Winnipeg Jets 2012-13 Season Review, Part 5: Goaltending

USA TODAY Sports

A deeper look into how the Jets' performed, what we should expect for next season, and how we can improve.

The regular season is over, Kevin Chevaldayoff has given his end of the season press conference, and the players have dispersed from Winnipeg to warmer spring cities. It's a perfect time to review the season and delve into what the on ice results say about this season's Winnipeg Jets. Here is a look at where the Winnipeg Jets came from and where are they going.

Last time we looked at the Jets blue line. We now come at last to the most controversial position for the Winnipeg Jets (and much of the NHL), goaltending.

When reading this article, please read this with an open yet critical mind. There was a lot of time and effort placed in this piece in gathering all the evidence and linked articles, predominately with the state of mind to lay the subject to rest, if not forever, at least for a while. It would also be well advised for readers to delve into the linked articles to help create context and a better understanding of what is trying to be expressed here.

The "Common" Stats

GS Win % SA/GP SV%
Ondrej Pavelec 43 0.41 29.1 0.905
Al Montoya 5 0.75 33.6 0.899

You'll note that GAA has been left off the stat sheet. This is because GAA is not and should not be a goalie statistic. GAA is merely SV% x SA/GP, where the first one is predominantly controlled by the goaltender and the second by the team (the former being contrary to some people's opinions).

Al Montoya was essentially in the starting lineup as often as Mark Scheifele was. Being such a ridiculously small sample size it's really impossible to evaluate properly how much of any his statistics are due to his own abilities or puck-luck (ie: natural variance). The mishandling of the Jets goaltenders and their starts has already been discussed here previously.

Then there is Pavelec, a polarizing figure for Jets fans. The 2012-13 season was Ondrej's fourth as a full time NHL net-minder and his first under a new and lucrative contract. It was this season that he got to play behind the most defensive system and roster of his NHL career thus far. While the Jets are far (far, far) from the defensive caliber of teams like St. Louis Blues, the Los Angeles Kings or the Boston Bruins, they are however the most defensively minded team of the Jets/Thrashers' last four seasons (if you don't believe this, please go watch some 2009-10 Atlanta games). It was also this season that Pavelec posted the worst numbers of his NHL career thus far. Ondrej's almost-but-not-quite league average 2010-11 numbers are starting to look more like an outlier, since three out of the four seasons have all been within 0.1 of a percent of 0.906.

The truth is the Jets are unlikely to succeed much beyond their current accomplishments, unless something here improves. Whether that occurs from Pavelec himself or elsewhere doesn't matter. A chain is only as strong as its weakest link, and unfortunately the amount of saves per shot against is by far the Jets biggest anchor.

For better or for worse, the Jets are currently attached to Pavelec, so it would be in their best interests for Chevaldayoff to find a 1B type backup to push Pavelec and for Noel to actually play said backup. Easier said than done. Regardless of your individual perspective on Pavelec, any improvement in goaltending is still an improvement of the team, no matter how you cut it.

Goaltender Myth-Busting: Breaking the excuses that never stop

Many defend Pavelec's numbers, giving him excuses for why they're so low. In an excellent Winnipeg Free Press article written by Ed Tait, Shane Hnidy (who I actually respect) ironically listed out many of the primary misconceptions when it comes to Pavelec and goaltending in general. All in one nice, fat quote ready to be plucked:

"It's hard to compare Pavelec to the other goalies still playing because of those teams' commitment to defence," said Hnidy. "It's tough when you're second or third in the league in shots faced and you wonder what Pavelec would do on a defensively sound team. I like him, he's a great young goalie who's maturing, but he still has steps to take. Mind you, there were times where he stole games for them and he's going to have to continue to do that and more."

Pavelec's workload:

It's tough when you're second or third in the league in shots faced...

GP SA/GP SV% ES SV% Career SV%
Ondrej Pavelec 44 28.4 905 914 907
Devan Dubnyk 38 29.8 920 922 913
James Reimer 33 30.2 924 924 915
Sergei Bobrovsky 38 28.5 932 941 917
Ryan Miller 40 31.8 915 928 915

The Edmonton Oilers, Toronto Maple Leafs, Columbus Blue Jackets, and Buffalo Sabres are not defensively elite teams, yet they had non-elite goaltenders posting respectable numbers. The goaltenders faced more shots per a game due to being on defensively weaker teams and still stopped a greater percentage of shots than Pavelec.

His total number of shots against are due more to the plethora of games started rather than the actual difficulty in the individual games or the defensive abilities of the Jets. In fact, there were 12 teams with worse SA/TOI than the Jets, three of which made the playoffs. There were 14 goalies with 20+ GP who faced more SA/TOI than Pavelec, 4 of which made the playoffs. Sergei Bobrovsky, Roberto Luongo, Cory Schneider, Tuukka Rask, Marc-Andre Fleury, and Tomas Vokoun all faced similar SA/TOI as Pavelec, all of whom were in the playoffs and had more flattering individual results.

Some may then argue that it's the number of games that Pavelec plays. This goes against the grain of most evidence shown in two very well written articles which concluded that goalies show no sign of fatigue until 70+ games and there's no end-of-season dip for goalies with a lot of games played. AIH's own Daniel Lipson showed evidence that Pavelec's save percentage would have likely been better had Noel given him less back-to-back's, which would have improved both Pavelec and the team; however, Pavelec is still well below league average when he does receive optimal rest and thus would still have produced under average results.

Quality of the shots:

... those teams' commitment to defence.

Some will respond to this by falsely stating the Jets allowed too many high probability scoring chances, usually citing "passive defensive play" or "poor team defense" from the team. While one way to use an evidence-based argument against this would require dissecting every goal against in league history and subjectively determine if the Jets do allow a greater percentage of more severe chances, another way is to compare the location of the shots and goals against. It has been shown previously that shot location matters more than the players individual shot ability. This isn't to say some players aren't better shooters than others, but that the gap isn't large enough to be a dominant factor. The better players tend to score more due to either or both sheer volume of shots and locations of shots. As you move closer to the net, the chance to score increases as shown previously by Gabe:

Shot_dist_medium

We've already shown that volume wasn't Pavelec's problem, so maybe it was location:

Sh/GP <10ft Sh/GP <20ft Sh/GP <30ft Sv% <10ft Sv% 10-20ft Sv% 20-30ft
Pavelec 1.7 6.3 10.3 738 802 884
Dubnyk 2.2 6.9 11.6 846 856 921
Reimer 1.6 6.9 11.6 838 847 911
Bobrovsky 2.1 6.7 10.9 904 866 918
Miller 1.6 6.8 11.1 772 861 925
Rebounds were removed to clean up data for comparisons, although all 6 goalies were fairly similar in allowing 5% of shots being rebounds.

The distribution in shots are pretty similar (although Pavelec has it easiest in both percentage of shots closer and total average distance). The take home here is the difference in allowed shots isn't where the large variation of their save percentage comes from, but just a difference in their ability to stop shots. Pavelec is significantly weaker in all 3 distances.

In actuality, it has already been shown that there is very little repeatability in pushing percentage of shots to the outside and therefore it isn't really a team skill or an area where the Jets should be stressing. The more defensively successful teams are teams that reduce shots against, ex: St Louis Blues, Chicago Blackhawks, Los Angeles Kings, New Jersey Devils, New York Rangers, etc. In the end we know that high percentage scoring chances and volume of shots were not the causes of Pavelec's poor save percentage.

Pavelec is young and still developing:

... he's a great young goalie who's maturing, but he still has steps to take.

While we would agree he has steps that need to be taken which we hope he takes, we don't know for sure if he will ever take those steps. It is possible he improves but realistically it is not something that should be expected or intelligent for the organization to rely on. Pavelec will be 26 years old this coming season, which is past the point where most goalies tend to peak:

Indexed_nhl_index_medium

In addition, it seems that Pavelec is already starting to trend downwards. This graph was created in February 2013 by former Arctic Ice Hockey managing editor, Benjamin Wendorf, to show how as the sample grows in size a goaltender's save percentage moves towards their "true talents" mean:

Tumblr_mig0q7aywp1rlkq4mo1_500_medium

Pavelec kept Jets in the game / Pavelec stole games:

... there were times where he stole games for them...

Sometimes this did indeed happen. But in actuality, all evidence points to it being more the exception rather than the common practice.

Quality Starts is the best measurement in how often a goaltender actually keeps the team in a winnable situation. The measurement is the percentage of games started where a goalie either a) gives above league average save percentage (~0.91x%, depending on season) or b) gives above AHL call-up average save percentage (~0.89x%, depending on season) but allows less than 3 goals. Pavelec gave QS in 44.2% of his games started, which was 5th worst for the 30 goalies with 23+ games played, and lower than all five goaltenders we were comparing earlier.

GVT is a stat that looks at how a player influences the team's goal differential relative to what a replacement level player or AHL call-up would provide on average. Pavelec had a GVT of 0.5, meaning he improved the Jets' goal differential by half a goal (it's averages so it can be partial) better than a replacement goaltender would. This was the 4th lowest GVT in starting goaltenders.

A third way to look is the Jets win-loss ratio relative to how their goaltender performed:

When the Jets had a save percentage of 0.900 or better (remember this is close to AHL replacement level goaltending, far below league average), the Jets posted 19-3-2, or a 79.2% win percentage, where the only regulation loses were against Pittsburgh and Ottawa. When the Jets had a save percentage below that level, they were 5-18-1, or 20.8% win percentage, where none of those wins fell in regulation time.

Pavelec just needs to be more consistent

... he's going to have to continue to do that and more.

Thus far, the analytical community has found there to be no difference in the variation between goaltenders who are considered streaky or consistent. While the standard distribution in variation (ie: consistency) appears to be the same throughout the league, the mean (average save percentage) differs between goaltenders. In other words, most goalies are equally consistent, just some are better on average than others. There are unfortunately a lot of traditional hockey narratives out there that influence the way we perceive things. This is one of the reason's why coach Dave Tippet watches hockey games on mute when he's trying to study the team or players involved.

Yeah, but on a different team he'd have a better save percentage:

... you wonder what Pavelec would do on a defensively sound team.

Again this is something that all evidence points out as a common misconception in narratives. Plenty of weak teams have had strong goaltenders and vice-versa. Here are some things we know:

*No relationship between shots against (the best indication of team defensiveness) and save percentage

*Save percentage when a goalie changes teams is no larger than expected with natural variance

*Two of the league's most defensive coaches Dave Tippett and Ken Hitchcock have no effect on save percentage larger than expected with natural variance (names are links to two different articles)

True North signed him long term / You are not a GM / You are not an expert:

This is sort of a silly argument and seems like that of desperation. While I may not be an expert, many of the articles I have linked are written by experts, who are professionals in analysis.

People on the top of the power totem pole are not always right nor are they guaranteed to be the best at their jobs at all times. Science, politics, and sports analytics are no different in this regard. In addition, even the best still make mistakes. To place blind faith in an organization and expect perfection is ignorant. Hockey management is an interesting employment market, where those who are fired for being "incompetent" are usually replaced by those who were previously fired for "incompetence" elsewhere. This isn't to say that all or even most are incompetent, but it shows how these management positions are based more on being already in the circle (ie: who you know) rather than production or merits.

This is not made to be slander against True North, as giving goaltenders properly valued contracts has long been a struggle in the NHL. Over at the nhlnumbers.ca reference library, in the goaltender valuation section there are about eight articles all showing how the NHL has been poor in properly distinguishing between anywhere from low to slightly-above-average talent. Here lies the main problem with the goaltender market.

Sorry, but those are just statistics, the game is played on the ice

The only job a goalie has and the only way he can contribute significantly to the team is to stop the puck from entering the net when being shot at. The more shots stopped, the better it is for the team; therefore, the goaltenders that help the team the most are the ones that stop the most per attempt against. The best goaltenders will then be the ones that help the most, and thus have the best save percentage.

While players do little things that are not directly recorded on the scoresheet all the time, if an action doesn't improve the team statistically even indirectly in the long run, they are not improving the chances for the team to win, which is the whole purpose of sports and other competitions.

Statistics are not used in spite of what is seen on the ice, but rather they are the result of what is seen and can be used as evidence to solidify a particular subjective perspective. Never should someone stand singularly on statistics, but it is worse to blindly ignore them as well. It helps remove some of the psychological biases that naturally occur due to being emotionally invested into the results. As J-CA, member of AIH community, once said:

High-profile events have a big impact on player perceptions.

This is just the way we as human beings are wired. It's why players' reputations will survive for years longer than they are accurate. It's why old declining veterans get sold with high trade value even though they don't bring much any more to the game (sorry Pittsburgh).

The highlight reel saves:

Pavelec tends to get out of position easily, thus forcing him to make extreme desperation saves. When it works, you have a highlight. This ties in with the high-profile events discussed in the last section. We may not remember averages or even how and why a particular event unfolded, but the wow factor stays engraved for much longer.

These problems are not just something made up by the statistical crowd nor are they new to Ondrej. Here is a scouting report on Pavelec prior to his NHL debut:

On the downside, Pavelec needs to keep his conditioning in check and remain consistent. He allows a good number of goals through his five-hole and needs to play better in position when making the saves. He could still improve his glove hand and often he seems to have trouble on high shots. His stickhandling ability is rather average and some of his moves can lead to risky plays. He also tends to play too deep in the net, thus being more vulnerable to shots than dekes.

Finale

This article was not made with the intention of being a "crap on Pavelec write up" but merely point out that there are common misconceptions to goaltending and the value of many goaltenders. As a former goaltender myself, I have experienced firsthand this over-valuation. I have a large number of MVP medals and trophies where I was nowhere near the best player on the team.

To win a game you have to outscore your opponent. You can do this in 3 ways: increase the number of scoring chances you get, reduce the number of scoring chances the other team gets, and/or have your goaltender stop as many of the other teams scoring chances as possible.

The Jets are already average or above average in the first two components and the aspects that they are derived from; however, the Jets are far below average in the third. If the Jets want to move past the bubble-team hump, they will have to improve in these three areas. Moving from average/above average to elite is a lot tougher than from below average to average and the latter will likely have a greater result.

During a conversation between myself and Gary Lawless in regards to Burmistrov, I had pointed out that Alexander Burmistrov was already a competent NHL player. Lawless replied asking why don't I want and hope for more from Burmi. Obviously the answer is I do. You always will want better than what you currently have, from Andrew Ladd, to Derek Meech, to Evander Kane, to Ondrej Pavelec... and some of these expectations are more reasonable than others. The question isn't who we want to be better but where are our weakest links and where are the more reasonable areas that can be improved upon.

I'm not saying Pavelec can't or won't improve. I'm just saying I hope for it but I won't bet on it.

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