The Carolina Hurricanes are entering the season without a player on the roster wearing #30 for the first time in over a decade. Without a familiar presence to fall back on in goal, what can we expect from the tandem of Scott Darling and Petr Mrazek next season?
When evaluating goalies it’s important to look beyond the typical indicators of skill that we would find in a box score. While save percentage and goals-against averages are meaningful stats, they mask the fact that every goalie is playing behind a sometimes drastically different quality of team and seeing different attacking talent night in and night out.
A good indication of how a goalie should perform based on his team’s defensive efficiency is a statistic called expected save percentage (xSv%). Since 2015 Cam Ward has clocked in at 27th in the NHL in xSv% at 5-on-5 among goalies who have played at least 4,000 minutes in that time. It’s important to note that this statistic is no indication of Ward’s performance over that frame, but rather an indication of the quality of shots that the Hurricanes allowed while he was in net. Sure, Ward has had a tough time of it in the starter’s crease over the past three seasons, but this statistic would indicate that he wasn’t dealt the best hand to begin with.
This leads us to another meaningful statistic, called delta-save percentage (dSv%). dSv% is simply the difference between a goaltender’s expected save percentage and his actual save percentage. This delta value is a great indicator of how a goalie has measured up to a league average, and Ward’s is unsurprisingly bad at -0.69% since 2015, clocking in at second-worst in the NHL among goalies who have played more than 4,000 minutes in that time frame.
A similar statistic is something called Goals Saved Above Average (GSAA), which measures the number of goals that a goaltender allowed compared to the number of goals that a league average goaltender would have allowed in the same situation. In the time frame and minutes played parameters used above, Ward’s GSAA was -24.3, which is league worst. A quick check on Eddie Lack’s numbers over his two seasons here provides a similar narrative.
It may seem like I’m just beating up on Cam here, but what I’m really trying to reveal is that he had no business shouldering the responsibility of starting goaltender in Raleigh over the past three seasons — but there weren’t any other viable options.
Which leads us to Scott Darling.
When Francis brought in and subsequently signed Darling, he was doing so based on the numbers he posted in Chicago, which all pointed to him being ready to jump into a starter’s role in Raleigh.
But a quick peek at Darling’s statistics over the past two seasons shows a dramatic regression of form.
I would argue that there were other factors at play in this situation that can’t be quantified statistically. Darling has confessed that he didn’t come into training camp last season in shape and ready to go. Despite this, he had a decent start to the season. But once the train goes off the tracks, which it did sometime in November, it’s really hard to get things going again, especially for an NHL goaltender shouldering as much expectation as he was.
In my opinion, the most telling statistical discrepancy in the above chart is Darling’s High Danger Save Percentages (HDSv%) over the past two seasons. Hockey statistician Emmanuel Perry wrote a great series on goaltender efficiency and shot quality two summers ago in which he said, “it appears the skill-driven component of Sv% is almost entirely contained in a goalie’s ability to stop shots of the High-Danger variety.”
Darling had a very impressive HDSv% of 86.31% in his last season in Chicago. That isn’t just good, it was second best in the league that season among goaltenders who played more than 1,000 minutes. But in Carolina the next season that figure dropped to 77.83%, which was well below 30th in the league. Along with that statistic, nearly every other one fell significantly.
Scott Darling could be a great goaltender; he’s proven his potential through his inspirational rise to the NHL as well as his outstanding performances in Chicago. But Darling’s 2017-18 season was a disappointment — both to him and the Hurricanes. And he’s made it clear that he’s working to rectify that, just as management has made it clear that anything he’s given here this season he will have to earn.
With the departure of Cam Ward after over a decade in Carolina, the Hurricanes picked up Petr Mrazek in free agency after he wasn’t tendered a qualifying offer from Philadelphia. Mrazek performed at essentially a league-average level in the backup role in Detroit last season before being traded at the deadline to the Flyers. His performance there was largely disappointing.
So what can we expect from the young goaltender? Let’s take a look at the his numbers.
|Petr Mrazek||2017-18||DET/ PHI||39||1707.62||849||69||91.87||91.88||-0.01||96.58||93.02||79.17||-0.07|
Mrazek is an interesting case in the sense that if you told me in 2016 that in two years that he would be a Hurricane, I wouldn’t have believed you. He looked incredible in Detroit in 2015-16 occupying the starter’s crease and propelling the Red Wings into the playoffs, but was never quite able to completely take over the starting position in Detroit with Jimmy Howard hanging around. (Sound familiar?)
Despite a loss of form over the past two seasons, Mrazek’s numbers since his entrance into the NHL are mostly impressive. Looking at the chart you can see that nearly every statistic lagged since the 2016-17 season. Some have speculated that he didn’t see eye-to-eye with management in the Motor City, but I’m not familiar enough with the Red Wings to speak to that.
His HDSv% stayed relatively high throughout his career with the exception of last season, which I think may have something to do with him being thrown into the fire in Philadelphia on a team that he was largely unfamiliar with. Despite this, his GSAA was only barely lower than zero, indicating that he performed about at the league average given his situation.
Mrazek is a young goaltender with a very high ceiling. He has shown flashes of excellence in Detroit and if he does return to that form he could easily take over the starting role in Raleigh. At just 26 years old, a fresh start in Carolina could be exactly what the Czech needs.
*All stats from Corsica.Hockey