Sunday, June 24, 2012

Mom, Where do Goalies Come From?

Watching the draft on Friday night it was interesting to see how the myriad of hockey experts in the press room, on the floor, via satellite, online, could all have such varying predictions. Other than the consensus pick of Yakupov at #1 (or if you’re Brian Burke, Rielly at 1) pundits were at odds over the remaining players in the first round. A player like Filip Forsberg dropped inexplicably to the Capitals at 11, while Calgary’s Jay Feaster reached for Mark Jankowski at 21.
There was, however, one thing that all GMs, analysts, and fans alike seemed to agree on - Never, ever, ever select a goaltender early.
This is really fascinating. The NHL has been playing regular games since 1917, with most teams employing a scouting staff of over 12 people, and yet we collectively have no concrete system on how best to value young goaltenders. Repeatedly announcers cautioned us against  taking a goalie early, stating it as page one, rule one in the draft day handbook. To some degree they are right, given that goalies tend to develop at a slower pace then position players, but they were understating the fact that all 18 year olds come with considerable uncertainty.
With the JVR trade in the books (yay!) it appears Burke has turned his attention to our goaltending situation. He has stated on more than one occasion that he is comfortable beginning next year with the tandem of Ben Scrivens and James Reimer. With all the talk on draft day about the mystery surrounding goalie development, and success, we at BCP have been forced to ask the question – where exactly do goalies come from?
Unlike the proverbial birds and the bees, this seems to be a question that haunts a man long after a slightly awkward conversation with his father at the age of 13. We’ve decided to simplify it a bit and start our search in the American Hockey League.
Every year since 1983 the AHL awards the Aldege “Baz” Bastien trophy to the league’s best goaltender, as voted by the coaches, media and players. Below we’ve compiled the recipients since 1992. The objective is to determine, at least directionally, to what degree elite performance in the AHL acts as a precursor to breaking through in the NHL.
2011-12 Yann Danis Oklahoma City Barons
2010-11 Brad Thiessen Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins
2009-10 Jonathan Bernier Manchester Monarchs
2008-09 Cory Schneider Manitoba Moose
2007-08 Michael Leighton Albany River Rats
2006-07 Jason LaBarbera Manchester Monarchs
2005-06 Dany Sabourin Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins
2004-05 Ryan Miller Rochester Americans
2003-04 Jason LaBarbera Hartford Wolf Pack
2002-03 Marc Lamothe Grand Rapids Griffins
2001-02 Martin Prusek Grand Rapids Griffins
2000-01 Dwayne Roloson Worcester IceCats
1999-2000 Martin Brochu Portland Pirates
1998-99 Martin Biron Rochester Americans
1997-98 Scott Langkow Springfield Falcons
1996-97 Jean-Francois Labbe Hershey Bears
1995-96 Manny Legace Springfield Falcons
1994-95 Jim Carey Portland Pirates
1993-94 Frederic Chabot Hershey Bears
1992-93 Corey Hirsch Binghamton Rangers
1991-92 Felix Potvin St. John’s Maple Leafs

It’s worth noting that this past season Ben Scrivens received the Harry “Hap” Holmes award for the goalie possessing the best goals against average, having appeared in a minimum of 25 games. While Scrivens didn’t win the Bastien Trophy, he was widely considered one of the top 'tenders in the league, and major contributor to the Marlies' Calder Cup finals appearance.
Getting back to the past Bastien winners, there are a couple names that immediately jump off the page. Ryan Miller, Dwayne Roloson, Corey Scheinder, Jim Carey, Manny Legace, Marty Biron, and Felix Potvin have all had noteworthy starting roles for NHL franchises.  
Of the 21 winners, 10 have played a minimum of 100 games in the NHL. Taking into consideration Jonathan Bernier and Cory Schneider, both of whom (baring injury) should reach the 100 game plateau, we can up the number to 12. 100 games certainly does not make for a Hall of Fame career, but it does show that in greater than half the instances these goalies have been able to break through with some regularity to the next level.
5 of the 21 listed started more than 300 games during their career. In the history of the league only 134 goalies have played more than 300 games. It’s not insignificant that 24 percent of the time the winner of this award enjoy a long tenure in the NHL.
I'm sure statisticians everywhere may raise a Spockian eyebrow, but for the sake of argument let’s say that approximately 1 in 4 goalies producing elite numbers in the AHL are able to establish themselves in the NHL. Ben Scrivens was outstanding last year, amassing a 2.04 GAA and .926 save percentage. The big question for us as fans is do we think he is the next Potvin, Legace, or Ryan Miller, or one of the many long forgotten names from the list above?
Sadly, we haven’t really been able to answer our principle question but what we can infer from the numbers is that Scrivens, while he may not be the horse we want to hitch our wagon to at this stage, does have a chance to make it in the NHL. Where do goalies come from? Maybe it’s the entry draft, or the AHL, or heck if the price is right – Vancouver. For now I’d rather just imagine a majestic stork soaring gently above the ACC, carrying with him a bundle of blockers, gloves, and pads, and an 18 year old Johnny Bower...sigh.

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