Yesterday we ran a story about Vitek Vanecek and the New Jersey Devils’ absurd winning streak. Afterwards, on Discord, Ian and I had a little spat about how responsible Vanecek has been for the Devils’ success. For the record, Ian was perfectly correct when he said that Vanecek has been “no-doubt buoyed by a Devils team that is one of the best in the NHL early in the season.”
In reply to our story, we received a genre of comments that I call “should of kept.” This can apply to any player who has left Washington and gone on to enjoy success. To compare their performances to that of their replacements in Washington is understandable. It’s inevitable to do it. I do it. Actually, let’s all do it right now.
Let’s compare Washington’s old goalies, Ilya Samsonov and Vitek Vanecek, to their new number-one, Darcy Kuemper.
Winner: Vanecek. By a lot, obviously. He’s part of a historically good team with a bumper crop of exciting, young players and also Dougie Hamilton’s dorky old ass.
Meanwhile, Ilya Samsonov had been Toronto’s winsome workhorse before he went down with an injury on November 5. And Kuemper has played the most games with the worst record. Bad start for DK.
Well, it’s not Samsonov, though he could be back as early as next week. I want to note that Samsonov has still technically played more than Vanecek, who had been sharing time with Mackenzie Blackwood and Akira Schmid, who has one of the best names in the NHL.
Winner: Kuemper, who has played in a league-high 14 games. He’s tied with Boston’s Linus Ullmark as the league’s most-used goalie. Ullmark has a narrow lead in minutes played because he doesn’t get pulled as much.
I think this is the most common way to evaluate goalies, which might be your first clue that I’m yet again doing some stupid, cheeky bit about analysis.
Winner: Samsonov. But maybe his shorter season has you raising your eyebrow. Hold on to that thought. At least we can agree that Kuemper is worst by this metric. I mean, we don’t need to agree; It’s a fact.
We’re not doing this. GAA is not a goalie statistic; it’s a team statistic. Goalies are responsible for stopping the shots they face; they are not responsible for how many shots they face. This is the part I was most insufferable about in my Discord donnybrook with Ian.
Winner: Hassett. Not up for debate.
Now stuff gets interesting. Here’s how many expected goals each goalie has faced, using Moneypuck’s reckoning:
Winner: Kuemper. But I don’t know if winner is the right word. Kuemper has faced way more minutes and way more shots than his peers. That’s largely a function of the teams playing in front of these goalies. Here are heatmaps from HockeyViz for where opponents are shooting against each goalie. Red means the opponent shoots more from that location.
I was straight-up aghast when I saw this. Kuemper and Samsonov: fine, whatever, but wow at Vanecek. His job is drastically easier than other NHL goalies — by 23 percentage points. That’s an extremely cushy job. He really won the lottery when he signed with the Devils.
So here’s how many goals each goalie has allowed beyond the number of goals we expected him to allow, again using Moneypuck’s reckoning. Expected goals minus actual goals.
Vanecek: 0.4 (21 goals on 21.4 expected goals)
Samsonov: 4.9 (17 goals on 21.9 expected goals)
Kuemper: 1.9 (36 goals on 37.9 expected goals)
Winner: Samsonov. Wow, dark horse. The injured guy on the notoriously struggling team has delivered more than Vanecek and Kuemper, who are pretty close in context of their workloads, with Kuemper getting the narrow edge.
Vitek Vanecek has played in the most games that have been won, but he has not won the most games, if you catch my tedious drift. Darcy Kuemper has done just fine behind a team that has struggled with goal support lately. And Ilya Samsonov played really, really well before he got hurt, a characterization that applies to both this season and his overall career.
Goalies remain inscrutable.
Headline photos: Elizabeth Kong/RMNB, Alan Dobbins/RMNB, Vitek Vanecek
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