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December 16, 2010
Howe and Why
A Case for Kipper

by Robert Vollman

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In last week’s Team Prospectus for the Calgary Flames, Timo Seppa explained why it makes sense for the Calgary Flames to “blow the team up and rebuild.” At the moment, the Calgary Flames sit in 23rd place, with but a 9.3% chance of qualifying for the postseason. It makes sense to capitalize on the market value of their respected veterans in exchange for the prospects they need to regain competitive form.

It may be a bitter pill to swallow for a team that came within a video review of hoisting the Stanley Cup in 2004, but consider what happened to their opponents. The Tampa Bay Lightning took the best team in the league and turned it into a laughing stock with bizarre moves and silly contracts. To call their decisions boneheaded would be an insult to bones, because even the dumbest femur wouldn’t make Vincent Lecavalier the league’s highest paid player, nor exchange Conn Smythe winner Brad Richards—who has been a top ten scorer both this season and last—for utility players.

Fortunately for Tampa Bay, the league rewards such gross mismanagement of personnel with high draft picks, which have blessed the club with blue chippers like Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman. Well now the Calgary Flames have former Tampa Bay GM Jay Feaster as their assistant GM, and if he can flush the Bolts down the toilet, then Calgary…get your Clorox!

Move Miikka?

Kent Wilson, who knows more about the Flames than anyone I’ve ever met, agrees with Seppa that moving their veterans is the right move. More specifically, “Ideally I would move Kipper…to the highest bidder.”

Despite his Vezina award in 2003-04, when he tied Dwayne Roloson for the second-highest single season save percentage of all time, his hefty contract and deterioration since then has no doubt cooled interest in Kiprusoff. At age 34, he carries an annual cap hit of over $5.8 million for the next three seasons. Given the recent revelation that you can get substantial results for a lot less, what chance do the Flames have of convincing a team that acquiring Kiprusoff is worthwhile?

Only elite goalies are worth hefty contracts like that. It’s one thing to shop around Tomas Vokoun, Roberto Luongo or Tim Thomas with a price tag like that, but what about Miikka Kiprusoff?

In the recent League of Extraordinary Statisticians over at Behind the Net, we made a valiant attempt to define elite goaltending, whether such a thing even exists, and who qualifies. My definition included two things: even strength save percentage, and sample size. Using even strength save percentage avoids punishing goalies that play behind undisciplined teams, and has proven to be more consistent, and more representative of a goalie’s true performance.

As for sample size, let’s arbitrarily consider only goalies that have faced at least 3000 shots since the Kiprusoff’s miraculous Vezina-winning season—Kipper has faced 7756 shots since then.

ESSV%: Even Strength Save Percentage

Goalie           ESSV%
Tomas Vokoun     .9339
Roberto Luongo   .9283
Tim Thomas       .9268
Craig Anderson   .9264
J-S Giguere      .9262
Henrik Lundqvist .9260
Martin Brodeur   .9257
Miikka Kiprusoff .9252
Kari Lehtonen    .9247
Ilya Bryzgalov   .9243

Incidentally, the league’s worst include Andrew Raycroft (.9061), Chris Osgood (.9104) and Pascal Leclaire (.9104). Finally, a statistic where Vesa Toskala (.9110) isn’t last!

Miikka Kiprusoff is eighth on the list, and while kudos go to the Colorado Avalanche and Dallas Stars for acquiring “elite” goalies for far less, the going rate for those consistently capable of this level of play is apparently $5.0-$6.0 million, just like Kipper.

MVP Miikka

Nevertheless, it might be hard to impress other teams when there are at least seven superior goalies. In fact, most GMs might wisely prefer to gamble on a far less expensive goalie who has been equally good, but over a smaller sample period, like Jonas Hiller or Tuukka Rask. That stance overlooks how valuable goalies like these have been to their teams. In fact, when we look at the goalie who has outperformed the alternatives by the widest margin, guess which stubble-faced Finn shows up on top?

Alter: Even Strength Save Percentage of the alternatives
Diff: Difference between this goalie’s performance and his backups

Goaltender        ESSV% Alter. Diff
Miikka Kiprusoff .9252  .9003 .0249 
Henrik Lundqvist .9260  .9067 .0193 
Ryan Miller      .9235  .9045 .0190 
Roberto Luongo   .9283  .9130 .0152 
Marty Turco      .9181  .9030 .0151 

Kiprusoff has outperformed Calgary’s other goalies by a wide margin—far wider than any other goalies on our first list (or anyone else). Granted, outperforming your colleagues could just mean that they stink, and looking at these goalies’ backups over the years, we could have a point.

Miikka Kiprusoff: Sauve, Boucher, McElhinney, Toskala, McLennan, Joseph, Keetley

Henrik Lundqvist: Weekes, Valiquette, Johnson, Zaba, Auld, Holt

Ryan Miller: Thibault, Biron, Conklin, Lalime, Enroth, Noronen, Tellqvist

Roberto Luongo: Sabourin, Sanford, Schneider, LaBarbera, MacIntyre, Raycroft, McLennan

Marty Turco: Stephan, Smith, Holmqvist, Hedberg, Lehtonen, Climie, Auld, Krahn

Whether by accident or by design, these teams didn’t have competitive alternatives to their primary goalies, consequently making them quite valuable to their teams. Can you imagine how bad the Flames would have been if Kiprusoff had been unavailable, and they’d have been forced to play Philippe Sauve, Brian Boucher or Vesa Toskala instead? I’m not saying that they’d have moved into the basement, but let’s just say that there would have been a lot less room for Edmonton’s ping-pong table and beer fridge down there.

Despite how unimpressive his backups have been, Kiprusoff should still get some credit. After all, Curtis McElhinney’s career save percentage in Calgary was .889 (in all situations) and in Anaheim it’s been .919, so it could just be that Calgary’s defense is especially challenging to play behind. Heck, Brian Boucher’s even strength save percentage was 0.9117 as a non-Flame compared with 0.8787 donning the Flaming C, and even current Assistant Coach Noodles McLennan was much better as a non-Flame (0.9103) than as a Flame (0.8961).

The same thing can’t be said for the other goalies on our list. For example, while it may be true that Jocelyn Thibault underperformed as a Sabre, the others—including Martin Biron and Patrick Lalime—actually performed at their best in Buffalo’s uniform.

Who Needs Kipper?

Since the Flames’ cap commitments are already far too heavy, they’ll be looking for a trading partner with both cap space and the prospects to make the trade worthwhile. The most likely trading partner is their old foe, the Tampa Bay Lightning.

The Lightning have over $10.8 million in cap space, and absolutely lousy goaltending. Dan Ellis is stopping only 88.08% of even strength shots, which is actually superior to Mike Smith’s 87.04%. On one hand, the fault isn’t entirely theirs—both of them have been solid prior to this season—but on the other hand, Tampa Bay will surely squander a golden opportunity without better goaltending.

The Bolts are currently sitting in 12th overall, barely hanging onto the final playoff spot in the East. Their potent offense is ninth overall, but dead last in goals against, behind even the Edmonton “beer league backcheck” Oilers. If the Lightning are going to make the most of Stamkos, St. Louis and their potent arsenal of offensive weaponry, they’re going to need someone who isn’t allergic to rubber between the pipes.

The Lightning have many prospects capable of making the deal attractive to the Flames—perhaps Calgary could even pry away a blue chipper like Brett Connelly or Carter Ashton. To replace Kiprusoff in nets, I would recommend the KHL’s Yann Danis—but more on that next week.

So what do you think? How good is Miikka Kiprusoff? Does it make sense to move him? And, if so, to where and for what? Sound off in the Comments!

Robert Vollman is an author of Hockey Prospectus. You can contact Robert by clicking here or click here to see Robert's other articles.

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