Performance Expectations of NHL Starters
The second installment of a three-part series
This is Part No. 2 of a three-part series that will take a look at the current performance expectations of goaltenders in the NHL. Part No. 1 examined Games Started, Points Percentage, and Save Percentage stats for backups from 2013-14 to 2019-20. Part No. 2 will do the same for starters. And finally, Part No. 3 will offer discussion and analysis on goaltender performance, with a primary focus on the importance of backups’ contributions.
— Pregame Skate contributor Thomas Pepin
Before you read Part No. 2, we recommend going back to Part No. 1: How much do NHL teams rely on backup goaltenders? This will provide you with the definitions used within the study and necessary context to better understand the Results and Discussion below.
First, from 2013-14 to 2019-20, starters’ workloads ranged from 42.1 to 55.2 GS —between 60.2% to 67.3% of starts. Excluding 2019-20, this was generally consistent.
Second, starters’ contribution to Points in the standings has been steadily decreasing, from 58.6% in 2013-14 to 56.2% in 2019-20.
Third, starters’ SV% has also been steadily decreasing, from .917 in 2013-14 to .910 in 2019-20.
In contrast to Part One—in which backups’ contributions were greater than expected—on average, starters’ contributions are noticeably lower than I was expecting and appear to be decreasing.
Regarding starts, it’s important to note that 2019-20’s average is misleading due to a shortened season; the percentage representation of GS for starters this year is actually 60.9%, which is not the worst season. Thus, there doesn’t appear to be a trend for starters regarding the percentage of starts they’re getting.
As for Points%, as discussed in Part No. 1, backups’ contribution to Points in the standings has been steadily increasing. Conversely, as seen above, starters’ contributions have been steadily decreasing. Therefore, starters are, on average, performing more poorly from a winning/team perspective; in other words, year after year, starters have consistently been winning fewer games.
If you look at starters’ Sv%, the decreasing P% makes sense: Starters have been, on average, less effective at stopping pucks. While I was impressed by the minimum .908 Sv% for backups, which I had expected to be lower, I’m very underwhelmed by the .910 Sv% for starters in 2019-20; I was expecting a ballpark .917 Sv% for starters across the board, as seen from 2013-14 to 2016-17.
What’s happened? Maybe teams are better at scouting their competitions’ starting Goaltenders and finding their weaknesses. Maybe a high workload is no longer sustainable for starters. Maybe it’s that players have been improving at a faster rate than goalies. At this point, I’m not sure.
Regardless of the causes, from Part No. 1 and No. 2 of this series, we now know that there appears to be very little difference in the quality of goaltending you’ll get between starters and backups. Stay tuned for Part No. 3, in which I will examine these differences in greater detail.