J.S. Giguere used to be one of the safest bets you could find in the NHL. Over the last decade he was one of the most consistent goalies in the league. From 1999-00 to 2007-08, Giguere’s save percentage was always above average, and always fell somewhere in between .911 and .922.
Giguere’s consistency, combined with a dehydration issue that limited the number of games he could play per season, caused him to be often overlooked when people talked about the best goalies in the league. The spotlight fell on Giguere during a couple of spectacular postseason successes (Giguere’s Conn Smythe-winning run all the way to game 7 of the 2003 Cup Finals and Anaheim’s Stanley Cup run in 2007), but this actually made Giguere seem like a fluke or a two-hit wonder in the minds of many hockey fans who don’t live on the Pacific Coast.
Giguere's even strength save percentage has fallen off the map over the past two seasons. And it seems unlikely that it was his team's fault, since former teammate Jonas Hiller has a terrific .930 even strength rate over the same stretch.
J.S. Giguere’s Situational Save Percentages
EVSV%: Even Strength Save Percentage
PKSV%: Penalty Killing Save Percentage
PPSV%: Power Play Save Percentage
Seasons EVSV% PKSV% PPSV%
2005-06 to 2007-08 .933 .871 .921
2008-09 to 2009-10 .910 .868 .923
Those numbers should be fairly concerning to any Leafs fan, in the wake of Toronto’s acquisition of Giguere on Sunday in exchange for Vesa Toskala and Jason Blake. For the sake of reference, Toskala’s even strength save percentage as a Maple Leaf was .909. With 5 skaters a side Giguere used to be one of the very best goalies in the league. Over the last two years he was barely better than the much-maligned Toskala.
There might be some external factors that explain Giguere’s sudden drop. The main reason for a steep performance decline is injuries. Giguere has had a history of groin issues, and missed two weeks earlier this year with a groin injury. He relies heavily on the butterfly, a movement that is hard on goalies’ knees, hips and groins. It is possible that Giguere has been battling some nagging injuries, and only he would know if he has fully recovered from them.
As Jonathan Willis pointed out at Copper and Blue, Giguere’s personal life may also have been a factor. Giguere’s father passed away in December of 2008. It was only in the second half of the season that his performance dropped and he left the door open for Hiller to emerge at the team’s top goalie. The first half of the 2008-09 season was still in Giguere’s typical performance range:
Months Record GAA SV%
October-December 11-9-3 2.92 .911
January-April 8-9-3 3.34 .884
This doesn’t account for why Giguere’s struggles have continued in 2009-10, however. This season to date Giguere has a 3.14 GAA and a .900 save percentage, which matches almost identically his 3.10 and .900 from a season ago. Having said that, twenty games is a relatively small sample size.
Another factor to take into account is age. Giguere is 32 years old, turning 33 in May.
Goalie aging curves are a bit different than those for skaters. Aging skaters usually take on reduced roles and ice time as they age, which typically causes their production to decrease. With only 60 jobs available there is little room for reduced roles among goalies. Competition for spots is so competitive that goalies who start to lose their skills quickly get replaced. Goalies that are good enough will stick around, but most start to wash out in their mid-thirties.
Here are the numbers of games played since the lockout by goalies of different ages:
What does this mean for Giguere? It means that the Leafs probably don’t have to worry too much about aging effects during his current contract, which expires at the end of 2010-11. From Toronto’s perspective that is fine, since they expect that Jonas Gustavsson will be ready to take over the mantle of full-time starter at that point. However, whichever team signs Giguere in 2011 will likely be taking on a fair amount of risk, especially if he continues to battle injuries.
There are some question marks with Giguere, as there are with any goalie that has gone through an extended slump. It is possible that he will never regain the form that once made him one of the league’s premier goalies. However, goalie performance is often variable, and usually the best predictor of future success is a goalie’s entire track record. Giguere can look to Miikka Kiprusoff for an example of a goalie that has struggled through several down seasons before finally finding his game again. Perhaps reuniting Giguere with former goalie coach Francois Allaire in Toronto will be the change of scenery needed.
From the Leafs’ perspective they are making a good bet, with essentially no downside risk. Giguere’s probably not going to be worse than Vesa Toskala in any event, and his age and track record make him a good candidate for a turnaround. The only cost is that Toronto has to pick up Giguere’s pricy $6 million contract for next season. Don’t expect Giguere to be a long-term solution for the Leafs, but as a stopgap for a couple of years he is likely to be a significant upgrade on their prior goaltending situation.
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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