Goaltending in the NHL can be a difficult thing to quantify. Let’s face it, some teams just have a garbage defense. If you need an example of that, just take a look at what the Oilers have done the last few seasons.
So with one of this summers stories being the lack of a contract extension for Marc-Andre Fleury, I figured we’d take a quick dive into the world of advanced metrics to take a look at what I think is a better view of where Fleury stands among his NHL goaltending peers.
Essentially, our goal here is to take information from all the current starters in the NHL and then judge Fleury according to what those players have accomplished, statistically speaking. We’re taking a look at league averages in addition to Fleury’s own save numbers and goals against numbers on a big scale.
There’s a fun calculation we can perform with all that information to come up with a number called Goal Differential. The more common name is Goals Above Average, but the GAA abbreviation creates problems because it already exists in the goaltending world. (I can provide the equation to anyone interested.)
The purpose of this calculation is to figure out how Fleury performed bumped against our imaginary friend, Mr. League Average Goaltender. In this exercise, Mr. League Average Goaltender is an creative amalgamation of statistics that we would place on the NHL goaltender who was, as the name says, the league average of all metrics.
In gathering this data, we remove all of Fleury’s numbers so that the overall amounts don’t get skewed.
So, I spent some time gathering information about the top goaltenders in the NHL, run averages for each one, and then crunch the numbers to get Mr. Imaginary. Just so you’re aware, in 2013/14 Mr. League Average would have had a Save Percentage of .921 and a goals-against average of 2.14.
But I digress, let’s move froward and examine Fleury’s body of work over the course of the last few seasons.
Marc-Andre Fleury Goal Differential
2013/14 Regular Season: -12.24
Okay, so that’s a start. The negative number means that Fleury actually allowed more goals than the league average. Twelve, to be specific. To give you a further idea of how this works, a guy like Semyon Varlamov would have boasted a Goal Differential of 9.70 last season. So Fleury is 21 goals off that mark from last season.
What about playoffs, you ask? No worries, reader. I covered that as well! I made sure to adjust my averages here to include goaltenders that only played 8 or more games to give us a more even-keel look at these numbers.
2013/14 Playoffs: 1.64
Okay, not bad, a definite improvement from the regular season. But overall, 1.64 is a fairly negligible number here. That means, again, that Fleury allowed 1.64 goals less than Mr. League Average Goaltender.
Shall we go backwards?
Let’s take a look at the previous season and run these numbers all over again. I won’t do this for the post-season considering that Tomas Vokoun started the majority of those games for the Penguins. I don’t think we need any advanced metrics to know that Fleury was fairly awful during that series against the Islanders in the first round. Obviously, Vokoun took the job at that point, and never looked back.
2012/13 Regular Season: -7.82
In this season, Craig Anderson owned the best save percentage in the league at .941, and Mr. League Average Save Percentage sported a .918 mark over the season. MAF allowed 7.82 more goals than Mr. League Average did that season.
2011/12 Regular Season: -11.53
There’s another year in the minus category. In this season, Fleury allowed 11.53 goals over what Mr. League Average would have allowed.
Even though it was six games of unmitigated disaster, let’s take a look at Fleury’s number from that putrid Flyers series in the 2011/12 posteason.
2011/12 Playoffs: -14.06
I know, not fair, it was only six games and the Penguins imploded as a team from top to bottom. Still, the numbers tell us a league average goalie would have prevented 14 more goals than Fleury allowed in those six games. Woof.
Just for the sake of brevity, what about the 2008/2009 Stanley Cup season?
2008/09 Playoffs: -6.49
Again, even the year the Penguins won the Stanley Cup, Fleury allowed 6 more goals that playoff run than the league average.
Consensus here? The Penguins can do better. This information (for me, anyway) removes all the static from the equation. Forget the intangibles, this is judging Fleury on a much larger scale.
We’ll keep track of this number throughout this year. One thing is for certain, the numbers tell us that Marc-Andre Fleury has been below average for a few years. And it’s tough to think about where the Penguins might have ended up in some situations if they’d had goaltender that could put them in the positive on this calculation.
It almost has to improve for the Penguins to get back to the promise land.