MacT is sick of talking about the goalies. The Gump style quote is his comment on the goaltending fiasco from today’s Sun, which is also dangerously close to Mark McGwire “I’m not here to talk about the past” territory; I had a tough time choosing between the Forrest Gump pic and one of McGwire testifying in front of Congress. Everyone in the blogosphere loves talking about the goalies. Personally, I’m with MacT. I’m sick of it (although I’m putting together a post defending Lowe’s strategy with the goalies last summer, which I still believe to be appropriate).
I wondered out loud down below if a team has ever had a save percentage as poor relative to the league as the Oilers do and gone on to make the playoffs. Just as a bit of background, while I believe that save percentage is largely goalie related, there is doubtless a team component as well (however small I may think it is).
I’ve avoided blaming “goaltending” below and have confined myself to talking about save percentage. Draw your own conclusions about whether goaltending or team defence is to blame. When looking at save percentage over large amounts of time, save percentage relative to the league is preferable because a different save percentage has a different value depending on the league environment. In 1987-88, when the league save percentage was .878, a .900 save percentage was phenomenal. In 2003-04 when the league average was .908 it was lousy.
When looking at save percentage relative to league, I use something I call relative save percentage. It’s simple, just SV%/LG AVERAGE SV%*1000. The multiplication at the end is just for the ease of looking at it. The Oilers this year are .881/.897*1000=982. I’ve got the numbers for every team since 1987-88; that’s 435 teams in all. Guess how many of those teams have put up a relative save percentage worse than the Oilers 982.
So the Oilers save percentage has been worse relative to the league than that of all but 3.9% of teams in the past 17 years or so. It’s phenomenal. I can certainly understand why MacT doesn’t want to talk about it. This team seems to be cursed to be two parts good, one part abominable.
How did these teams do? 5 of them made the playoffs, although two of those appearances came in the old Smythe division in the late 80′s and early 90′s when there was Edmonton, Calgary and three shitty teams of whom two had to make the playoffs. Other than that, we’re talking about the Blues in 1998-99, the Sharks in 1996-97 and Boston in 1995-96. San Jose is pretty clearly a poor comparison-the year that they made the playoffs with terrible save percentage, they had a -32 goal differential and it was the first lockout season which means it was a short season where goal differentials and team quality could be less connected. Not all that comparable to the Oilers. Boston is a little spooky at first glance but it appears that they were an old team in decline-Ranford, Bourque, Oates and Stevens were all key players on that squad. One year, they were making the playoffs with bad goaltending and the next they were drafting Joe Thornton.
Of these three teams, I think that the Oilers are most like the 98-99 Blues. The Blues managed to put up a solid goal differential of +28 despite trotting out Brent Johnson, Jamie McLennan, Grant Fuhr, Rich Parent and Jim Carey. The next year they got the solid if unspectacular goaltending of Roman Turek and were a dominant +83. I really like the comparison with the 1998-99 Blues, right down to the presence of Chris Pronger. It’s even got that “I’ve got a job here because I won Cups with the Oilers in the ’80′s” presence that is essential to any solid Oilers analogy in the person of Grant Fuhr.
Having looked at this, I’m even more convinced that this team is fairly unique within the past 17 seasons. While I’m sure that the marketing department is busy altering the logo on the third jersey as we speak to celebrate the fact, that the Oilers look to be playoff bound despite having near historically bad goaltending, (maybe even a banner raising is in order?) it really is depressing to consider how good this team could be with half decent goaltending.