Brian Boucher vs. Cam Ward’s back-ups

Ever since Martin Gerber was played out of a job by Cam Ward in the 2006 Stanley Cup playoffs, the Canes have constantly relied on Ward for their goaltending and haven’t gone to great lengths to provide a back-up to him. In the five seasons Ward has been the Hurricanes franchise netminder, he has started in at least 70% of their games with the exception of the 2009-10 season when he was out for about a month with a leg laceration. His back-ups in all of those seasons have basically been replacement level goalies ranging from AHL call-ups (Justin Peters) to waiver claims (Manny Legace). Last season Ward played in a career high 74 games and had his best season in the NHL, but the Hurricanes began to see that the still relatively young goalie was getting overworked and may need a few more games off this season. Thus, they went out and signed Brian Boucher to two-year deal worth $950k per year. That’s reasonably more than they spent on other back-ups but how different is Boucher from the other goaltenders who played behind Ward? We’ll explore that after the jump.

My usual method of judging goalies is going by even strength save percentage because most of the game is played at 5-on-5 and there tends to be a lot more luck and randomness involved in special teams play, especially when it comes to goaltending. This is what I think is the best way to rate a goalie’s performance over a certain period of time. Let’s first look at Brian Boucher and how he compares to every Canes back-up since Ward took over the reins as a starter. For those of you with a bad memory, the goalies I’m looking at are Michael Leighton, Justin Peters, John Grahame and Manny Legace during their years in Carolina.

EV Save %
Brian Boucher career .912
Brian Boucher post 2005-06 .917
Cam Ward’s backups .906

Since the lockout, the league average save percentage is .918 which makes Brian Boucher about league average during that time but he’s been slightly worse over his career. However, the goalies Carolina have backed up Cam Ward with have been much, much worse than Boucher going by this metric. In fact, none of the four goalies who have backed up Ward posted even strength save percentages above the league average during their time in Carolina. The best performance was Manny Legace’s .915 EV Sv% which is just below average but still miles better than the numbers Grahame, Peters and Leighton put up.

One other method of judging goaltenders is looking at how many “quality starts” they had in a year. This stat was created by the people at Hockey Prospectus as a way to judge goalies by seeing how  much they gave their team a chance to win every night. Realistically, a goalie who stops at least .912 of the shots he faces every night gives his team a better chance to win on any given night than one who starts .900, which is why that is threshold for a quality start. However, the people at HP have determined that a goalie who stops between .885 and .912 of the shots he faces gives his team at least a 50% chance to win, so a quality start will be rewarded to those goaltenders, as well depending on how many goals they let in. My threshold for that is usually three goals because a goalie who allows less than three goals gives his team a better chance to win than one who allows three or more. At least that’s the way I see it. The Hockey Perspectus staff gives a better explanation of this state here.It isn’t perfect and I think using 5-on-5 data and giving context for shot location would make it more accurate and useful, but this works for what we’re doing here.

What we’re going to look at is how many quality starts Brian Boucher had compared to all of Cam Ward’s backups.

Brian Boucher career 141 51% 28.4%
Brian Boucher post 2005-06 52 55.9% 22.9%
Cam Ward’s back-ups 43 44% 23.7%

We care a little more about the post 2005-06 performance for Boucher because that’s when he spent most of his time as a back-up. Much to my surprise, Boucher has given his team a good chance to win more in more than half of his starts in the last few years. During his last two years with the Flyers, he posted a .918 even strength save percentage, which is about .002 below the league average for goalies during that period but he was “quality” in 61.8% (34 of 55) of his starts. I am not sure how this compares with other goaltenders in the league but Boucher’s performance is clearly a lot better than what Ward’s back-ups have given the Hurricanes. That said, Boucher didn’t start in a lot of games the last two years so a small sample size might have something to do with his quality start percentage being as high as it is.

Out of the goaleis who have backed up Ward, the player with the highest quality start percentage was, once again, Manny Legace with 58% of his 24 starts being quality. The lowest was Michael Leighton in 2009-10 with 14% of his 7 starts being quality, which is why he was waived. To show how unpredictable goaltending can be, he was claimed by the Flyers a short time after and played in the Stanley Cup finals.

One other metric Hockey Prospects came up with is the “Really Bad Start” which is when a goalie fails to stop 85% of the shots he faces. This means that he gives his team barely a 10% chance of winning. This is where Boucher doesn’t look so good.

Brian Boucher career 59 20.8%
Brian Boucher post 2005-06 16 17%
Brian Boucher w/ Flyers 10 18.8%
Cam Ward’s back-ups 21 21.6%

Throughout his entire career, Boucher has been prone to some bad, BAD games. When he was a starter in Phoenix from 2002-2004, he had 22 awful starts in 79 attempts and that bloated his numbers a little bit, but he’s had his share of bad outings over the last few years, as well. Over the last two seasons, he’s had 10 awful performances with seven of them coming in 2009-10. Last year was a great season for him. He posted a robust .924 save percentage at even strength, had 19 quality outings and only 3 awful ones. He also had to face 30 or more shots in 10 of his performances. The point remains that his numbers are still better than what any of Ward’s back-ups have done.

The goalie with the most Really Bad Starts (there has to be a better term for this, right?) was John Grahame in 2007-08 with four of his 12 starts being terrible. Also of note is had to face 30 or more shots in eight of his 12 starts that year, too.

I am stilly not 100% sold on this metric but I think it’s safe to say that Boucher is a better goalie than anyone who has backed up Ward. Unfortunately, he hasn’t been good at all this year as he has yet to post a quality start (granted, he’s only started three games) and he’s given up at least four or more goals in all of his starts. With how much luck and variance is involved with goaltending, this was bound to happen. If Ward continues to struggle (which he has lately) I think Boucher should get at least a couple starts this month. The problem is that he’s prone to give up 3 or more goals as much as he is  stopping 29 out of 30.