Since the Stanley Cup Finals ended on June 15th, there has been plenty of off-ice activity to focus on in the NHL. With the draft and free agency dominating headlines, memories of the final seven games fade a little and only a few storylines tend to stick in the average fan's head.
However, a post at Matchsticks & Gasoline by Arik James got me thinking. Exactly how bad was Roberto Luongo when his team's fortunes were on the line? It's understandable when the blame is heaped on a player who doesn't come through when his team needs him the most.
Any goalie who can't top a save percentage of 90% in three of his team's seven most important games of the season deserves what he gets right? Good, go yell at Miikka Kiprusoff for ruining the Flames playoff hopes, because he couldn't get it done in the final seven games of the regular season with a playoff berth on the line.
The point is, Luongo had a pretty horrific performance on a very big stage. That said, it doesn't mean he's a poor goaltender or the opposite of "clutch". What it does mean is that he had a very inconsistent and possibly unlucky stretch of seven games in the midst of a pretty good playoff run. As I wrote before the Finals started, both Luongo and Thomas were having comparable postseasons to Patrick Roy and Dominik Hasek's best playoff runs.
To start with, let's evaluate Luongo's performance over his entire career, to establish his true talent level. If he's going to be labeled a choker, it would imply that he was pretty good to begin with.
According to Hockey-Reference.com, here are the NHL's career save percentage leaders:
1. Dominik Hasek .9223
2. Tim Thomas .9215
3. Roberto Luongo .9193
At third all time, it's safe to say that Luongo's talent is elite. Career save percentage is important, especially for predicting playoff save percentage, as Gabe Desjardins showed here. While save percentage is likely the best measure of a goalie's true talent, it can be useful to evaluate their overall impact on their team as well.
In order to look at the total value Luongo brought to his team over eleven seasons in the NHL, let's use Goals Versus Threshold (GVT) as compared to the best goalies of all time.
1. Patrick Roy 431.1 in 1004 games (0.429/game)
2. Dominik Hasek 410.1 in 714 games (0.574/game)
3. Jacques Plante 371.6 in 825 games (0.450/game)
4. Glenn Hall 341.1 in 889 games (0.384/game)
5. Martin Brodeur 304.7 in 1111games (0.274/game)
6. Bernie Parent 301.3 in 586 games (0.514/game)
7. Ken Dryden 278.4 in 389 games (0.716/game)
8. Roberto Luongo 266.6 in 642 games (0.415/game)
Luongo is eighth in all-time goalie GVT, and his per game pace is superior to such "clutch" players as Martin Brodeur and all-time great Glenn Hall. In fact, his closest per game comparison on the list is Patrick Roy.
I know that you're thinking something along the lines of "thanks for showing us his regular season performance but we all know he melts down in the playoffs". This is more a matter of rhetoric than actual fact.
This year in the playoffs, even-strength save percentage for goalies playing more than 10 games was ranked as follows:
1. Tim Thomas .949
2. Jimmy Howard .940
3. Pekka Rinne .935
4. Roberto Luongo .931
At fourth-best, he hardly let his team down. Furthermore, Luongo's even strength save percentage for the last three seasons in the playoffs has been .930, .930 and .931. As a reference, Jaroslav Halak's miracle playoff run last year netted him a .933. But Halak was a hero and Luongo was a scapegoat. And before we decry that at least Halak came up big in the biggest games, remember that Montreal lost in five games to the Flyers and Halak posted save percentages under 90% for three of those five games. And it wasn't just against the Flyers as he had sub-.800 save percentages for three of the Canadiens 18 playoff games. That's one stinker per series.
So why does Luongo get such bad press? Maybe because it makes for a good story, and maybe it's because our memories trick us into what we want to believe. The facts tell us something completely different. Bobby Lou had one of the most enigmatic Cup Finals in recent memory as he capitulated between shutouts and red light sunburn, but he's still one of the best netminders in the game today.
Ryan Popilchak is an author of Hockey Prospectus.
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