What makes a goalie elite?

Something I have been pondering for a long time is what qualities would people think of when they consider a player “elite.”  For me, I usually go by the dictionary definition of the word which is “a group of people who are considered to be the best in a certain society.”  So we’re looking for the best goalies in the NHL but there’s a lot of fans who like to hype a player after one strong year or a hot stretch and considering him “elite.” Most of you know how big of a nerd I am when it comes to goalie stats so I’ve been looking over the statistics for each goalie who has played since the lockout to see which ones really make up the “elite tier” in the NHL.

I have came up for the following guidelines to judge which goalies have been elite since the lockout:

1. Must have faced over 4000 shots during this time. Average number of shots faced per year for goalies since the lockout is 647. Multiply that by six and you get 3882 shots and I figured that if a goalie were to be considered elite, they would have to face more than that amount so 4000 seems like a good cutoff point.
2. Must have an even strength save percentage of .925. The average save percentage for goalies since the lockout was .9185, and I just added a quarter of the standard deviation of the data to get what I felt would be a good cut-off point for the save percentage.
3. Must have played in at least 300 games since the lockout. I figure that in order to be considered elite they have to have started most of their team’s games, which is why I thought 300 was a good cut-off number for this.

These are just estimations and everyone has their own definition of what is elite and what isn’t so this is obviously debatable information

Here are the goalies who classify as elite by this system:

Player GP GS SA GA Sv Sv%
Tomas Vokoun 353 347 8722 597 8125 0.931552
Roberto Luongo 406 401 8862 628 8234 0.929136
Henrik Lundqvist 406 399 8714 638 8076 0.926784
Tim Thomas 315 304 7579 525 7054 0.93073
Ilya Bryzgalov 324 311 7237 537 6700 0.925798

That sounds about right. I said numerous times that Bryzgalov wasn’t an elite goalie but this seems to prove me wrong even if he is on the borderline in a few areas. His two years as a back-up in Anaheim brought his games played down, so he has been performing at an elite level as a starting goalie in Phoenix. I will say that I’m surprised there hasn’t been that much buzz about Tomas Vokoun becoming a UFA in a month. He was playing on much worse teams than the rest of these players and had a better accumulative save percentage than any of them. It really shows how bad those Panthers teams were that they couldn’t make it to the playoffs even with him standing on his head. He had a down year and is about to be 35 in a month so I can understand why teams would be weary to sign him but you can not deny that he might be the best goalie since the lockout.

Speaking of which, the Stanley Cup Final between the Bruins and Canucks features two of the best goalies since the lockout. Who would have thought that we we’d see one of them cough up 12 goals in two games? All kidding aside, Luongo and Thomas have seven of the best goaltending seasons in the past six years. Really makes me appreciate this matchup a lot more…as long as we get more nail-biters and less blowouts. I will say that one thing that kind of makes me doubt Thomas as an elite goalie is that he’s played in significantly less games than others. The Bruins always had a solid back-up goalie with him (Rask, Fernandez) and his age likely prevents him from playing a 70+ game season like Lundqvist is able to do almost every single year.

Goalies who just missed the cut-off for elite:

Pekka Rinne:
Over the past few years, he can definitely be considered one of the top goalies in the NHL but he hasn’t played in enough games since the lockout for me to consider him elite by this metric.

Jonas Hiller:
Like Rinne, he hasn’t played in enough games but he could be considered an elite goalie very soon if he can sustain his performance after more games.

Carey Price:
As great as he’s been, it’s hard for me to consider him an elite goalie due to him playing in such few games. He was simply unreal last season, though.

Kari Lehtonen:
He would be elite if he could stay healthy and he has only started in more than 70% of his games twice in his career. I know he has his doubters but he nearly carried an awful Dallas Stars team into the playoffs this season, which should speak a lot of his abilities.

J-S Giguere
Last few seasons of mediocre play and injuries brought him down. It’s a shame because I have always liked him.

Martin Brodeur:
He probably should be in the elite category to be honest…but he was so bad last year that it actually knocked him out of it despite having very good seasons every other year.

Miikka Kiprusoff:
He was phenomenal for a few years and then his play dropped off dramatically in 2009 but he is still playing at a very high level. Not exactly an “elite level” but definitely better than above average. I think starting so many games over his career is starting to take a toll on him because he saw the most shots of any goalie I sampled by a mile. Maybe Calgary needs to invest in a back-up next year? One who isn’t a replacement level.

Ryan Miller:
Didn’t think it would be Miller’s save percentage that would keep him out. Maybe I’m being too hard with the grading here?


So there you have it. I don’t particularly agree with some of the results I got but it was a fun experiment to do. Any suggestions or additions you I think I should make to my guidelines?


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