After last season's disappointing playoff loss, the biggest question was who was going to be tending the net for the Islanders. Evgeni Nabokov played well enough down the stretch last season to get the team into the playoffs, but the playoffs revealed a different monster under the mask - he posted an .842 save percentage which was a primary reason for the team's demise. The fact that it was a light and fluffy shot from Brooks Orpik (not Douglas Murray) that sent the team home was additional icing on the proverbial cake. He also gave up two goals to Murray as well.
Some considered Nabokov's playoff performance indicative of the Penguins simply being an offensive juggernaut while others looked at the entire season along with the playoff performance and assumed Nabokov would either be a backup at best or that the team would acquire a competent option at 1B particularly given that the team had high playoff hopes.
The free agency period hit with a hard right hand and knocked out any questions regarding goalies that the Islanders might have - Nabokov was signed to a one-year contract worth $3.25 million dollars, almost ensuring that he'd enter as the number one goalie. Other goalies came and went and were quickly signed away mostly for short-term deals.
Reactions ranged from utter disgust to apathy to optimism that his late season performance would carry through or that Kevin Poulin or Anders Nilsson would flourish into a competent number one. How could anyone think this? Most likely because they're Islanders fans.
Islanders Goalies of Years Past
There are obviously different fan types and some will remain optimistic to their teams' decisions regardless of how poor they might actually be. The fact of the matter is that the Islanders have had some of the most inept goaltending over quite a large period of time and it would be hard to blame anyone for not recognizing a bad goalie when they've never been graced with the presence of a good goalie. Exactly how horrid has the goaltending been?
|Last 5 Seasons||28||1133||11767||0.904||-.00787|
|Last 10 Seasons||25||2284||23998||0.905||-.00439|
|Last 15 Seasons||26||3460||35679||0.903||-.00504|
It's been terrible - the team has the 28th best save percentage in the league over the past five years. The team has only ranked in the top half of the league three times in the past 15 seasons and has only possessed an above average save percentage twice - once with the trio of Tommy Salo, Wade Flaherty, and Eric Fichaud and the other being 06-07 where the trio of Rick DiPietro, Mike Dunham and Wade Dubielewicz ended with a magical poke check by Dubielewicz to clinch a playoff birth. The 20th overall rank that the team possessed last year is poor, but it's the highest the team has ranked since 07-08. Even with all this information there were enough detractors that thought the goalies performed amicably and that the defense and too many chances are at least partially to blame for the lackluster save percentage.
Bad Defense Doesn't Lead to Bad Goaltending
It's too bad that there's no correlation for a high volume of shots leading to a lackluster shooting percentage. The fact of the matter is that the data shows the opposite albeit with a very loose correlation. The data is hard to look at, but this is every goalie's individual seasons with their save percentages mapped out against the number of shots faced:
As stated, the data is hard to look at. The Islanders defense actually allowed the 21st most amount of shots as well, so the defense wasn't as poor as it's made out to be. In a bit of an interesting phenomenon, the goalie that's faced the most shots per minute (minimum 20 games) has outperformed the goalie that's faced the least for the past five years running. The top five goalies in most shots per minute have had higher save percentages than those that have faced the least amount of shots per minutes as well.
|Ben Bishop||0.92||33.38||Martin Brodeur||0.901||22.33|
|Craig Anderson||0.914||32.94||Martin Biron||0.904||25.52|
|Jonas Hiller||0.924||33.53||Martin Brodeur||0.903||22.83|
|Ondrej Pavelec||0.906||35.04||Cristobal Huet||0.895||21.28|
|Craig Anderson||0.924||35.83||Curtis Joseph||0.869||23.75|
It's Still not Worth Overpaying a Goalie
Consider this - the average save percentage was about .9135 in 2012 which is the last season that we have full data for. Mike Smith had the top save percentage at about .930. He faced 2066 shots and allowed 144 goals. Those 2066 shots multiplied by the average save percentage of .9135 yields a result of approximately 178.6 goals meaning that Smith saved the team about 34.6 goals over the league average. That was the most elite goalie in the league and no other goalie saved more than 30 goals above average that year. A total of 27 goalies were above league average and played more than 20 games. An individual like Ryan Miller faced 1788 shots and saved a total of about 4.6 goals over the league average that year with his .916 save percentage.
How much would an offensive player that is responsible for 4.6 goals over the league average realistically be worth? This is something that needs to be weighed especially by a team with a limited budget. With regards to this past offseason, the team clearly did not do their due diligence in giving Nabokov his contract, not when the market was considerably deeper than it appeared and there were plenty of bargains to be had. Nabokov gave up 2.7 goals more than an average goalie and he received $3.25 million dollars.
At the very least the team should have explored a backup at the prices listed and the failure to address the goaltending need along with other roster decisions are mainly to blame for the 2013-2014 season, but this does not necessarily mean that the team should go out and pay Ryan Miller something crazy like six million on a long term deal.
The Best Goalie is Probably not the Expected Goalie
It would be great to acquire a franchise caliber goalie that has a proven track record. The problem with that is that teams have a propensity for hanging on to quality goaltenders and the ones left are often rather expensive, demand longer term contracts and are at or past their primes while the best goalies are acquired relatively cheap and developed through the system. The following goalies are the top thirty in the league in minutes played even strength. On the left hand side are the top fifteen goalies in save percentage while the ones on the right are the bottom half.
|Player||GP with Other Teams||Player||GP with Other Teams|
|Ben Bishop||36||Steve Mason||252|
|Tuukka Rask||0||Roberto Luongo||344|
|Josh Harding||0||Mike Smith||162|
|Semyon Varlamov||59||Jaroslav Halak||101|
|Carey Price||0||Craig Anderson||213|
|Cory Schneider||98||Ryan Miller||0|
|Jonathan Bernier||62||Marc-Andre Fleury||0|
|Corey Crawford||0||Antti Niemi||42|
|Jonas Hiller||0||Evgeni Nabokov||563|
|Sergei Bobrovsky||83||Tim Thomas||378|
|Henrik Lundqvist||0||Carter Hutton||1|
|Braden Holtby||0||Ondrej Pavelec||0|
|Jimmy Howard||0||Kevin Poulin||0|
|Jonathan Quick||0||Devan Dubnyk||0|
|Kari Lehtonen||204||Martin Brodeur||0|
While there are some first rounders and high round picks on the left, there are also plenty of late round picks and guys that were obtained for little or no cost. The right hand side is comprised of mostly veterans who had seen their best days behind them and their teams went on to develop new talent. These players generally cost more with less return on their investment. On a team with a budget like the Islanders it is likely worth attempting to find a diamond in the rough based on the statistics that A.H.L. and foreign players have posted instead of overpaying for a mediocre or slightly above-average goalie.