The year 2009 has come and gone, and many “best of” lists have been formulated for the year that was. Here is yet one more, looking at who was the best goaltender in the calendar year of 2009.
Naming the best goalie of a specific year means evaluating results from two different seasons. There is a lot of continuity from year to year for most NHL teams, but some of these goalies are either playing on new teams this year or have been playing in a different team environment as the result of a coaching change or a different style of play.
For example, the Phoenix Coyotes under Wayne Gretzky faced the second fewest power play opportunities against last year. This year with Dave Tippett as coach they have faced the fourth most. Despite this advantage, Phoenix has improved from 23rd to 7th in shots against. This suggests that, while Phoenix may have improved their defense at even strength, all those additional power play shots were an extra challenge for Ilya Bryzgalov. In contrast, the Washington Capitals and Atlanta Thrashers have been much more disciplined this season than last, even with the same coaching staffs in place in both cities.
Those difficulties notwithstanding, here is a breakdown of the top 30 goalies in the league in terms of games played between January 1 and December 31, 2009 (done to eliminate backups from consideration). The goalies are ranked in order of highest save percentage:
Rank Player GP Record GAA SV% Shutouts
1. Ryan Miller 62 40-16-5 2.22 .930 6
2. Tomas Vokoun 65 29-23-12 2.48 .927 6
3. Tim Thomas 56 30-17-9 2.26 .926 6
4. Henrik Lundqvist 73 36-28-8 2.32 .922 4
5. Martin Brodeur 58 38-17-2 2.30 .919 7
6. Evgeni Nabokov 70 43-14-11 2.38 .918 7
7. Jaroslav Halak 40 24-15-0 2.89 .917 2
8. Roberto Luongo 69 42-20-6 2.36 .917 6
9. Chris Mason 68 35-22-11 2.33 .917 5
10. Martin Biron 49 19-23-3 2.80 .916 2
11. Niklas Backstrom 74 38-25-9 2.45 .916 6
12. Miikka Kiprusoff 76 43-24-7 2.53 .915 4
13. Craig Anderson 47 26-13-6 2.85 .914 3
14. Dwayne Roloson 70 33-25-12 2.76 .914 0
15. Ilya Bryzgalov 71 35-29-6 2.57 .914 7
16. Nik Khabibulin 42 21-15-5 2.59 .913 2
17. Pekka Rinne 66 37-19-6 2.52 .913 6
18. Jonas Hiller 55 27-20-2 2.69 .912 3
19. Marc-Andre Fleury 75 46-22-6 2.51 .912 3
20. Cam Ward 67 31-28-7 2.65 .911 7
21. Marty Turco 70 31-26-13 2.58 .911 5
22. Cristobal Huet 54 29-18-3 2.35 .908 5
23. Jon Quick 75 40-28-5 2.60 .907 2
24. Jose Theodore 55 29-17-8 2.85 .903 1
25. Carey Price 54 17-25-8 3.00 .903 0
26. Brian Elliott 53 25-17-6 2.75 .902 3
27. Steve Mason 72 32-26-12 2.84 .900 7
28. Chris Osgood 45 21-13-8 2.90 .897 3
29. J.S. Giguere 38 12-15-8 3.15 .894 1
30. Vesa Toskala 41 15-13-8 3.43 .888 0
This includes the regular season only and not the playoffs. Interestingly, none of the top 15 goalies in regular season save percentage advanced past the second round last year. As a result, even if playoff results were combined with regular season results the list would look pretty similar, especially at the top. The only major gainer would be Jonas Hiller, who would jump from 18th to 6th. Playoff results do not have much impact on the rankings, since in general it was the best teams that advanced through last year’s postseason, not the teams with the best goalies.
Some goalies achieved specific milestones within the year. Tim Thomas won a Vezina, Marc-Andre Fleury won the Stanley Cup, and Martin Brodeur set the career records for most games played, most wins, and most shutouts. I am not giving these achievements any extra credit but am instead focusing on the overall body of work for each goalie in this calendar year alone.
The goalie with the most wins in 2009 was Fleury, in both the regular season and in the playoffs. Pittsburgh won 46 times with Fleury tending their goal, plus 16 more in the playoffs, but Fleury’s slightly above average .912 regular season save percentage and slightly below average .908 playoff mark shows that his high-scoring teammates had a lot to do with that record. Miikka Kiprusoff and Evgeni Nabokov tied for second with 43, but although both have had great starts to 2009-10 they were relatively weak in the second half of 2008-09. These results reinforce the fact that wins are a team stat, and not a good way to evaluate individual goaltenders.
None of the top 8 goalies on the list changed teams during 2009, and all of them likely played in a substantially similar team environment in the first half of this season compared to last year. Therefore taking everything into consideration my picks for the top three goalies of 2009 are the trio that separated themselves from the rest of the pack in terms of save percentage. Other goalies played more games and recorded better counting numbers like wins and shutouts, but on a per-game basis these three were likely the best. In reverse order, they are:
3. Tim Thomas, Boston
Thomas had a breakout season in 2008-09 and has continued to play well in 2009-10, although he has been challenged of late by rookie teammate Tuukka Rask. The success of Rask and last year’s backup Manny Fernandez have led some to believe that Boston’s defensive effort had a major impact on their goaltending numbers, but there are at least a couple of shot quality measures that suggest that may not have been the case. Thomas has an unorthodox style, but the numbers indicate that more often than not he gets the job done. He continued his success into the postseason with a .935 playoff save percentage, although the Bruins ended up falling short in game 7 of the second round.
2. Tomas Vokoun, Florida
The perennially underrated Vokoun had a great second half last year as Florida missed the playoffs by the narrowest of margins (tied on points with Montreal but lost out on a tiebreaker). Vokoun has continued his stellar performance this year, even while backup Scott Clemmensen has stumbled behind the Panthers’ often shaky defense. Florida has allowed the most shots against per game in the league in both 2008-09 and 2009-10 yet Vokoun’s GAA is only 0.10 – 0.20 behind the other top goalies, which shows his large contribution to goal prevention. Vokoun does his best work at 5 on 5: He has a .938 even strength save percentage this year, second in the league among starting goalies, and was at .935 last year (good enough for 3rd best).
1. Ryan Miller, Buffalo
Very few goalies have managed to play at a .930 level over a 62 game stretch like Miller did in 2009. Miller was the leader in both save percentage and GAA. Having missed some time with injuries Miller ranked just 16th in games played in 2009 yet was tied for fifth in both wins and shutouts. That missed time reinforced how valuable Miller is to his team, as without their starter in net in 2009 the Sabres were just 8-12-1. With Miller they were 40-16-5, which was the second best winning percentage of any goalie, a surprising result for a team that missed the playoffs last season and were picked by many to miss out this year as well.
Miller is currently leading Puck Prospectus’ player power rankings, and has to be considered a frontrunner for this year’s Vezina Trophy and a candidate for the Hart Trophy as league MVP. Half a season remains to be played to see if he can win either of those awards, but for now he is my pick as the best goalie of 2009.
Philip Myrland is an author of Puck Prospectus and runs the statistical hockey website Brodeur Is A Fraud. You can contact him at BrodeurIsAFraud@Inbox.com.
Philip Myrland is an author of Hockey Prospectus.
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