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Finding Vegas an AHL goalie

posted Nov 7, 2017, 10:11 AM by Robert Vollman
The Vegas Golden Knights have already lost Marc-Andre Fleury, Malcolm Subban, and Oscar Dansk to injury, shortly after trading Calvin Pickard away to the Toronto Maple Leafs (oops!).

At the moment, they are using Max Lagace in nets, who is backed up by 19-year-old Dylan Ferguson. I think they can do better than that.

To find a better goalie, I grabbed all the AHL goaltending data from 2005-06 through 2016-17, and specifically highlighted those goalies active in the AHL today. Rather than compare them using straight-up shooting percentage, I used a stat known as SV%+.

What is SV%+? Inspired by the ERA+ statistic in baseball, Cam Charron introduced an era-adjusted version of save percentage five years ago that allows you to measure a goalie’s performance relative to league average, and then compare it to other seasons. 

As described by Kurt R of Broad Street Hockey shortly thereafter, SV%+ is calculated by subtracting the league-average save percentage from one, and then dividing by one minus the goalie’s save percentage, and then all multiplied by 1000. That means that a League-average goalie will have a SV%+ of 1000, and the degree to which it is higher or lower is the percentage difference between that goalie’s save percentage, and the League average. It was later added to Hockey Reference, but soon re-deployed as GA%- by swapping the numerator and the denominator.

Why go to this extra trouble? In essence, SV%+ allows me to compare goalies across different seasons. AHL save percentages have varied over the years, from a low of .904 in 2005-06, up to .913 in the peak period between 2011-12 and 2014-15, and then back down to .908 last season. It may be a minor adjustment on save percentage, but it might be an important one.

The results? Well, Lagace has a SV%+ of 929, which ranks 41 among the 44 active AHL goalies for which there’s at least 20 games (or so) worth of career data. Only Kristers Gudlevskis and Alex Nedeljkovic rank lower. Basically, Lagace ranks last among those with names that I can pronounce.

Technically, the best result is Anders Lindback, 1232, but he only played 19 games before this season. That’s obviously not enough data. Same thing for Kevin Boyle, who ranks fourth with 1197 in the same 19 games. The picture is a little bit better for Casey DeSmith, 1228 in 35 games, and David Rittich, 1196 in 31, but let’s raise the threshold a little higher.

First place is probably Garret Sparks, with a SV%+ of 1197 in 78 games. That means that his save percentage is 19.7 percent higher than the league average over his AHL career. He’s currently playing for the Marlies, and he’s having a fantastic season. Maybe Toronto will cut Vegas a break, given that they’re the ones who took Calvin Pickard off their hands.

Next is Jared Coreau, 1148 in 110 games. He’s off to a so-so season with the Detroit Red Wings. Since they have both Jimmy Howard and Petr Mrazek on the big club, and they also have Tom McCollum in Grand Rapids (1010 in 244), it’s possible that Vegas could shake him loose.

Of course, acquiring Coreau would take a pretty good offer. Maybe they need to consider those who might be available on the cheap, like Dan Taylor, who is back in North America after four pretty strong seasons in Europe. Thanks to his solid AHL career from 2007-08 to 2012-13, he has a career SV%+ of 1147 in 134 games. However, he’s 31, has a lousy .892 save percentage for the Belleville Senators, who just traded away their other goalie, Andrew Hammond (494 in 80). So, this might not be a viable option for Vegas.

Would the Tampa Bay Lightning give up AHL mainstay Michael Leighton? He’s 36, and has a lousy .867 save percentage for the Syracuse Crunch this season. However, it was .921 last year, and Leighton has been a consistent AHL performer for years. He even has 111 games of NHL experience with four different teams. His SV%+ is 1134 in 318 games. He might be the ideal solution, if they can get him.

Among active AHL goalies, here are all the goalies with a career SV%+ above 1000, but with a minimum of 100 games:
1148 Coreau
1147 Taylor
1134 Leighton
1116 J. Smith
1110 Hutchinson
1085 Berube
1079 Gibson
1065 McKenna
1056 Bachman
1048 Pasquale
1045 Thiessen
1039 Campbell
1024 Grosenick
1019 Tokarski
1010 McCollum

What can be expected from these goalies? Well, when the Los Angeles Kings got into trouble last year, they used Peter Budaj, but his SV%+ was an incredible 1235 in 79 games. Other NHL-calibre goalies are even higher, with 1440 in 72 games for Matt Murray, 1307 in 51 for Frederik Andersen, 1284 in 53 for Scott Darling, 1277 in 119 for Jonathan Bernier, and 1269 in 96 for Jaroslav Halak. 

Falling clearly below that level, obviously expectations need to be much lower for Leighton, or whoever the Golden Knights might pursue from this list. Recognizable goalies in the 1134 range include Jason LaBarbera and Brian Boucher, 1133, Philipp Grubauer, 1129, and Josh Harding, 1128. While that level of goaltending won’t help the Golden Knights steal many games, it will hold the fort better than Lagace, and certainly better than Ferguson. When the injury bugs eventually clear up, he could be moved down to the AHL to back up Dansk (or Subban). What do you think?