The Buffalo Sabres have choices to make this off-season that will have a huge effect on the long-term direction and immediate future of the franchise. Among those pending decisions is whether to trade start goaltender Ryan Miller.
Trading Miller is pretty complicated – both in the reasons they may have to trade him and in the process. If Miller can be convinced to stay, then how much should he be paid after his contract comes up next season? Will he want to stay through a rebuild? What type of return can the Sabres get for him? Will there be any buyers?
Lots of questions, most of which we'd have to be inside Miller's or Darcy Regier's head to know the answer.
But there's one question surrounding the Sabres' future in goal that we can attempt to answer: Can Jhonas Enroth be a No. 1 goalie?
What the Stats Say
We can only really know the answer when he's spent about two full seasons as a starter. But we – and the Sabres - don't have that luxury. All we have to work with is 53 NHL games.
In those 53 games, Enroth has a .914 overall Save percentage and a .926 Even-Strength Save Percentage. League average during his young career is .912 and .919.
(as an aside, there's no point to breaking down his year-by-year or during stretches where he performed well or poorly. First, 53 games is a small sample size and hard to draw from. What's 15 of the 53? So small that it's pointless to over-analyze. Also, every goaltender goes through ups and downs. You can find a good or bad stretch from Henrik Lundqvist or Jonathan Quick, too. Equally as unimportant are Wins and Losses and Goals Against Average. They are not indicators of future performance and are highly flawed.)
Even-Strength Save Percentage is a better indicator of how well a goalie will play in the future because most goalies' Power Play Save Percentages vary wildly from year to year. There's a much bigger luck, teammate and system factor to Power Plays.
Take a look at Henrik Lundqvist year-to-year PP Save Percentage, for example:
Was he THAT different of a goaltender from 08-09 or could a few bad bounces or mistakes by his defense made a big difference in the statistic? Most likely the latter.
So Enroth's .926 Even Strength Save Percentage is a good sign for him. It doesn't, however, suggest he would be able to maintain a .926 EV Save Percentage if he were to have played 53 games as a starter. He's only played back-to-back games a few times during his career. If he were to handle a heavier workload, statistical analysis shows his numbers would likely go down.
Broad Street Hockey studied how goalies performed in back-to-back games this season. It showed a huge gap between back-to-back games and with at least one day of rest. (as another aside, this stat should suggest Ryan Miller is even better than his numbers show considering Lindy Ruff used him for 20-plus games in a row sometimes)
Also, Enroth has never had to handle a significant workload as a pro. In his three years in the American Hockey League, he played 58, 48 and 41 games. In the third year, however, he was called up and did play many of Portland's back-to-backs. Then again, the third year was his worst in terms of Save Percentage at .912 compared to .919 in 2009-10 and .914 in 2008-09.
Another advanced stat says good things about how Enroth has performed during his time in the NHL: Quality Starts. Similar to baseball, Quality Starts give an idea of whether a netminder played well enough to deserve a win, despite whether he got one or not. It's figured by the amount of starts in which a goalie either allowed 2 goals or fewer or ended a game with a .912 (league average) save percentage.
Over Enroth's career, he's started 45 games and posted 28 quality starts. That's 62.2 percent. Here are the best Quaity Start Precentages of 2011-12
Jonathan Quick: 68.1% Henrik Lundqvist: 66.1% Jimmy Howard: 64.9%
Again, there's the back-to-back thing, but 62.2 percent is very solid.
Save percentage and quality starts can also be effected by teammates and system. The Sabres were the worst puck possession team in the NHL and allowed 31.2 shots per 60 minutes when Enroth was in goal. More shots means more chances for a bad bounce, more sustained pressure and so forth. During a poor stretch in 2009-10, Enroth also played behind a beat-up group of defenseman. And Lindy Ruff played a system that asked defenseman to jump up into the play and be aggressive. This often led to odd-man rushes and asked a lot of the goaltender position.
All these factors should be considered when evaluating Enroth. Could he have posted better numbers in the 53-game sample if he had a better team? It seems likely.
Enroth has played the majority of his games during his age 23 and 24 seasons. Posting solid numbers during those years gives even more indication that he's on the right path. Many goaltenders don't hit their prime until age 25-28 because of the difficulty and mental factors involved in the position. So it's difficult to find many goalies who were getting significant time during those years.
Here's how Enroth's .926 Even-Strength Save Percentage in 1,187 shots compares to others' during their age 23 and 24 seasons:
Lunogo: .931 (3,377 shots)
Lundqvist: .930 (2,441)
Fleury: .928 (2,105)
Quick: .926 (2,308)
Rask: .926 (1,223)
Price: .925 (3,250)
Lehtonen: .925 (2,742)
Ward: .922 (2,886)
Pavelec: .916 (3,058)
Comparatively, Enroth is in the ballpark.
For the “watch the game” crowd, I watched and categorized all 27 goals against Jhonas Enroth this season. I watched an additional 100 or so saves by the Swedish netminder. All the video clips were provided by NHL.com.
Here's the chart:
|Date||Goal Scorer||Shot Location||Goal Location||Stoppable?||Why?||Type|
|1/24 vs. Carolina||Jeff Skinner||Glove High||<10 Feet||Yes||Positioning||Backhand|
|Justin Faulk||Glove High||Above Circle||Yes||Positioning/Angle||Slapshot|
|Jeff Skinner||Glove Low||Behind net||Yes||Slow side-to-side||Wrap around|
|Eric Staal||5 hole||<10 Feet||No||Breakaway||Snap|
|Eric Staal||Glove High||Circle||Yes||Slow anticipation||Wrist shot|
|2/2 vs. MTL||Rene Bourque||5 hole||<10 Feet||No||3-on-1||Tap in|
|David Desharnais||Glove High||<10 Feet||Yes||Big rebound||Snap|
|2/5 vs. Ottawa||Erik Karlsson||Stick High||Blue Line||50/50||Screen||Wrist shot|
|Chris Phillips||5 hole||Circle||Yes||had angle||Wrist shot|
|D. Alfredsson||Stick side high||Above Circle||No||Turnover/Good shot||Wrist shot|
|Chris Neil||Glove High||Above Circle||50/50||Missed D assignment||Snap|
|3/7 vs. NJ||Adam Henrique||Glove High||Circle||50/50||Big rebound, bad luck||Snap|
|Patrick Elias||Open Net||Circle||50/50||Rebound, poor coverage||Snap|
|3/12 vs. NYR||Derek Stepan||Glove High||<10 Feet||No||Poor coverage||Snap|
|3/19 vs. MTL||D. Dasharnais||5 hole||Circle||50/50||Turnover||Slapshot|
|C. Armstrong||Stick Low||<10 Feet||No||Poor coverage||Tap in|
|3/30 vs. Wash||Alex Ovechkin||Glove High||Circle||No||Great shot||Wrist shot|
|Troy Brouwer||Stick Low||Circle||Yes||Positioning||Wrist shot|
|Mike Green||Stick High||Blue Line||No||Screen, bad bounce||Slapshot|
|3/11 vs. MTL||P.K. Subban||Stick High||Circle||No||Great shot||Slapshot|
|4/13 vs. PHL||N/A|
|4/14 vs. Tampa||Benoit Pouliot||Stick Low||<10 Feet||No||Re-direct||Tip|
|4/19 vs. NYR||Brad Richards||5 hole||<10 Feet||Yes||Through 5 hole||Tap in|
|Rick Nash||5 hole||Circle||Yes||Through 5 hole||Wrist shot|
|Ryan Callahan||Glove High||<10 Feet||No||Breakaway||Wrist shot|
|Brad Richards||Glove High||Blue Line||Yes||Lost concentration||Wrist shot|
|4/22 vs. WPG||Gragnon||Glove High||<10 Feet||No||Re-direct||Tip|
|Meittenen||5 hole||Circle||Yes||Through 5 hole||Slapshot|
|Total||11 Glove High||10 <10 Feet||11 Yes||9 Wrist|
|7 Five Hole||9 Circle||11 No||6 snap|
|2 Stick High||4 Above Circle||Five 50/50||5 Slapshot|
|2 Stick Low||3 Blue Line||2 Tap In|
|1 Glove Low||1 Behind Net||2 Tip|
|1 Open Net||1 Backhand|
*Stoppable goals were defined by several factors: Whether he appeared to be in position to make the save, whether an above average goalie would be expected to make the stop whether his teammates played correctly and common sense:
Here's what we can draw from watching his goals against: During his .919 save percentage and .926 Even-Strength Save Percentage 2013 season, there were some regrettable goals. The final goal of the year allowed against the Rangers was unacceptable. It was a junk toss at the net and complete loss of concentration and competitiveness in a blowout. Several others were shots that were directly at him, but were allowed to sneak through Enroth's five-hole.
But all things considered, more than half of the goals allowed were ones that even the best netminders in the league would have missed as well.
The high glove side was scored upon the most, which is to be expected from a goalie in 2013. Almost all goalies play some form of butterfly these days. They go down to their pads early to cut off the lower half of the net and leave the top open. But that didn't make up all the Glove High goals. Some were simply too quick or a whiff. If Enroth is a starter, advanced scouting reports may help opponents target the high glove shot.
There's little question teams would also try to take a lot of junk shots that are low because of Enroth's inconsistent rebound control. During his game against the New Jersey Devils, he faced 29 shots. On 12 of those shots, he allowed either another shot attempt within two seconds of the first shot – including on the game-winning goal by Patrick Elias. That's too many rebounds and – from watching – there are too many saves where the puck pops directly in front of the net rather than out of play or to the side.
Enroth isn't easy to compare to other goaltenders. You're wasting your time comparing him to Ryan Miller because of the significant height difference. Plus, Miller's style is different. He's butterfly, yes, but he's more aggressive, coming out of the net farther to cut down the angle. Miller also has quicker pads. As for shorter goalies than Miller, Antti Niemi (still 6-foot-2) plays deeper in his crease than Miller or another under-sized goalie like Jonathan Quick.
You can see here the difference between how far Quick comes out of his net and Enroth.
The overall takeaway from video:
What he does well...
Enroth may lose concentration at times, but when he's on his game, he's extremely competitive. You'll often see him battle through shot after shot on a sustained rush. With each shot, it seems like he ups his competitive level as if he's enjoying the challenge. He doesn't get rattled mentally and allow bad goals or have too many bad games in succession. In net, he's still developing his style and positioning. Despite his size, he's able to find shooters through traffic and he's very strong at anticipating where the puck will go next.
What could be a problem...
He's leaving the short side open too often giving simple wristers from the circle a chance.
His rebound control is inconsistent. Sometimes he's able to get the puck to stick to him or flutter off into the corner, but too many times there were shots jumping right back to shooters and making for unnecessary high-difficulty saves. Teams could catch on to his weaknesses as he gets more playing time.
Jhonas Enroth has had an interesting ride so far. He's seen some ups and downs and has always bounced back after the downs. The statistics and video analysis both suggest he's got the skill required to be an NHL goalie.
Can he be a No. 1 starter? That question is still difficult to answer because there simply isn't enough information to say definitively he'd make an above average No. 1. There is no position harder to project than goaltender – and by a mile.
That being said, his statistics and performance in 2013 say he has a good chance at being capable – even very good.
If the Sabres are forced to trade Ryan Miller this summer, Enroth may be very effective as part of a goalie tandem in 2013-14. It would be unwise to throw a goalie who's never played more than 58 games in a pro season into a 60-plus game NHL season. It would also be unwise to put huge statistical expectations on a netminder who will be backstopping a rebuilding club.
Simply put: If the opportunity comes, Enroth deserves a chance.