Free agency doesn’t start for another two weeks, but the Detroit Red Wings’ plans are already taking shape. They’ll search for a forward and a defenseman or two, but not a backup goalie. Ken Holland says Jonas Gustavsson will remain Detroit’s No. 2.
Based on last season, that’s not such a good thing, especially if Gustavsson remains a $1.5 million cap hit this season.
Using Hockey Abstract’s goaltending data, I found 24 goalies similar to Gustavsson: clear backups who saw at least 20 games last season.
The average save percentage for those goalies: .912. Gustavsson’s save percentage: .907. Over the course of the season Gustavsson let in about three more goals than the average backup. If you consider that six goals generally equals one win (or two points), then Gustavsson cost the Red Wings about one point. (This is where I remind you that the Red Wings finished tied with Columbus for the first wildcard spot but lost the tiebreaker. One more point would’ve put them up against Pittsburgh instead of Boston in the first round of the playoffs.)
The average Goals versus Threshold (GVT) — a stat that measure’s a player’s contribution in goals — for the backup goalies: 2.32. Gustavsson’s GVT: 0.9.
Look at Goals versus Salary (GVS) and it gets worse. GVS measures a player’s GVT against what you would expect of a similarly paid player. Gustavsson’s GVS is -2.0. In short: he underperformed his contract last year.
A Quality Start is when a goalie stops at least the league average percentage of shots in a game (generally about 91.7 percent) or allows two goals or fewer while stopping at least the replacement level (88.5 percent) percentage of shots. In total, 59.4 percent of our group of backups’ starts were quality starts. Gustavsson’s Quality Start percentage: 50 percent.
A Really Bad Start is when a goalie stops less than 85 percent of his shots in a game. In total, 15.4 percent of our group of backups’ starts were Really Bad Starts. Gustavsson’s Really Bad Start Percentage: 23.1 percent.
So yes, Gustavsson was a below average backup last year, but if you’re going to get rid of him you’ve got to replace him with someone better.
Prospect Petr Mrazek isn’t ready. That much is known by Holland’s decisions thus far. Free agency is the only alternative.
Six of the 24 backups in I looked at are slated to become free agents according to CapGeek.com: Phoenix’s Thomas Greiss, Boston’s Chad Johnson, Columbus’ Curtis McElhinney, Winnipeg’s Al Montoya, Carolina’s Justin Peters and San Jose’s Alex Stalock. All six of the goalie ranged from 18 to 26 starts, roughly the amount that Gustavsson had. None of them made more than half of Gustavsson’s salary last year (Greiss was the closest at $750,000). Detroit would have the room to give one of them a raise if it wanted.
In the group of seven (Gustavsson and the six free agents), Gustavsson had the worst save percentage, tied for the worst GVT, the lowest GVS (partly because of the big contract), the lowest quality start percentage and the highest really bad start percentage.
If everyone was to duplicate this last season in 2014-15, any one of the six backup goalie free agents would be better than Gustavsson. But we all know that’s not how hockey works. There’s still hope for Gustavsson.
A couple saves every hundred of shots separates the decent goalies from the very good and the very good from the elite. Because of this, using only last season’s data is a small sample size, especially when it comes to goalies only playing a couple dozen games. Teams scored at an unusually high percentage on him. Some of that has to do with him. Some of that is luck. Exactly how much of either is tough to say.
I guess we’ll all figure it out together next year.