Since recording his 400th career win, Chris Osgood has received a lot of attention from media around the NHL. Yet there is another goaltender in the league today that has also been climbing into rarefied air on the all-time list on a more important goalie stat, only he is doing it without much notice at all. The latter stat is Goals Versus Threshold, and here is the list of the current top 10 goaltenders in NHL history:
Goaltenders, Career GVT
Rank Name Career GVT
1. Patrick Roy 433.7
2. Dominik Hasek 425.6
3. Jacques Plante 361.8
4. Tony Esposito 354.5
5. Glenn Hall 344.1
6. Martin Brodeur 297.7
7. Ed Belfour 270.7
8. Bill Durnan 254.1
9. Bernie Parent 249.0
10. Roberto Luongo 248.6
According to this metric, Roberto Luongo has prevented more regular season goals against than all but nine goalies in hockey history, and by the end of this season, there is a good chance that there will only be seven names left ahead of him.
To achieve such heights is impressive, but it is made even more impressive by the fact that Luongo is still in the middle of his career. Here is the reordered list based on each of those 10 netminders' career GVT through the age of 31:
Goaltenders, Career GVT through Age 31
Rank Name GVT though Age 31
1. Patrick Roy 289.9
2. Roberto Luongo 248.6
3. Bernie Parent 203.7
4. Jacques Plante 202.7
5. Tony Esposito 196.6
6. Martin Brodeur 195.1
7. Glenn Hall 194.9
8. Bill Durnan 174.3
9. Ed Belfour 154.9
10. Dominik Hasek 151.7
Luongo not only ranks second on the list, but he achieved that ranking despite having three months left in the current season, plus an entire season lost to the 2004-05 Lockout. Under some fairly reasonable assumptions, Luongo might have been at the top if he had been able to make up those games played.
For example, projecting Luongo's 2004-05 performance, in the event that the NHL and NHLPA had settled their differences in time to play a full season, by taking the average of his two seasons before and his two seasons after gives 34.7 GVT. Projecting him to play the rest of this season based on his current performance and current rate of starts would add another 7.9 GVT. That would add a potential 42.6 goals onto Luongo's score, putting him at 291.2 GVT and vaulting him past Roy into top spot on the list.
Granted, Roy would have been expected to add another 11.5 goals versus threshold in the games he lost to Lockout himself in 1994-95. Also, modern netminders have clear advantages in terms of longer schedules and more games to boost their stats, and as a result they are not competing on a level playing field compared to the older players. There are a few factors that aren't fully encapsulated by GVT, such as team discipline, team defensive strength and home scorer bias. Yet even after considering some of these factors, in terms of elite regular season consistency, Roberto Luongo ranks among the best puckstoppers to ever play the game.
The case can be made that Luongo is one of the most underappreciated elite goaltenders ever. There may not have been a single goalie of his caliber that has ever spent their best years on a team as nondescript and mediocre as the 2000-2006 Florida Panthers. In the original six era, media members in other cities around the league would at least see someone like Glenn Hall play 14 times, giving them a better chance to look past his weak teammates and recognize his individual performance. Some goaltenders have managed to put together great seasons with mediocre teammates, but few have been able to put up consistently spectacular numbers on one of the league's worst teams. Depending on the criteria used, over the last 50 years the list may be only three names long: Dominik Hasek, Glenn Hall, Roberto Luongo.
The biggest reason that Luongo has been underappreciated is that his team situation cost him a number of shots at the playoffs, helping lead to his reputation of never having won anything, while a lack of team success, bad timing and the perhaps slightly inflated reputation of a veteran Hall of Famer probably cost Luongo two Vezina Trophies. In the last three seasons, despite his gold medal win at the 2010 Olympics, the perception of "Luongo as choker" seems to have solidified among many hockey observers after he stumbled down the stretch in 2008 in the midst of family troubles and then had two poor playoff series in back-to-back years against the Chicago Blackhawks.
Even if Luongo never wins anything in the playoffs and just performs as an average starting goalie to the end of his contract (or even just to the point in his contract where the big money seasons end), his career in GVT terms (both regular season and playoffs) will likely end up being very comparable to Glenn Hall and Tony Esposito, two no-doubt Hall of Famers. If Luongo remains consistently excellent into his late thirties, he is a threat to end up top three in GVT behind Roy and Hasek, and will also likely gain the attention of those who focus on more traditional goalie stats by climbing the career lists of games played, wins and shutouts.
Despite his achievements, Luongo's career thus far does not mean that he is the best at his position in the world today. The goaltender position is so competitive that it is nearly impossible to stay on top for any extended period of time, and the margins between elite goalies are very small. There is some evidence that Luongo's play has declined somewhat from his peak in the early to mid '00s, and based on typical career curve assumptions it appears unlikely that he will ever again hit the heights of 2003-07. Luongo currently ranks 11th among netminders in GVT this season, and while he is playing well, it would still be difficult to argue conclusively that he is better right now than peers such as Henrik Lundqvist, Tim Thomas, Tomas Vokoun, Ryan Miller or Jonas Hiller.
With the Vancouver Canucks near the top of the league and poised to make a deep playoff run, Roberto Luongo has never had a better chance to entrench his legacy as a great goalie in the minds of hockey fans by winning a championship ring. However, to do that, the Canucks will have to advance through a tough Western Conference and then overcome the best of the East if they want to sip from Lord Stanley's mug. Whether or not he ever achieves that elusive goal of playoff team success and finally gains a reputation as a great goaltender in the eyes of the win-counting crowd, the numbers show that very few netminders in league history have had a better first decade in the NHL than Roberto Luongo.
Philip Myrland is an author of Hockey Prospectus.
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