Age and Fantasy Success Part 3: Goalies

by Rick Roos on July 12, 2017

How does age affect a goalie's fantasy success?

Welcome to the final part in of my series of columns to determine when players at certain positions peak. Previously I covered defensemen and forwards, looking at their data alone and as compared to each other and revealing some interesting patterns and trends. Check out those columns if you missed them amid the expansion draft and free agency buzz of the past couple of weeks.

Now my attention turns to goalies, which I rarely cover here at Cage Match. Let’s see what I can dig up, after first explaining what data I’ll use and why.

Gathering Data – Approaches and Challenges

To evaluate goalies I went with save percentage (SV%), since GAA and Wins are too team-dependent and SV% is a category that’s included in most leagues. Also, whereas I looked at the top 25+ skaters to assess both defensemen and forwards, I decided to go with the top 15 goalies, since more would result in mediocre netminders being lumped in while less would give us too few data points.

I also felt I had to limit the analysis solely to goalies who played 40+ games in a season, as although that made it so I couldn’t include data from 2012-13 I nevertheless believed if the threshold was any less it would lump in netminders who caught temporary lightning in a bottle or were pure back-ups. In terms of how far back to examine, and whether to disqualify anyone, I stuck with the same criteria as with skaters, namely going back to 1996-97 and including anyone’s data who otherwise met the criteria (even those, like Dominik Hasek and Martin Brodeur, who defied the odds and played at the highest level until quite old by hockey standards).

The Data

For each season (not including canceled 2004-05 or lockout-shortened 2012-13) I indicated the average age of the top 15 goalies in SV% who appeared in 40+ games, plus how many fell into each of five age brackets: 20 to 23, 24 to 27, 28 to 31, 32 to 35, and 36 or older. There’s no bracket for teenagers since no teen goalie played in 40+ games in any of these 19 seasons.

Season

Average age of

top 15 in SV%

Highest/Lowest SV% for that season

Age 20-23

Age 24-27

Age 28-31

Age

32-35

Age 36+

1996-97

28.26

.930/.906

1

5

6

2

1

1997-98

28.66

.932/.906

0

7

3

5

0

1998-99

30.33

.937/.907

0

4

5

6

 

1999-00

29.46

.919/.908

2

3

5

4

1

2000-01

29.40

.923/.908

1

4

4

5

1

2001-02

29.00

.931/.907

1

4

7

1

2

2002-03

30.26

.932/.912

1

4

4

4

2

2003-04

27.93

.933/.913

1

8

4

1

1

2005-06

30.06

.925/.900

1

4

5

2

3

2006-07

29.33

.929/.911

1

4

7

2

1

2007-08

29.06

.924/.913

1

4

6

4

0

2008-09

29.26

.933/.915

1

5

4

3

2

2009-10

29.60

.931/.915

1

5

3

4

2

2010-11

28.66

.938/.916

1

5

6

2

1

2011-12

30.40

.930/.916

0

4

5

5

1

2013-14

27.86

.930/.917

0

9

4

2

 

2014-15

28.80

.933/.918

0

7

4

4

0

2015-16

28.46

.930/.919

2

4

7

1

1

2016-17

28.33

.931/.915

3

3

5

4

0

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Average

29.11

.930/.911

0.94

4.89

4.94

3.21

1.0

 

The Goalie Average, Versus Defensemen and Forwards

Overall, the “peak” age for goalies is 29 and one month (i.e., 29.11), which is nearly a year older than the average for defensemen (28.24) and just over 16 months older than for forwards (27.73). As with skaters, however, recent trends for goalies are somewhat younger, albeit not markedly so. Specifically, if we focus on the last six seasons, the average is 28.75, with five of the six featuring an average age less than the 19-season average, including the last four seasons in a row. Interestingly, until these past four seasons there had been no stretch of three seasons in a row that were either all above or all below the overall 19 season average. In other words, if history is an indication, don’t count on this current lower than average age trend continuing indefinitely.

Averages for Individual Seasons Didn’t Vary Significantly from Overall Goalie Averages

The data indicates it’s pretty safe to predict that the best and the 15th best save percentages in a given season will be very close to their 19-year averages of, respectively, .930 and .911. In fact, only three times was the league-leading save percentage less than .925 and only twice was it above .935. Similarly, the 15th best save percentage was .916+ only three times and less than .906 only once. That having been said……

Middle of the Pack Goalies Are Much Better Than They Once Were

Look no further than the fact that prior to 2016-17, the 15th best SV% in the league among 40+ game goalies either rose or stayed the same for nine straight full seasons. Also, it’s been at or above 0.915 every campaign since 2008-09, after never once having been that high during any season from 1996-97 to 2007-08. Part of that is scoring being down for many years, but it’s also likely due to more depth and talent at the position. And it’s interesting that 2016-17, which represented the first drop in the 15th highest SV% since 2005-06, just so happened to mark the debut of the first in what might be many changes to goalie equipment (i.e., smaller pants). From a fantasy perspective, this data underscores there are many good options for #2 fantasy goalies, so chances are in most leagues you don’t have to reach for one in your drafts.

Averages for the Very Best Goalies Lacked Clear Trends until Lately, and Were Affected by Outliers

The best save percentage in a given season had been all over the map, before settling at .930 to .933 in each of the last five campaigns. Also, not only were there only two campaigns in which the top goalie in SV% was above .933, but in those seasons there was just one goalie above .933 who played 40+ games, namely Dominik Hasek (.937 in 1998-99) and Tim Thomas (.938 in 2010-11). In fact, there were only nine instances of a goalie with a SV% above .930 in 40+ games during these 19 seasons, so even though the average for the highest SV% among these 19 seasons was .930, chances are more likely than not it’s a threshold which won’t be exceeded in a given season. In other words, the two outlying seasons from Hasek and Thomas had a measurable effect on the numbers, and that should be kept in mind.

Looks Are Somewhat Deceiving for Age 20-23 Goalies, and Those Age 36+

In my defensemen column, I noted that although only a small fraction of teen defensemen made the list it nevertheless turned out that teen rearguards were good bets for 30+ points if they played 75+ games. For goalies aged 20-23, although only 18 of them made the list over this 19-year period, it turns out just 39 goalies from that age range cumulatively played 40+ games in any one of these 19 seasons. Thus, 46% of the 39 were good enough to make this list. And interestingly, age 36+ goalies weren’t that far behind, with cumulatively 48 having played 40+ games in any one of these 19 seasons and 19 of the 48 (i.e., 39%) making the list.

Also, if we look at goalies who had a .920 or better SV% (i.e., the approximate midpoint between the average highest and 15th ranked save percentages over these 19 seasons), we see there were eight age 36+ netminders but only one since 2011-12, compared to ten for ages 20-23 with four of the ten having done so since 2011-12. Moreover, 11 of the 39 age 20-23 netminders (i.e., 28%) had a SV% less than 0.905, compared to 17 of the 48 age 36+ netminders (i.e., 35%). Thus, it appears age 20-23 netminders are a safer bet to excel and lower risk to do poorly than age 36+ goalies, who, although riskier, still manage to succeed at a higher rate than might be apparent just from looking the list.

Goalies Can Initially Succeed Later in Their Careers, but Usually Will Have Given Prior Clues

Sticking with the .920 threshold, there’ve been just nine different goalies who posted a .920+ SV% at age 30+ within one or more of the past four seasons while playing 40+ games. Of the nine, more than half (Craig Anderson, Corey Crawford, Brian Elliott, Marc-Andre Fleury, Thomas Greiss) didn’t have a single season of .920+ SV% in 40+ games in their 20s, but all five had done so at least once in 25-39 games in a prior season before doing so in 40+ games in their 30s.

Using this information, I looked up goalies aged 20-29 from the last four seasons who played 25-39 games while posting a SV% of .920+. I eliminated those who’ve since done so in 40+ games (Brian Elliott, Thomas Greiss), plus those who’ve already become a true #1 goalie (Cam Talbot, Frederik Andersen), one who retired (Josh Harding), and those with no realistic chance of becoming a starter (Al Montoya, Anton Khudobin), arriving upon the following six names: Scott Darling, Michal Neuvirth, Chad Johnson, Antti Raanta, Joonas Korpisalo, and Anders Nilsson. If what happened to Anderson, Crawford, Fleury, Elliott, and Greiss is any indication, the fact that these six netminders tasted success in more limited action in their 20s could bode well for them to ultimately succeed if/when given a wider role.

Overall Conclusions

Goalies are unquestionably better now than they were even ten years ago, and not just top netminders. Also, although there are plenty of goalies who are successful in their 20s and then into their 30s, some don’t find true success until their 30s, often due to lack of opportunity and after having done very well in somewhat limited duty. Much like teenage defensemen, younger goalies (i.e., those under age 24) can do well if truly given a chance to shine, as can much older (i.e., age 36+) goalies whom teams continue to play. A big question mark is whether the 15th best SV%, after having dropped for the first time in over a decade, will drop further, stabilize, or begin to climb again, and whether the drop was due to a vastly improved league offense or the first signs of equipment changes taking effect. Time will tell, as always. Thanks for reading this series.

Next week marks the return of the summer Cage Match Tournament!