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THN.com Blog: Numbers say J-S Giguere’s the best goaltender

J.S. Giguere won the Conn Smythe Trophy in 2003 when Anaheim was defeated by N.J. in the Cup final. (Photo by Mike Stobe/NHLI via Getty Images)

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J.S. Giguere won the Conn Smythe Trophy in 2003 when Anaheim was defeated by N.J. in the Cup final. (Photo by Mike Stobe/NHLI via Getty Images)

About a month ago, we closed our Goalie Issue in which we anointed Vancouver’s Roberto Luongo the No. 1 stopper in the game this season in a ranking of the NHL’s Top 30.

The list is highly credible, taking input from NHL scouts, and given shape by senior writer Mike Brophy, a man whose opinions on the game I respect deeply.

That said, I don’t agree with that selection any longer.

I was tweaked earlier this week when a subscriber pointed out Luongo’s numbers this season aren’t top of the field. So I decided to do some research and asked of Fantasy Sports Services to help with an “outside the box” crunch. Granted, stats only tell part of the tale, but with 30 teams playing in four time zones, it’s as close as we get to an objective barometer.

Below is a slew of comparative data and interpretations for five goalies I’ve identified as the leading candidates for the Vezina Trophy, with their NHL rank in parentheses. All stats are as of March 5:

Wins
Evgeni Nabokov, 37 (1st)
Martin Brodeur, 36 (2nd)
J-S Giguere, 30 (T-4th)
Roberto Luongo 28 (9th)
Pascal Leclaire, 23 (20th)

Interpretation: Goalies are the first to say W’s are the most crucial stat, but it’s also a reflection of the teams in front of them and number of games played. Nabokov, for example, led with 64 GP; Giguere was at 52. Slight edge to Nabokov and Brodeur.

Save Percentage
Pascal Leclaire, .922 (T-2nd)
Roberto Luongo, .922 (T-2nd)
Martin Brodeur, .921 (6th)
J-S Giguere, .920 (7th)
Evgeni Nabokov, .908 (26th)

Interpretation: Among official NHL stats, SP is the most reflective measure of a goalie’s performance, but still not the be-all, end-all. And the top four are awfully close. No edge.

Goals-against average
Martin Brodeur, 2.15 (T-3rd)
Pascal Leclaire, 2.15 (T-3rd)
J-S Giguere, 2.16 (5th)
Evgeni Nabokov, 2.20 (6th)
Roberto Luongo, 2.23 (7th)

Interpretation: A greasy number that can be skewed by team defense – good or bad. No edge.

Shutouts
Pascal Leclaire, 9 (1st)
Evgeni Nabokov, 6 (T-3rd)
Roberto Luongo, 6 (T-3rd)
Martin Brodeur, 4 (T-5th)
J-S Giguere, 4 (T-5th)

Interpretation: A glam stat that reflects periodic brilliance, not necessarily consistent excellence. Slight edge to Leclaire.

Save Percentage since the all-star break
J-S Giguere, .940 (6th)
Martin Brodeur, .925 (12th)
Roberto Luongo, .912 (30th)
Pascal Leclaire, .908 (39th)
Evgeni Nabokov, .897 (48th)

Interpretation: Post-all-star break is considered crunch time, but the sampling is too small to have a huge bearing. Slight edge to Giguere.

Save Percentage in the last 10 minutes of the third period
J-S Giguere, .957 (2nd)
Pascal Leclaire, .935 (6th)
Martin Brodeur, .929 (9th)
Roberto Luongo, .923 (13th)
Evgeni Nabokov, .901 (29th)

Interpretation: A decent indicator of play under pressure, but doesn’t take into account whether a team is winning or trailing by a big margin. It’s interesting to note the top three have a noticeable increase from their overall SP, Luongo’s is about the same, while Nabokov’s dips. Edge to Giguere.

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Save percentage when leading or tied after the second period
Pascal Leclaire, .932 (5th)
J-S Giguere, .930 (T-6th)
Martin Brodeur, .925 (T-12th)
Roberto Luongo, .914 (23rd)
Evgeni Nabokov, .894 (T-37th)

Interpretation: Similar to previous category, though Luongo’s and Nabokov’s stats slip. Edge to Leclaire and Giguere.

Save percentage on the penalty-kill
Martin Brodeur, .898 (5th)
Pascal Leclaire, .883 (9th)
Evgeni Nabokov, .879 (14th)
Roberto Luongo, .874 (T-19th)
J-S Giguere, .860 (30th)

Interpretation: Power play shots are typically more dangerous than the average, so this is a strong reflection of degree-of-difficulty. Giguere struggles in this category. Edge to Brodeur.

Save percentage on shots within 20 feet
J-S Giguere, .859 (2nd)
Pascal Leclaire, .839 (T-12th)
Evgeni Nabokov, .838 (14th)
Martin Brodeur, .836 (16th)
Roberto Luongo, .832 (18th)

Interpretation: Similar to PP shots, close-range shots are often good scoring chances. Edge, again, to Giguere.

Save percentage on slap shots from the point
Roberto Luongo, .972 (T-2nd)
Pascal Leclaire, .964 (7th)
J-S Giguere, .955 (T-19th)
Martin Brodeur, .953 (T-23rd)
Evgeni Nabokov, .949 (T-29th)

Interpretation: As the numbers indicate, these chances are among the easiest for ‘tenders and may help pad their overall SP. No edge.

Conclusions? If I were deciding today, I’d vote this way:

1.    Giguere
2.    Brodeur
3.    Luongo
4.    Leclaire
5.    Nabokov

Giguere’s numbers compare favorably in all the key categories except wins – and he’d be right there with Brodeur and Nabokov if he’d played in the same number of games. Detractors say he’s the beneficiary of the best defense corps in the NHL, which may be true, but shouldn’t be held against him. The stats clearly show his save percentage is better in the crunch and on higher-percentage chances (except, notably, the PK).

For me, Brodeur is a close second. Leclaire has been a wonderful feel-good story, but if he can’t get his team into the playoffs, that’ll work against him. The same should hold true for Luongo, whose pressure-time and in-close numbers aren’t as impressive as his fellow Quebecers. Nabokov deserves attention for his strong and massive body of work this season, but his stats don’t hold up alongside the top four.

Let the debates continue…

Jason Kay is the editor of The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears every weekend.

For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.

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