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Fun with numbers: Any time is a good time for π

Lately, it's been a lot of humble pie.
Lately, it's been a lot of humble pie.

But especially March 14th, National Pi Day.*

*In Europe, the convention is day-month-year, so this would be 14/03/12, and there would be no pi, since they have the same twelve months we do and thus no 3/14 anywhere in sight. They would have to settle for the highly-inaccurate July 22nd, aka "22/7", which was sometimes used as a quick-and-dirty estimate in the dark days with no calculators permitted on math tests. And in England, that would be called "maths" because "mathematics," being a plural, ought to have a plural abbreviation. But in any country, this is all a pointless digression.

It was a thing over at High Heat Stats to find all the pitchers with π as an earned-run average, a task taken to heart by the redoubtable Joe Posnanski. He found out some great stuff, too.

Those of us on the hockey side of things have an equivalent in GAA, goals-against average for goalies. There is, however, one problem - for much of the league's history, a 3.14 GAA is just not so hot. As a result, there aren't that many examples to choose from.* Nobody gets to be that mediocre for that long to keep a 3.14 GAA. In baseball, 3.14 has ranged from respectable to quite good, and only very rarely has been considered openly bad; there are plenty of guys to chose from.

*Out of the 160 goalies to play 250 or more games in their career, fully 105 have a GAA lower than 3.14. And one man, Richard Brodeur, met the 250 game standard in both the WHA and NHL. As you can guess, his career ran exactly in the absolute roughest historical time for goalies, 1972-1988. His combined GAA for both leagues, 3.76, is 153rd of the 160 - and he finished his career over .500 (296-289-74).

Hockey, however, did have a brief time where 3.14 was acceptable, even admirable: starting with the NHL's huge expansions in the late 60's and early 70's (along with the addition of the WHA teams), until approximately the first labor stoppage following the 1994 playoffs. Scoring went way up in those years from historical norms, and shortly afterward, dropped to historical lows, the so-called Dead Puck Era. Those are where we're going to find our masked men. (Some of them will likely be excellent goalies.)

On top of that, baseball has an offensive equivalent to π - batting .314 - that does not exist for hockey. (Though I suppose a team scoring 314 goals in a season would count.) It's just much easier to find pi-friendly baseballers than pi-friendly hockey players. But that also means that it's easier to give you the few examples after the jump.

First off - there is no goalie with a 3.14 career GAA, so that much is simple. Andy Moog finished at 3.134, and Bob Essensa finished at 3.147 - neither of them can get to the Greek (letter) even by rounding off. One goalie, however, did post a career 3.14 GAA in the playoffs: former Ranger and Red Wing Glen Hanlon. He won't be the only Ranger-Red Wing goalie you see in this post, so stick around.

*He caught right-handed; the hockey term for that is "silly-sider."

A search at Hockey Reference returns 13 different goalies who finished an individual season with a 3.14 GAA, ten of them reaching the necessary 25 games to qualify for end-of-year honors. This is where things get interesting. For one thing, all of them happened after the 1967 expansion from six to twelve teams. The last Original Six season, two of the six teams averaged three goals per game; in 1968-69, half the teams did it - all the Original Six teams, as it happens, with the expansion half-dozen still struggling to keep up. And that brings us to Denis DeJordy of the Chicago Blackhawks, who permitted 156 goals in 2981 minutes, checking in as near to 3.14 as I can imagine without going over: 3.1398859, to carry it way out there.

DeJordy, incidentally, came painfully close to pulling the trick for his career overall. He wound up just ahead of Moog, at 3.132 GAA for his career: merely one extra goal over the 316 games he played would have dropped him to 3.135, which would round up to π.

Our next math-friendly goalie is Kings star Rogatien Vachon,* like DeJordy a native of Quebec. His 1975-76 campaign ended at 3.137 - to give you an idea of the challenge of tending goal in those days, consider that he was ninth in the league among qualifiers, and his five shutouts trailed only Hall of Famer Ken Dryden and All-Star Chico Resch. Today, that GA would rank 45th.

*Rogie's son, Nicholas, is responsible for one of the best YouTube vids ever made.

Our third goalie actually didn't qualify in this season, but deserved mention anyway, because he is the only Hall of Famer in the bunch - longtime Ranger keeper Eddie Giacomin, who posted a 3.14 in his final season, 1977-78, over nine games for the Red Wings.

Earning another special consideration is Kelly Hrudey,* the only keeper to appear twice in this list. He posted a 3.14 as a rookie with the Islanders in 1983-84 - in fact, 3.1402, as close to actual π as we've seen yet. He only played nine games that year for the then-four-time Stanley Cup champs; his next visit to Mathmagic Land was the truncated 1995 season. He played 35 games (of a 48-game schedule) in Los Angeles, following in the skate ruts of Rogie Vachon. His GAA was 3.136 that year, but is more numerically-quirky because he made exactly one-thousand saves that year.

*And of course, that's Hrudey in this priceless clip, showing LeVar Burton the tricks of the trade. NOBODY does it that way anymore, and it was only 25 years ago. The butterfly has pretty much made those leg saves a true rarity. And yet, it was good enough to win the Easter Epic that year.

Our third non-qualifier on the list is also our third LA King - Frederic Chabot put up a 3.1408 in his twelve games. And you can already see the tide turning as far as offense is concerned. Vachon in '76 was a top goalie with that GAA, and played 795 career games; Hrudey in '95 was still a viable starter, and played 677 career games. Chabot in 1998 was an afterthought whose NHL career would end the next year at 32 total games.

The other names on the list include young, promising 80's goalies (Bob Froese, Daren Puppa) and one-time phenoms on the downside (Andrew Raycroft, Byron Dafoe). Dafoe's presence is notable because he is one of the very few NHL players from the U.K., being born in Sussex, England. This earned him one of the great hockey nicknames, Lord Byron, after two tremendous years in Boston (the same two years, in fact, that Chabot was playing himself out of the league and off to Germany). And yes, he was also a Los Angeles King for a while, though he posted his π year in his final season, in Atlanta, which no longer even has a team.

One final note - twelve NHLers were born on March 14th, and get birthday π - none of them are particularly well-known. One, Mattias Ritola, is active (playing for Tampa Bay), and one, the wonderfully-named Darcy Wakaluk, is a goalie. His career GAA was 3.22. Sooooooo close.

cross-posted over at Blog of the Nightfly