Thursday, October 17, 2013

Back in the Blogging Business (But With a Change of Address)

It's been quite a while since I posted in this space, and the main reason for that is that I was one of the fans who saw their interest in professional hockey really fade in response to the lockout last fall.  That disinterest persisted for some time, I didn't end up watching a lot of games for much of the season and the chaotic, shortened 48-game schedule made it pretty tough to figure out whether we were seeing meaningful results or variance, especially with a lot of the top-tier goalies having down years (the list of guys who came in with save percentages below league average in 2012-13 includes Quick, Rinne, Luongo, Price, Ward, and Backstrom).

Despite all that, I happen to be a Montreal Canadiens fan, and the chance to watch a surprisingly good team on the upswing was mainly what pulled me back in.  Unfortunately, it was more or less just in time to suffer through one of the most comprehensively frustrating playoff series I've ever witnessed, but c'est la vie, and at least my work here has made me as aware as anyone of just how fickle goaltending results can be over small sample sizes.

Anyway, in the interim I have been working on a few other things, one of which was joining in on the HFBoards' History of Hockey Top 40 Goaltenders project, a fun exercise that helped me fill in some of the historical knowledge I wasn't quite up to speed on and dig into a bunch of new numbers.  Here's the link to my final voting record.  You might notice that #7 happens to be the namesake of this blog, which brings us to the next order of business:  Moving over to contrariangoaltender.blogspot.com.

There are several reasons for this:

1. Martin Brodeur is one of the greatest goaltenders of all-time.  He may be a overrated in some circles, particularly among members of the mainstream media, but he is certainly not a fraud.

2. It was far more interesting to put a microscope on the abilities of a 34-year old Vezina winner than a 41-year old whose best days are clearly behind him.

3. I suspect the trade-off in terms of clickbait vs. perceived loss of credibility has changed to the point where I'd rather not keep it.  Plus I killed my audience by taking a year off anyway so what's the downside?

In short, if you haven't read the entire record of my mini-obsession with Martin Brodeur to trace the evolving perspective of his career in this space, there is good reason to believe that a basic save percentage analysis underrates him to the point that he does deserve to considered one of the top 6-8 goalies ever.  This is because Brodeur adds value in terms of non-save skills (I believe primarily through puckhandling and keeping the play going to reduce faceoffs in his own zone), and because his home town scorekeeper cost him several points on his save percentage through undercounting shots relative to other rinks around the league.  Goaltending is about finding small edges that add up over time, and once those two things are factored in, Brodeur's initially good-but-not-necessarily-elite save percentage record looks a lot more impressive.

There's also the fact that starting with the month I started blogging here in January 2007, Brodeur managed to record up a .917 save percentage on his next ~7000 shots against, beating league average by .008 while playing for a team that was still well-disciplined and effective defensively but no longer the completely airtight lockdown unit it had been during the Cup years.  And that's not even taking into account the probability that number was actually understated because of shot prevention and the stingy scorer in New Jersey.  As far as counterarguments go, that was a pretty strong one.  And to round it off, all this came in Brodeur's age 34-37 seasons, at a time when his career should have been expected to be on a downswing, yet he still managed to actually beat league average by a higher margin than he did from ages 26-33 (.911, +.005 vs. league average).

I think there is still some uncertainty as to the exact nature of EV shot quality effects on the Devils throughout Brodeur's career, particularly given his statistical drop-off in the early '00s during a more open team style of play and the numbers that some of the team's mediocre backups were able to record (albeit usually in small sample sizes against weak opposition).  It's also very difficult to tease out exactly how much value the best puckhandling goalies contribute relative to their peers.  Despite the extensive focus on his statistical record here and in other places, I think Brodeur remains an interesting and unusual analytics puzzle.  For now, though, as he enters what could be his last NHL season at the age of 41 with his heir apparent already on the Devils roster, I simply have to give the guy his due.

My archive will still be up here, and I'm hoping to revisit some of my favourite old posts with updated numbers to reflect more recent seasons.  Thanks to everybody who has read my writing here or at Hockey Prospectus, and if there's anyone still hanging around I hope you will consider checking me out at the new address.

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