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December 9, 2017

From A Listener: How Jose Made Us Smile

A Case For Advanced Goalie Stats14

I relied heavily on Hockey-Reference.com for this article.

I’ve always liked goalies. Growing up in the seventies, I loved looking at those lonesome warriors in their interesting masks. I was an average house league defenceman who got bailed out by his goalie more than once, so perhaps I appreciated what they did on a deeper level than most. Someone once told me that the stitches on Gerry Cheevers’ mask represented shots that had hit him in the head. I assumed that the stitch to shot ratio was one to one, and I wondered how many of those stitches came courtesy of shots from Guy Lafleur.

Like most of the kids in my neighbourhood I collected hockey cards and committed to memory many player names and statistics. I was fascinated by shutouts. The idea that a player could so dominate a game that he could single-handedly determine the outcome intrigued me. I knew that the career record for shutouts was 103 by Terry Sawchuk, and I was assured that it would never be broken. I also learned early on not to mention the S-word if a goalie had one going in the third period, unless it was against the Montreal Canadiens. In that case, I had an obligation to try to jinx it.   

Today we have advanced statistics. Admittedly, these numbers hold less fascination for me on a child-like level than traditional stats like the shutout. But as a lover of math, I admire the logic and creativity that they require. Advanced statistics are sophisticated. Rather than stand defiant against the winds of change, I’ve decided to accept that it can’t be the seventies forever. Heck, even Terry Sawchuk’s unbreakable shutout record was eventually broken.

Goals Against Average: Besides shutouts, this is probably the most significant traditional goalie stat. Goals Against Average (GAA) is defined as the number of goals that a goalie has allowed, divided by the number of minutes played, multiplied by 60. After World War II, the career leader in GAA was Dominik Hasek at 2.20. He was the first goalie in nearly 40 years to win the Hart Memorial Trophy as the NHL regular season MVP, and he earned the nickname “The Dominator”.

The most recent goalie to win the Hart Trophy was Montreal’s Carey Price, in 2014-15. Price’s GAA that year was 1.96. He had 44 wins in 66 games, and he recorded nine shutouts. He had a save percentage of .933, meaning he stopped 14 out of every 15 shots he faced. He was the consensus choice for best player in the NHL that year. But, just how good was he?

Goals Saved Above Average: This is a modern stat designed to determine how many more goals would have been scored on an average NHL goaltender than the one being considered. To calculate Goals Saved Above Average (GSAA), we multiply the number of shots faced by a goalie by the average league save percentage for the season. This tells us how many shots an average NHL netminder would have stopped. From there, we simply subtract this number from the total number of shots faced to determine the goals that an average NHL goalie would have let in. Then, we subtract the goals let in by the goalie being considered.

Let’s consider Price’s 2014-15 season. He faced 1953 shots that year. The league-wide average save percentage was .915. Multiplying these two numbers means that an average goalie would have stopped 1787 shots, thus allowing 166 goals. Price allowed 130, meaning he saved 36 more goals than an average goalie would have. Because of some rounding issues in our analysis, Price’s GSAA that year was actually 33.70.

Considering Price played 66 games that year, he saved his team an astonishing half a goal per game. Considering how many NHL games are decided by one goal, one can see that Price contributed many points to his team’s final total of 110. Wouldn’t it be great if there was a stat that could tell us just how many?

Goalie Point Shares: Point shares is a statistic similar to baseball’s Wins Above Replacement (WAR) in that it represents an attempt to determine how much a player contributed to his team’s final record. Traditional statistics are considered in this analysis, but so are concepts like marginal goals and marginal goals per point. For example, the league-wide number of goals scored divided by the number of points accumulated by all teams is about two and a half. Therefore, one could argue that for every two and a half goals above average that a goalie stops, the team earns one extra point.  

If we divide two and a half into Carey Price’s GSAA of 33.70, we could say that Price directly contributed about 14 points to his team’s total that year. This is close to his Goalie Point Share for that season, but the computations for Goalie Point Share are more complicated. In reality, Price’s Goalie Point Share that year was 16.2. If we round that to 16 and subtract from Montreal’s point total of 110, we see that Montreal likely would have gotten about 94 points with an average NHL netminder that year. Frankly, that seems about right. Montreal was a better than average team even without Price, but as they showed when Price went down in Game One of the conference finals against the Rangers, they were not elite without their star goalie.

Drawbacks and Advantages: Both of the advanced stats that we’ve looked at here rely heavily on shots against and on save percentage, but neither take into account shot difficulty or time in the game. Ask any Edmonton fan from the 1980s whether Grant Fuhr had the ability to make the big save when it counted and they will answer in the affirmative. Also, these newer advanced stats don’t consider the impact that a goalie has on his team’s psyche. Players that play in front of elite goalies will tell you that they feel more confident when they know that their netminder will probably back them up should they make a mistake. Advanced stats fail to take this into consideration.

In fairness though, traditional stats also don’t consider such concepts either. Traditional stats don’t take shot difficulty or time of the game into account. Also, there is no measurement anywhere for the confidence that an NHL player inspires in his teammates. Some of the critics of advanced statistics in any sport fail to recognize that the traditional stats are not addressing their concerns either.

Conclusion: I think that Goals Saved Above Average and Goalie Point Share are both welcome additions to the analysis of NHL goalies. Granted, the calculations are not something that the average fan could do. But then again, how many of us actually bother to calculate the traditional stats? I love numbers and even I don’t calculate them. I just assume the accuracy of someone else’s calculations. Then, if the numbers support my preconceived notions I use them. What can I say? I’m a fan.

In short, I like being able to say that my team’s goalie likely saved my team 34 more goals and gained my team 16 more points than they would have had with an average goalie. It’s just not as much fun as keeping track of shutouts was in the seventies.

About The Author

Jim Beland is a Math Teacher and sports fantatic from Windsor, ON. A devout HABS and Blue Jays fan, Jim uses sports as a metaphor to teach his students about mathematics. I’m going to be honest. I had a completely different article written for this week. 

I was going to temper expectations and point to things that need improving with this Maple Leafs team (namely their defense of leads), however after their game against the Chicago Blackhawks Monday night none of what I had written was pertinent anymore. Instead, the only thing on my mind was how resilient this Toronto team is proving to be.

Despite having scored 19 goals through three games (15 in the first two) the Leafs haven’t always looked dominant and confident. At times they looked downright outmatched and overwhelmed.

In game one of the season, the Leafs relied heavily on Frederik Andersen standing on his head in net, which he did in spades. Bombarded by the Winnipeg Jets, the Leafs #1 goalie answered one of the biggest questions facing Toronto to open the season: Could Frederik Andersen play at high enough level to, not only keep the Leafs in games, but steal wins outright for them? The Danish keeper answered emphatically with his play and quickly dispatched any doubt in his ability as a goaltender. The Leafs had been under siege throughout the game, especially early in the first when the game was still scoreless. Andersen kept Toronto alive when the game could just have easily spiralled into a massive win for the Jets and not the 7-2 victory the Maple Leafs ended up finishing with.

Against the New York Rangers, Toronto put on a display of the very best…and very worst they have to offer; they erupted offensively, scoring early and often in the first, but simply stopped playing for the entire duration of the second. With a big lead. the Leafs stopped skating and playing smart, hanging their goaltender out to dry for the second straight game, but this time with more dire consequences: A 5-2 lead evaporated to a 5-5 tie entering the final frame.

On Monday night against the ‘Hawks, the Maple Leafs fell behind early and never led the game. As with the game in Winnipeg, it seemed to take the them some time to get their legs going and to start playing properly. Chicago was ready to capitalize and outplayed them in the first. Chicago displayed why they have been one of the deadliest teams over the last decade while Toronto seemingly showed their inexperience and youth.

In all three instances however, Toronto has walked away with a “W”; giving them an unblemished record, at 3-0. They withstood the pressure of the Jets while skillfully and precisely capitalizing on their own. They overcame an egregious defensive collapse (which, given the history of this team, might have torpedoed the moral of the team and game itself) to rout the Rangers; and finally, they fought tooth and nail against one of the league’s toughest teams, clawed their way back, and scraped out a gutsy, statement win in overtime. If nothing else, this young Leafs team is proving to be irrepressible.

There have been Toronto teams in the past that have wilted under much less pressure and adversity. Given the added scrutiny and expectation surrounding this young Leafs team following a surprisingly successful season, you would have to think that strain and tension only feels amplified.

Three games into the season and the Leafs haven’t folded under pressure; they’ve risen to the occasion. Instead of three wins, the Maple Leafs could just as easily been saddled with three losses. Sure, the Leafs have scored at a prolific pace, but each game played thus far has had pivotal moments of momentum in which Toronto had to grab initiative; had they failed to do so the games would have swung the other direction and led them to defeat after defeat. It’s unclear at this point how they’ve managed to stay so cool under pressure (whether it be Babcock’s stern guidance or an air of youthful stubbornness), but it’s exciting to see this team make these kinds of steps forward. A good team finds ways to win and the Leafs are doing exactly that.

Perhaps one of the greatest assets at Toronto’s disposal, which makes them so resilient is their depth and parity throughout their lineup. While many would still consider the Matthews-Nylander-Hyman line their top unit, the Maple Leafs are getting production and equally impressive play from all of their lines. The goals scored by the Leafs have been spread throughout their lineup.  Thus far, only two forwards who have dressed for the team have failed to score a goal (both are fourth liners, Eric Fehr and Matt Martin) and only one skater has yet to register a point (again, Eric Fehr, however he has only dressed for one game). Many past NHL championship teams have flaunted a lineup in which they could send out any line, one through three (and sometimes even four), and rely on them to work, give the opposing team hell, and produce. Early in 2017/2018, fans are seeing signs that Toronto absolutely has that kind of depth…or even better. In the 3-on-3 overtime period on Monday night, we saw Chicago throw out Toews, Kane, and Keith as their best and only real chance to win; meanwhile, Toronto was able to push out trio after trio of skilled players. That meant a star like Matthews was able get rest and remain fresh. When he was used, he was able to gain an extra step on the opposition and produce the rush that led to his game-winning goal. Although it’s unlikely that every forward will continue to perform at this pace, at the moment, very few teams can match the combination of energy and skill that the Leafs seemingly have a glutton of in their lineup. When the likes of Connor Brown (a 20-goal scorer) is playing on your fourth line (and not through fault of his own or deficiency in play) and promising players like Kasperi Kapanen and Josh Leivo continue to be unable to crack the lineup, you know you’re in a good position offensively.

While 7 or 8 goal outings may not be the norm for the Maple Leafs this season, fans can feel confident should Toronto’s steely demeanor under pressure remains constant.  

“Jonathan Milner is Graduate of York University and an avid writer, musician, and sports fan. Born in England but raised in Canada, Jonathan has developed a passion for sports as vast as the ocean that separates his homelands. A religious supporter of both the Toronto Maple Leafs and Leeds United, he is determined that he will see these teams reach the pinnacle of their respective sports in his lifetime.”Barry Chilling on Ice

(click for video)

LaTroy Hawkins is featured on Ep. 27 of Outta The Park. Please click here to listen.

I had a taste of it the year before when the Kansas City Royals clinched the 2014 ALCS, I was assigned to cover their clubhouse celebration. Normally, a visiting reporter can avoid the heavy downpour of champagne, but there were some familiar faces at this party. Jason Frasor, Scott Downs and Erik Kratz were all guys I got to know from their time with the Blue Jays, so when they saw me enter the clubhouse, I became a target.

Now, a year later, I was better prepared.

It was September 30, 2015 and the Jays were at Camden Yards in Baltimore. A win would clinch the AL East and as the team’s broadcaster, we were planning to be live from their clubhouse celebration.

The year before, in Kansas City, I went into the clubhouse in a clean suit, and left drenched head to toe and my contact lenses were stuck to my eyeballs. I was ready this time. Not only did I have a change of clothes, but I had a pair of goggles to protect my eyes. If you’ve ever had champagne sprayed into your eyes, you’d understand why everyone was wearing them.

As the celebration began, I was bothered more by all the wires I had a drag around, more than the icy cold booze that was being poured over my head. I was living a dream. This was much different than that night in Kansas City. This is a team I had been with all season and at times I was caught up in all the excitement.

I was just barely able to hear Buck Martinez in my ear, throwing down to me for the next interview, but I had a great support staff with me that kept me informed and untangled.

I did get caught off guard once, when Mark Buehrle pulled out my earpiece in the middle of an interview, but it was all in good fun.

As ready as I was that night, nothing could have had prepared me for what was about to happen. After finishing up an interview with Devon Travis, someone came from behind me, picked me up, and threw me into a large laundry tub, full of ice and beer. The completely unexpected polar plunge was far more jarring than the champagne spray. You know how they say it’s easier to just dive into a cold pool rather than ease your way in? That rule doesn’t pertain to a tub of ice water. It was freaking cold, but that wasn’t my first concern, it was the fact that here I was, submersed in a tub of water, plugged in to some vital equipment.

I eventually managed to stand up and put on a brave face, but I wanted the hell out of there. The problem was, I was so cold, I couldn’t climb out.

While it was one veteran who threw me in, it was another who was just as concerned for my safety as I was. Out of nowhere, LaTroy Hawkins pushed passed a few guys, insisting I needed assistance, and lifted me out. Had I partaken in some of the booze that was flowing, I probably wouldn’t have not felt it as much, but I did. I was shivering, and still had some work to do. I was dripping, and with every step I took, I could hear a swishing sound in my soaked leather shoes (I learned from that and wore shower sandals for the remainder of the clubhouse celebrations).

I look back on that night now and laugh. It was one of the highlights of my career, and I’m so glad I had handed my phone to someone, who captured it on video. I’ve had the chance to be a part of a few more of those post game parties, but nothing compares to that cold, wet and sticky night in Baltimore. The Toronto Maple Leafs look good.

I’m not one of those fans who unrealistically think a Stanley cup is a sure-thing this season, but a few days before the start of the 2017/2018 NHL season I’m feeling really optimistic about the boys in blue and white.

I’ll admit…it’s a weird and unfamiliar feeling.

I’ve been a Maple Leafs fan (discounting those years that I was too young to fully understand or appreciate competitive sports), ever since I was introduced to hockey as child. I’ve had about 15 years of fandom to develop the cynical mistrust of Toronto’s hockey team,  that almost every Maple Leafs’ fan shares. Sure, there are fans that have suffered longer (…1967 gets further and further away every year) and feel for them, but for me, 15 years is long enough.

Toronto’s history is not without plenty of misery (especially in the last few decades). It’s difficult to even begin to think about ALL the bad trades, terrible players, and missed opportunities that have existed over the years. Just when you’ve thought of the worst one, you remember another. You might start by remembering all the plugs that somehow graced Toronto’s lineups over the years: Mike Komisarek never lived up to hype, Christian Hanson (remember how publicized he was?? He gave them 9 points in 43 games. After leaving the Leafs he never cracked another NHL team lineup (and quit playing altogether in 2014), Brett Lebda? Garnet Exelby? Dave Bolland? David Clarkson? JEFF-freaking-FINGER?!; then you remember Vesa Toskala, and all of the first-shot, bad-angle, and centre-ice goals that went in during his tenure with T.O. You miss Sundin for a moment, then think of the next great star: Phil Kessel. You don’t remember him necessarily being bad, you instead remember THE trade.

Draft picks that became Tyler Seguin and Dougie Hamilton,  for a winger that couldn’t take the team to the next level.

You remember when they finally made a playoff appearance for the first time in a decade.  A Toronto team that was hanging in there and sticking it to their rivals from Boston. Then the collapse of all collapses: a 4-1 lead evaporating in a few final frantic minutes and all that optimism plummeting into maddening sorrow.

Finally, you remember all the “masterminds” and orchestrators of these disappointments. The coaches and GM’s that made these memories possible. You remember all their speeches laying out their strategies. Brian Burke didn’t build through the draft like he said he would. He traded the farm for Kessel and others. He preached “truculence and pugnacity”, but gave them Tyler Biggs. It is ALL these moments you remember that tarnish your faith in the Toronto Maple Leafs. Thus, after experiencing a season which no Leafs fan can say they expected; a season in which they exceeded even the grandest of fans’ expectations and then some, Maple Leafs fans are facing an unfamiliar feeling. Not just optimism, but optimism without even the slightest reason not to trust the process. Suddenly, we are cheering for a team with hope.

So let’s unpack and analyze that optimism a bit. As I stated to begin, the Toronto Maple Leafs look good. They look REALLY good. Not quite, full-Stanley-Cup-contenders good, but promising enough that there is a reason to be excited for the future.

For the first time in a long time, it is realistic to say (even before the season is underway) that the Leafs look good enough to be a lock for the playoffs. Most major analysts have them in, in their pre-season predictions, not by squeaking in on the last day of the season like they did last year, but secured in one of the middle playoff spots. Very few teams look good enough to never be in doubt (the Pittsburgh, Washington, Minnesota, Chicago, etc.) and very few are guaranteed to really struggle (Las Vegas? Colorado?). Most linger in a big blob in between those two categories. Toronto has moved out of that struggling contingent and into this middle-blob. The only thing that can differentiate these monotonous teams is their performances on the ice. As teams under or over perform, they begin to separate themselves from the pack and move toward either the top-tier teams or the bottom feeders. With that in mind, performance is subjective and can change from shift to shift for players (never mind from game to game or season to season). We have seen teams completely take the league by storm and surprise everyone with seemingly underwhelming rosters on paper, only to surge into a cup run (the LA Kings from a few years ago anyone?). We’ve also seen teams destined to be the greatest, that flounder and fail to find that next level and find success (aka every Capitals team in the Ovechkin era). With one good season in the books, it’s hard to predict where the Leafs will be this year. On one hand, pre-season has shown no signs of a sophomore slump but it is ONLY the pre-season. On the other hand, this is a very young team with a few questions still to answer. It wouldn’t be too surprising if the team did take a slight step back from last season.

I honestly believe Auston Matthews, Willy Nylander, Mitch Marner, Connor Brown, and the rest of the forward corps will be fine. Even if they don’t perform to the same exceptional level they did last year, they will still be solid and exciting nonetheless. With the speed, skill, and talent that these young kids possess, it will take a lot to slow them down. The addition of Marleau is a bit perplexing, but if any 35+ year old player was to be brought in to keep up with the kids, Marleau is that guy. He barely shows any sign of age. He can still skate, has incredible endurance and durability. (signified by not missing a regular season game in a decade). He still shows a knack for the net, and is an incredible leader who has familiarity and chemistry with Coach Babcock. Will Marleau win the scoring title? No, but he will contribute and help lead this young team.

The Leafs have the foundation for what all great-teams have: three lines that can score and compete. During the preseason, it was the battle for the 4th line spots that gained the most coverage. That, in itself, is a sign of the Leafs’ strength on the top-3 lines. To start the season, it looks like Dominic Moore and Eric Fehr will platoon at center between Connor Brown and Matt Martin.

Players like Josh Leivo, Kasperi Kapanen, Miro Aaltonen, Kerby Rychel, Nikita Soshnikov, Frederik Gauthier, Tobias Lindberg, Andreas Johnsson, as well as promising rookies like Jeremy Bracco and Carl Grundstom, all see themselves on the outside looking in to begin the season. Despite many having great pre-seasons, they just weren’t able to crack the main squad. The Leafs have so much depth at forward, that even losing Brendan Leipsic to the expansion draft barely registers as a disappointment.

Are all these forwards going to be stars? We don’t know. It’s way too early to tell, but there is A LOT of potential there. The play of Kapanen and Leivo has been electrifying at times.  Kapanen’s play in last year’s playoffs alone could have earned him a permanent spot in the Leafs’ lineup, but once again he must fight and scrape his way into another Maple Leafs appearance, along with every other depth forward. The real questions for the Toronto Maple Leafs (and a much maligned area for the team historically) lay in their defense and with their goalie. What will determine which way the Leafs trend is the play of Frederik Andersen and whether the defense is strong enough to compete and shut down elite NHL scorers. Andersen struggled in his debut season, prompting many Leafs fans to feel they a had a miserable déjà vu on their hands. He bounced back though, helping lead this young team to the playoffs, and almost a series win over one of the league’s best teams. His time in Anaheim has shown that on a good team he can be a solid and competent goaltender. He put up great numbers with a talented team playing in front of him. Any worry or doubt in his abilities stems from the question: what if the team (or at least the defense) ISN’T great in front of him? If the Maple Leafs struggle defensively they will need Andersen to stand tall and steal games for them,  like any elite goalie in the league has the ability to do. He needs to be Toronto’s Carey Price or Braden Holtby. Unfortunately, it’s unclear whether that’s a fair expectation to thrust upon him.

It’s not a player’s fault if they’re labelled elite, but are JUST okay (remember Phaneuf?). The Leafs’ defense corps do not exactly leap out at you as being particularly stellar either. Sure, players like Gardiner and Zaitsev had strong seasons last year. Others, like Reilly, are bound to be better, but there are many undefined commodities that will be patrolling Toronto’s blue line this season. What will they get from the likes of Marincin, Carrick, Rosen, Borgman? Or even Dermott and Nielsen, if they are called up? Will they step out and prove themselves to be reliable players or are they AHLers, promoted simply because there is no one else to fill the position?

All of these defensemen have shown a lot a promise at times and are still young enough that they might take their game to another level. The problem is that the Leafs NEED them to do so to have the best chance for success. A veteran addition like Ron Hainsey will help mentor and stabilize the back end, but the fact remains that this next wave of defensemen need to establish themselves as full time NHLers. Otherwise, these young D-men could become the next Frankie Corrado; perpetually touted for having potential enough that the team fears losing you, yet not good enough to crack a team and spends most nights in the press box.

There is hope abound in Toronto: the Raptors are competitive (and would have more success if not for those pesky Cavs); TFC has finally cashed in on all the support and enthusiasm that has surrounded them since they entered the MLS; the Jays had a brief foray into October baseball and gave us the legendary bat flip (before imploding into the prototypical under-performing Toronto sports team this season). In fact there is still hope for next season in spite of it. Even Toronto’s newest professional sports team, the Toronto Wolfpack, have had a supremely successful season, earning themselves a promotion into the next tier of English Rugby League competition (yes, English as in England). The Wolfpack have done what no team has done before, by being successful in a cross-Atlantic league.

With all this positivity in sports, the city of Toronto is in a great place. For years, Toronto has sat at the bottom of rankings for sports cities, but it appears that has changed.  

Helping to lead that change, with the rest of Toronto’s teams, are the newly budding Buds; the exciting kids of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

I have to say, “the kids are alright”.

“Jonathan Milner is Graduate of York University and an avid writer, musician, and sports fan. Born in England but raised in Canada, Jonathan has developed a passion for sports as vast as the ocean that separates his homelands. A religious supporter of both the Toronto Maple Leafs and Leeds United, he is determined that he will see these teams reach the pinnacle of their respective sports in his lifetime.”

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