Photo by clydeorama
ESPN published their top-25 goaltenders in the NHL today with some notable tenders left off the list. While all of M.A. Fluery, Thomas Vokoun, and Semyon "I cost a 1st and 2nd round pick" Varlamov could be considered uncomfortable absences for their teams, it was the slight to Ondrej Pavelec that sent the Winnipeg Sun’s Paul Friesen to talk to coach Claude Noel.
What does the organization say?
Those with a long memory (or who obsessed about hockey all summer) will remember Kevin Cheveldayoff saying Pav had his ‘best games in front of him’ in his end-of-year press conference. He also said that Pavelec liked his heavy workload (most starts in the league last year), despite the not-so-young-anymore goalie posting an average save percentage of .877 in the second game of the six back-to-back’s he played. It seemed the organization was going to stand behind Pav as the goalie of the indeterminate future.
Claude Noel was more candid today when asked about Pavelec not being included in ESPN’s top-25 list. From Friesen’s article linked above:
“Judging from his numbers, it’s probably fair,” Noel said. “Until those numbers change, players get ranked a lot of times according to numbers, and it’s probably fair.”
Just how fair is it?
Ranked 34th in save percentage last year (min. 25 games over 82, pro-rated to 15) and 37th in average goals against, he was not a starter-quality netminder. So we’re left with a series of questions with mostly disappointing answers.
- GAA: 2.80
- EV Sv%: .914
- Total Sv%: .905
- GAA: 2.91
- EV Sv%: .917
- Total Sv%: .906
We start with Bruce Peter’s work last year over at Eyes on the Prize to determine average save percentage for goalies by role – starter, platoon, backup, and replacement. His latest numbers are for the 2011/12 season, when the average save percentage in the league was .914. For that year, a starter averaged .924 at even strength, and .917 overall. Pavelec’s 2011/12 stats fit with the backups (if we’re generous), who averaged .917 at evens, and .910 overall. For interest sake, call-up (or replacement) goalies averaged a .903 total save percentage that year, just a few points shy of Pavelec.
As we consider the most recent season’s performance, one thing we can keep in mind is that the team didn’t recognize Pav was struggling in back-to-backs. If we take those six games out of his 2013 season, his overall save % swells to .912 – a platoon quality performance. So while Noel’s chosen back-pedal today was to put the emphasis on team play, in fact Noel himself has to wear some of the blame for Pav’s abysmal season.
Regardless, save percentage isn’t the only way to measure goalies – there has to be a way to consider Pavelec’s big-game ability, right?
Cam Charron offered a unique take on Pavelec here on Jets Nation in 2012, looking at the stat by Hockey Prospectus called ‘Quality Starts’ and Thomas Drance’s own ‘Blow Ups’ to compare Pavelec to replacement level goalies. Check out the article for precise definitions, but in broad strokes, they are what they sound like. A Quality Start is a solid performance, and a Blow Up is… well, what example should we use? 8-3 vs Lightning? 10-1 combined score in back-to-back games against Washington? The point is, we’ve seen a few and know the story. Charron’s conclusion was that Pavelec tied replacement level goalies with a 58% rate of Quality Starts, but had a blow-rate quite a bit above average at 16%. A good goal tender might have a Blow Up rate of 10-12%, and the call-ups averaged just 14.5%. That’s a whole extra start in which Pavelec’s play cost his team a chance at a win.
Perhaps that wasn’t the big-game goalie we wanted…
Still, there is one way in which Pavelec is a top-25 goaltender – he’s tied for 20th in average salary.