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Monday, April 5, 2010

Jose Theodore: Money Goaltender, Part 2

In my last post, I examined the suitability of Jose Theodore to lead the Washington Capitals to the Stanley Cup based upon is prior playoff experience.  In this installment, I will compare Theodore to historical comparables.

 Jose Theodore

I will first show that Jose Theodore is well positioned to be a Stanley Cup winning goalie based upon the Stanley Cup-winning goalies since 2004.   Next I will show that high scoring teams with occasionally porous defense do not produce top goaltending statistics, beyond wins, but that does not mean the goaltender in question is incompetent, nor does it matter come playoff time.

With 8 games to play this season, Jose Theodore has played 42 games.  Other number one goalies on playoff teams in the league have played quite a bit more:  Martin Brodeur (69), Jonathan Quick (67), Evgeni Nabokov (65), Ilya Bryzgalov (65), Ryan Miller (63), Roberto Luongo (63), and Marc-Andre Fleury (61).  What does this mean, you ask?  Since 2004, the only goalie to win a Stanley Cup who played more than 56 regular season games was Marc-Andre Fleury last season, who played 62.  You have to go back to 2003 to find a Cup winning goalie with more than 62 regular season games played.

Regular Season Games Played by Stanley Cup Winning Goalies since 2003:
2008-09:  62 GP, Marc-Andre Fleury, Pittsburgh
2007-08:  43 GP, Chris Osgood, Detroit
2006-07:  56 GP, Jean-Sebastien Giguere, Anaheim
2005-06:  28 GP, Cam Ward, Carolina
2003-04:  55 GP, Nikolai Khabibulin, Tampa Bay

The case for this gets even stronger when we take a look at the Stanley Cup Runner-up goalies:

2008-09:  46 GP, Chris Osgood, Detroit
2007-08:  35 GP, Marc-Andre Fleury, Pittsburgh
2006-07:  58 GP, Ray Emery, Ottawa
2005-06:  43 GP, Dwayne Roloson, Edmonton
2003-04:  38 GP, Miikka Kiprsoff, Calgary

This looks like a trend since it has lasted the past 5 seasons and has applied to nearly every goalie involved in the Stanley Cup Final.  Jose Theodore can max out at 49 games this season, which would put him squarely in the mix in these numbers.

Explanations for why this matters vary, but it would appear that the goalies who put less mental and physical strain on themselves during the regular season are the sharpest in the playoffs.  It may have helped some of these goalies that they were relative unknowns when they entered the playoffs, but not all of them were.  

The next point in this argument is centered on historical performance of goalies in high-scoring systems since the 1980s.  The Capitals have secured the Presidents' Trophy, are the top scoring team in the league by 51 goals this season, have a +79 goal differential which is 23 better than #2, and have the best record by 7 standings points at the moment.  

Let's take a look at Jose Theodore's stats this season and his NHL rank in the 30-team league:
Games:  45  (24th, NHL leader has 73)
Wins:  28  (15th, NHL leader has 42)
Save Percentage:  .909  (23rd, NHL leader has .931)
Goals Against Average:  2.85  (33rd, NHL leader has 1.96)
Shutouts:  1  (Tied for 33rd, NHL leaders have 8)
Overall record:  28-7-7  (his backup, Semyon Varlamov has a 14-4-5 record, 2 shutouts, a 2.52 GAA, and the same save %)

It would appear that 5'11 Jose Theodore's only impressive stat there is that he has managed 28 wins in only 45 games.  How does this compare with other goalies from the days of yore?  Let's first look at 5'10 Grant Fuhr of the Edmonton Oilers in the first three seasons he won the Stanley Cup, those seasons when Paul Coffey was an Oiler.

 Grant Fuhr

In 1983-84, the first NHL season with overtime games in the regular season, the Edmonton Oilers won the Stanley Cup and led the league in the regular season by 15 points.  They scored a league record 446 goals, better than the #2 team by 89 goals, and had a +132 Goal differential, better than #2 by +44.  The New York Islanders were the #2 team behind them in every category and lost to them in the Cup Final.  Grant Fuhr was their #1 playoff goalie and only played just more than half of the team's 80 games in the 21-team league that season.  The NHL leaders in shutouts and GAA were Capitals goalies Al Jensen and Pat Riggin, and even Glen Hanlon had better numbers than 21-year-old Grant Fuhr.  Fuhr was only in his third NHL season.  He had a playoff record of 2-3 entering the 1984 playoffs. 

Grant Fuhr, 1983-84
Games:  45  (13th, NHL leader had 60)
Wins:  30  (1st)
Save Percentage:  .883  (12th, NHL leader had .903)
Goals Against Average:  3.91  (20th, NHL leader had 2.66)
Shutouts:  1  (Tied for 13th with 14 Goalies, NHL leaders had 4)
Overall record:  30-10-4 (His backup, Andy Moog, had a better win %)
Playoff Record:  11-4

In 1984-85, the Edmonton Oilers were the league's #2 regular season team behind the Philadelphia Flyers, who they defeated in the Stanley Cup Final.  They scored a league-leading 401 goals, better than the #2 team by 38 goals, and had a +107 Goal differential, behind #1 Philly by 4.  Philly had the league's best regular season goalie, too, Pelle Lindbergh.  

Grant Fuhr, 1984-85
Games:  46  (13th, NHL leader Lindbergh had 65)
Wins:  26  (6th, NHL leader Lindbergh had 40)
Save Percentage:  .884  (10th, NHL leader had .903)
Goals Against Average:  3.87  (Worse than 20th, NHL leader had 2.66)
Shutouts:  1  (Tied for 9th with 19 Goalies, NHL leader had 5)
Overall record:  26-8-7 
Playoff Record:  15-3

In 1986-87, the Edmonton Oilers won the President's Trophy by 6 points over the Philadelphia Flyers, who they defeated in the Stanley Cup Final.  They scored a league-leading 372 goals, better than the #2 teams by 54 goals, and had a +88 Goal differential, ahead of #2 Philly by 23.  Philly had the league's best regular season goalie, too, rookie Ron Hextall.  

Grant Fuhr, 1986-87
Games:  44  (13th, NHL leader Hextall had 66)
Wins:  22  (6th, NHL leader Hextall had 37)
Save Percentage:  .884  (10th, NHL leader Hextall had .902)
Goals Against Average:  3.44  (20th, NHL leader had 2.81)
Shutouts:  0  (NHL leader had 4)
Overall record:  22-13-3 (Moog again had a better win %)
Playoff Record:  14-5

The second goalie I will examine is the 5'10, 185 Billy Smith of the New York Islanders.  He won four straight Stanley Cups from 1980-83 and lost to Fuhr's Oilers in 1984 in the Final.  The Islanders were stacked with high-end scoring talent and had a top-notch offensive defenseman named Denis Potvin

 Billy Smith

In 1979-80, Billy Smith and the New York islanders were heading into the playoffs as the #5 regular season team in the league and #2 in the Patrick Division behind the Philadelphia Flyers, who they defeated in the Cup Final.  Smith was 29 years old at the time and had advanced past the first round three of his first four tries as a starter.  He wasn't even the primary regular season goalie, that was Glenn "Chico" Resch

Billy Smith, 1979-80
Games:  38  (20th, NHL Leader had 69)
Wins:  15  (NHL leader had 32)
Goals Against Average:  2.95  (7th, NHL leader had 2.36)
Shutouts:  2  (Tied for 7th, NHL leader had 6)
Overall record:  15-14-7 (Resch again had a better win %)
Playoff Record:  15-4

In 1980-81, the New York Islanders had the best regular season record by three points and were the league's highest scoring team by three goals.  Their +95 goal differential was second only to the Montreal Canadiens' +100.  The defeated the Minnesota North Stars in the Stanley Cup Final. 

Billy Smith, 1980-81
Games:  41  (16th, NHL Leader had 66)
Wins:  22  (8th, NHL leader had 35)
Goals Against Average:  3.28  (11th, NHL leader had 2.40)
Shutouts:  2  (Tied for 3rd, NHL leaders had 3)
Overall record:  22-10-8
Playoff Record:  14-3

In 1981-82, the Islanders had the best regular season record by 7 points over #2 Edmonton.  They were the second highest scoring  team in the NHL behind the Oilers and had the second best goal differential by 2 at +135.  They swept the Vancouver Canucks in the Stanley Cup Final.

Billy Smith, 1981-82
Games:  46  (17th, NHL Leader had 64)
Wins:  32  (1st)
Goals Against Average:  2.97  (3rd, NHL leader had 2.64)
Shutouts:  0  (NHL leader had 3)
Overall record:  32-9-4
Playoff Record:  15-3

In 1982-83, the Islanders had the 6th best regular season record in the NHL.  They had a goal differential of +76.  They defeated the Edmonton Oilers in the Stanley Cup Final.

Billy Smith, 1982-83
Games:  41  (Tied for 16th, NHL Leader had 68)
Wins:  18  (17th, NHL leader had 40)
Goals Against Average:  2.87  (4th, NHL leader had 2.36)
Save Percentage:  .906
Shutouts:  1  (Tied for 8th, NHL leader had 8)
Overall record:  18-14-7
Playoff Record:  13-3

What does all of this tell us?  That a goalie can be small and play on an offensive team and not do well in the regular season and still win the Stanley Cup. The only other historical parallels that apply here are other players that really turn it on come playoff time.  Claude Lemieux is a prime example, a good regular season player but a playoff MVP.  

The last player I will compare Jose Theodore to is his goalie coach, Arturs Irbe.  Irbe stood 5'8, 190, and was 27 years old in 1994.  Before that season he had a grand total of 9 NHL wins to his name.  His Sharks broke into the NHL in 1991-92 as the first expansion teams since the 1979 WHA merger and won 28 of their first 164 games.  In 1993-94, Irbe squeaked the Sharks into the playoffs with a sub-.500 record and a -13 goal differential.  He carried them past the West's #1 seeded Detroit Red Wings in 7 games in the first round.  They took the Toronto Maple Leafs to 7 games before bowing out in round 2.  

 Arturs Irbe

Arturs Irbe, 1993-94
Games:  74  (1st)
Wins:  30  (Tied for 4th, NHL Leader Mike Richter had 42)
Goals Against Average:  2.84  (14th, NHL leader had 1.95)
Save Percentage:  .899 (16th, NHL leader had .930)

Shutouts:  3  (Tied for 8th, NHL leaders had 7)
Overall record:  30-28-16
Playoff Record:  7-7

Irbe carried his team to the Stanley Cup Final in 2002, too, and lost his starting job in the middle of the playoff run before regaining it.

I think we can put any concerns about Jose Theodore to rest.  Go Caps!

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