Goldipucks and The Three… Goalies! – Grubauer, Hart, & Hellebuyck
Welcome to Goldipucks and the Three Goalies, a play on words of the Goldilocks and the Three Bears story. Here though, instead of there being three bowls of porridge I’m covering three goalies and declaring one too hot (i.e., doing unsustainably better than he should), another too cold (i.e., doing unsustainably worse), and a third “just right” (i.e., producing where he should be). I also assign each a rating of 1-10, indicating just how hot (rated 7-10, where 10 is the most unsustainably hot), or how cold (rated 1-4, where 1 is the most unsustainably cold), or how “just right” (rated 4-7, where 5.5 is the most “just right”) he is.
If you read that first paragraph and wondered why the word "goalies" was there rather than the usual "skaters," I've decided – for the first time – to focus on goalies for this installment of the column. I figure I'll do this now and then as a change of pace; also, since the column was originally designed to run for only about half the year, this way I don't run out of skaters to cover.
Which three netminders get the honor of being in this inaugural version of the column? None other than Carter Hart, Philipp Grubauer, and Connor Hellebuyck. Even though it's about goalies this time instead of skaters, the question for you to answer before reading on remains which one was too hot, which was too cold, and who was "just right" for 2019-20. Stop here to lock in your guesses, then see if you were correct.
The plan in Philly all along was for Hart to become "the guy" in net; however, due to injuries and poor play from the team's other netminders the transition to Hart happened sooner than was planned, with him taking over the reins at age 20. He played well and then this season parlayed that into a true starting gig, improving his GAA but not his SV%. Still only 21, he's bound to be even better in 2020-21 with a "full" season under his belt, right? Not so fast, as although Hart hasn't shown anything to cause poolies to question whether he will be a top tier netminder, chances are it will happen a bit further down the road.
Hart's big issue, and one I don't see vanishing until he has a few more years of maturity under his belt, is he tends to be really great or lousy. Case in point – among goalie who had 30+ starts this season, his percentage of those starts which were quality starts (defined as starts where his SV% was higher than the league average or if fewer than 20 SOG were faced, was .885 or higher) was fifth-best among the 39 eligible goalies. But he also had nine "really bad stats" (defined as starts where his SV% was below .850), with just one other goalie in the top 24 among quality start percentage having at least that many really bad starts and the rest of the top ten in quality start percentage averaging not even half (4.22) of his nine really bad starts. To me, this is par for the course for a very young netminder. And while it should be better next season, I still think he's still going to have more lousy starts than would be expected for someone with as many quality starts as he has. As such, his SV% will continue to be a bit lower than other top tier goalies, s his wins.
What's interesting also about Hart is he had a save percentage of .900 or below when he started back to back games, was on just one day rest, or had four or more days of rest. On two days rest his SV% was .926 and it was nearly identical .925 for three days of rest. This shows he needs time to rest and work on his game between starts, but not too much time or he gets rusty. This should normalize; but I see that happening slowly, meaning we should not expect more than incremental improvement for 2020-21.
Hart also had a goals saved above average (defined as the goals he prevented given his save percentage and number of shots faced versus the league average in save percentage on the same number of shots) of 4.47, which put him only 18th of the 39 netminders who started at least 30 games, with all but three of those ranked ahead of him having a lower GAA. It's a similar story when it comes to even-strength save percentage, where he ranks 20th. What this shows is Hart plays for a strong defensive team, such that once he lowers his number of really bad starts he should be a very, very strong goalie.
Based on the data the future still looks bright for Hart; however, that future is likely to come in a couple more years once he's matured and found more consistency in his game. Thus, for the near future, his 2019-20 stats are JUST RIGHT, meaning for 2020-21 we should look for more of the same, namely some gems mixed in with a few stinkers, giving him stats that are very good but not quite top tier. He receives a 5.0 rating, to signify he should take at least baby steps forward next season before fully turning a corner by no later than age 25.
After playing so well in 2018-19 that the Avs let UFA Semyon Varlamov walk, Grubauer put up almost identical stats in 2019-20, with a GAA of 2.63 (versus 2.64 last season) and an SV% of .916 (versus .917 in 2018-19) after having faced an almost the same number of shots (1071 last season, versus 1067 for 2019-20 thus far). But wait – Hart was Just Right; how can Grubauer not be as well? Let's just say that stats can sometimes be deceiving, and the presence of the re-signed Pavel Francouz looms large.
Despite only one fewer start this season versus 2018-19, Grubauer had five fewer quality starts. In fact, his quality start percentage ranked him 29th among 39 netminders who started 30+ games. And looking at those below him, only three had a GAA less than 3.00, with the best being 2.87. And we have to go all the way up to the 17th ranked netminder in quality starts to find one with a GAA less than his. That screams unsustainably lucky.
But at the same time, his even-strength save percentage was .929, which ranked third best out of the 39 and he only had four really bad starts. Isn't that a disconnect with his GAA? Not if we delve deeper, where we can see that Grubauer was a disaster when it came to his SV% both on the PP and the PK, where he ranked 23rd and 38th respectively. Yes, it's true that even-strength save percentage is what counts most; but that goes out the window if one cannot perform up to par on special teams.
Grubauer also had a .935 SV% when he was given exactly three days rest, but that number dropped to .908 with one day of rest or four or more days of rest, and to .917 for two days of rest. Three days of rest doesn't happen too often, so Grubauer's numbers on other days could serve to see his SV% drop from what it was this season and last.
Another issue is Grubauer has established a pattern of poor numbers to start a season, only to find his game in either Q3 or Q4, at which point he shines. That was less of an issue when he was a back-up or was sharing the crease; however, if he's a starter then that will put him in danger of losing the crease. You know who he reminds me of – Brian Elliott, who always played well when not a starter but faltered when expected to carry the reins. This could cause the Avs to look to Francouz more, which in turn puts Grubauer at risk of not being able to play his way out of his early slumps as he did in each of the past two seasons.
Speaking of Francouz, the Avs were able to convince him to forego being a UFA to re-sign with the team. Francouz has been nothing short of superb, with 18 of his 21 starts being quality starts in 2019-20. If Grubauer falters once again early on, Francouz, who showed he could be an everyday goalie by starting 13 of the last 14 games for the Avs while Grubauer was hurt, could step in and force Grubauer into a 1A or even 1B role, ala what happened to Elliott in St. Louis (with Jake Allen) then in Philly (with Hart).
In view of the totality of data, his poor track record of early-season performances, and the looming presence of Francouz, Grubauer's 2019-20 was TOO HOT. I could see a scenario next season where Grubauer loses the net to Francouz or at least becomes a 1B, and thus Grubauer gets an 8.5 rating, mainly due to what should be fewer starts and, without the second half games to rectify his early-season struggles, likely even worse season-long stats.
After a strong 2017-18, Hellebuyck was mediocre at best last season, earning heaps of wins but with so-so peripherals, leading some to see him as possibly the second coming of Marc-Andre Fleury when he was on the Pens. Yet this season Hellebuyck has been nothing short of stellar, with numbers putting him squarely within the Vezina and even Hart conversation. But can we expect Hellebuyck to continue his Vaclav Prospal-like trend of following a great season with a lousy one, meaning a down 2020-21? On the contrary – I think he might be poised to improve upon his already stellar numbers.
First and foremost, Hellebuyck is doing all this with a defense that was cobbled together after the departures of Jacob Trouba and Tyler Myers plus the unexpected loss of Dustin Byfuglien. As such, Hellebuyck's GAA is not superb at 2.57. However not only does he have six shutouts, which is most among all goalies, but only one of the three goalies with five shutouts had a GAA above 2.35. This shows Hellebuyck has stood on his head quite a few times; and who's to say what he could do when the Jets defense gets better?
Hellebuyck is also one of only six goalies to have started 50+ games, and in fact, his 56 was tops among all netminders. How many of those other 50+ start netminders had a better quality start percentage than Hellebuyck's 64%? Try none, with the next highest being 59% and then 53%. Moreover, if we look at other netminders who, like Hellebuyck this season, started 55+ games and had a quality start percentage of 64% or better, we find there have been only 16 other instances in total since 2010-11, and the highest GAA among them in that same season was 2.43, with only five having a GAA above 2.32 and nine, i.e., more than half, having a GAA under 2.20. This suggests not only should Hellebuyck's GAA go down, but that he's truly an amazing netminder to have such a high quality start percentage despite his GAA being 2.57. Oh, and all 16 had a higher SV% than Hellbuyck's .922 this season.
There's also the fact that Hellebuyck had only six really bad starts, for a ratio of one really bad start to every six quality starts. The next highest number of starts from a goalie with a better ratio was 41. So he was a workhorse but didn't take nights off. Also, even when he was bad he wasn't terrible, as he didn't allow more than five goals in any game this season. Yes, in some cases he was pulled before finishing a game; however, to have that many starts and not yield more than five goals in any of them is impressive.
What's to stop Hellebuyck from doing what he's done in the past, namely follow up a solid year with a stinker? For one he's never had this high of a ratio of games played, putting added meaning behind his stellar achievements. Moreover, he's doing this on a team where the top six defensemen are comprised of one who's played fewer than 100 NHL games including 2019-20 contests, two who've played fewer than 200, and another with fewer than 300. Just think what Hellebuyck could do with a more experienced group of d-men in front of him, which will happen next season either by the team making moves or simply due to these four having another year of experience under their belts.
Because Hellebuyck has stood on his head this season and more than adequately shown himself to be a top tier netminder, and his defensive corps will improve either due to the addition of more experienced personnel or with the less experienced d-men having more games under their belt, I consider him to have been TOO COLD for 2019-20. For 2020-21 I think his GAA should drop substantially, and his other stats should all rise. Plus, with the Jets being a very solid team he could surpass Andrei Vasilevskiy as the NHL's top fantasy goalie. As such a rating of 3.0 seems appropriate, to show him graduating from merely a tier-one goalie to perhaps the top of that tier.
Questions for Mailbag column
The next mailbag isn't for several weeks, but I've already received more than enough questions. Still, you should feel free to send me yours to get in the queue for the following edition. To do so, either private message “rizzeedizzee” via the DobberHockey Forums or, instead, send an email to [email protected] with “Roos Mailbag” as the subject line. Remember, with the season on pause this is the perfect time to ask a question about keepers, draft strategy, certain players, or just fantasy hockey in general.
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