29 June 2009

How much (good) goaltending is available this Wednesday?

Goaltending is a pretty interesting thing. It's highly randomized by luck, its notoriously inconsistent, and there are only 30 starting jobs to go around the league. And yet its the most important position in a game that relies so much on teams as opposed to individuals. A bad goalie is the biggest goat in sports, but a good goalie is the most prized possession, for which another GM would trade his first born child and then some. That dichotomy is intensely interesting to me, especially when you consider that more and more research by bloggers like Tyler Dellow and the Contrarian Goaltender shows that the difference between the best and worst goalies in the NHL is very small.

This year's goaltender UFA class looks to be a pretty interesting one. Per Tyler Dellow, a replacement level goaltender for the 2008-09 season should post a .902 SV%. When you look at the stats of several goaltenders who were in the league last year, it quickly becomes obvious that several of these guys are below replacement level, and therefore ought to be replaced. Here's the list of available goaltenders starting July 1, per James Mirtle.
1BIRON, MARTINPHI31.93.50055290.915
2ROLOSON, DWAYNEEDM39.73.66763280.915
3KHABIBULIN, NIKOLAICHI36.56.75042250.919
4CLEMMENSEN, SCOTTN.J31.90.50040250.917
5CONKLIN, TYDET33.20.75040250.909
6FERNANDEZ, MANNYBOS34.84.33328160.910
7ANDERSON, CRAIGFLA28.10.55031150.924
8NIITTYMAKI, ANTEROPHI29.01.22532150.912
9MACDONALD, JOEYNYI29.40.48849140.901
10LEGACE, MANNYSTL36.42.15029130.885
11BOUCHER, BRIANS.J32.50.65022120.917
12JOHNSON, BRENTWSH32.30.81321120.908
13RAYCROFT, ANDREWCOL29.20.80031120.892
14DANIS, YANNNYI28.00.55031100.910
15GERBER, MARTINTOR34.83.70026100.902
16LABARBERA, JASONVAN29.40.8252880.901
17GARON, MATHIEUPIT31.51.1001980.894
18WEEKES, KEVINN.J34.20.6881670.920
19SANFORD, CURTISVAN29.70.6501970.906
20SABOURIN, DANYEDM28.80.5131960.898
21JOSEPH, CURTISTOR42.20.7002150.869
22KOLZIG, OLAFTOR39.22.500820.898
23DUBIELEWICZ, WADECBJ30.40.500310.870

I've highlighted in red those goalies who played below a replacement level last season. Olaf Kolzig is clearly on the way out, but Wade Dubielewicz certainly falls prey to a small sample size here. For a career average (which is again a small sample size) in the regular season Dubie has a SV% of 0.916, and he's had some better numbers and some worse ones. As a guess, I would think Dubie is probably pretty close to a replacement level goalie, and in fact, could probably be that replacement level goalie for some teams who had subpar goaltending last year.

So out of a list of 23 available players, 8 (not counting Dubie) are below replacement level goaltenders. This leaves 15 goalies who should have jobs in the NHL, judging by last season's performances. That would make up 25% of available goaltending positions (starting and backup) within the NHL. Tough room, huh?