Jay Feaster had himself a media scrum today, during which he said…well not much. One item stuck out to me, however, because it’s one that is easily verified.
"If we trade #34, is there a position lower than 30th to finish?"
Of course, this is rhetoric and hyperbole, but it’s worth asking the question – where would the Flames be without Kiprusoff? Mitch of M&G asked the same question last night and I figured I might as well share some back of the envelope calculations that might help clarify the matter.
This season, Kiprusoff’s even strength SV% is .928 on 1285 shots against (92GA and 1193 saves). A replacement level goalie – that is, a puck stopper readily available in the AHL or on the open market – is about .905. The difference between that level of goaltending and Kipper at ES this year is 31 goals against. Six goals is worth about one win in the standings, so Kipper versus replacement level (or, to get more concrete, Henrik Karlsson) is just over five wins, or 10 points. That would sink the Flames to 56pts right now, good for 13th in the West – definitely significant, but not 30th overall.
Furthermore, it makes more sense to compare Kiprusoff to league average goaltending since very few clubs actually role with replacement levels ‘tenders as their starter (outside of the Columbus Blue Jackets). A league average save percentage is about .920, meaning the difference between a middling goalie at 5on5 and Kiprsuoff overall is 11 goals, or two or three points this season. That’s certainly not nothing, especially because Calgary is in the thick of a very tight playoff battle, but again it’s not like the Flames would suddenly become the worst team in the league.
If we take a longer view, the difference shrinks even further. Last year, Kipper’s ES SV% was .916 over 1529 shots. If we combine the two most recent seasons, his ES SV% is .922, or .2% higher than the average NHL goalie. That’s worth a net five goals over 2814 shots, or one win in two seasons (if you round up).
The Recent Run
Of course, Kipper has been far better than average recently and is the single biggest reason the Flames are in a position to challenge for the playoffs. Before the losses to Edmonton and Phoenix, Kiprusoff was batting a .950 ES SV% average since the Boston masscre. That save rate was especially noteworthy because the Flames have been routinely outshot and outchanced over the last two months.
So in a way it’s fair to say Calgary would be plumbing the depths if Kipper had not been here, standing on his head through January and February.
The danger, of course, is perceive this recent run as his true talent level.
Bigger samples are always preferable to smaller ones when trying to judge a players true abilities and as Khabibulin and the Wild’s Josh Harding and Nicklas Backstrom proved earlier this season, goalies can sometimes get hot for weeks at a time before coming back down to earth.
Kiprusoff hasn’t been a .930+ ES SV% goalie since 2006-07. He’s never been a .950 ES SV% over the long run (because no goalie is that good). Over the last five years or so, he’s mostly settled into average-ish terriotory, with some wild swings around the mean here and there (this year vs last year for instance). He remains an athletic, highly durable and capable enough starter in the NHL, but the last two months are by no means an accurate portrayal of his true abilities.
Sometimes it’s hard to separate a GM’s true feelings about a player from smoke blowing and message sending when they talk through the media. In fact, it may be Feaster’s lavish praise of his goaltender was a passive aggressive slight to his skaters. That said, Kipper isn’t really this good and my hope is Jay Feaster and the Flames in general doesn’t overly weight recent hot streaks when grading players and assessing their true value to the organization.