Shootouts: Goaltender True Talent


As an add-on to my previous piece in shooter talent, I wanted to apply the same methodology to goaltender performance on shootouts. First, let's see if performance in 2005-06 predicted future performance. I selected at the 26 goaltenders who faced at least 8 shots in both 2005-06 and 2006-07, divided them into groups with above-average and below-average save percentage, and looked at their total save percentage over the next three seasons:

2005-06 2006-07 2007-08 2008-09
Above-Average 57/231 107/370 79/274 68/212
Shot % Against 25 29 29 32
Below-Average 98/227 91/279 100/306 53/183
Shot % Against 43 33 33 29

Going forward, the below-average group gave up goals on 32% of opponent shots. The above-average group was at 30%. So the gap between the two groups dropped from 18% to 2%. We expect the above-average group to regress to the mean somewhat, but why does the "below-average" group see such a huge improvement - in fact, all the way to league average?

Again, as with shooters, it's selection bias. I picked goaltenders who played in the "before" part of my study and the "after" part. That means they were good enough in the rest of their game to keep a regular NHL job, so I essentially assembled a group that consisted of the 14th-26th best starting goaltenders in the league, which are guys clustered around the league average. So it's no surprise that they come out average in future years.

What if we compare the first two post-lockout seasons to the second two? Again, we have 26 goalies:

05-06/06-07 07-08/08-09
Above Average 171/653 180/589
Shot % Against 26 31
Below Average 176/426 179/554
Shot % Against 41 32

This doesn't look substantially different! What if we compare the first three seasons to 2008-09? This time we have 28 goaltenders:

05-06 to 07-08 2008-09
Above Average 244/899 82/294
Shot % Against 27 28
Below Average 289/734 87/265
Shot % Against 39 33

It doesn't matter how we slice the data, we get roughly the same result. At the absolute most, a top ten goaltender is five points better in the shootout than an average goalie (28% vs 33%). Over an average season - 10 shootouts or 33 shots - the 28% goalie makes a .500 team into a .570 team. That is worth 0.7 points in the standings, or 0.35 wins. That's perhaps 10% of a top goaltender's total value above average, so it's not insignificant, but given that the best performer so far is Johan Hedberg, who's well below-average in the thousands of minutes he plays during regulation play, shootout ability is unlikely to drive a goaltending decision.

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