How Good is Leland Irving?

As Ryan Pike illustrated in detail recently, the Calgary Flames suddenly have a lot of goaltenders in the system (even though, technically, Danny Taylor and Barry Brust are only on AHL deals currently.) Irving was chosen in 2006 in the first round and will turn 25 years old in April. He has seven NHL games under his belt but is currently the third goaltender in the rotation down on the farm.

The assumption is he will nevertheless duel for the back-up position in Calgary when and if the season 2012-13 season begins, but the real question surrounds Irving’s long-term future in the system given the club’s plethora of options.

Of course, that wholly depends on what Irving’s true talent level is. If he’s better at stopping the puck than the rest of the hopefuls, the crowding in the crease is irrelevant. If he isn’t, however, then this will likely be his last season as a Calgary Flame prospect.

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Irving in the AHL

Perhaps the best way to illustrate establish talent levels is to look at Irving’s AHL work versus both his current and past peers. First, here are the career AHL SV% of Barry Brust, Danny Taylor and Leland Irving:

 Goalie A:

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Season Team GP GA Mins Saves GAA SV%
2012-13 Regular Season Abbotsford Heat 4 1 240 105 0.25 0.991
2010-11 Regular Season Binghamton Senators 52 126 2986 1549 2.53 0.925
2009-10 Regular Season Houston Aeros 15 31 756 305 2.46 0.908
2008-09 Regular Season Houston Aeros 28 65 1548 673 2.52 0.912
2007-08 Regular Season Houston Aeros 43 90 2380 1016 2.27 0.919
2006-07 Regular Season Manchester Monarchs 18 38 951 458 2.4 0.923
2005-06 Regular Season Manchester Monarchs 35 89 1971 971 2.71 0.916
Total     440   5077   0.920

 Goalie B:

Season Team GP GA Mins Saves GAA SV%
2012-13 Regular Season Abbotsford Heat 4 12 245 109 2.94 0.901
2011-12 Regular Season Abbotsford Heat 39 97 2177 894 2.67 0.902
2010-11 Regular Season Abbotsford Heat 61 132 3437 1386 2.3 0.913
2009-10 Regular Season Abbotsford Heat 35 85 1851 806 2.76 0.905
2008-09 Regular Season Quad City Flames 47 99 2658 1020 2.23 0.912
Total     413   4106   0.909

 Goalie C:

Season Team GP GA Mins Saves GAA SV%
2012-13 Regular Season Abbotsford Heat 7 12 425 183 1.69 0.938
2011-12 Regular Season Abbotsford Heat 33 67 1815 849 2.21 0.927
2011-12 Regular Season Springfield Falcons 10 22 512 234 2.58 0.914
2010-11 Regular Season Springfield Falcons 4 9 230 118 2.35 0.929
2009-10 Regular Season Syracuse Crunch 9 24 397 207 3.63 0.896
2008-09 Regular Season Manchester Monarchs 15 33 744 329 2.66 0.909
2007-08 Regular Season Manchester Monarchs 23 51 1275 592 2.4 0.921
Total     218   2512   0.920

I gave each guy a generic label so the results could be looked at with an unbiased eye.

As you can see, two of the Heat’s current goalies have AHL career SV% of .920. The third has a career best AHL SV% of .913 and an overall average of .909.

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Of course, the two guys with superior AHL career save rates are also the two journeymen with AHL only deals in Abbotsford. Danny Taylor (Goalie C) is less established with only 2500 or so shots against, but his last 50+ games have been above board. Brust (Goalie A) is 30 and probably a tweener for life, but his worst AHL season (.908 over 15 games) is pretty much on par with Leland’s career average so far.

So Irving probably isn’t as good a goalie as the either of his Heat teammates currently. Of course, he has a few advantages over Brust or Taylor: he’s a former first round pick, he actually has an NHL contract and a he’s only 24 years old. The first two issues speak to opportunity – first round picks typically get more at bats at a high level because of their perceived ability/value and it’s clear given his usage last season that Irving is going to get another go behind Kipper should hockey return (it has helped that Henrik Karlsson has stunk since being acquired).

The only pertinent factor to the question at hand, however, is Irving’s age and whether the team can reasonably expect him to take a very real step forward. Goalies are odd creatures and much more dofficult to predict than skaters on the whole. As we’ve investigated before, it’s not impossible for a puck stopper to suddenly figure things out in his mid-20’s and become a useful NHL starter.

As mentioned in that Irving Comparables piece, though, assuming Leland will be another Corey Crawford, Pekka Rinne or Mike Smith is problematic because that analysis suffers from suvivorship bias. Meaning, for every Pekka Rinne in the AHL who figure things out and make the leap, there are probably 10 Barry Brusts or David Shantz’s who never turn out to be anything more than replacement level or worse.

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It’s therefore much more likely at this point that Irving isn’t going to be a goalie of note. Especially because he has to meaningfully improve in order to be as good as Danny Taylor or Barry Brust (who are AHL journeymen), let alone his competition at the NHL level.   

Irving vs Back-ups

One issue I’ve heard raised is that Irving has played behind a lot of lousy Flames affiliates over the years, which has caused his SV% to crater. I am dubious there would be such a pronounced an effect on a goalie’s SV% as a result of team quality, but decided to look at Leland’s peers and back-ups during his 4+ seasons in the league so far anyways. If Irving’s save rate has been sunk by bad teams, then we would expect other Flames minor league goalies to be as a bad or worse.

Kevin Lalande 6 340:07:00 11 1 1.94 4 1 1 156 145 0.929
Matt Keetley 33 1853:15:00 88 2 2.85 8 18 4 817 729 0.892
Matt Keetley 23 1205:17:00 52 2 2.59 10 7 1 588 536 0.912
David Shantz 32 1813:28:00 83 1 2.75 15 10 4 899 816 0.908
Jean-Philippe Lamoureux 19 953:11:00 35 2 2.2 8 4 3 413 378 0.915
Matt Keetley 9 423:58:00 25 0 3.54 0 7 1 179 154 0.860
Joni Ortio 1 59:41:00 6 0 6.03 0 1 0 30 24 0.800
Henrik Karlsson 4 238:52:00 9 0 2.26 2 2 0 93 84 0.903
Danny Taylor 33 1815:05:00 67 5 2.21 17 10 3 916 849 0.927
Joni Ortio 9 387:14:00 19 0 2.94 1 4 0 172 153 0.890
Barry Brust 4 240:00:00 1 3 0.25 4 0 0 106 105 0.991
Danny Taylor 7 425:20:00 12 1 1.69 4 2 1 195 183 0.938
                  4564 4156 0.911

Not a lot of support for Irving there either. Even though this sample includes the shaky AHL debut of Joni Ortio and the blandly poor play of Matt Keetley, the average save percentage (.911) is still slightly ahead of Irving’s average with the same teams over the same period.

Irving Going Forward

It’s not unfair to say that Irving’s pro career up to this point has been, uh…undistinguished. The reason Troy Ward has him third in the rotation on the farm right now is pretty plain – evidence suggests he is the third best goalie available.

Leland’s only saving grace is his ever shrinking window of opportunity (unfortunately endangered by the on-going labour dispute) – if he get some starts as Kipper’s back-up and plays well enough to render his AHL performance up to this point moot, he may have a shot at sticking around. Anything beyond consistently sterling performances in the NHL probably means the Flames walk away next summer, however.

  • I really wanted to see one of Karlsson or Irving succeed last season. Despite the many goalies we have in various systems, it seems like there has been nothing close to a lock (with the possible exception of Ramo). Should none of these players work out we could be very well being in yet another goalie.

  • DoubleDIon

    More evidence why you should never take a goalie in the 1st round. I’d like our team a lot better if we’d taken say Berglund, Foligno or Lucic with that pick. Obviously there are no guarantees we would have drafted any of those players or developed them properly if we had taken them, but I still never like goalie’s in the 1st round. Irving looks like a bust to me. When you lose playing time to AHL vets it points to the organization starting to give up on you.

  • supra steve

    Is Irving going to have an impact on the Flame roster?–Probably not?

    In the past this organization has let young tenders like Roloson and Giguere leave too early for very little return. On the other hand they held on to Kidd far too long because of his draft pedigree. Like DoubleDion said, first round goalies are not money well spent (as far as draft assets go). Puts too much pressure on the prospect and the organization to turn an 18yr old kid into an NHL starter.

  • RKD

    If Irving doesn’t last with the Flames, that would be a disappointment for the organization.

    Same for Backlund, if these guys aren’t in the regular lineup down the road with the Flames it will show there are some serious development problems with their picks.

    The Flames are probably hoping the best for Leland, but it sounds like they are strongly leaning to have Rammo in net before they aforementioned three guys.

    • thymebalm

      Backlund’s already in the regular lineup though…

      and we already knew there were development/drafting problems. This is not a new opinion. But Backlund was 2007 (pretty good pick in a terrible draft), and Irving was 2006. That’s going back a ways.

  • Michael

    ‘The reason Troy Ward has him third in the rotation on the farm right now is pretty plain – evidence suggests he is the third best goalie available’

    Pretty much sums it up… unless Irving can claw his way up the rotation I doubt he has a future with the Flames beyond this contract…

  • Michael

    I say give him a true shot as Kipper’s back-up before you make a decision. I think he just needs his confidence back.

    I can remember in the past always reading and hearing that Irving was one of the only reasons the Flames affiliate would even be semi-competitve. I even remember not so long ago hearing Irving was one of the best goalies in the AHL.

    I also thought his overall body of work last season, outside of Boston, was actually one of the better I’ve seen in a Flames back-up in a while.

    With being a first round pick, as mentioned, there are more expectations placed upon you to succeed.

    When you are struggling, for whatever reason, sometimes your lack of success frustrates people whos jobs are to win games and you can have a tough time getting back into the net long enough to pick up some traction. This is what I think has happened since being called up to Calgary last year.

    Its true though he needs to succeed in Calgary, whenever hockey resumes, or else he will be another failed first rounder.

  • thymebalm

    Officially in the bust category. As a goalie, he may have a resurgence later in his career, but counting on someone like Irving to put up Ws in the NHL consistently is just pure folly.

    The only thing you didn’t touch on Kent was that he’s been beaten out of his starting job 3 times in 5 pro seasons and never made the playoffs as a starter. And played horribly in the playoffs when called upon.

  • loudogYYC

    I like the kid, but lets face it, he’s another one of Darryl Sutter’s gut feeling 1st round picks. Just like Chucko and Nemisz.

    It’s probably too late to trade him for something useful, he’s a throw in at this point.

    As much as the Flames are stacked with goalies, numbers-wise, it’s really only about Ramo with Taylor as an OK back up, and Gilles/Brossiot as the future.

  • thymebalm

    Just don’t get excited or hopeful for this guy. Even though kippers been our main guy since 04′ Irving has had his chance to be backup. The futures fading fast. Nothing too impressive…. Sorry. There’s a handful of youngsters ready to boot him. Flames cut him loose next camp! It’s kipper and Ramo next season and then from there it’s ortio and brossoit etc. hard to believe Irving was a first rounder!

  • BobB

    Late to the party.

    Nice article Kent. What really hammers the idea home for me is the comparison vs back-ups. There are a lot of small samples in there, but added together that’s a good SA/SV comparison to Irving.

    I’m not holding out a ton of hope for Irving, but maybe we’ll all be pleasantly surprised in a couple years, who knows? No NHL hockey sure isn’t helping the Flames in the development department… nor squeezing any remaining good games out of Kipper for that matter.

    Part of me wonders if this season is a total write-off, would Kipper just head home and we’ve got two new goalies next year with Irving being in a sink or swim scenario?