Drance Numbers is the silly research wing of PITB. While Messrs. Wagner and Mooney blog nationally and solve mysteries, Drance Numbers will look into the minutiae of quantifiable NHL data and bore you with it every Friday. Today, Drance looks at what Cory Schneider’s first 50 games tell us about his future in the NHL.
Vancouver’s hockey fans are smitten with their young, red-headed backup goaltender, and why not? Cory Schneider seems like an excellent teammate, he air-guitars like a pro, and can seemingly bend space and time when making desperation saves.
While I’ve never played goalie, and don’t know a lot about the position from a technical perspective, folks I trust rave about Schneider’s flawless technique and consummate ability. When I spoke with Justin Goldman (The Goalie Guild) over the summer about Cory Schneider, for example, he unequivocally raved about the guy, saying “Cory is one of the most well-rounded young goaltenders in the NHL. Everything about his size, speed, angles, positioning, reactions, his visual attachment to the puck, I could go on and on listing all the elements that he’s good at.”
So could many Canucks fans (although perhaps not as intelligently).
Now I don’t want to re-hash the tit-for-tat of the recent, somewhat overblown “goaltending controversy” in this space, but the major reason the situation in net has taken on a life of its own isn’t based on anything subjective (Canucks fans just don’t like Luongo!), nor is it the result of a cacophonous sports news cycle in the city. Rather, it’s based on fact and results: Cory Schneider has been the better goaltender, by a country-mile, so far this season.
After last night’s 4-3 comeback win, Roberto Luongo is sporting an .897 sv% after 17 starts, having faced just over 400 shots. Cory Schneider, on the other hand, has stopped .934% of the 391 shots he’s faced in 15 starts. A situation in which the ostensible “backup” outplays the starter to this extent, even over a relatively small sample, is bound to generate over-wrought sports radio chatter and polarize a fanbase.
What I’m interested in, however, is learning more about what Schneider’s hot-start to his career means for his long-term development and performance. To these eyes, he looks like he may be the next great goaltender. But that’s been said over the years about everyone from Andrew Raycroft and Steve Mason to Jeff Deslaurier. The very nature of goaltending results in inconsistent performance, and it’s rare for goaltenders to maintain a high save-percentage season after season.
Looking at the numbers, is there anything we can glean that might give us some insight into just how good this kid might be?
To begin with, what I’ve done is compare Schneider’s “first 50 games” to the first 50 games played by 11 other “high-end” rookie goaltenders since hockey resumed post-lockout.
By the numbers, Cory Schneider has had the second-best start to his NHL career of any goalie that has come into the league since the 2005-06 season (not counting Ryan Miller, who played 20 games before the 05-06 NHL season):
(*) Cory Schneider has earned 42 decisions in his career and played over 35 minutes in a regular season game 43 times, his sample is slightly smaller than the other goalies in this table.
It’s promising stuff, and probably not altogether that surprising. What I’m really interested in though, is projecting future outcomes. We already know how these guys played during their first 50. What comes next?
Using the same sample of post-lockout goaltenders listed above, I took a look at their performance over the “next 50 games” of their respective careers. This is how those games played out:
*Crawford’s sample includes only 35 games, and Rask’s 32.
That changes between the two tables are pretty interesting. The first thing I notice is, of course, that the bottom of the “first fifty games” table has flipped, and Bryzgalov and Niemi (who possessed the lowest save percentages among goaltenders in our sample through fifty games) had the highest save percentages in games 50 through 100.
The progression/regression looks like this: Jonathan Quick and Mike Smith essentially maintained the same level of play in games 50 through 100 as they managed in their first fifty games. Bryzgalov, Niemi and Jaro Halak all improved enormously in their second set of 50 games from their first. The other six goaltenders (Rask, Lundqvist, Rinne, Crawford, Mason and Howard) all showed signs of pretty significant regression.
There are a number of reasons why so many goaltenders struggle in the equivalent of their sophmore year in the NHL. Partly it’s bad-luck, partly it’s the fact that teams have now “scouted” their tendencies and weaknesses more closely. Lots of the goalies who regressed over their latter 50 games have bounced back and become super-elite goaltenders (Lundqvist, Rinne); others like Steve Mason are unlikely to be trusted as an NHL starter again in their career.
While Cory Schneider will likely see his career save percentage drop over the next fifty games of his career, based on his NHL performance thus far, the sky’s the limit for him. Sure, he’s played on a quality defensive club and has been sheltered from the majority of tough games thanks to the presence of Roberto Luongo, but the numbers speak for themselves.
Inevitably, Schneider is going to have a bad-stretch of games where he lets in soft goals, suffers from some bad luck, really struggles and has to hear about it in the press, but that’s what being a goaltender at the NHL level is all about.
While the numbers are inconclusive and don’t shed as much light on Schneider’s developmental curve as I’d hoped, what’s certainly clear is that he’s had an incredible start to his NHL career. When “goalie controversy” chatter rears its head in Vancouver, too often it’s preoccupied with Luongo’s performance (“he’s a headcase!!!”), when it should probably be focused on the impressive performance of the team’s talented backup. He has exceeded all reasonable expectations thus far.Tags: drance numbers, schneider, using tables to prove things