A Net With No Sure Bets Part 1 – League Tendencies

May 29th, 2020 | Posted in Commentary | By: D'Arcy McGrath

You don’t need a week of study, a big spreadsheet and an ability to sort and decipher data to come to the conclusion that the Calgary Flames have been miserable at drafting goaltenders over their existence … but it certainly helps to identify just how painful their lack of success has been.

Recently we’ve seen an Athletic article looking at the 1990 draft and the Flames taking Trevor Kidd while moving up in a trade with New Jersey, leaving the Devils to settle for Martin Brodeur. It’s a painful example of missing out on a solid goaltender, but merely scratching the surface when it comes to misery for the Flames. At least Trevor Kidd played!

The true mission of looking into the data however, wasn’t to hang the Flames out to dry, they’ve done that just fine on their own. Instead it was to see what other teams are doing? What is the frequency of goaltenders taken per draft per team? Do the successful teams draft a lot of them? Very few? Do they draft them high in the draft or in later rounds?

We will tackle these and additional issues in a three part series

Part 1 – League Tendencies
Part 2 – Team by Team Performance
Part 3 – Flaming Failure

Part 1 – League Tendencies

In order to arrive at an answer for when in a draft a goalie should be drafted, we first need to assess what a successful goaltender is in a simple data summary manner.

For the 2000 to 2019 drafts I used a summary called Draft Points to look at how well each pick has fared.

Draft Points

Goalies are assigned a rating based on their success to date, which in this case is measured by games played adjusted to years in the league so emerging goaltenders with a healthy number of starts can move up the list and out of the cup of coffee or “played” categories and into starters if they’ve earned it. Elite goaltenders get 10 points, Starters 7, goalies that Played are assigned 4, goaltenders that had a cup of coffee in the bigs get 2 and players that didn’t ever play get zero as “busts”. Goalies that haven’t played but were drafted in 2015-2019 are considered “developing”.

The system was developed to keep subjectivity out of the classifications, but give credit to younger goaltenders that have looked good early, but wouldn’t match up in total games played to the likes of Henrik Lundqvist.

With that you see some cut offs that make you squirm but you go with it. Two examples of goaltenders that just missed the cutoff between Elite and Starter are Ben Bishop and Robin Lehner. Both goaltenders would make that jump in another season, but neither have had the frequency of games played / tenure ratio to be elite. Of the 24 goaltenders deemed elite in this study most pass the sniff test though not without a stretch or two as Brian Elliott, Mike Smith, Illya Bryzgalov and Kari Lehtonen all make the grade but will certainly have detractors.

We all know the draft is a crapshoot.

Most players selected don’t go on to accomplish a whole lot, and goalies are no exception.

In total 493 goaltenders have been selected in the last 20 draft years, for an average of about 25 goaltenders per season.

Out of the 493, only about 13% go on to play a count of games that could be called an NHL career, and only 7.3% or 36 of the 493 selected play an impactful role on their club teams.

That’s pretty rough.

If a team does have it’s heart set on finding a goaltender through the draft they’d better burn up the top picks to find one. Through these 20 years, 56% of the goalies deemed to be either Elite or a Starter were taken in the first two rounds, with 31% coming in the first round.

So no problem then right? Use a top pick every second year on a goaltender!

Not so fast! Of goalies selected in the first round in the last 20 years only 27.5% have turned out to be Elite; or one in four. If you include Starters with Elite it’s 38% or just over one in three. Only 14% of the goalies drafted in the first two rounds in the last 20 years have achieved Elite status, only 23% of that group have been one of Elite or a Starter.

Do you really want to use up the most valued draft picks on a position where you have a 1/4 chance to succeed, as goalies that don’t start really don’t have much value? Do you have much choice? There isn’t exactly a world of value flowing later in the draft. Only 16 goaltenders were selected after the second round that went on to be either Elite or a Starter. That’s 16 out of 407 picks or a paltry 3.9%.

Damned if you do, and damned if you don’t.

Hit rates for goaltenders are very low, but hit rates after the top two rounds are miniscule.

So what has this done to team activity over the years? Less goaltenders selected.

In the 5 years from 2000-2004 160 goalies were drafted. The next three sets of five years averaged 111 goaltenders selected (113, 106 and 114), that’s a decline of 44%. Clearly the higher risk was identified.

Similarly, NHL General Managers appeared to get wise to the high bust rate in the first round. In the years 2000 to 2004 14 goaltenders were taken in the first round (almost three per draft). Additionally, in those same five years another 14 goalies were taken in the second round. That’s 28 goalies drafted in five years in the first two rounds, or 5.6 goalies per draft year using high value picks. The next five years saw only eight taken in the first round, and 16 in the second, as teams were moving away from expending first round picks. The next five years four and 16 were taken for a total of 20. And finally in the last five years we’ve seen a further reduction as only three first round picks were surrendered for goaltenders, and 11 goalies were picked in the second round.

All told that’s a move from 2.8 first rounders and 5.6 total between the first and second round in the first five year set, to 0.6 and 2.8 total in the most recent five years.

The landscape has changed.

Look for Part 2 – Team by Team Performance coming next week




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