Wednesday, 27 June 2012

A Tale Of Two Tenders

The greatest difference going into the Vancouver Canuck's 2012/13 season will be in net, as this organization has been lucky enough to have two franchise goaltenders on the roster for too long now, and due to both Cory Schneider's looming RFA status and the way things ended for Roberto Luongo last season, it has become clear that only one goalie will remain a Canuck come September.  There has been much talk of Luongo being traded over the summer, and many opinions on the matter, but there has been a lack of analysis on each player's numbers, how they differ, and what they mean for the Canuck's future.

Let's start with the basics- in the last two seasons (since Schneider has shared duties with Luongo), #1 and #35's GAA have been 2.26 and 1.86 respectively.  When we enter the playoffs, Luongo's GAA rises 11% to 2.52, while Schneider's falls 26% to 1.38. This is where we begin to see the differences between the two goaltender's games, and the gap only widens from here. The standard deviation (degree to which each game is near the goalie's average GAA) between the two goaltenders is quite comparable throughout an entire season, but when we isolate the playoffs, Schneider's SD falls by 34%, from 1.39 to 0.91, meaning be becomes more consistent, and Luongo's playoff standard deviation increases by 31%, from 1.41 to 1.85, showing less consistency.  We have seen this empirically throughout the years, but the numbers make our convictions abundantly clear.

The statistics don't stop here- when we look closely at the differences between GAA and SV% between the two goaltenders we find an intriguing detail. As mentioned, the GAA move in opposite directions for each goaltender when they enter the playoffs, however, the SV% remains virtually the same for each.  Luongo's SV% only worsens by 2%, while his GAA worsens by 11%. This means he is saving nearly the same proportion of shots (although, not on a consistent basis, according to his SD), but is allowing more, thus he has to be facing more shots. Schneider's save percentage remains unchanged in playoffs, but his GAA improves by 26%, meaning he is saving the same proportion, but is facing less shots on average. This suggests that the team as a whole plays better defensively when Schneider is in net, by allowing less shots on net, and this theory can be confirmed by comparing shots against in the past two years. It turns out that on average, Schneider faces 14% less shots than Luongo, and although there are many possible explanations for this phenomenon, the fact is that during the last two seasons, the Canucks have been more defensively responsible when Schneider is behind them.

So what does this mean for the Canucks going forward if they choose Cory Schneider as the future goaltender of the franchise? Well, during last year's playoffs, it began evident that the Canucks held more trust in Schneider than Luongo, and the numbers presented above support management's decision. Schneider brings less volatility, more consistency come playoffs, and perhaps most surprisingly, better defense from the team as a whole.  If he remains a Canuck, the trickle down effect will likely result in tighter, more defensively sound games, and less of the offensive explosions that we have seen from the Canucks in past years. In fact, since 2009, goals for and number of games played by Schneider has been inversely related, as over this time frame goals for are 6% higher on average with Luongo in net. However, when comparing GF to GA while each goaltender is in net, we find that the Canuck’s goal differential favorably increases by 34% when Schneider is playing.

The difference of just one player will likely cause the 2013 Canucks to look quite different from the 2009 or 2010 high-scoring teams that Vancouver is used to.  While fans may have to adapt to a more defensive style of play with less goals and perhaps even less excitement, when we look to the defensive consistency the LA Kings showed throughout their recent run, the city of Vancouver just might have a better chance at a cup.

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