Rinne tops list of highest start rates; who should start the backup more?
By Matthew Coller | Hockey Prospectus
Within the hockey analytics community, there are very few who think that it is wise for teams to sign goaltenders to big-money contracts. There are two reasons: Goaltenders can have wild swings in play, making it hard to predict future performance, and the overall production from the position can often be replaced at a much cheaper price.
However, there are benefits to having a franchise goalie. First, it allows coaches to (mostly) avoid controversy over their No. 1 netminder. A goalie like Henrik Lundqvist — who is recognized as being among the league’s overall best — is your starter. Period. Nobody in his right mind would call for Lundqvist’s backup to take the gig.
There is also no worry about juggling playing time when you have a top goalie who will play 60 to 70 games per season. Not to mention that if the workhorse goalie has a great season, he can carry a team far in the postseason.
Some of this season’s hardest-working goalies are having good seasons; others, not so much. Here we will look at the most-used goalies (by starting percentage) and whether their teams should continue to trot them out there as often as they did in the first portion of the season. As a holiday bonus, we’ll take the list to 11, à la Spinal Tap’s amplifiers:
Stats via Hockey Reference. A quality start, a statistic invented by ESPN Insider Rob Vollman, is an individual game performance of an above-league average save percentage, or fewer than three goals allowed, divided by the total games played.
1. Pekka Rinne, Nashville Predators
Start percentage: 90.3
Back-to-back starts: 0
Quality start percentage: 84.0
Save percentage: .933
Backup save percentage: .914
Barry Trotz has to be shaking his head at Rinne’s performance this season. Last season, when the Predators’ all-world goalie was out, Trotz tried four others between the pipes, none of which ended the season with higher than a .910 save percentage; Trotz lost his job (and was replaced by Peter Laviolette). Rinne is now healthy and making his new coach look like a genius, putting together a Vezina Trophy-caliber season thus far. It will be difficult to maintain a quality start percentage of 84.0, but based on his history, the Finnish goalie is capable of staying at the top of most major goaltending stats. He has posted seasonal save percentages of .930 and .923 while starting near 90 percent of his team’s games. And with Rinne at the top of his game, Nashville could continue to make noise in the West; it’s a no-brainer to keep using him in this fashion.
To see the full list of the NHL’s top workhorse netminders — including which ones should be starting less — you must be an ESPN Insider.