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Analyzing the Stalock Signing (or: Hey there, glass. Looking all half-full, I see.)

[N.B.: This was originally written before Jake Sundstrom’s rager and is not a response to it; though I think they are both outlets for coping with this off-season.]

Hockey giveth and hockey taketh away; and when it taketh away, well…

Everybody has their own coping mechanisms. Maybe a couple pizzas and some beers. Solitary walks into the wilderness. Perhaps some Air Supply. I’ve come to understand that everyone deals with this stuff differently.

Recently, I’ve resumed exploring other hockey sites to get some perspective on things. That way, when I read the FtF articles, I don’t just scroll on down to the comments and alternate between: a) oh man all these commentators are so right BLWO TAHT SHEET UP and b) no. no no no. NO. NO. Instead, I try to just take deep breaths and keep on keepin' on. Still, sometimes I have to plug my ears and la-la-la-la-la-la-la-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA, until I realize that this does nothing since no one is actually talking to me.

I have to do something.

The twin signing of Alex Stalock and Mike Brown drew a lot of attention, primarily focusing on the length and amount of Brown’s contract given his limitations as a puck-possessing forward. Only a few comments were directed toward the Stalock contract, and all were positive. The question arises: are we justified in feeling good about this?

Procedure. Step one: Gather set of UFA goalies under 30 years old who played in the NHL last year. In a sense, the profile is a backup or 1B who has some experience and potential to grow into a starting role. I set the cutoff at 10 games played initially, but all the goalies selected here (nine) played in a minimum of 21 games or 25% of the season. Step two: Gather and compare Sv% (5v5). Step three: Try to gain some team performance context with Sh%, GF%, and Corsi data (5v5). Step Four: Gain some sense as to whether or not the Stalock signing is a good thing.

Dim the lights, please. Cue the numbers.

Age

2013-2014 Sample Size

2013-2014 Individual Performance

Career

2013-2014 Team Performance

2013-2014 Team Performance check

2013-2014 Team Puck Possession

GP

Sv%

GP

GF%

SH%

CF%

GREISS

28

25

0.938

69

52.30%

6.70%

52.10%

JOHNSON

28

27

0.934

37

61.50%

8.50%

54.60%

STALOCK

26

24

0.933

27

56.30%

7.70%

54.80%

MONTOYA

29

28

0.925

91

55.10%

8.40%

51.90%

PETERS

27

21

0.923

68

38.70%

5.20%

50.10%

GUSTAVSSON

29

27

0.913

141

55.60%

10.20%

51.70%

DUBNYK

28

34

0.902

173

42.70%

8.50%

45.50%

HALAK

29

52

0.923

272

50.60%

7.80%

50.90%

ELLIOTT

29

31

0.923

235

60.60%

10.30%

52.70%

Table 1. Key statistics (all 5v5) from the 2013-2014 season for nine goalies that are/were unrestricted free agents. Via extraskater.com. (If there is an award for best new website for hockey statistics, they ought to get it.)

Sv% indicates goalie performance. The above goalies are sorted by Sv% with the two signed (and more established) free agents at the bottom. Before going further, let me give some context on the Sv% numbers. For the 59 goalies who played at least 21 games, the individual Sv% varied from 0.895 to 0.942. The median was 0.9245 (this is roughly in line with 0.920 rule-of-thumb for even-strength Sv%). The nine goalies selected here could be grouped into these categories by Sv%:

ABOVE Median

Median

BELOW Median

Greiss (0.938)

Johnson (0.934)

Stalock (0.933)

Montoya (0.925)

Halak (0.923)

Elliott (0.923)

Peters (0.923)

Gustavsson (0.913)

Dubnyk (0.902)

Table 2. Bins for goalies.

So, should we feel good about this Stalock signing?

At first glance, yes, absolutely. We should feel good given Stalock’s performance as indicated by Sv% 5v5. We should also note though, that the team in front of him had three discernable characteristics: 1) it outscored the opposition, even with a 2) below-average Sh%, and 3) did well in the puck possession measure (the best on this list). This is evidence that the Sharks on-ice with Stalock were actually quite good in keeping pucks away from him and putting pucks on the opposing net. This typically gives the goaltender the best chance for success, thereby creating conditions for a high Sv% (for the opposite, see e.g. Dubnyk below). In addition, last season represents all but 3 games of Stalock’s NHL career. This small sample size (Stalock had the largest 2013-2014 season-to-career ratio in the table) means that his Sv% 5v5 may very well take a tumble.

Two other factors to keep in mind that are in Stalock’s favor: 1) he is the youngest of the group, and 2) he is the goalie the Sharks have the most information about. A two-year deal with an annual cap hit of $1.6 million does not commit the Sharks to very much money (though perhaps more than a bargain-bin goalie, i.e. a one-year, $650,000 contract), and it provides some stability to the goaltending situation given Niemi’s contract status (last year of a--in retrospect--reasonable deal, $3.8 million cap hit).

In doing the comparisons to the other goalie UFAs, rather than determine if Stalock is a sure-thing or not (he is not; Sv% fluctuates a ton with most goalies), let’s see if the other goalies give any indication of being a better bet.

Greiss and Johnson (like Stalock) put up above-average Sv% 5v5 numbers. And again, like Stalock, both benefited from teams that scored more goals than the opposition and possessed the puck better (though least so for Greiss). However, Greiss is the devil we already know, and has only played in 40 more games than Stalock. We can argue that his Sv% may very well not be sustainable, and he’s older. Johnson has only played in 10 more games than Stalock, and is the same age as Greiss. Not great evidence that he is a better bet. Like Stalock, the quality of their teams and small sample sizes suggest that both Greiss and Johnson could see their Sv% decline next season.

Before I get to Halak and Elliott, let me quickly tour the other two goaltenders. It is a little surprising that the Jets played fairly well for Montoya (better than Pavelec), and he put up median Sv% numbers. It is worth recalling the last time Montoya played more than 21 games, while with the 2011-2012 New York Islanders. According to extraskater.com, he posted a 0.900 Sv% 5v5 on a not good team (48.1 CF%; 43.5% GF; 7.8 Sh%). That number is relatively far away from teammate Evgeni Nabokov’s 0.917 Sv%, and the team played comparably (badly) in front of Nabby (47.9 CF%; 42.1 GF%; 6.1 Sh%). Montoya might be just an average goaltender, and not demonstrably better than Stalock.

Justin Peters, though, could be a valuable find. He performed to the median while the team in front of him was heavily outscored, had a very low Sh%, and was a wash in puck possession. Here's the kicker: he performed better (Sv% 5v5) this year in a similar number of games than last year, with a team that played worse. Still, not a lot of NHL games to have the kind of confidence we might draw from Halak and Elliott (see below).

In the below median range, Gustavsson did not perform that well, in spite of having his team ice some decent numbers in terms of scoring, Sh%, and puck possession (though not great puck numbers, see Detroit’s decline). Given his injury past, he might to be a risky proposition. Dubnyk had the worst Sv% of this group of nine. However, his teams were getting outscored and he dealt with the puck in his zone the most of any of the goalies. Certainly, he could rebound from a difficult season, especially since his two previous seasons saw his Sv% 5v5 come in at 0.922 and 0.926 playing on a team with similar characteristics. This makes signing Dubnyk a clear risk, but with one with some upside.

[Note: here the razor-thin edge of goaltending Sv% should be highlighted. Dubnyk allowed 71 goals, facing a total of 723 shots (thus 0.902 Sv%) in 34 games. If he stops one of those goals every OTHER game, his Sv% rises to the median (0.925).]

YOUNGER?

SV% CATEGORY

TEAM PERFORMANCE

SUSTAINABLE SV% BASED ON PAST

GREISS

N

ABOVE Median

Average

N

JOHNSON

N

ABOVE Median

ABOVE Average

N

STALOCK

---

ABOVE Median

ABOVE Average

N

MONTOYA

N

Median

Average

N

PETERS

N

Median

BELOW Average

N

GUSTAVSSON

N

BELOW Median

Average

N

DUBNYK

N

BELOW Median

BELOW Average

BOUNCE BACK?

HALAK

N

Median

Average

Y

ELLIOTT

N

Median

ABOVE Average

Y

Table 3. Summary of factors for why others are equal/worse bets than Stalock.

Now onto median Sv% veterans Halak ($4.5 million cap hit) and Elliott ($2.5 million cap hit). Basic reasoning behind the larger contracts: more likely sustainable Sv%. Here are the Sv% 5v5 for the last three seasons for Halak and Elliott, respectively: 0.923, 0.909, 0.936, 0.923, 0.923, 0.942. While forecasting goalie performance remains elusive, one can argue that these two are more likely to be around or above median than the others in the table.

Bottom line: Signing Stalock was a good a bet as any, given the UFA goalie market.

Sure, it would have been possible to wait it out and grab leftovers, but for the reasons given above, perhaps only Peters would be preferable. I do think that Stalock’s contract is a slight overpay, but all things considered, I am alright with this. Hopefully, the numbers and tables here have made you more sure of this than before.

[Update: Gustavsson signed a one-year, $1.5 million deal. At that price, I would still take Stalock’s contract. And yes, I did just spend 1500 words on back-up goalies. Damn right, I did.]

This item was created by a member of this blog's community and is not necessarily endorsed by Fear The Fin.

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