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Ranking Goalies in the Canadian Division

Unless there is a major change in cross-border travel or the NHL suddenly changes its plan, we will see all seven Canadian teams in one division this season. I love the idea. For one year it would be fantastic.

And with all seven Canadian teams in the same division, for the first time in NHL history, there are many storylines and angles to consider.

Today I want to focus on goaltending.

A good debate is: Whom do you consider the best goalie right now in the Canadian division? Carey Price, Connor Hellebuyck or Jacob Markstrom? Hellebuyck is the reigning Vezina Trophy winner, while Markstrom was right with him before being injured, and Price has the best resume.

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If the Olympics were in three months I think there is a good chance they would be the favourites to start for Team Canada, Team USA and Team Sweden. Ranking them first to third would cause a lot of debate and I can see a reasonable argument for all three.

I wanted to look at the projected starters for all seven Canadian teams, then we will look at the backups or the goalies I feel will be close to splitting duties.

Here are the starters with last season’s statistics via NHL.com. (Team they played on last season).

Starter TEAM GS GAA Sv% 5×5 Sv% EV Sv% PK Sv% W-L-T
Connor Hellebuyck WPG 56 2.57 0.922 0.929 0.927 0.872 31-21-5
Jacob Markstrom (VAN) CGY 43 2.75 0.918 0.925 0.925 0.876 23-16-4
Mikko Koskinen EDM 34 2.75 0.917 0.924 0.917 0.901 18-13-3
Carey Price MTL 58 2.79 0.909 0.919 0.909 0.878 27-25-6
Frederik Andersen TOR 52 2.85 0.909 0.915 0.917 0.857 29-13-7
Matt Murray (PIT) OTT 38 2.87 0.899 0.904 0.900 0.877 20-11-5
Braden Holtby (WSH) VAN 47 3.11 0.897 0.905 0.906 0.851 25-14-6

I have Koskinen as the starter because he started four games in the playoffs, and he had a very strong regular season.

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Three goalies are on new teams. Will Markstrom have the same success in Calgary? He faced a lot of shots and high quality chances in Vancouver. Does he play better facing more shots? Some goalies thrive on that, so we’ll see if there is any difference in his play on a new team. Holtby and Murray are hoping to bounce back after sub-par seasons.

I find it interesting how many fans in Edmonton and pundits across the NHL have little faith in Mikko Koskinen. He was quite good last season. His Sv% and GAA are almost identical to Markstrom. Granted, he played fewer games, but Koskinen had a better season than many realize. I know he lost the qualifying round to Chicago, and wasn’t great in that series, but it seems many are focusing on those four games more than his regular season. If Koskinen doesn’t improve, and simply matches last year’s regular season numbers this season, the Oilers would be quite happy. He posted solid numbers.

I also looked at how these goalies fared on high dangers shots, since those are the ones where teams score the most. I also found it interesting how different the High Danger Chances Against are tracked between NaturalStatTrick and Clear Sight Analytics. CSA agreed to shared their goalie numbers with me for this article. It is important to note CSA manually tracks and measures over 34 points of data in each shot. Natural Stat Trick founders are very bright people, but their challenge is they are a bit limited in their data, because it comes from the NHL play-by-play data and is limited in context base. In my eyes, CSA is a bit more accurate on true HD chances. CSA also tracked expected Sv% on those shots and I included that as well.

**HDSA is High Danger Shots Against.
HDSV%…High Danger save percentage.
HDExSv%…High Danger expected save percentage.**

Nat Stat Trick Clear Sight Analytics
Starter TEAM HDSA HDSv% HDSA HDSv% HDExSv%
Mikko Koskinen EDM 262 0.851 230 0.735 0.699
Jacob Markstrom (VAN) CGY 286 0.836 297 0.721 0.701
Connor Hellebuyck WPG 412 0.842 348 0.716 0.710
Carey Price MTL 354 0.828 357 0.709 0.704
Frederik Andersen TOR 328 0.805 318 0.686 0.707
Braden Holtby (WSH) VAN 304 0.786 329 0.672 0.697
Matt Murray (PIT) OTT 233 0.828 214 0.650 0.708

Mikko Koskinen was the best among the west starters on HD chances. Which is great, but there is also a larger chance of regression as well. Markstrom and Koskinen’s actual HDSv% was quite a bit higher than their expected HDSv%, which illustrates they made a few more difficult saves.

Koskinen has yet to show he can handle a starter’s workload, but could he start 32 of the Oilers’ 48 games this coming season? If so, and he performs like he did last season, then the Oilers starting goaltender might not be as weak as many have claimed.

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BACKUPS…

Thatcher Demko might split duties with Holtby in Vancouver. Maybe Mike Smith does with Koskinen as well. I think the other five are clearly going to be in backup roles, although with the proposed Major League Baseball schedule of teams travelling to a city and playing two or three games, there is a chance all backups might play a higher percentage of games than we’ve seen in the past. If that occurs, then the play of your backup becomes quite important.

Back up/Split TEAM GS GAA Sv% 5×5 Sv% EV Sv% PK Sv% W-L-T
Jake Allen (STL) MTL 21 2.15 0.927 0.934 0.932 0.886 12-6-3
Anders Nilsson OTT 19 3.18 0.908 0.915 0.912 0.889 9-9-2
David Rittich CGY 48 2.97 0.907 0.916 0.907 0.882 24-17-6
Thather Demko VAN 25 3.06 0.905 0.908 0.905 0.896 13-10-2
Jack Campbell (LA/TOR) TOR 26 2.8 0.904 0.918 0.904 0.837 11-12-3
Mike Smith EDM 37 2.95 0.902 0.900 0.902 0.918 19-12-6
Laurent Brossoit WPG 19 3.28 0.895 0.909 0.905 0.81 15-6-7

Jake Allen had excellent numbers with St.Louis last season, and Montreal acquiring him and paying him a lot to be a backup leads me to believe he will play around 30-35% of the games. Last year Price started 81% of Montreal’s games. They want that number to drop significantly this year.

Rittich was a starter last season, but didn’t have great numbers and that’s why Calgary acquired Markstrom. Maybe Rittich flourishes in a backup role when he plays less and has lower expectations.

Many rave about Demko, but his regular season numbers weren’t much better than Smith’s. I think age and playoff performance are a big part of that. Smith didn’t have a good game, while Demko had three solid starts. Were those starts a sign he is ready to take a step, or simply too small of a sample size to gauge accurately?

What will Winnipeg get from Brossoit this season? In 2019 he had a .925Sv% in 21 appearances, while this past season he posted a .895Sv% in 19 starts. If he lands in the middle they’d be happy. He is a great example of how volatile goaltending numbers can vary from season-to-season for some net minders.

Here’s how they fared on HD chances against.

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Nat Stat Trick Clear Sight Analytics
Back up/Split TEAM HDSA HDSv% HDSA HDSv% HDExSv%
Jake Allen (STL) MTL 132 0.894 114 0.754 0.704
David Rittich CGY 280 0.836 315 0.746 0.707
Anders Nilsson OTT 103 0.786 121 0.719 0.706
Laurent Brossoit WPG 135 0.778 116 0.716 0.712
Mike Smith EDM 223 0.776 232 0.690 0.703
Thather Demko VAN 170 0.776 160 0.681 0.712
Jack Campbell (LA/TOR) TOR 159 0.779 144 0.639 0.706

Again, Allen was the best, although Rittich was quite good on high danger chances as well.

After looking at all the numbers, I still believe Montreal, Winnipeg and Calgary have the best starters, but the perception (amongst some fans and pundits) of Koskinen being unreliable doesn’t match the numbers. Will he play more? Will he split time with Smith?

The question Leafsnation will ask is: can Andersen bounce back? After posting a .918 and .917Sv% in 2018 and 2019, he dipped to .909 last season. If he returns to form, then the Leafs will be a strong contender to win the division.

Vancouver’s duo is the most intriguing to me. Holtby posted a Sv% of .923, .922 and .925 between 2015-2017, but the past three seasons it dropped to .907, .911 and .897. A three-year trend in the wrong direction. Can Demko build on his playoff performance or was his play in the bubble a hot-streak?

The Senators are hoping Murray can rebound from an off-year for him. His last four seasons have been up and down. Between 2017 to 2020 his Sv% was: .923, .907, .919 and .899. If that continues he should be back around .920 this season.

The division might be decided by which goalies adapted well to the lengthy off-season, and were able to stay sharp.

MONTH OF GIVING….

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You can bid by calling 780.444.1260 or text 101260 between 2-6 p.m. today. Proceeds go to help Brightfield Elementary breakfast program (A Rotary Club of Edmonton Mayfield initiative) and Santas Anonymous.

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