Billy SmithNYI584117
1981/82Billy SmithNYI644618
1982/83Billy SmithNYI584117
1983/84Grant FuhrEdm614516
1984/85Grant FuhrEdm644618
1985/86Patrick RoyMon664620
1986/87Grant FuhrEdm534419
1987/88Grant FuhrEdm947519
1988/89Mike VernonCgy745222
1989/90Bill RanfordEdm785622
1990/91Tom BarrassoPit684820
1991/92Tom BarrassoPit785721
1992/93Patrick RoyMon826220
1993/94Mike RichterNYR916823
1994/95Martin BrodeurNJD604020
1995/96Patrick RoyCol836122
1996/97Mike VernonDet533320
1997/98Chris OsgoodDet866422
1998/99Ed BelfourDal846123
1999/2000Martin BrodeurNJD957223
2000/01Patrick RoyCol856223
2001/02Dominik HasekDet886523
2002/03Martin BrodeurNJD977324
2003/04Nikolai KhabibulinTBL785523
2005/06Cam WardCar512823
2006/07Jean-Sebastien GiguereAna745618

This table tells us only that we could be getting into unprecedented workload for the Stanley Cup winning goalie, if it is one of the most worked goalies so far this season. Of course, a goalie who has had some time off like Giguere of Anaheim or Hasek of Detroit could win the cup also. More teams are working their number one goalie in more games than before. This is a trend that might lead to goalies burning out. If it was up to me, I would rather have a more rested goalie for the playoff run.

1) Most of the teams mentioned have little choice but to play their #1 guy that many games. In a salary cap world, a team can not carry 2 quality tenders lkke they did in years past. At least its MUCH less common
2) The teams listed would NOT be in contention if say for example Luongo/Broduer, etc played 20 fewer regular season games.
Thanks for the analysis. Although team styles, backup goalies, quality of defense, etc. also play a role, I think you're on the mark with this article.

I wonder if another interesting indicator would be looking at games played by a goalie in a season and playoff 'upsets' - a lower-ranked team beating the higher ranked team in the first round of playoffs. It's not that common, but it seems to happen almost every year.
It would be ideal to have two great goalies (like those Islanders and Oilers teams in the Eighties), but it's pretty tough to afford that in a cap system: the only real way to do that now is have one established star and one promising rookie (see Gerber/Ward in Carolina during their cup run or Huet/Price with the Habs at the moment). However, as Faux Rumors pointed out, some of the teams with the best goalies also rely on them the most. A good example is Vancouver, where they've had capable backups under Luongo the past couple of years (Sabourin and now Sanford), but can't usually afford to play them, because on a team that has to fight for every point, the difference between amazing goaltending and good goaltending could determine a playoff spot at the end of the season.
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