What goalie is the best in the NHL? Which goalie is struggling? As in all pro sports people are trying to find a way to measure performance. One of the most common ways to measure a goalie’s performance in ice hockey is with his save percentage, or the percentage of time that the goalie will stop the puck.
How do we know what a good save percentage is? The rule of thumb is that you would like to have a goalie’s save percentage to be 0.915% or higher. The NHL league average for save percentage is 0.910, but most teams and players are looking to be somewhere higher than average to set themselves apart from their fellow competitors.Embed from Getty Images
Let’s talk a closer look at save percentage in the NHL and how it is used both today and in the past to evaluate goaltenders.
What is save percentage and how is calculated?
Save percentage is simply the percentage of shots that an NHL goal stops. It is calculated by taking the number of saves made divided by the total shots faced.
Let’s look at a couple of examples of a goalie in one game:
|Player||Saves||Shots Against||Save Percentage|
- Carey Price got a shutout and stopped all his shots
- Hendrik Lundqvist had a good game and let in two goals and has a .920%
- Fleury uncharacteristically struggled and let in 6 goals and has a .778%
But, sports is random and we cannot only look at one performance to judge a goalie. We need to look at a larger sample to determine what a good save percentage is.
What is a good save percentage?
As a rule of thumb a goalie wants to have a save percentage that is better than average, and is looking at hitting the .915% mark or higher over the course of a season. The league average is 0.910%.
Let’s look closer at some of the data to get a better picture of save percentage.
Best Save Percentage of NHL 2018-2019
|Rank||Name||Team||Save Percentage||Goals Against Average|
As you can see Ben Bishop had the best save percentage at .934 which really is fantastic!
The league average for goalies in the 2018-19 season was 0.910.
The worst save percentage amongst regular goaltenders were: Johnathan Quick .888, Keith Kinkaid .891, Cam Talbot, .892 and Martin Jones .896
Goaltenders are looking for a save percentage at least 0.910 or better – 0.915 is preferable, but anything below .900 is really struggling. If those numbers are kept up this goalie will not be in the NHL for very long
Quick is a 2-time Stanley Cup champ so he will be given a chance to bounce back, but a save percentage under 0.900 makes it extremely difficult for your team to win over the season.
.01 difference in save percentage translates to about 10 to 20 goals per year, depending on how many games a goalie plays. But with so many games being decided by one goal that translates into 10 to 20 points in the standings. When you look at it that way this really can be the difference between making the playoffs or not.
Of the top 10 goalie percentages only 2 missed the playoffs – Jack Campbell and Darcy Kuemper. However, both goalies started to play more after their teams were both so far back in the standings. Kuemper played so well that he almost helped Arizona complete a miracle run to get into the playoffs
The margin between winning and losing in the NHL is razor thin and small differences in save percentages have big impacts.
Save Percentage vs Goals Against Average
For the longest time the most important stat for an NHL goalie was his Goals Against Average (“GAA”), which is simply the average number of goals let in per game. There is even a trophy awarded to the leagues top goalie pair with the lowest GAA – the Williams Jennings Trophy.
However, as the stats world developed GAA came to be seen as a better indicator of team performance than individual performance.
Both goalies can have a 3.00 GAA, but one stops on average 40 shots a night versus 25. So who is better? Well, most would argue that the one facing more shots every night is doing more for his team.
I do think that both stats work in tandem and what you would like to see is a goalie with both a low GAA and a high save percentage. But, on evaluating a goalie’s individual performance I do like save percentage more than GAA. I think GAA reflects more on the team as a whole.
High danger shots and high danger save percentage
The advanced stats community has started to segment the save percentage shots by looking at high danger shots and high danger shots percentage.
Basically, the theory is that all shots are not equal. Shots range from ones that a goalie should stop all of the time to ones that are extremely difficult to save. So, let’s figure out how each goalie does stopping the more difficult shots are what they call high danger shots.
High danger shots are shots that come from the slot to high slot area.
To give you an idea of what a good high danger save percentage is Ben Bishop finished with a .878 HD save %, which was third behind Jaroslav Halak’s .889. Whereas, at the bottom was Roberto Luongo was at the bottom with a .787 HD save %. Source
Best Save Percentage for Career