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What stats say the Sabres should do about...everyone? Part 4: Goalies

The Buffalo Sabres have new life. With the firing of Darcy Regier and hiring of Tim Murray, every player is being evaluated. Murray says he already has an idea of what he thinks of each player. Do you know what you'd like to see the Sabres do with each guy?

Well, what do the stats say? In Part 3 of 4, we explore what the numbers (and skill sets, contracts and intangibles) hint about what the Sabres should and will do with their goalies.


AND part 3 here

Ryan Miller

What stays say:

In a world of inconsistent goaltenders, Ryan Miller stands amongst a small group of netminders who have sustained success year after year.

When we analyze his statistics, there's something very important to keep in mind: Over Miller's career, the league has changed. Out of the lockout, the NHL called an incredible amount of penalties, sending save percentages into the basement. After 2007, the league returned to its old dead puck ways and save percentages went back up to where they were before the lockout and even beyond.

So the only way to analyze how much better or worse Miller has been than his peers is to compare his overall save percentages to the league average and look at his Even Strength save percentages, which would have gone unaffected by fluctuations in power plays.

To properly study his save percentages, one can not simply say that a goalie “ranked X in save percentage.” Why? Because every goalie faces a different number of shots. A netminder who takes on 2,000 shots can not be compared to one that takes 1,000 – except in terms of value to their team.

How can we do that? Goals prevented above average. (Shots faced) X (Goals per 1,000 above average)

05-06: 18.2

06-07: 10.7

07-08: -5.7

08-09: 17.3

09-10: 36.2

10-11: 6.1

11-12: 4.6

12-13: 3.9

13-14: 13.7

Total: 105 Goals Save Above Average

Per season: 11.7

For his career, Miller is only behind Tim Thomas, Henrik Lundqvist, Martin Brodeur and Robert Luongo in Goals Saved Above Average.

In terms of consistency, it's better gauged by Even Strength save percentage because bad luck can play a big role in penalty kill save %. Even the best goalies see their PK save % jump up and down.

To demonstrate the inconsistency/luck factor of PK save percentages, look at a few of Lundqvist's PK percentages:

2008-09: .913

2009-10: .883

2010-11: .873

2011-12: .905

Here are Miller's 5v5 save percentages (League Average is .918) vs. PK


Moral of the graph is that Miller has been absurdly consistent at 5v5 and one of the league's best goalies since the lockout.

On the ice:

The ups and downs of Miller's mental state have been documented ad nauseum. Most of it is just the daily narrative. During a down time, he's “mentally soft.” During an up time, he's “getting it together mentally.” When he's down, he's “average,” when he's up he's “playing like he did during his Vezina year.”

It's exhausting.

In reality, every goaltender goes through ups and downs. That's why most stat folk agree that you need at least 5,000 shots to have a good grip on whether a goalie's success or failure is who they are or just small sample size variation.

What you see from Miller over his career is that he is an elite competitor who is as committed to being great as any athlete on Earth. He's extremely athletic and durable as well as intelligent and diligent about details.

The emotional part of the game, it seems, gets to him on occasion – we can only speculate as to how much that effects him or his teammates. In the past, his disdain for losing has come across as selfishness and he has been prone to an outburst here or there in post-game interviews.

Contract: UFA 2014


If you could be guaranteed you would get 11 goals above average per season for the next five or six years, you'd sign up to pay Ryan Miller $50 million. But that's impossible due to his age. At 33, it's likely Miller is looking at three or four more seasons in his prime, then age will catch up. There have been goalies who take their prime into their late 30s, but it's much harder to predict than the 27-33 age seasons. That doesn't mean the Sabres have to trade him, but if they do try to re-sign Miller, they should be wary of anything past four years.

If there are bidders and Miller's interests appear elsewhere, the Sabres can not afford to lose him to free agency for nothing and should deal him.


Jhonas Enroth

What the stats say:

Enroth has been a dead-on league average goaltender in terms of save percentage over his 69 total NHL starts. The league's save percentage since he came into the league is .913 and his career save percentage is .913. Before this season, Enroth's Even Strength save percentage was a solid .926. However, it's fallen off to .915 in 2013-14.

Take the wins and losses and throw them out of the window. In his best win-loss season, where he went 9-2-3 in 2010-11, his save percentage was a mediocre .907. This year, his save percentage is .910 and he's 1-10-4. The explanation is easy: His team scored more goals in 2010-11. At last check, Enroth's job is to stop as many shots as possible, not score goals.

Also, Enroth has been a quality goalie more often than not. In 60% of his career starts, he's finished the game either allowing 3 goals or fewer or with a .914 save percentage of higher (something Rob Vollman deemed a “Quality Start”). The league's best goalies come in at 65-70%.

So he's been decent. Can he be a No.1 starter if Ryan Miller leaves? Or will he always be a league average goalie?

Since starts come few and far between, there's a factor that muddies the water: Workload. 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)

We also have to keep in mind that Enroth is still young by goalie standards.

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)

On the ice:

Enroth is small, which seems to open him up to critics. But his problems don't exactly connect completely to being short. Goals do often get scored glove high on the Sabres' netminder, but that's where many goals are scored these days. Every goalie seems to play a cut-the-angle, butterfly style that forces shooters to snipe the top corner.

The biggest struggles from Enroth have been seeing pucks from the point and general concentration. Does his height play a role in seeing long shots? Maybe. It could also be that he hasn't perfected the art of anticipating those shots or found his style of looking around defenders.

In terms of concentration, there will simply be “bad goals.” Not ones that you might like back. Just gosh darn ugly goals that have no business going in the net. They don't happen all the time, but enough to impact his small sample stats.

Contract: UFA 2016


Enroth is far from perfect, but he's also far from proven (whether that means bad or good). He's been average on horrible teams and at a young age for a netminder. If the Sabres trade Ryan Miller, he should take over starting 50-60 games next season to find out whether he can be a true No. 1.


Matt Hackett

Acquired in the Jason Pominville trade, he was thought to be the future if Miller left. Well, pump the breaks. Hackett may have lost his starting job in Rochester. Backup Nathan Lieuwen has started three of the last four games after the prospect netminder struggled.

Hackett has tremendous athleticism, but there are concerns about his makeup. He has a long way to go before he is mature enough to handle the bright lights of the NHL.

Nathan Lieuwen

He wasn't expected to make a huge impact on this year's Amerks season, but Lieuwen has done nothing but produce solid starts. He has a .922 save percentage in 17 games, following up a .919 in four games last year.

He's tall, gangly (6-foot-5) and soft spoken.

Goalies are the most unpredictable when it comes to prospects. Could Lieuwen, a sixth-round pick, turn into Buffalo's long-term guy? Hey, some fifth-round pick dude from Michigan State turned out to be alright over the last eight years, so...maybe?