© 2013 Michael Parkatti Goalies5

The Most Overrated Goalies in History

I don’t think it’s much coincidence that the NHL started recording save percentage as a statistic right around the time I was beginning to form conscious thought as a human.  I was lucky enough to watch an amazing Oiler team from my earliest memories, but I always was drawn to goaltenders as the ultimate visual archetype of the game: masks, pads, fat sticks and all.

I wonder today, as I did then, about what separates one goalie from another — how do I know one is good while another is bad?  I remember reading about the 40 wins club, a select group which Grant Fuhr managed to join in 1988.  Which team you played on seemed to be important as well — who cared who played net for the Canucks, for instance?  How many goals you allow per 60 minutes of playing time is another sacred cow which seemed important, and to certain rubes still does today.  I’m sure every observer has their own methods for rating goaltenders, but 1983-84 saw the NHL begin recording the statistic which seems to have gained wide acceptance as the true measure of a ‘tender: save percentage.

In this post, I’ll be attempting to identify the most overrated and underrated goaltenders in history (well, history since 1983).  My methodology is as follows.  First, I recorded annual voting on goaltenders for the Vezina trophy, as voted on by NHL General Managers, for each year since 83-84.  The top voted goalie got a rank of 1, the 2nd highest voted goalie got a 2, etc.  Each year there’s about 10 goalies that receive Vezina votes.  Secondly, I found the list of goalies in the same year as ranked by save percentage (in descending order) among goalies who played in 35 or more games.  Why 35 games as a threshold?  History has proven that that’s around the minimum limit that voters require before giving a goalie a Vezina vote, as seen in famous platoons such as Hrudey/Billy Smith, Roloson/Fernandez, or even Crawford/Emery this past season.  The goalie with the top save percentage in this group gets a 1, 2nd highest save save percentage gets a 2, etc.  Here’s an example, using 85-86:

Goalies1

Here, you see that Vanbiesbrouck won the Vezina, but was only 10th among goalies who played greater than 35 games in save percentage.  Patrick Roy was the final goalie to receive Vezina votes, and ended up ranked 11th.  However, for each year I then added goalies who should have received Vezina votes based on their save percentages.  To do this, I simply created a flat Vezina rank one rank after the final goalie that got Vezina votes.  In this case, Roy was last at 11th, so any goalie I added received the Vezina rank of 12th.  To qualify, you needed to have a SV% rank that placed you within n+1 ranks of the highest (ahem, lowest) ranked goalie (Roy, in this case).  Then I filled in their save percentage ranks as I had the previous goalies on the list.  There were a handful of cases of goalies getting Vezina votes without playing 35 or more games — in these cases, I simply ignored them, and proceeded with rankings as if they did not exist.

The business end of this analysis is the coloumn entitled “Diff”, which is just the Vezina rank subtracted from the SV% rank.  In this year, Vanbiesbrouck won the Vezina while only having the 10th highest save percentage — therefore, he was voted 9 spots “too high”.  Kelly Hrudey was 6th in Vezina voting, even though he had the 2nd best SV%, implying he was voted 4 spots “too low”.  Similar charts were created for every year between 83-84 and 2012-13 (save for the 2004-05 lockout season).

So, how often are goalies who win the Vezina also the save percentage leaders?  Well 14 of the 29 Vezina trophies handed out since 1984 have gone to the goalie who also led the league in SV%, or about 48% of the time.  5 of those times, it went to Hasek.

Which goalie won the Vezina with the lowest save percentage rank?  That would be Grant Fuhr’s 1988 Vezina, in which he was 16th in save percentage.  Jim Carey’s 1996 Vezina was awarded when he was 15th in SV%.

Here’s a list of the 10 most overrated seasons:

Goalies2

Fully 7 of the 10 most overrated seasons were by ex-Oilers and Flames.  Grant Fuhr just missed the party by posting 3 straight seasons between 87 and 89 where his vezina rank was 15 spots higher than his save percentage rank.

Here’s a list of the 10 most underrated seasons:

Goalies3

Now, this is a bit of an artificial construct, because 9 of these 10 goalies didn’t even get a Vezina vote (the lone exception being Melanson in ’84), but received a flat ranking after the last goalie in their year who did.  Either way, it’s a conservative, if inexact, reflection of this phenomenon.  What I find interesting is that Moog put up the most overrated and the most underrated seasons in history just 2 seasons apart (overrated season in Boston, underrated season in Dallas).  Peppering this list are a whole host of good goalies who flew under the radar, and pre-disaster Marc-Andre Fleury.

Those lists are fun, but not really the reason I started the exercise.  What I wanted to concentrate on were the big name goalies, guys who’d had multiple seasons either getting Vezina votes or having seasons where they should have.  To accomplish this, I restricted it to goalies who’d had at least 4 such seasons, to weed out people like Byron Dafoe etc etc who’d had 3 or less.  This restricted list included 36 goalies out of the 128 who’d had at least 1 such season.  Then I found each goalie’s average Vezina Rank and average save percentage rank, in the seasons in which they qualified.  Then I took the difference between those two numbers to come up with an Average Difference score.  The higher your average difference score, the more overrated you are — the lower your average difference, the more underrated you are.

Here is the complete list:

Goalies4

Sorry to break it to you Oiler fans, but Grant Fuhr is the most overrated goalie in history (at least, most overrated in the Vezina-voting sense).  In his 8 vezina seasons, his voting rank was 4.8th place, while his save percentages in those seasons were 13.5th place — an average difference of 8.8.  This implies that he was voted about 9 spots higher than he should have been.  Rounding out the top 5 are Mike Vernon, Evgeni Nabokov, Martin Brodeur, and Miikka Kiprusoff.  Many of the most overrated goalies followed a very similar pattern — putting up largely unnoticed great seasons before getting undeserved Vezina acclaim in later years (Vernon, Kiprusoff, Vanbiesbrouck, Joseph, etc).

Martin Brodeur had a very peculiar career arc of getting leaguewide acclaim right off the bat (Stanley Cup winner), then putting up the better part of a decade of fairly mediocre SV% seasons behind an all-time great defensive team, but then having his best SV% seasons late in his career.  Any way you slice it, he’s been incredibly overrated for a long, long time — he received Vezina votes in 15 seasons, for an average Vezina rank of 3.3.  That’s a higher than Hasek’s 3.6.  In reality, Brodeur’s SV% rank was 10.6, while Hasek’s was 3.3.  Said another way, if you marry Brodeur’s Vezina rank with Hasek’s SV% rank, you would have a perfectly matched goalie between performance and perception!

At the bottom end of the scale are guys who consistently were underrated, either not getting any Vezina votes in good seasons or not getting enough of them.  Jeff Hackett is far and away the most underrated goaltender on this list, being underranked by 4.2 positions over 5 seasons.  Tim Thomas won the Vezina twice, but also had 2 other great seasons in which he was essentially ignored.  Bob Essensa had absolutely amazing seasons in the 80s, but was unfortunately playing for the Godless Jets.  A surprising name low on this list was Mike Richter, who somehow never really got much Vezina love.  We also have modern perennial underrated goalies like Vokoun and Jonas Hiller.

Perhaps most interesting to me are how seemingly perfectly matched Roy and Hasek’s performance was with perception.  Roy especially had early years in which he was flagrantly ignored by Vezina voters, but slowly tuned them onto the right wavelength.  It was pretty easy to match Hasek’s performance with perception — he was the best, year after year, so just rank him 1st!  Even Belfour was able to ride his reputation a little bit, averaging 3 ranks higher than he should have.  I find it curious Luongo is so evenly scored here, placing right next to Roy’s career average.  They are just excellent goaltenders who were seldom overhyped, and often underrated.

3 Comments

  1. Woodguy
    Posted August 13, 2013 at 4:42 pm | #

    The Fuhr apologists usually say “when the game was close, he never let in the next goal”

    I always thought, “We’ll, if they had a better goalie I doubt the game would’ve been close”

    Nice work Mike.

  2. Rob
    Posted October 24, 2014 at 8:45 pm | #

    This is valid for Fuhr only assuming the Oil played defence then or now though. I would say from this he is likely overrated but by how much is anyone’s guess – not this much is all I’d say.

  3. MoonDragn
    Posted November 27, 2014 at 12:04 pm | #

    SV% is not the end all to everything in goaltending. Look at Cory Schneider. He breaks down when the game is on the line. He’s got one of the best SV% in the league and yet he doesn’t perform when it counts.

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