• Storm Davis and Nikolai Khabibulin

    by  • July 23, 2009 • Uncategorized • 40 Comments

    The above video really has nothing to do with the content of the post, but I followed a link to a Weezer cover from Oilogosphere alumnus Andy Grabia the other day, realized I’d already heard the song and liked it and now knew the song’s title. I’m turning thirty in less than two months and am painfully aware that I’m becoming disconnected with newish pop culture stuff, particularly given that this album apparently came out in 2008.

    I’m a part of a vanishingly small proportion of Canadians under the age of 30 (huh, turns out that the above was a segue into the post) who continues to care about baseball. I caught a great game the other day at SkyDome with my sister, as Roy Halladay absolutely crushed the Red Sox and a so-so game tonight with my sister and some friends as the Jays beat up on my brother-in-law’s Indians. One of the reasons I’m such a baseball fan is that there’s so much fantastic writing about the sport. Even if I was bored with the game itself or despised the people who ran it, I’d still enjoy reading books like Moneyball (ahem, Lowetide) or Rob Neyer’s Big Book of Baseball Blunders, which bills itself as “A Complete Guide To The Worst Decisions and Stupidest Moments in Baseball History.”

    Neyer is – or was – a Royals fan, and he devotes a chapter in his book to the Royals’ 1989 signing of Storm Davis and Mark Davis. It’s the Storm Davis signing that I’m interested in at the moment. I’m going to quote what Neyer has to say about it:

    …On the other hand, the December 7 signing of Storm Davis – three years, six million dollars – was a mistake by any definition.

    Storm (no relation to Mark) had, just a few years earlier, ranked as one of the better young pitchers in the game. He was in the majors at twenty, and a world champion with the Orioles at twenty-one, then 225 innings when he was twenty-two, and like most young pitchers he simply couldn’t survive the workload. By the time he was twenty-five, his second team (the Padres) had given up on him. Tony La Russa and Dave Duncan, then in Oakland, indulged their fondness for reclamation projects and gave Davis a shot. He responded with sixteen wins in 1988 and nineteen more in ’89.

    Those nineteen wins weren’t nearly as impressive as they looked, though. In fact, you could make a compelling case that Storm had the most unimpressive nininteen-win season in major league history.

    For one thing, despite starting thirty-five games for the A’s that year, Davis threw only 169 innings, less than five-and-one-half innings per start. No other pitcher has ever won so many games in so few innings.

    Then there’s the fact that Dvais wasn’t all that effective in the innings he did pitch. His ERA in 1989 was 4.36. The league ERA was 3.88. The Athletics played their home games in a pitcher’s park.

    So how did Davis, pitching not all that often and not all that well, win nineteen games? It was simple, really. Pitchers don’t win games. Teams win games. And the Athletics were, in 1989, the best team around. They had one of the best hitting attacks in the game, and when Davis started they were the best hitters; Davis had the highest run support of any starter in the majors.

    And the A’s bullpen was not only the best in baseball, but one of the best ever. Four relievers threw fifty or more innings for the A’s in 1989, and their ERAs were 3.26, 2.35, 2.24 and 1.56. That 1.56 belongs to Dennis Eckersley, then in the midst of the greatest reliever peak of all time. Combine league-leading run support with a bullpen that (almost) never blows a lead, and it’s surprisingly easy to rack up the W’s.

    And the W’s were all the Royals saw. As pitching coach Frank Funk said when asked about Davis’s ERA with Oakland, “We don’t want pitchers with good ERA’s. We want pitchers with wins.”

    That’s an astonishing statement. It’s the equivalent of the CEO of a publicly held corporation announcing to the world, “We don’t care about making a profit. We care about raising our stock price.” The Royals confused the ends with the means. They were obsessed with the product – Davis’s record – while ignoring the process – the fact that Davis owed all those wins more to his teammates’ performance than to his own.

    After Davis signed with Kansas City, the process hardly changed. After accounting for league and park effects, Davis’s ERA in his last season with the A’s was fifteen percent below average. In his two years with the Royals, his ERA’s were nineteen percent and then sixteen percent below average. But the product went to pot: his record was 10-19 as a Royal, and by the end of his contract he was pitching garbage relief.

    As some of you might be aware, Martin Biron signed for $1.4MM over one year today with the New York Islanders. The Islanders are now paying $3.9MM for a goalie tandem of Dwayne Roloson and Biron (I think Rick DiPietro is likely gone for the year). It’s a tandem that looks a hell of a lot better to me than the Oilers $4.45MM Khabibulin/JDD tandem.

    There are two points here, I think. First, a lot of Khabibulin’s case is product. A Stanley Cup, a conference finals appearance this past year, the fact that he’s been a starter. It’s product. It ignores the process, like the fact that Khabibulin’s Stanley Cup came behind the third best offensive team in the NHL and his conference final appearance came behind the fourth best offensive team in the conference.

    Until last season, he’s never played for a team that developed another goaltender while he was there or had a backup who could push him – in his career, his backups have included Tim Cheveldae, Dominic Roussel, Tom Draper, Scott Langkow, Darcy Wakaluk, Parris Duffus, Pat Jablonski, Jimmy Waite, Mikhail Shtalenkov, Robert Esche, Kevin Weekes, Dieter Kochan, John Grahame, Evgeny Konstantinov, Kevin Hodson, Craig Anderson, Adam Munro, Corey Crawford, Patrick Lalime, Brian Boucher and Sebastien Caron. That’s a pretty lengthy run of playing in front of prospects and has beens up until last year. Does he have a glittering starter resume if his teams had ever had other goalies who could challenge him for his spot? If he doesn’t have a Cup, a recent extended playoff run and the “STARTER” stamp, does he get this contract? What differences are there between him and other options that were available to the Oilers that aren’t product?

    Second, and more importantly, Neyer’s anecdote could probably be told about any number of teams and signings in the 1980′s and 1990′s. Teams were routinely making terrible decisions, decisions that people outside the game knew were terrible and that could not be objectively supported. Baseball’s come a long way since then – there’s a far greater understanding of the distinction between the product and the process. Reading through the thread at Lowetide’s and some of the discussion at Hockey’s Future, I see a good deal of argument advanced that relies on blind faith in the idea that the Oilers managment has access to other information about the players. There’s been explicit statements to the effect that they’re professionals with hockey expertise and that a lot of the people criticizing this move are not.

    Fair enough. But Frank Funk and then-Royals GM John Schuerholz (some of you may know of his later work with the Atlanta Braves) were professionals with tons of expertise as well. They were presumably applying what passed for the wisdom of the day. Neyer’s comments would, today, be accepted as conventional wisdom by baseball insiders. They weren’t at the time.

    I’ve always thought that, if a player is a difference maker, you’ll find tracks in the snow. The statistical record will reveal it. Many goalies who are regarded as great, it shows up in their save percentage. Ed Belfour, Patrick Roy, Roberto Luongo, Dominik Hasek…these players routinely post save percentages that far exceeded the league average. Nobody thought that the Panthers or Sabres were brilliant defensively.

    A lot of the cases in which I disagree on the conventional wisdom about a goalie, the conventional wisdom is founded on product as opposed to process; Stanley Cups and conference final appearances behind loaded offensive teams rather than demonstrated above average save percentage. I find it somewhat difficult to accept that the men who run hockey teams, in the early days of hockey’s information revolution, are somehow above or beyond making the mistakes that the men who ran baseball teams made during the infancy of baseball’s information revolution. It just doesn’t strike me as reasonable.

    In any event, I’m interested in testing the idea and I’m opening the floor for ideas on how to do this. My initial idea is this: if hockey general managers were good at identifying where goalie dollars should be spent, there should be some sort of a correlation between UFA goalie statistics like save percentage and their salaries. I don’t think that there will be. For the record, I think that outside of the guys who post out of this world numbers, it’s damned difficult to project the save percentage a goalie will put up, because the gap between great and bad is so small and randomness can drive a guy to either extreme.

    If I’m right – and I’m willing to do some work to test this hypothesis – then it seems to me that one should be extremely hesitant to laud any GM who spends big bucks on a UFA goalie. If the market as a whole is bad at identifying the great goalies, why should we have faith in individual people on the basis of their status as insiders?

    I’m willing to put the work into this. I’m open to other suggestions as to how it should be structured. One idea I’m kicking around is running some sort of a control. I’d be willing to bet that GM’s are much better at figuring out which forwards to give the money to than they are at identifying which goalies to give the money to, even though there are problems of product versus process there as well. Any suggestions?


    40 Responses to Storm Davis and Nikolai Khabibulin

    1. July 23, 2009 at

      Great post, Ty. Bang on.

    2. Joe
      July 23, 2009 at

      Following guys like you and Mirtle, one of the most interesting things that consistently comes up is the fact that so many of the guys left in charge of multimillion dollar operations are in reality completely incompetent. From a post at my own blog the other day:

      Maybe I’m spoiled because the team I’ve followed has been managed exceptionally well in the time that I’ve been following them, but frankly, I think that watching a few teams get their teeth kicked in by sheer incompetence would be a great way to get some fresh blood into NHL front offices. Consider how often the same retreads get shuffled around between front offices in the NHL! There is a small group of people who generally keep playing musical chairs with a limited number of chairs (GM/coaching chairs), and no matter how bad some of these guys are at the game, they keep getting to play. I’d like to see some of those chairs held by people who know what the hell they’re doing. If such people were given the job and succeeded with it too, that would go an awful long way to creating more competition for those few job spots, meaning that we would (should, at least) see much better management in the long run of sports teams.

      The fact that the same screwups can keep getting jobs within the business is absolutely amazing to me, considering the financial scale of these operations. If the manager at your local McDonalds is incompetent, that’s a lot smaller of a problem than having an incompetent manager of a multimillion dollar entertainment product. If anything, you would think the higher stakes would help inhibit that inertia and drive change, but somehow, it doesn’t work that way.

    3. July 23, 2009 at

      I was going to highlight the bits I liked best, but this is just an allround great post Tyler. Nice work.

    4. July 23, 2009 at

      Great stuff Ty. I forgot about Storm and Mark Davis.

    5. Quain
      July 23, 2009 at

      You numbers guys just don’t get it. Don’t you understand? Khabibulin can make the big save and INSPIRE his teams. He’s going to flash the leather, smile, shine his Stanley Cup ring, and the Oilers will just pour in the goals.

      He and Pat Quinn are going to inspire a winning mentality in this team. They’re going to motivate this team like MacLoser never could. And, I think this is hardly controversial, but WINNERS are the players who win games. I don’t care how many saves a goaltender makes, only how many wins they can get.

      (Even trying to be sarcastic like this, I cannot possibly understand how there is a large group of people that actually believes this)

    6. RiversQ
      July 23, 2009 at

      Parris Duffus

      Now you’re just throwing random names into the list. As if it needed it.

      As usual, I’m torn by the Oilers once again.

      On one hand, I’m hoping for Khabibulin to prove he’s a product of modern medicine, the Bowflex, and milk with Bovine Growth Hormone and win some hockey games with a league average+ SV%.

      On the other hand, I’d love to see a stupidly low percentage move backfire in spectacular fashion. Because who wants to see positive confirmation for this kind of management?

      This is the definition of Oiler fandom since the Cup run No wonder Rany Jayazerli is slowly going nutters with the Royals. It’s very hard to cheer for the dumb guys.

    7. Daniel
      July 23, 2009 at

      I agree with the substance of your post, but I think it’s important to keep in mind that the one statistic that everyone should care about really is wins – as long as we remember that we only care about FUTURE wins.
      It’s got to be uncontroversial that past SV% is a much better predictor of future wins than past wins are, but I’ve never been convinced that SV% is the whole story. A good puck-handling goalie surely gains some value for those skills. It’s undoubtedly a smaller effect than SV% (and the two won’t be independent), but how small?
      I’m not completely sure how to get a handle on this, but one possibility would be to take teams and seasons with relatively clean starter-backup splits, and look for changes in other stats besides wins and direct goalie stats. Does the starter typically face more or fewer shots than the backup? How about high quality shots? How about the percentage of draws that start in the defensive zone – does that change? A single season would suffer from small numbers, but I’m curious to see how a goalie affects team stats.

    8. July 23, 2009 at

      I bet you’re right and you find no correlation on the whole. Different GMs are better at different things (Lowe finding good, cheap defensemen) but nobody plays all positions so everyone is working with incomplete info. They’re bound to make mistakes. That said, I’d bet you’ll find some GMs who are particularly good with goalies and some that are particularly bad.

      Issues with SV% being the indicator to go by aside, the problem you’re going to run into (as I see it) is “What constitutes big dollars?” Is it a % of the cap? Is it a line in the sand? Khabibulin at 3.75 isn’t bad at all if you look at the rest of the league wages, but can you really say something about it relative to this year when only the Oilers, Avs (and probably Isles – Though at this point all the Biron talk is going to look silly if DP is still the #1) took a goalie as a starter?

      I know I for one am interested to see where you’re going to put your markers.

    9. lowetide
      July 23, 2009 at

      Wasn’t Storm Davis the guy that Glenn Davis’ family brought into their home when he was a kid? I think he was, had some family issues so the Glenn Davis’ just adopted him and he grew up with them.

      A lot of what happens to pitchers like Davis is that they throw a tremendous number of innings early. When I was a kid the Reds had a guy named Gary Nolan and he’d win pretty much every time they could get him out there. But he came up early and they destroyed him before his arm could mature. I can’t recall at this point if he even made it to the WS wins in the mid-70s but Gary Nolan was a stunning pitcher in his early 20′s. So I’d blame a pitching coach or manager (never make a 22-year old pitcher endure Dusty Baker as a manager. Trade him, shoot him, drive over him with the team bus. It’ll be better) for Storm Davis.

      Do you remember Dan Bouchard? I always liked him, he used to platoon with Phil Myre in Atlanta and probably had something to do with Milt Schmidt losing his job as GM in Boston because he didn’t protect Bouchard in the 1972 expansion draft (and Cliff Fletcher grabbed him for the Flames).

      Anyway, old timers like me would probably list Bouchard and Rogie Vachon as two of the G’s from that era who people should remember along with Dryden and Parent (I’d include Gilles Meloche on the Vachon list too).

      Bouchard played until 35 or so, and then he didn’t play in the NHL after a decent season with Winnipeg. Up until that time he was well regarded as an NHL goaltender, but he slipped in the post-season a couple of times and finished his career in Switzerland.

      I think this MIGHT be a period in NHL history when players (goales and skaters) are prolonging their careers and their effectiveness–while less predictable than in previous seasons–allows them to play deeper into their 30′s. Tyler, you posted some numbers awhile back about how few 35-year old regular G’s there were in NHL history and I wonder how many of them are recent. This may be a period in the history of the game where we are about to see these men continue long after history suggests. Better conditioning, better coaching techniques, the money made available through free agency, these are some of the reasons I believe it might be that way.

      Whereas Bouchard had to move to Switzerland to play at age 35, Khabibulin gets a new 4-year deal from Edmonton. I stated the days they signed him that I liked the goalie, but not the money and term. I still feel that way.

      So, I think we need to ask a bunch of questions. Like “is this a period in NHL history when goalies are going to play longer?” which would mirror the 1980′s when bsaeball players began not only playing deep into their 30′s but having tremendous impact in those years (we’ll call it the Darrell Evans era). Bill James wrote an article years ago about the number of 35 year olds in 1988 (I think it was) compared to the number of regulars that age in 1970. The difference was exceptional and he suggested it had to do with astro-turf, free agency, improved air travel and other elements.

      Finally, I’d like to suggest that when we talk about Khabibulin’s Chicago career we do our absolute best as a group to put these seasons into context. Khabibulin was playing in front of a very young team early on and we Oiler fans know what it’s like to watch kids learn how to play defense at the NHL level.

      I apologize for the rambling post, Tyler.

    10. Hawerchuk
      July 23, 2009 at

      As Lowetide noted, the Hawks played awful defense in front of him at 5v5, particularly in 2007-08. And for what it’s worth, Khabibulin did significantly exceed his expected save percentage both this year and last.

      This type of performance is admittedly transient (hence the difficulty in figuring out who’s a good goaltender) but if Khabibulin can play 60 games this year, I think you’ll have a slightly better tandem than Roloson/Biron.

    11. Oilman
      July 23, 2009 at

      This might be very difficult to track because there is likely a large variance, but is there a way to determine if there is a significant drop in save percentage amongst goalies who played a backup role (say 30 games or less a season – like Anderson) who were signed to become a starter (say 52 games) the next? Is proven ability to play a certain number of games at a certain level of any value? The one guy that springs to mind is Hasek – and his numbers greatly improved with more work?

    12. Operatornumber79
      July 23, 2009 at

      Fantastic post. I’m a long-time reader but first-time poster.

      It boggles my mind that GMs can screw up goalie signings. Of all positions in hockey, goalies are the most easily assessed independently of their team’s contributions. Sure, there is bound to be some variance due to teams’ styles of play, luck, etc, but save percentage should be the gold standard by which goalies are evaluated.

      Unfortunately, for Oilers fans (I’m not one), that knowledge is far from universally accepted.
      Up until last year or so, I always assumed that GMs had access to information we don’t, and that their experience and expertise helped them make wise decisions. I no longer beleive this.

      I think it’s going to be a long four years in Edmonton.

    13. July 23, 2009 at

      “is this a period in NHL history when goalies are going to play longer?”

      27-May-09 Missed 2 playoff games (lower body injury).
      11-Mar-09 Missed 12 games (lower body injury).
      12-Dec-08 Missed 6 games (lower body injury).
      16-Mar-08 Missed 12 games (back spasms).
      20-Feb-08 Missed 3 games (sprained knee).
      16-Nov-06 Missed 8 games (fractured finger).
      9-Mar-06 Missed 13 games (knee injury).
      19-Jan-06 Missed 10 games (groin).

      Maybe a few goaltenders are going to play longer, but if you asked me to make a list of guys I thought might play forever I seriously doubt Khabibulin would be anywhere near the top.

      And, even giving him a nudge for being on a terrible, young team what would you ratchet his SV% up to? It was pretty godawful to the point that any upward adjustment would cement him at league average.

      Let’s put this in actual, honest to God mark terms: We just bought a stock that, 50% of the time is going to bust at some point, 40% of the time is going to pay 5% year-over-year return, and 10% of the time might hit 20% year-over-year. And we paid some guy in an alley $300 a share when they were selling for $212 on the exchange.

      I think we should all be seriously investigating the tax implications of a loss here. Pat Quinn’s going to lose his retirement account, he’s too old to go back to work!

    14. July 23, 2009 at

      Don’t get me wrong, I think the Khabibulin deal stinks, but remember that the Biron deal was made because of the Khabibulin deal – Biron found himself totally out of a job, and with absolutely no suitors, it’s tough to drum up a big contract. Since the Islanders aren’t a playoff team, they can sit on the sidelines for a Biron to come along – the Oilers, ostensibly competing for the playoffs, do not have that luxury.

    15. Hawerchuk
      July 23, 2009 at

      “save percentage should be the gold standard by which goalies are evaluated.”

      At 5v5, there’s a 30-point delta in expected save percentage (minimum 800 minutes). Backstrom’s is highest (strong defense) while Khabibulin’s was among the lowest (weak defense). Goaltender performance variation is about 3x the SVPCT variation, but defense and luck have a huge impact.

      Add in 4v5 play – e.g. Toronto gave up the most PPs in the league – and save percentage is all over the map.

      If we know nothing else, we should expect a league-average goaltender to post a .910 +/- .010 SVPCT.

    16. rgib
      July 23, 2009 at

      I hate to use the words “shrewd” and “clever” in the same sentence as “Garth Snow”, but I really like the RECENT goaltending signings on the island. Maybe if Lowe’s astuteness for acquiring quality low cost D can be attributed to his experience as a defenceman, then the same could be said about Garth? Biron at 1.4M is a steal. Roly at 5M/2yr is solid. Habby at 15M/4yr? Not so much.

      I completely agree with you Tyler. The fan in me wants to cheer for Habby, while the realist in me wants to put his head through the wall.

      Also, further to Daniel’s comments above, I wonder how much Sv % is affected by rebound goalies vs. first save goalies? What I mean by this is some goalies have a greater tendency to allow a second low percentage shot off of a rebound, whereas others are more adept at hanging on to the puck or moving it where they want it(ie. kicking out to D, corners). Based on style I would say that Fleury is certainly a good example of a “Rebound” goalie, while Roloson might be an example of a “First Save” goalie. Is Fleury’s Sv% elevated compared to others due to his tendency to allow more shots? It may be.

    17. Vic Ferrari
      July 23, 2009 at

      Good stuff on rebounds he other day, Gabe. We all should have expected that I suppose. Rebounds have a better chance of going in, but a lesser goalie would have been more likely to let in the first shot, and wouldn’t have had to face the rebound. So it looks to be self correcting.

      And as you say, just like with skaters, if we don’t separate the PP from EV and SH we’re leaving in noise for no particular reason. Especially yhe 5v3′s. One year Giguere faced an absurd number of 5v3′s and it killed his save%, his overall save% remained strong. I think that was the year that he tried to murder Ryan Smyth in a game in ANA, which lead to either one or two 5v3 goals for the Oilers. So it was at least partly his own fault … still, it usually isn’t the goalies fault if the team in front of him takes a whack of penalties and also ends up with a bunch of 5v3 PK efforts.

      Also Gabe, and only if it is very easy to do:
      On the 5v5 goalie stuff at your site, can you list the total number of shots against? Right now just the shot rates are shown, and not accurately enough to calculate the shots-against totals accurately. Or maybe I’m just looking at the wrong sheet?

    18. Vic Ferrari
      July 23, 2009 at

      Re Giguere, that should read “his EV save% remained strong”.

    19. Julian
      July 23, 2009 at

      This is the sort of situation where you kinda hope Khabibulin has the grace to be really fucking bad if he’s going to be bad, because maybe some drastic measure can be taken and 2011-2012 and on won’t be wasted. If he’s mediocre or slightly below mediocre though, he’s going to be around the whole damn time, and it’s gonna hurt.

      Four years. What the hell were they thinking. I was fine with the deal at first, but I’d been thinking he was only 33 or 34.

    20. Vic Ferrari
      July 23, 2009 at

      I’m not as worried about his age, I’m with Lowetide’s comments above.

      I mean you don’t have to be terribly fit to be a goalie, and the folks who obsess over drag racing have shown that simple visual reaction time decreases very minimally from the age of 25 to 40. Unless he has nagging core or back injuries, or motivational issues, I can’t get too worried about it.

      Hell, the year that Conklin had a terrible EVsave%, Brodeur did also. Very nearly equally bad. A raft of hockey writers were speculating that he was missing Niedermayer and Stevens, that he was near the end. But really it was just the indiscriminate randomness of the universe. And since then both have posted some of the better EVsave%’s in the league, just as they had before that season (granted Conklin’s historical numbers came from far fewer games).

      But if it had been 1986, and Brodeur could have made nearly as much money working for his uncle’s plumbing business. And perhaps “1986 Marty” was getting tired of the travel and the bruises, and wished to be nearer his family and his sister-in-law … so “1986 Marty” retires. 22 years later Tyler adds him to the “I told you so” pile, but not fairly IMO.

      Also, the quality of goaltending has improved a tonne since I started watching NHL hockey. Ron Smith, Neilson’s original scoring chance counter, commented on this a while ago. The scoring chance levels haven’t changed much over the years, the goalies have simply gotten better at stopping pucks.

      So from the early/mid 90s rolling through to the early/mid 00s we can see that Hasek and Roy are not as much above sea level. Have their games deteriorated? Or have the seas risen?

      I think that it’s mostly the latter.

    21. Deano
      July 23, 2009 at

      I’d suggest looking at the guys that these fellows all want to emulate to see if you can figure out what makes them different. My own theory is that its mental focus, not physical ability – see Dom Hasek for tenacity.

      Is it possible that the few exceptional goalies that you identify let in fewer really bad goals and that explains the difference? This would also explain the variance in the other goalies that makes this difficult to study.

      In other words, most goalies let in about the same number of ‘good’ goals – its how few ‘awful’ goals they allow that distinguishes the good from the great.

      (How many times do the colour commentators say ‘That’s one that Luongo wants back’?)

      Unfortunately, this theory does not lend itself well to math, but for an NHL team, it does lend itself to video analysis.

    22. Vic Ferrari
      July 23, 2009 at

      Back to the point fo your post, Tyler, I agree with Daniel’s sentiment.

      I would say the first step is to illustrate the predictive value of EVsave%. Preferably using the BAMBi (Bet Against Me, BItch!) principle, but just because I think your writing is better when you’re in a vicious mood.

      That done, it would be all easy downhill coasting from there.

      Of course if your intent is to cleanse the unwashed masses … brace yourself for disappointment. Many of the cats at Lowetide, Oilers Nation, etc are simply beyond the reach of reason.

    23. July 23, 2009 at

      I mean you don’t have to be terribly fit to be a goalie, and the folks who obsess over drag racing have shown that simple visual reaction time decreases very minimally from the age of 25 to 40. Unless he has nagging core or back injuries, or motivational issues, I can’t get too worried about it.

      There’s a difference between the small movements drag racers make and the large and/or high-energy movements that goaltenders make. What do drag racers have to move? Their foot a few inches? Their hands a few inches? Split-second timing and precision to be sure, but they’re not kicking around large pads and fending off 6’3″ forwards crashing the crease. There’s a lot more that goes into being a goaltender, physiologically, than there is drag racing. I wrote a thing or two on the subject (inspired by a similar comment you made back in November on LT’s), and while the old site is currently down, with a bit of help, I was able to recover and repost it on the new one here. The latter part is on fatigue and recovery, because that was the specific topic (back-to-back games), but the first part of it is all to do with the athletic demands on the modern NHL goaltender. I think you’d find it quite informative.

      The real reason why goalie aging is less of a concern than it used to be is because athlete aging in general is less of a concern than it used to be. Conditioning is better, medical treatment is better, rehabilitation is better, and training and coaching principles are better understood. I would expect to see more players playing at a high level beyond 35, and acceptably well past 40, as the years go on, and more guys who’ve been fitness freaks since they were 15 pass through the League and into their waning years. Hell, look at Chelios: he’s not what he once was, but I’d say he was still a useful NHL player until very recently. I would also argue that goaltending needn’t necessarily be a speed game: as a goalie gets older, I would expect him to rely more on his ability to read the play and stay in position over raw speed and athleticism.

    24. July 23, 2009 at

      Great post. I actually remember Storm Davis’s 1989 season– he was truly awful. When he was pitching, you knew the game was going to be long because there would be a ton of runs for both teams….

      But to be honest, I always thought Crash Davis was better than Storm Davis.

    25. Vic Ferrari
      July 23, 2009 at


      Historically goalies do better in terms of EVsave% with less rest. The second game of back to backs is best, one day’s rest second best, two games rest and it’s back to average.

      For all the gnashing of teeth over MacTavish’s handling of Roloson, it was the odds on bet. And it worked. If the Oilers had gotten poor goaltending they would have been drafting in the lottery range.

      And while I don’t doubt that people lose some quick twitch muscle with age, these guys aren’t exactly mesomorphic as 25 year olds. If I made a big, random collage with pictures of 50 NHL goalies with their shirts off, and 50 NHL bloggers with their shirts off … most people would have a hell of a time trying to pick out the goalies.

      And if you’re over 30, and all you do to stay in shape over winter is play goal three times a week … you’ll be a mess by spring.

    26. mc79hockey
      July 23, 2009 at

      And if you’re over 30, and all you do to stay in shape over winter is play goal three times a week … you’ll be a mess by spring.

      Hmm. What if you play out once a week, on a team that sometimes has trouble getting skaters?

    27. July 23, 2009 at

      And while I don’t doubt that people lose some quick twitch muscle with age, these guys aren’t exactly mesomorphic as 25 year olds. If I made a big, random collage with pictures of 50 NHL goalies with their shirts off, and 50 NHL bloggers with their shirts off … most people would have a hell of a time trying to pick out the goalies.

      You’re not going to see rippling muscles because that’s not the kind of muscle a goalie will have. Rippling muscles are the slow-twitch kind; fast-twitch muscle is smaller, and therefore won’t look nearly as impressive. Besides, for every fit NHL blogger, there’s bound to be a couple of squishy ones; I would be surprised if there were more than a couple of squishy goalies in the entire NHL.

      And if you’re over 30, and all you do to stay in shape over winter is play goal three times a week … you’ll be a mess by spring.

      Of course. But they’re also not going full-bore in the gym on off-days, either; they’re doing exercises focused on maintenance, as opposed to what they’d be doing after they’re done resting the bumps and bruises in the summer, or during rehab, which is focused on regaining muscle size and tone.

    28. kris
      July 23, 2009 at

      Okay, this might be stupid, but to determine how ESV%, or just SV%, projects how about this:

      Step 1: Identify all the goalies in a given season, here season 1, between the ages of 25-34 who play, say, 25 games. (Eliminate age, inexperience, and fringe NHL’ers as noise.)

      Step 2: Look at the same set of goalies the next season, subtracting all goalies who were injured or played less than, 25 games or who (You might want to record how many goalies from season 1 got sent to the AHL as separate data.)

      Step 3: For each goalie, subtract the ESV% from season two from season 1. Find the mean.

      Step 4: Repeat step 1-3 either by doing a 3rd season for the goalies identified in step 1 ( to be fair you might want to introduce a rule eliminating goalies from the set as they age) or by doing the whole thing over for a new set of goaltenders or both.

      Presumably, if you look at enough goalies over enough seasons you’ll average out the impact of shot quality, poor defense, “bounces” etc.

      If SV% is projectable, the calculated mean from step 3, or rather step 4, should approach zero. (Granted, you don’t want to go too many seasons back for any goalie, because the game itself has changed so much.)

      It’s not conclusive, but it’s something.

      Or am I missing something?

    29. rocket
      July 23, 2009 at

      great post.
      Its why Kipper has lots of wins but his low SV% can’t get Calgary past the 1st round recently.

    30. Hawerchuk
      July 23, 2009 at

      Vic, is this the sheet you’re looking at?


      I think it has what you want. I might have posted something incomplete on the blog.

    31. mc79hockey
      July 24, 2009 at

      Solid thread.

      Wasn’t Storm Davis the guy that Glenn Davis’ family brought into their home when he was a kid? I think he was, had some family issues so the Glenn Davis’ just adopted him and he grew up with them.

      Other way around apparently. Which is astounding – two kids, who don’t share genes, grow up in the same household and have solid major league careers? Astounding.

      I think this MIGHT be a period in NHL history when players (goales and skaters) are prolonging their careers and their effectiveness–while less predictable than in previous seasons–allows them to play deeper into their 30’s.

      Vic makes the same point, I think. I have a couple of comments here. First, I think that rapid expansion helped create more opportunties for 37+ guys. Second, it’s surprising to me how few of them are actually useful parts, even recently (I think Vic has a fair point about moving on to your next career being more desirable when the money was closer). Here’s the list of 37+ guys playing at least 20 games in the deadpuck era, sorted by save percentage. A couple of things jump out at me. First, there are a ton of below average seasons. I don’t have the annual league averages handy but I’d guess the majority of these fellows posted below league average save percentages. Probably only Hasek, Roy and Belfour can lay claim to having truly elite seasons at this age, save percentage wise. Perhaps unsurprisingly, those guys are also the best goalies of the generation. Second, there are a ton of famous guys on that list. You get more chances when you’re Grant Fuhr or Mike Vernon and you come with a couple of Cup rings than you do if you’re Joe Blow. Sound familiar? ;) So, while I think that there’s so little data here that it’s tough to generalize, what data there is does not, in my mind, support the conclusion that we’re seeing a golden age of goalies playing forever. Khabibulin’s individual circumstances – the injuries are listed above – and the fact that he’s not one of the best goalies of his generation don’t particularly lead me to think that he’s going to be one of the few who is elite into his dotage. Obviously, small sample and all, but I also think it bears mentioning that two of the guys who excelled late recently were technicians (Belfour and Roy) while one is, IMO, the greatest goalie in hockey history.

      As long as we’re giving Khabibulin extra credit for playing in front of a poor Hawks defence, I think it bears mention that a) a lot of smart people have serious doubts about the extent of that effect, b) it’s not like the Oilers are 1995 Devils and c) it’s not like a lot of the other guys who were availble were playing for the 1995 Devils.

      Quain’s 13 makes a ton of sense to me.

      Unless he has nagging core or back injuries, or motivational issues, I can’t get too worried about it.

      Uhhh…ok. I kind of suspect that a lot of goalies do by this age but we know that Khabby does.

      I would say the first step is to illustrate the predictive value of EVsave%. Preferably using the BAMBi (Bet Against Me, BItch!) principle, but just because I think your writing is better when you’re in a vicious mood.

      I’m still not wild about the predictive value of EVSV%. I think it’s the best we’ve got but it’s kind of batting averagesque. The randomness is a bitch, both in terms of requiring a ton of sample and being subject to a lot of swing in a single year.

    32. kris
      July 24, 2009 at

      On second thought, my idea is piss stupid. The mean would trend toward zero even if goalies EVSV% was totally random.

      Maybe the best thing to do is just record the change in EVSV% for regular goalies from year to year and plot the results on a scatter graph.

      You could then deterine, given a large number of past goalie fluctuations, the probability that a goalies SV% will fluctuate by more than, say, 0.05 or 0.01. Simply divide the number of points below, say, 0.05 by the number of overall points.

      If you could do that, you could say things like ‘Oh Khabi’s 0.895 season’ was well within the norm, and there’s an n% chance it will bounce back up to such and such.

      If I knew how to do it, without using pen and paper (seriously), I would.

      But I’ll shut up now, because I have a feeling somebody’s gonna say I’m stupid and I should go post on ON.

    33. kris
      July 24, 2009 at

      Pfff, that should be ’0.005′ of course.

    34. Quain
      July 24, 2009 at

      The interesting thing about this discussion is that it veers into three or four sub-discussions where people try to justify it. Well, goalies can play as they get older these days. Well, he was on a bad team. Well, we’ll bury his contract in the KHL/LTIR. Well, I don’t think he just plays for contract years. You need to step back, stop focusing on one particular concern, and look at the bushel of them. We just gave above average dollars with four years term to a guy who has multiple distinct problems. You’re relying on a lot of coin flips to land heads to even get Roloson-esque goaltending. I’m not an expert, but that seems like bad risk management to me.

      But then, I ain’t got a ring and I never skated at a high level.

    35. Vic Ferrari
      July 24, 2009 at


      I think that the idea is sound, but perhaps incomplete. You would have to account for the varying number of shots, or better yet, build a random model to use as a benchmark.

      Contrarian Goaltender did this with EVsave% for goalies that changed teams in the off-season vs goalies that stayed on the same team vs random. The results are compelling, in the archives of his blog somewhere in the past three months or so.

      Same-team and random are nearly identical. Different team and random are close, different team with an ever so slightly wider change (.003 I think).

      I wish he’d shown the raw data. There appears to be a negative offset in the data for changed-teams. Implying that some of this small shift was the result of GMs, collectively, betting too heavily on recent results.

      In any case, even if we pretend every GM is a sparkling genius in the field of goalie evaluation, there is precious little real estate for the theories of ‘team effect on EVsave%’ to live on. If it existed in a significant way, it visible to us in the general population.

    36. Vic Ferrari
      July 24, 2009 at


      I almost always like your commentary, and this is Tyler’s blog, not mine. But it seems like you are arguing with the air.

      Who here is saying that the Khabibulin contract is a good bet? You’re going to have a hell of a time finding a reasonable person to argue against, methinks.

      The topic of the effect of age on goaltender performance is an interesting one, though. And while I agree with you that Khabibulin doesn’t have the kind of track record that makes him likely to beat the curve, I don’t know what that ‘curve’ is. To my mind there isn’t much beyond anecdotal evidence to suggest it drops off with age as much as Tyler presumes.

      I’ll happily be convinced otherwise, but I haven’t seen anything compelling yet.

    37. Vic Ferrari
      July 24, 2009 at


      Aw, thanks. I realized that NHL.com has the EV shots and saves for the past eight seasons. I’ll write a script to scrape that data off and put it in a big HTML table for the benefit of anyone who wants to take a run at this stuff.

    38. Vic Ferrari
      July 24, 2009 at
    39. July 24, 2009 at

      almost always like your commentary, and this is Tyler’s blog, not mine. But it seems like you are arguing with the air.

      Yeah, I guess I am. I split time between here and Lowetide so I start to see a lot of the bullshit about how Khabibulin has a ring and that’s all that matters over there and assume there’s some of the same here, when really it’s just a discussion of how age affects goaltenders in general… which is a perfectly legitimate conversation.

    40. spOILer
      July 25, 2009 at

      Surely the improvements in goalie equipment are having effecting both career-length and ability, when comparing to past decades, no?

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