Which Goalie is the best fit?


I’m just about to board my plane to Florida. Couldn’t sleep in the airport, so I’m regretting my red-eye flight decision even more now, but the good news is I’m able to share an interview I had regarding goalies.

Evaluating goalies is the most difficult managerial job in hockey. If you chart the success rate of scouts, analysts, media and fans’ evaluations of goalies, compared to defence or forwards, it is significantly lower. I can’t give an informed opinion on goalies, so I sat down with a guy who could: Kevin Woodley from the Goalie Magazine.

He has written some very insightful articles on goalies, and he shared his thoughts with me on Cam Talbot, Eddie Lack, Jacob Markstrom and Robin Lehner.

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I asked specifically about those four because they are the names we know are available on the trade market.

Cam Talbot, Eddie
Lack, Jacob Markstrom and Robin Lehner — out of those four, who do you like
the best and why?

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Woodley: Immediately, I’ve got Talbot and Lack at the head
of that class. Long term, Lehner has the ability to be right there with them. When
he came over from Sweden there was so much potential, and it is a little bit
ironic to say that given how much hype we’ve heard out of Ottawa about what
they expect to get for Robin Lehner, given what the market really is compared
to what a GM thinks he can sell for. But Robin Lehner has regressed
significantly over the last three years during his time in Ottawa. I did find
it a little ironic that Matt O’Connor pointed to the development of goaltenders
in Ottawa and yet it hasn’t been the case at all for Robin Lehner. He still has
that potential, but there’s work to do on him, especially technically, to reach

I don’t think that if
you’re the Oilers, a team that has to improve defensively… I mean if there is
one caveat to every comment about goaltenders it’s that the position never
exists in a vacuum and if you give up the type of looks that the Oilers [do],
and make the type of mistakes that the Oilers have for years, that’s going to
wear a goaltender down pretty quick. Obviously they’re going to try to rectify
the D zone play, but that’s not usually an overnight process, so you combine
that with a goaltender also trying to make changes…It can be tough.

If I was really being
honest, the best guy for Edmonton might be the other goaltender in Ottawa,
Craig Anderson. There is a real value to experience and the “been there done
that” factor that an Anderson would bring to Edmonton.

What do you weigh most
heavily, statistically, when it comes to assessing goaltenders?

Woodley: Save percentage scratches the surface and I guess
given the readily available metrics it’s probably the best one. What save
percentage doesn’t tell you is how a goalie fares on different types of shots.
I know a lot of people have put value in some of the new statistics we’re
seeing from War on Ice and me too, in terms of low danger, medium danger, and
high danger shots and breaking it down further in terms of how a guy fares
based on those shots compared to just an overall save percentage. But there is
still more.

None of it means much to me without the context of how
that shot came about. Shot location does not dictate shot quality. There are
just so many factors and we’re only just scratching the surface of being able
to break it down. I think that the work that Steven Valiquette, former New York
Rangers goaltender and now an analyst on MSG network, has done is kind of a part
of that next level analysis. He’s established something called the Royal Road
which kind of splits the offensive zone down the middle between the goal line
and the top of the circle. The work that he’s done has shown that any play —
whether carried across that line or passed across the line, they get below the
top of the circle — any play that forces the goaltender to readjust his position
and his angle from one side to the other of his crease dramatically increases
the shooting percentage and therefore dramatically decreases the save
percentage on that type of chance and so the location isn’t enough.

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Save percentage isn’t enough. If you think that Cam Talbot
is going to come from New York where he was by all indications very solid — and
without having the ability to look at all of the numbers that I just talked
about, start to finish with the Rangers — and continue that with the Oilers, you
aren’t looking at the entire picture.

He’s far more insulated there than he would have been in
Edmonton. You think that’s going to translate directly in terms of numbers like
save percentage to him playing behind what the Oilers had last year, that’s a
pipe dream. That’s just not happening. There are just way too many different
factors in terms of the quality of shots and the types of chances that he would
face and it’s not just on a one off basis, it’s how that piles up.

You watch your team screw up and not cover the back door
enough. You watch them leave guys wide open on your backside often enough
you’re going to start to cheat, and as soon as you start to cheat at this
level, especially when your team is surrendering time and space, guys are going
to start to beat you short side. It’s not just the hard analytics of types of
scoring chances, it’s how teams that give up more of them tend to leave their
goaltender guessing a lot more often. It’s not that he doesn’t want to trust
his defence, but that he can’t because they haven’t proven trustworthy.

So that all tends to snowball and you get into situations
with some teams where it snowballs to the point — Devan Dubnyk is a prime
example — where it doesn’t matter whether the team fixes it and gets better at
it and the goalie starts to trust, the trust factor is just broken.

Steve Mason in Columbus — look at the success he’s had in
Philadelphia. You can get to a certain point where once a goaltender has seen
enough of that, he doesn’t trust his team and then those bad goals I’ve talked
about, once you start cheating, and your team has seen enough of that, the
players don’t trust him, so they try to do his job. The goalie doesn’t trust
them to do their job, and it’s a great big mess.

I don’t know if the Oilers are there with Scrivens or not. I
think he’s a smart enough guy to figure his way through it, but I’ve seen it
with other teams where you get to that point where there is no going back. It’s
a tough spot for them, as much as goaltending is the focus, it’s not going to
fix itself unless you fix what’s going on in front of them as well.

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What do you like
about Markstrom’s game? Does he have better top-end potential than Talbot or

Woodley: I don’t think so and I’ve had a chance to see him
in person. Here’s the thing, I don’t judge Jacob Markstrom. A lot of people
have pointed to his NHL numbers and said, ‘Well he’s had all of this success at
the AHL,’ and he hasn’t done it at the NHL. I don’t judge him at the NHL level
yet, because for the first time in his career after coming to Vancouver they
really started to reign in his positioning.

For a guy his size, he was way too aggressive and he moved
way too much. When you play outside of the blue ice at his size you have to
move more. If you have to move more at his size, you open up more holes. There
were just way too many pucks beating him because he was too active, even in the
AHL. You have to learn to use your size as an asset and there are times where
that just means being in position and closing those holes and not allowing
those pucks to get through you.

So, they’ve given him a system in Vancouver that allows him
to use his size more efficiently. He does move very explosively for a big
goaltender. He’s got all of those tools. The one part that I’m not as certain
of is what I like to refer to as his block react threshold. At what point on
the ice, in terms of how close that play gets to you, where does he need to be
blocking instead of reacting and that threshold for Eddie Lack is very high. I
think it’s pretty high for Cam Talbot as well, but obviously I get to see
Markstrom or Lack here in Vancouver a lot more closely on an everyday basis, through
training camp and those types of situations, than I have with Talbot.

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I don’t think that Markstrom’s block react threshold is
quite as high. He’s a guy that needs to be blocking more because he doesn’t
have the ability or the puck tracking, or the reactional skills to be in a pure
react mode.

And when he tries to — and he got away with it early in his
career overseas and he praised for it when everybody was talking about him
being the best goaltender not in the NHL — they praised him because he didn’t
drop too early. Well as soon as he got over here, that patience became a curse
because guys just shot it right through him and he couldn’t close the hole. I
believe he’s an NHL goaltender but to me you have to be more than a blocker,
you have to be athletic. He is athletic. I just don’t know whether it’s just as
an okay NHLer or if he has the ability to go to the next level

And listen, I’m biased when it comes to Lack because I’ve
gotten to see him work in person. I saw a guy whose body broke down entirely
after John Tortorella played him so badly down the stretch in an Olympic year.
What did he do in the summer? He hired a trainer, had him move in with him down
in Sweden, and came back a physical specimen. I mean a totally different
goaltender physically than he was the year before, and last year when he got
the opportunity down the stretch he was able to handle it physically, so he
took a step this year.

It wasn’t just physical issues. He recognizes some
weaknesses; he brings in a goaltending coach in Lyle Mast who works with OR
Sports, the guy who specializes in head trajectory teachings and helped Dubnyk
make his big turnaround last year. Lack got on board with that program.

I was lucky enough to be on the ice and watched tangible
differences. He reacted to pucks and moved on the ice based exclusively on
that. He is really driven and puts the work in to being a number one. I believe
that you are going to see an even bigger step from him next year, and whoever acquires
Lack, if the Canucks are foolish enough to move him over Markstrom, will be
getting a very good goalie.

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Gregor: If you had to
choose between Talbot or Lack, and considering what the cost would be, who would
be the best fit for the Oilers?

Woodley: I would go with Lack and again it’s probably not
fair to Talbot. He made steps this year, do not underestimate the step he took
learning what it takes to be a number one. That is a stride that a lot of
goalies talk about and he struggled with it. When Henrik Lundqvist first went
down, go back and watch Talbot’s first four or five games — he was not good at

You lose the ability to manage your game in practice that
you have as a backup goaltender. When something goes wrong you don’t get to go
on the ice for half an hour with Benoit Allaire before your next start to fix
it because you are just managing your fatigue level. And he went through that
learning curve, struggled with it early when Lundqvist went down, but got
better over time. That was a big step for him. It’s another step to be a sixty-five
game goaltender.

I think Lack’s closer to that step than Talbot is. You add
that to what I’ve been able to see from Eddie’s character, personality and the
way he’d be able to handle a Canadian market place. Again, I’m not saying Talbot
can’t, but not knowing him well enough to say honestly right now, I would pick



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I thought he brought up some excellent points. Learning how to be a starter and managing your game without as much practice time was something I hadn’t thought of. I also respect how he admitted his bias. We all have them, and because he has seen Lack’s development and work ethic first hand he relies more on his personal experiences than what he sees on film.

I enjoyed his block react explanation and it something I will watch more closely in the future.

Did Woodley’s analysis change, or strengthen, your opinion on who Peter Chiarelli should try to acquire?

Recently by Jason Gregor:     

  • Zarny

    Great perspective. The insight regarding things like becoming a physical specimen over the summer is valuable. Speaks to the character of the player Chiarelli referred to recently.

    Interesting that Woodley would go with Lack given he might be the cheaper G to acquire. Lots of hype and anticipation. It will be fun to see how it all shakes out. You have to think a few GMs will make a splash.

  • Canadian Hockey Fan

    If you read Valiquette’s work, then you come up with a number of conclusions; save percentage, by itself, is not enough to go on. The analysis of Dubnyk in Edmonton versus in Minnesota is a great example. In short, he was not as bad as he looked under Eakins, and he was not as good as he looked in Minnesota. Quality of defensemen and defensive systems play a big part. McLellan should take care of the latter, and Chiarelli will start on the former this summer.

    Talbot is not likely to perform as well with the Oilers as they’re currently situated, since the Oilers D and systems pale in comparison to the Rangers. Add that to Sather’s asking price (#16), and I would say that one year of Eddie Lack (with similar performance, contract price, and lower acquisition cost) is the way to go. And add some top-4 D-men.

  • Al Theeathoone

    The Oilers need a “starting goal tender”.

    A starting goal tender is someone who has the capability of playing 60 plus games per season – and is capable of winning more games than they lose and as a bonus maybe steal a game or two.

    Someone who cannot start 60 games per season nor cannot win more than they lose and cannot steal a few is called a “backup”. See (Four Goal Scrivens).

    Haven’t the Oilers brought in enough players (including and especially goalies) that they believed had “potential” who haven’t worked out?

    They’ve changed 80 percent of the entire team but they didn’t get a “starting Goal Tender”.

    And now people here want to give up everything from the 16th pick to Draisaitl to Hall Nuge and Eberle to bring in unproven, inexperienced goalies like Talbot, Lack, Gibson, Markstrom or Lehner and others to fill the most important job on the team because they might have “potential”?

    The Oilers changed 100 percent of their defense over the past five years. Were each and every one of them duds? No they weren’t but the goal tenders certainly were.

    • pkam

      “A starting goal tender is someone who has the capability of playing 60 plus games per season – and is capable of winning more games than they lose and as a bonus maybe steal a game or two.”

      Are you surprised that almost half of the NHL teams don’t have a qualified starting goaltender base on your criteria?

      Halak: never plays a 60 game season

      Quick: only 36 win in 72 games, so he couldn’t win more than he lost

      Rask: only 34 wins in 70 games

      Luongo: only 28 wins in 61 games

      Varlamov: only 28 wins in 57 games

      Schneider: only 26 wins in 69 games

      Hiller: never plays more than 60 games a season, and only 26 wins in 52 games

      Howard: only 23 wins in 53 games

      Ward: only 22 wins in 51 games

      Bernier: only 21 wins in 58 games

      Steve Mason: only 18 wins in 51 games

      Craig Anderson: only 14 wins in 35 games

      Mike Smith: only 14 wins in 62 games

      Pavelec: only 22 wins in 58 games

      • Al Theeathoone

        No I’m not surprised that half the goalies in the league don’t have a qualified starter. Those teams can all easily be found in the bottom 16 of the league standings.

        I thought we all wanted the Oilers to get out of the bottom half of the pack. To do that they need a starter just like the other half of the league you didn’t mention that do make the playoffs.

        • pkam

          Quick, Rask, Luongo, and Schneider are considered great to elite goaltenders by many, Halak, Varlamov, Anderson and Smith are considered good to great goalies, Hiller, Ward are considered dependable starters, just because their teams fail to make the playoff, they suddenly become not good enough for starter?

          So we should say no if the Devils are willing to trade us Schneider or the Bruins are willing to trade us Rask?

  • Al Theeathoone

    Here’s a crazy idea how about trading the 16th & a sweetener (4-7th round pick) for Buffalos 21st and 31st.

    Gives us an extra trade chip for that goalie or an extra pick in a deep draft. Also removes buffalos opportunity to trade the 31 out from under us for Talbot or Lack. No idea if buffalo would be interested.

    Who to pick at 21 & 31 than?

  • BigMcD

    I don’t see Chiarelli spending more than the 57 pick and a solid prospect for a goalie. The 16 and 33 should be packaged with Schultz to bring back a top pair dman. That will affect goals against more than any goalie on the market.
    Who else wants the see Scrivens take the starting job from someone like Brian Elliott?

  • BigMcD

    For those who say that we don’t need goaltending, or defense first..last year we lost approximately 20 one goal games. That is exactly what Calgary did this year, win those one goal games. A good or at least better goalie has the potential to turn those losses into wins. A better goalie, a better team defense concept, a better work ethic and a “lets not be afraid to outwork the other team” attitude can garner an extra 10 to 30 points. A Talbot is an upgrade on Faust with the potential to be better than Scrivens. Depending on the cost, an upgrade is all we need.

  • Ndustry

    I think a goalie can also be a valuable tool for improving a teams defense. If you look back in the day at guys like Roy, and Hasek, these guys were always yellng at their DMen telling them who to cover and how to position themselves and what they want to see. So goalies are very capable of improving a teams defense. I was comparing these Goalies and 2 stand out the most in kinda different ways. Lack and Talbot. Now as far as improving teams defense I would say I have to give it to Talbot and he also has the better High Danger Save %. Lack performs well under more comparable circumstances to Edmonton – as statistically produced.

    But its also important to note teams perform better defensively for better goaltenders ie Lundqvist and Miller. So by infering a goaltender can improve defense I would have to swing for Talbot by a small margin here. I won’t go through all the stats but heres some of what I looked at

    Talbot improved the possesion (Corsi) #’s of 3 of the top 4 TOI defensmen. Lack improved 1 of the top 4. Of the bottom 3 Lack improved 2 of 3 and Talbot improved 0 of 3. The defense also dispersed the chances better under Talbot with Lack seeing more Medium and High danger chances in % of chances. However both goalies saw worse “dispersion” (harder chances) than Miller and Lundqvist. And Rel to the #1 both Lack and Talbot are almost the same (say 3% worse raw data maybe 10-15% comparable data) but Talbot is comparing to a better goalie in Lundqvist.

    Overall Vancouvers defense also gets worse with Lack than NYs gets with Talbot. Vancouver gives up 2.7 more shots per night with Lack over Miller and NY gives up 0.6 more shots with Talbot compared to Lundqvist.

    So although you may view this as Lack performs better in worse conditions if your looking at who has the best impact on Defense I think Talbot wins here. I also noticed the best goalies seem to have this “quality” of the defense performing better.

  • I have read a lot over the last couple of weeks about goalies being voodoo. If that is the case, why utilize valuable assets to acquire a goal tender? With the depth of the draft this year, number 33 is like a 3rd first round pick. That is two very valuable players that same age as CMD. That will be useful in 3 years from now when the team has a legit shot at a cup run. By that point, we might be on to a second or third goalie alternative if the first or second doesn’t work out. I like Enroth as the first alternative. He’s a UFA. Contract will be cheap and have good term. And if it does not work out, at least you did not use assets to get him.