Thursday, November 26, 2009

Goals since All-Star Break

I have heard alot of talk this week about how Steve Stamkos is on such a torrid pace since the end of last season. I decided to look at the goal leaders simce last season's all-star break, approximately three quarters of a season of games.
These stats are as of Nov 25.
Stamkos does actually rate quite high with 32 goals in his last 55 games behind the usual suspects, Ovechkin, Kovalchuk and Heatley and tied with Jarome Iginla, another proven scorer. In fact, of the 18 names on the list, 10 are 25 years of age or younger and all but one are 30 or under. Only the somewhat surprising Jason Arnott is older than 35.
The one number that really jumps out is Marian Gaborik's games played in the time in question. He has fired his 28 goals since the break in a mere 32 games for a Goals/Game rate of 0.875 better even than Ovechkin's 0.804 and Kovalchuk's 0.800. A Goals/GP rate of 0.800 translates to a 65 goal pace for an entire season. There have been three 65 goal scorers in one season twice before; 1988/89 (Yzerman, Nicholls, Lemieux) and 1992/93 (Selanne, Mogilny, Lemieux).
I'm not saying it's going to happen again this season, but it would appear that the NHL is in another new era of the sniper and Stamkos is definitely part of the movement.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Meeting The Pocket Rocket

This past weekend, I had a nice surprise at the grocery store. On Saturday morning I popped into my local Sav-On Foods to pick up some capocoli and provolone and low and behold, there sitting at a table at the end of the dairy aisle was Hockey Hall of Famer Henri Richard. He and fellow ex-Montreal Canadien Yvon Lambert were in town for that evenings' Vancouver Giants game and were signing free autographs in the store.

Now, I am far from a Habs fan, but I can appreciate and respect the presence of fifteen Stanley Cup rings in front of me. (not actually all the rings were there, but Lambert did have two of his four rings on his fingers). Henri Richard, the man who has won the most Cups as a player in history was not wearing any of his eleven rings. Both gentleman were cordial as I tried some of my grade 12 French. I told Henri it was a pleasure to meet a winner of "onze Coupe de Stanley".

I was somewhat surprised when I checked Yvon Lambert's stats later and saw he had back-to-back seasons of 32 goals. He was a valuable member of four straight Cup winners and was a team mate of Richard's in his first two seasons. In the consecutive 32 goal years (74/75 & 75/76) he also tallied 35 assists each season as well as playing in 80 games in each. His plus/minus rating did drop from 26 to 10 and his penalty minutes from 74 to 28. I'd like to say these are the two most similar consecutive seasons for any player in history, but confirming that one may take a while.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Corey Schwab and Winless Seasons

My last post dealt with the greatest backup goalies of all-time. In looking at the stats, I found out that the one and only Corey Schwab posted the lowest single season goals against average by a goalie playing in a minimum of ten games since the 1920’s. In 2002/03 he had a 1.47 GAA in 11 games. I found another even more obscure stat about Schwab.
It seems he had the greatest WINLESS season in NHL history. Schwab produced the best season ever among goalies that did not collect a win while playing at least ten games. In 1995/96 he had a 2.18 average over 10 official games with a 0-3-0 record. He did however play only 331 total minutes over those 10 appearances so honourable mention for best winless season ever goes to Jamie Storr. In 2003/04 with Carolina, Storr went 0-8-2 with a 2.91 GAA while playing 660 minutes. It’s quite difficult keep a respectable average when you lose pretty much every game.

Case in point would be Michel Belhumeur of the expansion Washington Capitals in 74/75. He produced an atrocious 0-24-3 record along with the expected 5.36 GAA. He was bested (worst-ed?) in the average category by Winnipeg’s Lindsay Middlebrook in 1980/81 who in his winless season of 0-9-3 slapped together a tidy 5.97 average.

The winless goalie discussion would not be complete without looking at Kevin Weekes. Over his first two seasons in 97/97 and 98/99 with Florida and Vancouver he played eleven games each year without recording a win. He went 0-5-1 and 0-8-1 while having an average under 4.00 each year. He would turn the corner in 99/00 with 16-27-8 record with a 3.23 average. Hey, you gotta start somewhere.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Best of the Backup Goalies

Last week, on the way to hockey, my pal Geoff (he did the great painting above of Bunny Larocque years ago in art school) and I were discussing great backup goalies of all time. I figured I’d try to dig up some numbers on some of the all-time best second string goalies. I determined a back-up as a goalie playing less than 30 games behind a legitimate number one goalie that played the remainder of the time. In other words, if a team has an even split between two or even three goalies, none of them are considered a backup.

1950’s and 60’s
The practice of periodically giving the starting goaltender a rest didn’t really come into fashion until the middle 1960’s. There were instances in which a team would simply split the games between two goalie’s only because neither was quite ready or talented enough for the solo role. The 5th place Boston Bruins of 1959/60 would be an example of this with Harry Lumley playing 42 games to Don Simmons’ 28. As well that year, the last place Rangers used Gump Worsley in 39 games, Marcel Paille in 17, Al Rollins in 10 and two others in 5 more simply because nobody could quite get the job done. In ‘58/59 the Maple Leafs basically rotated a young (for him) Johnny Bower and Ed Chadwick in 39 and 31 games respectively.
If anyone from this era could be considered the first real backup goalie, perhaps it was Hank Bassen who would yo-yo between the minors and the NHL for a decade and a half, mainly with the Red Wings. He was the backup to Al Rollins on Chicago in the mid-50’s , Terry Sawchuk in the 60’s and finally to Les Binkley for the expansion Pittsburgh Penguins on 67/68.
Roger Crozier would backup Sawchuk in 63/64 as one of the other first true second stringers, before taking over as lone starter the following season. Ten years later, he would have one of the greatest seasons ever for a backup going 17-2-1 for the Sabres in helping them to the Stanley Cup Finals. Perhaps we can even consider Jacques Plante as one of the first backups as he played 17 games behind Gerry McNeil for the 53/54 Habs. He would record five shutouts in those 17 games and sport a dazzling 1.59 average, proving he was ready to take the ball by himself.

The first name we came up with in discussing backups was Michel “Bunny” Larocque who had a great run in the 70’s behind Ken Dryden. Larocque had five consecutive seasons from 1973/73 to 77/78 in which he played between 22 and 30 games. Over those last three years his record was 16-1-3, 19-2-4 and 22-3-4 for a truely remarkable total of 47-6-11. This .820 winning percentage was often padded against the weaker teams in the league and by the fact that he had one of the greatest teams in history in front of him.
Another terrific second-stringer of that era was Philadelphia’s Wayne Stephenson who also filled in admirably in 1975/76, playing 66 games when Bernie Parent was felled by a back injury in training camp. As a backup, (and a starter that one year) Stephenson’s GAA never rose above 2.75.
The Bruins of the mid-70’s may have had the best and truest second-string goalie in NHL history. Ross Brooks was signed as a free-agent by Boston in 1971 after more than a decade of toiling in the Eastern and American hockey leagues. In truth he had a below .500 record throughout his minor league career with a goals against of over 4.00. This of course all changed playing behind one of the highest scoring teams of all-time. Starting in 1972/73 at the age of 35, Brooks posted consecutive years of 11-1-3, 16-3-0 and 10-3-3 with GAA’s between 2.36 and 2.98. He, like Larocque was often used against the weaker teams in the circuit.
In fact, Ross Brooks has a career winning percentage of .800, the highest career percentage in NHL history among goalies with more than fifty games played. He is well ahead of Ken Dryden’s .758 (of course done over 397 games), Martin Prusek (!?) at .702 in 57 games and Gerry Cheevers at .658 as the only four ‘tenders over .650 for their careers. Martin Brodeur has only a .632 percentage in 9th place, Bill Durnan .626 in 12th, Andy Moog .622 in 16th and Patrick Roy .618 in 19th position. Did you know that Vesa Toskala and George Hainsworth have the same career winning percentage of .609? Neither did I…But I digress. Back to the back-ups.
Ernie Wakely, Gerry Desjardins, Gary Edwards, Michel Plasse and Chico Resch all performed admirably as backups in the 70’s, but none as consistent or brilliant over a three year period as Ross Brooks or Michel Larocque.

Some of the great backups of the 80’s were Bob Froese, Rick St.Croix, Doug Keans, Doug Soetart, Richard Sevigny, Steve Baker and Steve Weeks. One backup of the 1980’s however managed to lead the entire league in Save Percentage for a season. Chicago’s Warren Skorodenski posted a .903 pct in 84/85 besting the likes of Pelle Lindbergh, Andy Moog, Mike Liut and his team’s number one goalie Murray Bannerman. Of course he played only 27 games, but that was enough to officially qualify for the title and earn yourself an O-Pee-Chee Leaders card the following season.
He would play in only 8 other games in his whole NHL career over 4 different seasons, talk about catching lightning in a bottle.

1990’s to current
One of the most consistent second stringers of the 1990s was Craig Billington who performed the role behind the likes of Bill Ranford, Patrick Roy and Olaf Kolzig. He had eleven different years in which he played between 12 and 27 games, the most of these so-called "backup seasons" of all time.
Jamie McLennan proved to be a solid backup for six different teams posting a 2.68 GAA over 254 career games. He never played more than 38 games in a season, and that was in the Minnesota Wild’s inaugural season when he went 5-23-9. He split time that season with Manny Fernandez who managed to have an over .500 record. McLennan would revert to a straight backup role for the final four years of his career.
Perhaps one of the truest backups ever was Jeff Reese who never started more than 30 games in a year. He milked 174 games out of his career and in 92/93 with Calgary went 14-4-1 and also set the record for points by a goalie in one game with three assists. Not a bad season.

In 2002/03 Corey Schwab posted the lowest goals against average of any goalie playing at least ten games since the late 1920’s. Backing up Martin Brodeur on the way to a Stanley Cup win he had a 1.47 goals against average. He even got into two playoff games, allowing no goals in 28 minutes. His career wrapped up the following year with three games for Toronto in which he had a 0.64 GAA. Overall in his last two seasons Schwab would play 801 minutes in the backup role and allow a mere 17 goals for a 1.27 average, talk about finishing strong.

The aforementioned Martin Prusek had two stellar years for Ottawa in 02/03 and 03/04. Backing up Patrick Lalime he went a combined 28-8-4 with a 2.22 average. David Aebischer had three nice years in Colorado before Patrick Roy retired leaving the job to him. His 13-6-0 with a 1.88 GAA in 01/02 is one of the better recent backup years.

The likes of Prusek, Aebischer, Schwab, Billington, Bob Froese and Roger Crozier et al had some nice seasons as backups but cannot compete with the numbers put forward by Ross Brooks of the Bruins and 'Bunny' Larocque. I feel the nod would have to go to 'Bunny' simply for length and quality of his backup tenure as well as the Cup wins he contributed to. Here are my top five backup goalies of all-time.

1. Michel Larocque

2. Ross Brooks

3. Jamie McLennan

4. Craig Billington

5. Jeff Reese

Monday, November 2, 2009

Tim Horton and some weird stats

Sometimes I’ll notice something statistically that just seems rare or out of place. The dictionary calls this an anomaly; “a deviation from the common rule and an odd, peculiar, or strange condition, situation, quality.” I love finding these little quirks in hockey history. Thanks to the great sites, and I can then go delve further into these anomalies.
I don’t know why, but I was just looking at Tim Horton’s career numbers and noticed he once finished third in the NHL in game winning goals with seven of them in 1963/64. Now, we all know Tim Horton was not known for his goal scoring having topped ten in a year only three times in 22 full seasons. In fact he scored 115 goals total. The game winning goal stat was not officially kept until the same season of Horton’s third place finish behind Boom Boom Geoffrion (9) and Ken Wharram (8). From this year onward, Horton would score only 16 GWG’s in eleven seasons with seven of them in 63/64. This seemed like what I would be considered an anomaly. After a few clicks, I found out it was quite strange, very close to being unique.
Horton’s 7 winners out of 9 total goals represents 78% of his total. Amongst players with that many game-winners in one season, this is in fact the top percentage ever. However, if we lower the GWG number to five for the year we find Horton’s rate barely beaten. In 2000/01, Scott Niedermayer tallied five winners among his six total goals for an 83% rate. Kelly Buchberger in 94/95 and David Legwand in 05/06 each scored five game winners of their seven total for 71%. Of course none of these other players were as close to leading the league as Horton. As well, in 1963/64, Horton and the Leafs won the Cup and the entire team autographed a hockey stick that I now have hanging in Nitzy’s Hockey Den. Coincidence?

Speaking of noticing surprising tidbits, here are a few career numbers that made me look twice. Let me know if you realized all these numbers were fact.
The aforementioned Kelly Buchberger played in a total of 1182 NHL games, one more than Frank Mahovlich. Marc Bergevin played in 1192 career games and Radek Bonk played 969 games. If was to guess before I checked, I would have said about six or seven hundred for each. The much-maligned Alexei Kovalev currently has 946 points, did you realize it was that high? Also, Brian Rolston now has 303 goals in the NHL, I would have guessed maybe 200. Were you aware that Rod Brind’Amour now has 725 career ASSISTS a mere 10 behind re-knowned playmaker Doug Weight.
Adam Oates scored 45 goals in 1992/93, a fact that escaped my memory. Hall of Famer Bernie Federko has a career plus/minus rating of MINUS 132. Gilbert Perreault had a -39 rating as a rookie in 1970/71 and a -40 the next year. Phil Esposito was a -40 the year he was traded from Boston to the Rangers. Peter Stastny was once a -46 (89/90) including -45 in 62 games with the Nords before going to the Devils. Also, he was a career minus at -12 (sorry Bidzy). Over the last eight years of his career, Wayne Gretzky checked in with a total -76 rating. Reggie Leach was a -61 with the California Golden Seals in 1973/74 then was traded to Philly the next year were he posted a +53. This has to be the largest turn-around from one year to another in history. I’ll have to get back to you on that one.
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