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By The Numbers: Goaltender Regression

The Hurricanes’ magic in goal last season fueled their deep playoff run. We take a look at how likely it is to happen again this season.

Jamie Kellner

The Carolina Hurricanes had a fantastic season in goal last year, and was a key component in the team’s extended postseason run. Unfortunately, the goaltending situation wasn’t (and still isn’t) built in a way that allows for a lot of stability from year to year.

On top of Curtis McElhinney’s departure in free agency, the Hurricanes lost their goaltending coach Mike Bales over the summer, as he resigned to take the same job with the Buffalo Sabres. And to make things even more confusing, it’s not even certain which two goaltenders will dress on opening night. Last year’s AHL Most Outstanding Goaltender award winner, Alex Nedeljkovic, is hungry to crack the NHL lineup as he enters his fourth professional season.

Newly hired Goaltending Coach Jason Muzzatti is an understated linchpin in the goaltending situation. Bales was clearly a key contributor last season, and his departure adds a new layer of uncertainty to the fold coming off of what was the best goaltending season in Carolina in recent history.

Petr Mrazek

Mrazek is the kind of goaltender that seems prime for regression. He is coming off of a career year as he reestablished his reputation as a “1A” type goaltender. Mrazek had a few very solid seasons early in his NHL career in Detroit, but faltered a bit and was eventually dumped to Philadelphia on the tail end of a disappointing contract year. After he wasn’t tendered a qualifying offer there, he ended up in Carolina on a one-year “prove it” deal. He had no trouble doing that, and he became yet another testament to the fact that goaltender evaluation in the NHL is an imperfect science.

Petr Mrazek Vital Statistics

Year Save Percentage Goals Allowed Average Goals Saved Above Average High Danger Save Percentage
Year Save Percentage Goals Allowed Average Goals Saved Above Average High Danger Save Percentage
2018-19 0.931 1.88 4.48 0.863
Career Best (2015-16) 0.931 2.00 4.90 0.851

Expecting regression from Mrazek is not pessimistic or unrealistic, and it’s one of the reasons why the Hurricanes didn’t throw a Sergei Varlamov-esque contract at him after what was a really incredible comeback season in Raleigh. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Mrazek’s numbers fall closer to his career averages this season, and I don’t think that it would be damning for the team’s playoff hopes if we do see a bit of regression. Average goaltending, as you may have heard a time or two, will give this team a good enough chance to win hockey games. There’s also a decent chance that Mrazek drastically underperformed in 2016-17 and 2017-18, and last year was his return to form. He’s certainly given us reason to believe that’s the case.

1B Goaltender

I haven’t selected a goaltender to fill Curtis McElhinney’s 1B slot yet as it’s still unsolved. There’s probably a better chance that this spot goes to the newly acquired James Reimer, as he has had demonstrable success at the NHL level as opposed to the still-developing Nedeljkovic. Nedeljkovic is also on a newly inked two-way deal, and has one more season of a waiver exemption, which indicates that he’ll likely spend another season in Charlotte barring an exceptional training camp from him coupled with a poor one from Reimer.

Curtis McElhinney vs. James Reimer

Goalies Save Percentage Goals Allowed Average Goals Saved Above Average High Danger Save Percentage
Goalies Save Percentage Goals Allowed Average Goals Saved Above Average High Danger Save Percentage
Curtis McElhinney 0.921 2.32 2.22 0.817
James Reimer 0.911 2.74 -9.29 0.788

Either way, there’s a very good chance that the 1B this season is a step below McElhinney’s performance in the role last season. McElhinney’s play was fantastic and probably unsustainable, and there’s some question about Reimer’s ability to step in and be a serviceable second guy.

Similar to Mrazek, I think that the team will be fine if they can get average 1B goaltending out of whoever takes the second goaltending roster spot. Whether or not that’s Reimer remains to be seen.

*All Stats at 5v5.