The Weakest Link

             

 

 

I’ll confess a certain level of amusement over the handwringing going on in the comments here, when it’s blatantly obvious that the biggest impediment to the Flames reaching the playoffs last season was a player that has received no mention at all. It’s a bit odd, really, that people are willing to agonize over the mediocre play of middling types like Stajan while never, ever discussing the elephant in the room. 

The primary reason the Calgary Flames watched the playoffs from the comfort of their homes was the substandard play of their number one goaltender, full stop. Miikka Kiprusoff seems to get an astonishing amount of slack from the local media and fans, but even a cursory examination of his 5v5 work last year should have given people the hint. The Flames were one of the stingiest teams in the league 5v5, allowing shots at a rate of 27.5 per 60, 4th best overall, and yet somehow finished 16th in 5v5 goals against. 

I’ve collected a wide range of data from Hockey Analysis to show just how badly served the skaters on the Flames were by their alleged elite goalie last year. First, here are the 5v5 shots for/against percentages for the regular goalies in the league when they were in net. I’ve included everyone that played at least 1500 minutes at 5v5 in 2011/12, covering 32 goalies, with the major starters and 1A types captured.

 

    Shots %     Shots %
1 ELLIS, DAN 0.539 17 BRYZGALOV, ILYA 0.497
2 CRAWFORD, COREY 0.533 18 LUNDQVIST, HENRIK 0.493
3 BRODEUR, MARTIN 0.532 19 ELLIOTT, BRIAN 0.492
4 NIEMI, ANTTI 0.529 20 RINNE, PEKKA 0.490
5 FLEURY, MARC-ANDRE 0.528 21 ROLOSON, DWAYNE 0.488
6 KIPRUSOFF, MIIKKA 0.524 22 BUDAJ, PETER 0.485
7 HOWARD, JIMMY 0.519 23 PAVELEC, ONDREJ 0.484
8 LUONGO, ROBERTO 0.514 24 VOKOUN, TOMAS 0.484
9 PRICE, CAREY 0.514 25 ANDERSON, CRAIG 0.480
10 MILLER, RYAN 0.513 26 WARD, CAM 0.472
11 HALAK, JAROSLAV 0.512 27 LEHTONEN, KARI 0.466
12 NEUVIRTH, MICHAL 0.507 28 DUBNYK, DEVAN 0.462
13 QUICK, JONATHAN 0.506 29 REIMER, JAMES 0.460
14 BOBROVSKY, SERGEI 0.504 30 KHABIBULIN, NIKOLAI 0.459
15 THOMAS, TIM 0.500 31 HILLER, JONAS 0.452
16 MASON, STEVE 0.498 32 BACKSTROM, NIKLAS 0.433
 
 
When Kiprusoff was in net, the Flames were outshooting their opposition by a fairly healthy rate, which runs contrary to the myth of a goalie battling insumountable odds. In other words, Kipper wasn’t exactly bombarded compared to his brethren. With that sort of shots ratio, the club should have been in pretty good shape 5v5.
 
So, what went wrong? The answer to that might be found in our man’s 5v5 save percentage:
 
  

    5v5 SV%     5v5 SV%
1 THOMAS, TIM .949 17 MILLER, RYAN .926
2 RINNE, PEKKA .935 18 QUICK, JONATHAN .925
3 LUONGO, ROBERTO .934 19 ROLOSON, DWAYNE .924
4 REIMER, JAMES .933 20 ANDERSON, CRAIG .921
5 BRYZGALOV, ILYA .933 21 DUBNYK, DEVAN .921
6 NIEMI, ANTTI .931 22 VOKOUN, TOMAS .920
7 BACKSTROM, NIKLAS .931 23 NEUVIRTH, MICHAL .919
8 PRICE, CAREY .930 24 HALAK, JAROSLAV .918
9 HILLER, JONAS .930 25 KIPRUSOFF, MIIKKA .917
10 WARD, CAM .929 26 HOWARD, JIMMY .915
11 LUNDQVIST, HENRIK .929 27 BUDAJ, PETER .914
12 LEHTONEN, KARI .929 28 MASON, STEVE .912
13 PAVELEC, ONDREJ .928 29 BRODEUR, MARTIN .911
14 CRAWFORD, COREY .928 30 ELLIS, DAN .907
15 BOBROVSKY, SERGEI .927 31 KHABIBULIN, NIKOLAI .901
16 FLEURY, MARC-ANDRE .927 32 ELLIOTT, BRIAN .900
 

That really isn’t up to snuff for a goalie that’s carrying the 5th highest cap hit amongst goalies, at least in my view. As an aside, a drop of one percent is likely worth about 12-15 goals against 5v5 for a regular goalie, since most of the main guys face between 1200-1500 5v5 shots.

Now, one of the common refrains is that the Flames ran up shot totals when they were chasing the game. With that noted, here are the shots for/against % when the game was tied for the same approximate cohort of goalies. For these next two tables, I’m using the filter of 750 5v5 tied minutes played during 2011/12 on Hockey Analysis, which gives me 27 goalies in total:

 

    Shots %     Shots %
1 HOWARD, JIMMY 0.547 15 ELLIOTT, BRIAN 0.503
2 BRODEUR, MARTIN 0.544 16 QUICK, JONATHAN 0.501
3 CRAWFORD, COREY 0.544 17 BRYZGALOV, ILYA 0.499
4 BOBROVSKY, SERGEI 0.537 18 PAVELEC, ONDREJ 0.492
5 FLEURY, MARC-ANDRE 0.532 19 VOKOUN, TOMAS 0.491
6 KIPRUSOFF, MIIKKA 0.530 20 LUNDQVIST, HENRIK 0.490
7 NIEMI, ANTTI 0.529 21 ROLOSON, DWAYNE 0.489
8 THOMAS, TIM 0.526 22 NEUVIRTH, MICHAL 0.478
9 RINNE, PEKKA 0.525 23 ANDERSON, CRAIG 0.465
10 LUONGO, ROBERTO 0.518 24 HILLER, JONAS 0.462
11 MILLER, RYAN 0.513 25 WARD, CAM 0.460
12 MASON, STEVE 0.506 26 LEHTONEN, KARI 0.454
13 PRICE, CAREY 0.506 27 BACKSTROM, NIKLAS 0.424
14 HALAK, JAROSLAV 0.505      

 

Again, Miikka wasn’t all that hard done by. The Flames actually controlled more of the shots when the game was tied than overall, and Kipper had the 6th best support of his peer group. Honestly, if your team is sporting a 53% shots for/against ratio when the game is tied, average goaltending should do the trick unless you have a season like New Jersey where nothing was going in the other team’s net for the first two months. At any rate, here are the SV% numbers in that game state for the same crew of goalies:

 

    5v5 tiedSV %     5v5 tied SV %
1 NIEMI, ANTTI .944 15 QUICK, JONATHAN .930
2 RINNE, PEKKA .944 16 BACKSTROM, NIKLAS .927
3 WARD, CAM .940 17 MILLER, RYAN .926
4 HILLER, JONAS .940 18 FLEURY, MARC-ANDRE .924
5 THOMAS, TIM .939 19 BRODEUR, MARTIN .923
6 ROLOSON, DWAYNE .938 20 HOWARD, JIMMY .923
7 ANDERSON, CRAIG .936 21 LEHTONEN, KARI .923
8 PAVELEC, ONDREJ .936 22 PRICE, CAREY .921
9 HALAK, JAROSLAV .935 23 VOKOUN, TOMAS .921
10 BRYZGALOV, ILYA .935 24 MASON, STEVE .917
11 CRAWFORD, COREY .935 25 NEUVIRTH, MICHAL .911
12 BOBROVSKY, SERGEI .934 26 KIPRUSOFF, MIIKKA .910
13 LUONGO, ROBERTO .933 27 ELLIOTT, BRIAN .906
14 LUNDQVIST, HENRIK .930      

 

Oy. When the game was tied, as his team helped him more, he gave them less. The Flames were a middle of the pack SH% team at 5v5 overall and tied, by the way. Kipper had the 14th best SH% support overall and 13th best when the game was tied, so I have a hard time accepting any sort of argument that his team shot nothing but muffins while he faced unstoppable bullets. 

What should worry people the most is that Miikka Kiprusoff has been underwhelming for several years running by that last metric. I ran a four year composite of SV% for goalies that had played at least 3000 EV tied minutes since 2007/08. There are 19 goalies that met that threshold: 

 

    07/08 to 10/11 5v5 tied SV%  
1 RINNE, PEKKA                              .941  
2 THOMAS, TIM                              .937  
3 BRODEUR, MARTIN                              .935  
4 WARD, CAM                              .934  
5 LUONGO, ROBERTO                              .933  
6 QUICK, JONATHAN                              .931  
7 VOKOUN, TOMAS                              .930  
8 ROLOSON, DWAYNE                              .929  
9 BACKSTROM, NIKLAS                              .929  
10 MASON, CHRIS                              .928  
11 NABOKOV, EVGENI                              .928  
12 BRYZGALOV, ILYA                              .928  
13 MILLER, RYAN                              .926  
14 FLEURY, MARC-ANDRE                              .925  
15 LUNDQVIST, HENRIK                              .925  
16 MASON, STEVE                              .924  
17 KIPRUSOFF, MIIKKA                              .919  
18 PRICE, CAREY                              .919  
19 TURCO, MARTY                              .913  

 

Please note that included in that run was a .935 number in 09/10, which was 6th best amongst his peer group. As well, Kipper had the 5th best shots for/against ratio of those 19 goalies working in his favour, as well as the 5th highest team SH% in front of him during that 4 year run, so again, the team was giving him a reasonable amount of support in terms of shots and shooting percentage. 
 
There’s no nice way to put this, really. Miikka Kiprusoff has been at the heart of the failures of the Flames since 06/07. I’ll be the first to acknowledge that he had a very good 09/10 in the midst of this bad run, but that season is looking more and more as if it were an outlier rather than a bounce back year after being freed of the Iron One.
 
I have no problem in presuming Mr. Azevedo’s reportage from rookie camp is on the level, which suggests that Jay Feaster might not have been completely sincere in his past professions of belief that his number one stopper was of elite status. That’s the correct approach in my view, because no matter what people want to believe or what his cheerleaders might care to suggest, Miikka Kiprusoff hasn’t been within hailing distance of elite during the last several seasons.
 
That leaves the club with a fairly intractable problem for this year, since they weren’t able to move Kipper and they haven’t yet begun the dismantling of the club that next summer might well bring. Absent him pulling out a season from the depths of time, his recent work strongly hints that Miikka Kiprusoff will hinder whatever good the Flames’ skaters are capable of achieving in 2011/12. 

 

 
  • Robert Cleave

    Let’s try reducing his minutes and putting more of the load on Karlsson or Irving – whoever can handle it – before we talk about dumping Kiprusoff; or for that matter, blaming the team’s failures on him. We’re not far removed from a time when he would single-handedly win 10-15 games a year by standing on his head. But it has long been pondered how Kiprusoff would benefit from a 55-60 game schedule, rather than 72-74. Tim Thomas just won his second Vezina trophy with just 57 games played. The year of his first Vezina he played a mere 54. Luongo is another example, he was down to 60 games this year from 68 and was voted as one of the top 3 tenders in the league. This is what Brent Sutter must do with our aging Finn.

    This theory also makes sense if we ever hope to replace him. Henrik Karlsson, Leland Irving, and Joni Ortio all show promise. However, they will never fully develop if they are not given quality NHL time. 7-12 games a year will not cut it, lest Jay Feaster aspires to create another Curtis McElhinney. Again, using Vancouver as an example, Cory Schneider played a career high 25 games this past season, and it’s a general consensus in the hockey world that the Canucks could trade him at the deadline for a very high yield. In our case, I think Flames fans would be happy simply seeing a replacement emerge for #34. The same way in our wildest dreams, one will someday emerge for #12.

  • ALL THE WAY IN

    I’m a huge Kipper fan, end of story, and I do agree to some extent with Rain Dogs but I think reality is somewhere in the middle.
    Anyone remember that 1st round playoff against Detroit when Playfair was coach and Kipper was absolutely un freaking believable even though we got absolutely pounded in Detroit. He also individually won the 2 games in Calgary to tie the series 2-2 leading to that debacle in game 5 in Detroit.
    What does Daryl due that summer, brings in Mike friggin Keenan, one of the worst coaches on the planet from a goalie standpoint. Since then, this analysis totally sums up Kipper.
    I believe Kipper can be a money playoff goalie yet, but unfortunately it breaks my heart to say not with the Flames. This guy needs a change and a significant reduction in work load to Karlson is the prelude to a trade next summer (short of any miraculous Flames run in 2011-12).

  • BobB

    Oh yeah and this

    “Miikka Kiprusoff hasn’t been within hailing distance of elite during the last several seasons.”

    isn’t correct. He had elite numbers in 09/10 finishing with a raw .920sv% and a .928evsv%

    remember… Toskala (3.5mil) was .880 raw and .902evsv% the same year?

    Sure, last year wasn’t elite, but his largest sample (7 years) is .925 and the last two years is .923.

    Maybe he is a .923 goalie on Calgary trending down with a team going the same direction. Or maybe he’s slightly worse.

    There will be a time when we move beyond Kiprusoff. He’s still given us the Best to 6th best goaltending in the league from 03/04 to today by career numbers.

    Last season wasn’t good and hopefully he can bounce back…. but look at the Flames, seriously, I doubt it.

  • BobB

    Interesting post, but I have some questions. Specifically about sample size vs skill, shot quality, luck, team.

    Before that, I will say that to my eye Kipper didn’t have a great year last year, but neither did the team.

    1. Sample size: We’ve got Kipper at .917 for this past season and .925 (6th) for his time in Calgary. I’m not sure why we’re panicking about a .008 difference comparing a small sample to a large one?

    2. Shot Quality: According to this article:

    http://www.puckprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=540

    There is a correlation between the teams doing more outshooting and the higher quality of shots against. Surely, we’ll see outliers, but your list of Howard, Ellis, Kipper, Brodeur, Niemi, Fleury and Crawford and compare them. Niemi appears an outlier and then consider those other goalie’s teams/standings.

    Is it a more open game and goalies getting “hung out to dry?”

    3. Next, Luck.

    according to this article:http://www.puckprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=558

    No skill in goaltending, it’s all luck. Perhaps better said there isn’t much disparity in goaltending currently and skill gets you to .900 and the distinction between .900 and .940 is more luck and team together than skill? Or why we need large sample sizes to reduce the noise.

    4. Team. Calgary is a middling team with ever decreasing skill on defense and increasing age up front. Now that Regehr is gone to we expect Kipper to be better or worse? As the team gets worse and older, do we really expect Kipper to get younger and better?
    If worse, than what does it say about quality of team? Quick back-checking teams seem to eliminate those second and third chances… that doesn’t sound like Calgary.

    As well, if we’ve had so many backups over the years and not one has been within reaching distance of Kipper. WHY?

    That is the closest control we’ve got the back-up. If Kipper were on Boston (with two goalies with excellent sv%) do we assume his sv% to be the same as on Calgary? On Edmonton? I don’t. Luongo and Schneider same ev sv%

    So Karlsson. He sported a .905evsv%. That’s what ~1million dollar goaltending gets us. Why did we re-sign him?

    If Kipper is the weakest link, then is Karlsson the weakest, weakest link? But two more years? Surely Irving could do better? Or McL. Or …

    Maybe there is more to it than only sv% (the one-stat-small-sample-size-argument). Maybe it has a lot to do with the whole team, shot quality, back pressure and bad luck.

      • BobB

        Yes and No.

        I think what we both agree is it makes no sense to pay 5.83M on today’s Miikka Kiprusoff

        But when he lead the league three consecutive years in evsv% it sure did, right? Maybe even more money!

        It also doesn’t make sense to pay 7 million on today’s Jarome Iginla and 6.5 on today’s Jay Bouwmeester.

        As well, we know what 900k goaltending gets us – Karlsson, McL, McClennan

        We know what 3 million got us – Toskala.

        I’d LOVE it if we could take 2.83 million out of Kipper’s contract and spend it and more on a third defender since we don’t have one, but that’s not reality. Probably Kipper looks at his results and feels like he’s not earn(ING) his money, but certainly feels like he earn(ED) it.

        Here’s a question: Who can come in for half the price of Kipper and guarantee a playoff spot on THIS TEAM.

        I’d love to have that goalie, but I’m not convinced that goalie exists when he’s placed in Kiprusoff’s skates especially when we just look at a chart of numbers from completely different teams.

        I’ll be watching Vokoun and Bryzgalov with a LOT of interest this year.

  • Scott

    While much of the discussion with many of the regulars is most often focused on the perceived lack of scoring,the facts don’t support what many seem to feel is the issue with the team.
    On the other hand there has been a feeling that without Kipper we would have fared much worse. During the 2010/11 season it became increasingly apparent that contrary to the general fans feeling that the Flames were a team that lacked scoring and was “old and slow” I always contended that the problems resided primarily (but certainly not only)with the quality of goaltending.
    Your analysis would appear to bear this out.
    I understand why down the stretch this past spring why Brent would rely exclusively on Kipper but I believe that and some key injuries cost the team a more legitimate shot at the post season.
    The past 2 years the team missed the playoffs by only a few points and better goaltending would have made the difference.
    Kipper is a bit of a “sacred cow” in this city but I think your analysis clearly shows there is a need to begin to move into the post Kipper era, with at least moving to a 1A/1B system barring a major turnaround in his performance.

  • Scott

    I don’t fully disagree with you, but no matter how great the Flames outshoot the opposition, when you end up having the likes of Getzlaf and Perry bearing down on Staios and Mikkelson, Kipper is hard pressed to get defensive support. Outside of Gio and Reggie, our defensemen were pretty laughable last year. I won’t use the lack of back checking forwards either, because it’s hard to compare that against other teams to determine who did and who didn’t have that support. But overall team defense let this team down last year, even with all the bright offensive work this team did.

    • Oyo

      I think that he was suggesting based on the shootin numbers of the team, that it wasn’t in fact completely inferior defending that was leading to his lackluster numbers. Kipper has been a decreasing asset for a number of years now and people ( read GM ) need to realize it.

      Woulda looked good in a Philly uniform……

  • Great post Robert. Couldn’t agree more. We all loved Kipper for the cup run in ’04 and a run of stellar seasons, but we’ve been in denial for a while.

    I was encouraged by the fact Feaster and Sutter said they felt Karlsson could be a starter in the league. Hopefully they give him some extra minutes this season to find out.

  • Craig

    Considering these stats, and acknowledging the small small sample size of Henrik Karlosson, is there any way to see if the Calgary Tower would be doing a bettr job? If he can play even 10 more games and have a decent even strength save % that could help significantly.

  • loudogYYC

    Robert,

    I’ve been reading your articles and what you have to say about the Redhead. I admit I’m a big fan of Kipper, but numbers don’t lie and he’s getting worse.

    My question to you is: do you see a big turnaround in his game IF he plays less than 60 games next season, or do you think he’s the next Marty Turco?

    • Robert Cleave

      That’s the 5.833 million dollar question, I suppose. I don’t think that overwork is really the core issue, but at this point, I’m not sure that playing him 75 games is going to help the Flames all that much from a practical POV, either, so maybe it’s time to see what Kipper would do with a significantly reduced workload. I’d still temper my expectations irrespective of the number of games he plays, though.