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Stats, Analytics, and the Future of Giants in the Crease

July 28, 2017

 

Goalie stats have come a very long way since we were stuck with just looking at Goals Against Average, Wins, and raw Save Percentage. Now we have a decent amount of goalie stats ranging from 5v5 SV%, Quality Starts %, Goals Saved Above Average, Strength of Schedule, Goals Above Replacement, etc. along with all their adjusted variants. This allows us to better evaluate the goalies we’re watching. Obviously it’s not perfect but every tool you can use to help make a better picture of the goalies performance is useful. That leads us to an issue though. These statistics are primarily only available to NHL goalies. Goalies in lower men’s leagues than the NHL and women’s hockey leagues do not have the majority of these advanced stats to help evaluate them.

 

It has improved in recent times though data is still not perfect. Prospect-stats.com does a really good job with advanced goalie stats with having high-, medium-, and low-danger shot tracking as well as having adjusted GSAA and the cherry on top is that they have 5v5 SV%! There are limitations though in that prospect-stats.com isn’t able to track the location of shots in the WHL, USHL, or the AHL which is not their fault as they get their information from the various leagues. So if you want detailed goalie stats from the QMJHL or OHL go to prospect-stats.com. Your other options are my personal site where I track GSAA, GSAA/60, and QS% along with a few other statistics (such as the Bounce Back Stats) that cover the WHL, QMJHL, OHL, CWHL, NWHL, and AHL. The downside of course is that these stats don’t take into account either 5v5 variant SV%s or the locations of shots. This doesn’t make any of these stats useless though. It just means we have fewer tools at our disposal which isn’t ideal but better than before.

 

 So with all these tools what do you do with them? Right now none of them are predictive of future success or development however we can view them as evaluators and something to identify goalies to keep an eye on. To do so though you’ll need to keep in mind context because without context the stats are nearly useless such as using a chest protector that doesn’t have any padding. The mindset when looking at statistics should be using as many as possible to gain the better picture. For a relevant example we’ll use recent Los Angeles Kings draft pick and current Sault Ste Marie Greyhounds goalie Matthew Villalta. I got interested in Villalta in late 2016/early 2017 which culminated in an article naming him as one of three goalies to watch for at the NHL draft.

 

It was a bit odd for me to see Villalta go unnoticed as he was putting up good statistics at the time, finished the year strong, and when it came to the eye test it was definitely a pass. Michael DiPietro received a lot of praise for his season as he should have yet despite Villalta being barely behind DiPietro in whatever statistic you wanted to use Villalta was virtually nameless when it came to the draft making him one of the biggest surprises for mainstream hockey. He shouldn’t have been though as Villalta posted a 0.667 QS%, 0.800 Quality Bounce Back Start%, 0.923 SV% in Bounce Back Situations, 0.429 adj. GSAA/60, 0.835 HDSV%, and was 3rd among OHL goalies (min 100SA) in 5v5 SV%. When you have a goalie that can do that in his first year in the OHL it’s generally impressive. These numbers do need context though. At first glance you’d notice that Villalta had significantly lower starts than most of the league with only 27. DiPietro in comparison had 50 starts. This makes you ask the question what would have happened if Villalta had been in the starter role. Would there have been the same success? Or would Villalta have improved his stock even more?

 

If we look deeper we will see another potential issue, lack of starts versus quality competition. The Greyhounds play in the Western Conference which is generally considered the stronger of the two OHL conferences for good reason with five powerhouse teams this past season in London, Erie, Windsor, Sault Ste Marie, and Owen Sound. Looking at Villalta’s game logs he only made one start against one of these teams out of the 14 times Sault Ste Marie played one of these +90 point teams. This signals that Villalta was given lesser competition than what his goalie partner Joseph Raaymakers was given who struggled until playoffs. Even if we were to expand the search to the Eastern Conference +80 point getters it’s not any better as Villalta only made one start out of a possible six. The oddity is that both starts came against Windsor/Oshawa in the first two games of the season where he posted two statistical Really Bad Starts. After that Villalta only saw 20 minutes of game time in relief of Raaymakers versus Owen Sound.

 

So what do you do with all this information? While at a London Knights game I was talking to a scout who said something to the effect of even if you have every stat possible it will do you no good if you don’t know how to use them. In the above paragraph we already discussed partially what each stat told about Villalta. He provides a very consistent game, doesn’t allow himself to get in a rut, on average you can count on him to provide an above average impact, and he doesn’t have a lot of experience against the best of the best in the OHL so there’s still the question of how he’ll do versus quality competition. An addition context that we barely cover above but will now is that Villalta was a rookie in the OHL. Rookie goalies in any major junior league see a sudden increase in quality of competition when coming from midget and it’s not easy to overcome that in your first season. Looking back in the last few years it’s rare to see a rookie goalie putting up the type of numbers you’ll see from the OHL’s best. The best rookie goalie seasons in the past two seasons have come from Stephen Dhillon, Tyler Parsons, Michael Dipietro, and Michael McNiven. That’s pretty good company and so for Villalta to be in that group of goalies shows the ability to adapt which is very important when it comes to goaltending.

 

Another use we can get out of advanced goalie stats is finding patterns in what potentially makes goalies more likely to be a NHLer. Being able to adapt to a sudden increase in quality of competition whether it’s the OHL, QMJHL, WHL, USHL, NCAA, or the AHL shows promise. An example would be Matt Murray of the Pittsburgh Penguins struggles to find his feet in the OHL until the end then walks into the AHL and immediately becomes a top prospect because of how well he adapted. The question though is does this theory apply to other goalies at a high or relatively high rate? That’s something I’m personally (slowly) working on at the moment, particularly at the AHL level since it’s the last league a goalie has to go through before becoming a NHLer usually. The important part to remember is none of this is 100%. There will always be goalies beating the odds because that’s what humans do. The task though is to try and get a handle on as many goalies as we can to get a better picture.

 

 Another question that comes to mind is how do these stats affect the women’s game? Right now it’s near impossible to use these types of statistics in the women’s game the same way we do in the men’s game. There are many factors at play such as so few spots in the CWHL/NWHL and the fact that players have to find the time to play in these leagues once they leave the NCAA/CIS. If they can’t find the time then they won’t join either league. There’s also the issue that since players do not receive the type of salaries their counterparts in men’s leagues do they are forced to play as close to their hometown as possible in order to better find a job to make money to live. This leads to teams like Calgary being able to stack up on goalies. These statistics aren’t useless though, they just have to be used more in the tune of how we use advanced goalie stats on NHL goalies and in some creative instances such as comparing goalies across history.

 

My favourite way to use these statistics is to further my position that Calgary Inferno goalie Emerance Maschmeyer deserved to be named CWHL Goalie of the Year and CWHL Rookie of the Year. Looking back in CWHL history there has only been one goalie to have a season on par with Maschmeyer. That type of season performance deserves more respect than it was given by the CWHL Award committee and the media. We can now also do the same at the IIHF and Olympic tournaments to give us a better idea how goalies perform in Pool B because we never get to see those games on video. Context and keeping an open mind is especially important in women’s hockey because in the CWHL/IIHF there is a clear divide between the top teams and bottom teams which leads to stat inflation or deflation.

 

Stats aren’t enough though because goalies still fall through the cracks so it’s important to supplement the eye test with more data. The type of data I’m talking about is the analytics. Goalie analytics are rare and relatively new. We can call 5v5 SV%, HDSV%, and the like analytics and I would be fine with that. I want to go deeper though so if you’ll come with me on a little journey you can see what I’ve been working on this past season to provide one more bit of data that I personally find intriguing with promise.

 

When we think of what the goalies job is it’s to stop pucks from going in the net. That’s how Goals Against Average managed to become a big part of goalie stat evaluation followed by SV% followed what we have now. You look at every stat we have and it tells you how well a goalie is at stopping the puck. That’s not a bad thing as that’s the goalies job. You stop the puck more times than the goalie at the other and you’ll come out with a win which is the result every goalie wants. A save no matter how ugly is all you need sometimes to end with the championship and that’s what teams want a goalie that can stop the puck. We don’t really look further than that general idea because why would we?

 

Goalies aren’t forwards or defensemen. We don’t really have the ability to influence shots through backchecking or stepping up on a player to force a shot. Right now we look at the goalie’s impact mostly through making saves, playing the puck, and trying to force players to shoot wide (fenwick SV%). What if there was another way of judging a goalies impact on the game? Is it possible that goalies have more of an impact on the game than just making a save? I personally believe goalies do and it’s through our rebound controls.

 

 If we go off the idea that the goalie has minimal influence on the first shot a player takes when entering the zone then that means the goalie influence starts at the second shot. Put yourself in your goalie skates and visualize a player coming down the wing with a clear shot at your blocker. Your influence on the second shot is where the rebound ends up after the first shot hits you. If the rebound ends up back in front of you it’s as if you are resetting the play. You and the shooter are back to square one which isn’t great but isn’t the end of the world either. Maybe you aren’t following the puck all the way in leading to the puck hitting your blocker and going weak side. Now you are facing a potential second shot coming from an area of the ice you aren’t ready for. There’s also the possibility that you are able to cradle the shot on your blocker and cover it for the whistle. This takes away the possibility of a second shot as the game is reset, your teammates are back in front of you, and the opposing team once again has to try to get that clear shot at you. Then of course is the worst case scenario where you get beat and scored on.

 

The best scenario on every shot is possession. Every time the goalie gets possession of the puck it’s a chance to reset and regroup. When you watch your team running around the zone for minutes at a time you want that shot because you can cover it and get a new group on the ice. The 2nd best scenario is sending the puck to the corners. It forces a reset by the opponent and gives your team a chance at the puck but if they’re tired out it’s not as effective as gaining possession. The middle-of-the-road scenario is the one described above in which the puck ends up back in front of you. On the one hand you’re given the chance to reset on the shot and are already (mostly) in position. On the other hand you don’t know what’s going to happen next as there could be a pass, the player could hold onto it or if the rebound ends up closer to you it’s a better opportunity to score. The 2nd worst scenario is when the puck ends up weak side. It’s that type of rebound that sets off the panic mode in a goalies head because you don’t have the positioning and it requires a tremendous effort to get over there not only in position but quickly as well. Lastly of course is the worst scenario which is a goal. When your job is to keep the puck out of the net you need to make that save.

 

 

First question is this really important? Saves matter but do rebounds really matter that much? I have some data to share that will hopefully help back this up. Over this past season I tracked 191 goals in the CHL. Of those 191 goals 4.71% of them came after a corner rebound, 13.61% came after a rebound in front, 6.81% came after a weak side rebound, and 74.87% didn’t have a rebound occur before the goal. That’s ~25% of goals scored after the goalie had some sort of influence on them. In smaller samples taken across Minor Midget and the WJC the numbers don’t change all that much. These numbers are still raw though without addition context which leads to the premature conclusion that rebounds that end up in front of a goalie is the most dangerous. 

 

 The raw numbers above show that corner rebounds are the least dangerous rebound and that is true as only 1.5% of corner rebounds lead to goals. With more context we see that corner rebounds only lead to goals at a rate of 4.82% which is lower than weak side rebounds which lead to goals at a rate of 8.39%. This shows that weak side rebounds don’t happen but when they do they are easily more dangerous than the other two rebound results. All of these results are of course all situation goals.

 

The next step we’ll take is looking if being above average in the rebound metric leads to results and to do so I compare it with Quality Starts % which Rob Vollman of Hockey Abstract worked out would result in a win on average 75% of the time. In the CHL games I tracked a goalie posting a Quality Start resulted in a win 78.4% of the time. A goalie being above average on the rebound metric (all situations) ended up with a win 75.8% of the time. There were four games where a goalie posted a Quality Start that resulted in a win while also being below average in the rebound metric. This rate holds strong for both Minor Midget AAA and the WJC where the win% of quality starts was slightly above the win% of above average rebound results.

 

Right now the conclusion for me is the same as the one I made above, saves are important. They’ll always be important because that’s the goalies job just like how goals will always be important for players because that’s how you win the game. Getting to that point is a process and for goalies making an impact with your saves is how you make that process easier. I am fully willing to admit that there is still a fair amount of work to be done with the rebound metric I have. For instance I haven’t worked out it’s relation with pre-shot puck movement which is large factor on if a goalie makes the save. I believe though that this metric is and can be useful in evaluating goalies.

 

 I’ll use Tyler Parsons as an example due to me seeing more of his games than other goalies. Of the combined games I tracked for Parsons he ended up with 35.61% of all situation shots resulting in dangerous rebounds which is higher than the CHL average of 31.14%. We all know Parsons is a very good goalie so how is this happening? In the games I scouted Parsons this would occur due to moments where Parsons reacted faster than the puck. Parsons would be halfway through a save when the puck would finally get to him resulting in a front rebound. The numbers showed that this wasn’t a singular occurrence and now we can keep an eye out on that part of Parsons game. At the higher levels (ECHL/AHL/NHL) players will take advantage of that more than the CHL players could.

 

Another example I’ll use is USHL goalie Dayton Rasmussen. Looking at his numbers he struggled more than the other goalies on all situation shots in the USHL games I tracked. Rasmussen saw ~48% of shots against result in dangerous rebounds which is significantly higher than the USHL average of ~38%. So with this information we can now go back to the game video and figure out why this is happening. What was happening is that Rasmussen had a tendency to freeze up just before the shot hit him taking away the ability to influence where the shot was going and letting fate control where the puck ended up. We can use this to find areas to either improve on or have teams use it as a tool to take advantage of the goalies.

 

What does this all mean in regards to the future of Giants in the Crease? Well for me it means that I’ll be carrying on most of what I worked on this past season into the next season. I’ll be expanding my rebound metric into the NHL and CWHL at least. Also there are plans at the moment to expand the rebound metric in general. I’m currently looking into adding the pre-shot movement analytics that Steve Vailquette and Chris Boyle of MSG network are using. I’m excited to move forward into next season with implementing more analytics into my scouting as I believe the more tools a scout has at their disposal is never a bad thing. It’s the same mentality as goaltending. Goalies have this tendency to take advantage of every advance in technology to become better at stopping pucks and for me I want to carry this mentality into scouting as well.

 

I have two personal goals that keep me going right now: providing a bigger spotlight for goalies and the hope of getting paid to work in hockey. I have absolutely enjoyed every moment thus far a year and a half after starting up this little twitter account and the corresponding website. Thanks are definitely in order as I really do appreciate the support and kind messages I’ve gotten so far. I really do enjoy being able to interact with people no matter if they’re a hockey fan, scout, goalie, parent, etc. as it’s encouraging for me knowing that maybe one day I’ll be making my own impact on the game. The 2017 Goalie Guide and the Greatest Goalies in Women’s Hockey History projects would have been nowhere near as successful without you. Apart from the above I’m not sure exactly what will happen next season but I’ll be going in with the mentality to do the best I can.

 

To be better and provide better content I’d like to hear your opinion on Giants in the Crease either through this Survey Form or going to my Contact Page and sending any thoughts that way. Feedback is important for everyone and I’d like to hear your opinions for an outside viewpoint.  

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