Why I Could Care Less About (Goalie) Wins and Losses

Jonathan Willis
July 25 2009 10:41AM

I’m sure everyone here is sick of me preaching doom and gloom about the Oilers’ coming season. I’m equally sure that they’re sick of my rather pessimistic predictions about the Khabibulin contract. This article isn’t meant to continue those trends, but rather to make a general point that is inspired by one particular line of reasoning about Khabibulin: that he’s a winner.

It’s always seemed to me that a goaltender’s win-loss record is well beyond his control; it just makes sense. A logical extension of this is winning the Stanley Cup; since the goalie alone can’t determine wins and losses, it seems that winning and losing is a bad way of judging goaltender ability.

An extreme example of this occurred during the 2005-06 season. An NHL team had two goaltenders; goaltenders who had posted the following stats lines:

  • Starter: 24-9-7, 2.29 GAA, .919 SV%
  • Backup: 6-17-1, 3.00 GAA, .910 SV%

The backup obviously had poorer numbers, but that was still an exceptional save percentage. With this team out of a playoff spot, they elected to swap the backup to a competitor for draft picks; the fact that the backup was a pending free agent undoubtedly helped them to make that decision.

In any case, there were some serious doubts about the backup. Not only was his win/loss record shoddy, but despite being 36 years old he had but a single playoff round win to his name – and even there, his performance hadn’t been great (posting a .903 SV%).

The backup was Dwayne Roloson, of course, and here (in part) is what Tyler Dellow of mc79hockey.com had to say about the trade on the day it took place:

Now, from the Oilers perspective, they’re getting a guy who has just put up solid numbers for the last three years. I’ve included Roloson’s numbers in a table to the left. His relative save percentage has been outstanding for the past three seasons after a very mediocre start to his career-1019, 1024 and 1015. The last time I did the Oilers as a team, they were at 980-even if Roloson falls to league average, he’d be a significant improvement over what they were getting. Some of the dumber commentary I’ve seen on this (like the Wild’s press release, and every second comment on Calgarypuck), makes a big deal about Roloson’s record compared to Fernandez. His significantly higher goals against average has also been mentioned. I wouldn’t read too much into it. Roloson has, for some reason, had the Wild play significantly worse in front of him. On my numbers, the expected even strength goals against per 60 (based on shot volume, distance and whether or not it was a rebound) for the Wild when Roloson was in net was 3.07; when Fernandez was in net, it was 2.63. That’s a pretty significant difference. The Roloson figure of 3.07 (which is designed to reflect the team in front of him as opposed to the goalie) is a worse figure than that put up by every team except Atlanta, the Islanders and the Penguins this sesaon. I’m not so sure that he’s had the Wild’s usual stellar play in front of him in games he’s played this season. I don’t generally pay attention to wins as a goalie stat but I’d assume that the Wild have given better offensive support to Fernandez. Much has been made of Roloson playing for the Wild and the idea that he’s just putting up numbers playing behind a stifling defence. I’m not sure what to make of this myself-while it’s true that he put up worse than league average numbers prior to the last three years, he was consistently excellent in the minors and spent much of his NHL time playing for teams that weren’t particularly good defensively. As I noted, there are indications that they haven’t played particularly well in front of him this season and he’s still put up good numbers. Comparing him to the trio we’ve been using all year, I have him as being 3 goals below his expected goals against at even strength this year, again, with expected goals against being determined by shot volume, rebounds and distance. He’s faced 536 ES shots as of my last update. That’s a hell of a lot better than the guys that the Oilers have been using-as of my last update, Jussi was -15 on 633 shots, Ty was -5 on 198 shots and Morrison was -3 on 248 shots. This indicates to me that Roloson has been significantly better this season than the guys he’ll be replacing. My conclusion is that if he puts up the save percentage he has so far this season for the remaining 20 games and we assume he plays 80% of the games, I figure he makes the Oilers 12 goals better. That’s a ridiculously huge number, worth in the neighborhood of 4 points in the standings.

That’s a long quote, but it’s worth reading. It’s also illuminating because Tyler (even more so than me) has been accused of having a consistently pessimistic view of the Oilers. That isn’t true; he’s consistently judged goaltenders by the available market and by their save percentage over the past few seasons in relation to the rest of the league.

The same things that made Roloson appealing in 2005-06 are what he’s using to judge goaltenders now. As we saw, save percentage worked well then and I think it will continue to work well in the future. Honestly, a goaltender’s win/loss record – even a goaltender’s playoff record – holds very little weight with me if he’s been sub-par save percentage-wise.

Chris Osgood is, in many ways, the perfect example of this. People who watch the numbers agree with people who watch the games: he’s a fairly average tender playing for a great team. However, he’s won enough Stanley Cups that there’s now almost a ‘Cult of Osgood’; he was considered a leading candidate for the Conn Smythe trophy in the event of a Wings victory, and people talk about how he turns it on for the playoffs.

I just don’t buy it. He’s played well (not great, but well) behind a phenomenal team, but he isn’t one of the better goaltenders in the NHL.

In any case, the point here isn’t to bash Khabibulin (who had a remarkably good save percentage last season) but just to point out that winning and losing is beyond a goaltender’s control – and it’s wrong to judge him (for good or ill) based on the number of wins or losses he’s picked up along the way.

Final point: the NHL record for most losses is currently a record held by two goaltenders. Curtis Joseph is one of them, and the other is one Gump Worsley. Worsley owns the rather pedestrian career record of 335-352-150, along with a couple of other things (four Stanley Cup rings, two Vezina trophies). I realize I’m being as subtle as a sledgehammer here, but looking at the win/loss record alone tells you virtually nothing about a goaltender.

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Jonathan Willis is a freelance writer. He currently works for Oilers Nation, Sportsnet, the Edmonton Journal and Bleacher Report. He's co-written three books and worked for myriad websites, including Grantland, ESPN, The Score, and Hockey Prospectus. He was previously the founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue.
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#51 oilersinsider
July 26 2009, 02:57AM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

If I were looking at free agent goalies (contracts excluded) this summer, I would have ranked them Biron, Khabibulin, Roloson

Would you have ranked them that way based on how you think they rank in terms of best, great and good? Or by best bargain, great bargain, good bargain? Before the summer hit, I believed Biron to be the best bargain available, but not the best goalie.

Jonathan Willis wrote:

especially since he’s been essentially anointed the starter for the next four years.

Don't be too quick to appoint him the starter for four years. I think part of him being brought in was to have an experienced coach for Deslauries. It's reasonable to think that Khabibulin's contract while high, isn't outrageous for a back-up in two years.Jonathan Willis wrote:

I disliked the contract as soon as I heard the term. I wasn’t crazy about the money, but over two years I could get behind it; four years is extravagance

On this point I agree, but understand why it happened. Tambellini wanted to offer something no one else could ie. Chicago -- term. The money was less, but the term higher. I'm not sure which I would have liked better to be honest. Less $$ or less term.

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#52 West Coast Oil
July 26 2009, 04:13AM
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Regarding the Biron signing I can guarantee you that he was not asking for that little on July 1 and the fact that he needs to take such a huge paycut to prove his value to every team in the league speaks volumes! With Biron and rolie having the same agent I can't see the agent pushing Roli to the Oilers for 3+ mil and at the same time offering Biron at a discount rate because guess what he is then under-cutting his own client. On July first the agent would have been offering Rolie and only Roli to the Oilers until Roli was signed by the Islanders. Then perhaps Biron came into play but the asking price would have still been too high based on the concerns Tambellini and every other GM has about Biron or perhaps the agent wanted to play hardball with Tambellini for not resigning Roli. Agents can be vindictive for those who are not aware. If you are Tambellini what exactly do you do on July 1? You know you need a dependable goaltender and Tambellini has shown he prefers people with experience and preferably experience winning so you make an offer for the goaltender you feel best suites your needs and that is Khabi. The offer was reasonable based on the fact that at the time you do not know who you are competing with. For all we know Colorado and NYI may have had offers on the table for Khabi and only pulled them and signed Anderson and Roli once they knew they couldn't match the Oilers offer. The Oilers may have also had to coax Khabi up north as his family is very established down there. If he can find a team closer to Chicago then odds are he is going to take it because then guess what, his family can stay in Chicago, his daughter can continue her sports activities and he can still fly home regularly. Moving countries changes the dynamics of his family life greatly. Tambellini did not want a hole at the goaltender position or another unproven net minder and he did what he had to to get one. These are just some of the potential reasons I can think of off the top of my head why Khabi got this contract and I know there are more! Finally if the stats show Biron is a top 5 goalie then I truly question the value of hackey stats because usually when a team has a top 5 player in any position they want to keep him or other teams want him. Case in point Dany Heatley.. top player and even with the problems other teams want him and he is still invited to the team Canada training camp. Where was Biron's invitation from team Canada or any other team for that matter?

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#53 West Coast Oil
July 26 2009, 04:16AM
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West Coast Oil wrote:

question the value of hackey stats

ummm this should be hockey not to be confused with hackey the traditional game of Lithuania played on ice with a cow chip and teams of 48...

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#54 BigE57
July 26 2009, 10:36AM
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It is what it is here. JW doesn't like the signing of Bulin for various reasons and he's got a soap box to utilize to let us know that but wins and losses matter just as much save percentage or GAA. Look at a guy like Grant Fuhr won a lot of games for the Oilers through the 80's but never had a sace percentage above .900. In fairness he had more firepower in front of him than anyone needed but when it came down to it he was considered "the guy" when you needed a save to win the game.

A better indication is Fuhr's 4 years in St. Louis where he never posted a save percentage over .903 but had a win loss record of 108-87.

Stats matter but they don't tell the story of when the saves are being made like when a guy is lights out in the first period or when he folds like a cheap tent late in the third period. Fuhr was one the guys with a reputation for execelling and getting his team the WIN late in the game.

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#55 Jonathan Willis
July 26 2009, 10:53AM
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BigE57 wrote:

Stats matter but they don’t tell the story of when the saves are being made like when a guy is lights out in the first period or when he folds like a cheap tent late in the third period.

Team X plays two identical game against an opponent playing two identical games. The only difference is that in Game 1, they dress Goalie A, and in Game 2 they dress Goalie B.

Game 1: 2-3 loss.

Goalie A allows three goals in the third period, ruining Team X's lead and allowing their opponent to score three goals.

Game 2: 2-3 loss.

Goalie B plays lights-out in the third period, but Team X is unable to overcome a 3-0 deficit from his shaky first-period performance.

In summary: does it really matter when the goals were scored? And if it does, wouldn't Goalie A be a better choice, since Goalie B has sapped his team's confidence by allowing 3 goals early on?

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#56 oilersinsider
July 26 2009, 11:18AM
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Some of these posts bring me back to my brief and foggy, but somewhat interesting days at NAIT in the business admin and statistics program. Any conversation that starts with the terms X, A or B instead of names, makes me realize I'm better suited doing what I do for a living.

JW, I'm glad it's right up your alley, but it's too much for me on a Sunday morning lol... but hey, it's a different perspective when I read yours and your Oilersnation blogs, which is why I read them.

I still feel it's tough to keep having this debate when the most important variable (Biron's salary) is a direct result of his inability to get what he was asking for from 29 teams including the Oilers. A major factor is signing Bulin was that Biron was being so outrageous in his demands.

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#57 Sandra
July 26 2009, 11:26AM
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Here is a good article about what the hockey world is thinking about the Oilers management on the Heatly situation and the damage it is doing to good old E-Town.

hxxp://www.nypost.com/seven/07262009/sports/moresports/oilers_shouldnt_be_hot_for_heatley_181380.htm?page=0

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#58 DanMan
July 26 2009, 11:28AM
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This is something I brought up on LT, I can't remember word-for-word, but I think it's a good point.

It is important to have a goalie that suits your teams' style of play. The Oilers didn't score first very often, nor did they have the lead going into the third very often last year. The way Roli played last year, when we were down a goal or two, he would stand on his head to not give up the back-breaker. Also if we were up two goals or less in the late second or third, we often just could not hold the lead.

This year, I anticipate us being aggressive and scoring first more often, but more important than that, staying aggressive and building a two goal lead into the third. If Khabibulin can be lights out in the third when we are tied or up a goal or two, He will end up with more wins than Roli had last year. More importantly, that alone could push us into the playoffs.

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#59 David S
July 26 2009, 11:41AM
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Sandra wrote:

Here is a good article about what the hockey world is thinking about the Oilers management on the Heatly situation and the damage it is doing to good old E-Town.

"The Oilers are better than this, and so is the city of Edmonton. It is time for this bended-knees pursuit of Heatley to end before this unwilling recruit changes his mind and accepts, promising to live happily ever after just the way he did last year in Ottawa."

And before that, the article mentions that New York had the same problem. Nowhere did I read anything about "the damage it is doing to good old E-Town". We'll have to overpay here until we resurrect a winning record. That's not a slag on the town as much as its a reality the team faces.

Reading for context would have been nice.

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#60 DanMan
July 26 2009, 11:48AM
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@ David S:

Some days the "damage to Edmonton" stuff seems like a friggen joke. There are 69 players combined playing in CGY, BUF, and EDM. There always will be. If top players were smart they would see that there is/was a good opportunity in EDM, and in the case of Hossa and Jagr, a real big payday.

I don't give a $@*! what the outside media thinks of Edmonton. In 06, the entire Canadian media was on our side, that's all I ask for.

I think NHL players would be more concerned with a coach or GM bashing them publicly, than the perceived quality of the city itself.

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#61 David S
July 26 2009, 12:24PM
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@DanMan - Agreed.

I've seen research that shows most people outside of the local area don't give a crap about us one way or the other. Its our inbred insecurities that cause us to take everything and interpret it as another shot against either the city or the team.

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#62 Jonathan Willis
July 26 2009, 12:51PM
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David S wrote:

Its our inbred insecurities that cause us to take everything and interpret it as another shot against either the city or the team.

Amen.

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#63 BigE57
July 26 2009, 02:37PM
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@ Jonathan Willis:

Fair point. I agree that goalie 'A' would be the better choice, you want the guy that is going to give you a chance to win in the 3rd period.

But that being said if the 2 games are exactly identical and the only variable is goalie a and goalie b then it sort of renders your arguement for save percentage somewhat moot.

Though I think all the stats are valid, I'm not sure if any one stat should outweigh the other w/l vs save percentage or even GAA. They all have their merit.

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#64 Jonathan Willis
July 26 2009, 04:31PM
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BigE57 wrote:

But that being said if the 2 games are exactly identical and the only variable is goalie a and goalie b then it sort of renders your arguement for save percentage somewhat moot.

How? Identical results, identical save percentages - exactly what you'd want to see.

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#65 BigE57
July 26 2009, 11:11PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

In summary: does it really matter when the goals were scored? And if it does, wouldn’t Goalie A be a better choice, since Goalie B has sapped his team’s confidence by allowing 3 goals early on?

So why do you pick goalie 'A' then? Based on stats or percentages it shouldn't matter who you take flip a coin or draw straws, but I agree when you say that you don't want the guy who sapped his teams confidence by allowing the eaarly goals.

In that sense save percentage doesn't really matter, as is the case with Joseph (your example) or Fuhr (mine) those guys were in demand because they more often than not would make the save late in the game to preserve a lead or give their team a chance to win by not giving up the next goal.

Just like wins and losses or GAA, save percentage is so subjective, I think you've used Josh Harding as an example before with his .929 save percentage last season it looks as though he may be a decent goalie but his record at 3-9-1 IMO indicates that he faced fewer quality shots based on Jacques Lemaire style of play and that when he did face tough shots he faltered resulting in the sub par record.

By the way, thanks for the response...the debate is quite enjoyable even though I am nowhere near the stats afficianado that you are.

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#66 Jonathan Willis
July 27 2009, 12:58PM
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BigE57 wrote:

Just like wins and losses or GAA, save percentage is so subjective, I think you’ve used Josh Harding as an example before with his .929 save percentage last season it looks as though he may be a decent goalie but his record at 3-9-1 IMO indicates that he faced fewer quality shots based on Jacques Lemaire style of play and that when he did face tough shots he faltered resulting in the sub par record.

I think the Dwayne Roloson example above pretty much discredits this, don't you? I mean, the situations are identical and all he did was come in and carry the team to the SCF.

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#67 Antony Ta
July 27 2009, 02:14PM
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@ Jonathan Willis:

I think Big E's point was the timing was impeccable, whether at the beginning, middle, or end of the game, his point was that a winner is a winner.

That being said, I still agree that it's not about how well a goalie played at any particular point in the game, but rather who scores more goals at the end of the game... since that's how you win hockey games...

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#68 Antony Ta
July 27 2009, 02:19PM
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@ David S:

John Kerr of The Boys on the Bus said something like this before as well:

I was born and raised in sunny Southern Alberta. I have been a lifelong fan of both the Oilers and the Eskimos, and I have had always a vitriolic hatred of the Flames and Stampeders. It has been my personal preference and choice as an adult to live and to work in Calgary after living in Vancouver for a few years to attend university. I like all three cities, with Vancouver having by far the most agreeable climate, and perhaps also being the coolest and most cosmopolitan destination; Calgary is certainly the most driven and focused of the three cities, possessing an almost-Darwinian competitive atmosphere centered around youth and success; Edmonton to me has been always a bit of a rough and rugged blue collar town with a lot of heart and soul and culture. My brother lives in Edmonton. I live in Calgary. I really don't think it would make much difference to either of us if we changed cities. Maybe players are scared off by the intelligent and hyper-engaged fan base and media in Edmonton that is perhaps too willing to hold everyone accountable at all times. Maybe Kevin Lowe et al have earned themselves a reputation as hard-asses or cheapskates or both. Maybe Edmonton is not as attractive a destination as some other places, but if someone were to offer me millions of dollars to play a game I supposedly love, I'd be happy to live almost anywhere on the planet to do so. And if one of my options was a small and quiet city with a rich tradition of winning championships, it would be likely at or near the top of my list. Maybe Edmonton and its Oilers need to stop trying so hard and stop trying to pretend to be something they are not. Maybe the city, the Edmonton Oilers, and the fans need to all embrace that it is a small market with a relatively quiet and perhaps less glamorous lifestyle, and seek out players who are looking for that very thing. The Green Bay Packers do not seem to have a problem attracting free agents, trading for great players, staying competitive, and continuing perennially to be a marquee flagship franchise and occasional champion in what is arguably the most successful and competitive professional sports league in the world. Maybe the Edmonton Oilers should take a page out of the Green Bay Packers franchise playbook and embrace the mystique of legends playing their game on the frozen tundra.

I think it's an Edmonton thing where we've become a big city with a little town demeanour and we've somehow become ashamed of being a little town with a big city attitude.

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#69 BigE57
July 27 2009, 02:46PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

I think the Dwayne Roloson example above pretty much discredits this, don’t you? I mean, the situations are identical and all he did was come in and carry the team to the SCF.

I can agree with that to a certain extent becuase Roli was instrumental in taking the Oil to finals and he had his share of timely 5 alarm saves on the way. As much as Roli deserves credit for that cup run I think it had as much to do with the rest of the players going all in with the systems being played and I think that is supported by the fact that the Oilers managed to push the series to 7 games with a goalie I'm not sure any fan, writer or coach had much faith in.

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