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The Unproven Playoff Goalie Trend

Tonight the Montreal Canadiens passed over their backup goalie Peter Budaj to play minor leaguer Dustin Tokarski in their losing playoff game against the New York Rangers.  When their second round playoff series was on the line against the Los Angeles Kings, the Anaheim Ducks chose to play John Gibson in net instead of proven goalie Jonas Hiller.  They lost and pulled Gibson in the second period of game seven.  These are both examples of teams choosing to play unproven goalies instead of those with NHL experience in an important game.  The logic behind these moves is that the proven goalie is a proven entity.  We have a pretty good idea how good he is and how good he isn't.  We know that he will not likely steal the game, but he isn't likely to totally blow it either.  He is the "safe" choice.  The unproven goalie has a much bigger range of potential outcomes that may occur.  He isn't proven in the NHL and he may completely blow this game.  There is a chance he might steal the game - often because we haven't seen him in that situation enough to totally discount it.  Most likely he will not be as good as the proven goalie.  There is a good reason why the proven goalie has had the chance to play in front of the unproven goalie all season.  This is a case of the unlikely but not totally disproved chance of the unproven goalie being the next star getting more weight than the fact that the proven goalie is almost certainly a better goalie.  It is a poor move far more often than it is a good move.

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Peter Budaj, with zero wins, an .843 save percetage and 5.13 GAA in seven career playoff games spread over four playoff seasons, is hardly proven.

Posted by Garth on 05/20/14 at 07:31 AM ET

shanetx's avatar

All Budaj has proven is that he’s not very good. 

As someone who styles themselves as a metrics guy, I think the best way to view this is that Budaj has a negative VORP.  The unknown rookie is potentially replacement level or better.

Posted by shanetx from Floydada, Texas on 05/20/14 at 02:26 PM ET

shanetx's avatar

This is a case of the unlikely but not totally disproved chance of the unproven goalie being the next star getting more weight than the fact that the proven goalie is almost certainly a better goalie.  It is a poor move far more often than it is a good move.

I think some of the incentive to do this stems from the thought process that a young goalie will keep it simple AND be riding on an adrenaline rush that makes them play outside of their ability.  It’s a desperate move, without question.  I think in the Canadiens case it’s an acknowledgement that the only way they conceivably advance and win the cup is if a rookie Patrick Roy walks through that door.  It isn’t going to happen, but Budaj has no chance either.

Posted by shanetx from Floydada, Texas on 05/20/14 at 02:32 PM ET

PuckStopsHere's avatar

If we give the players arbitrary ratings out of 100, Peter Budaj might be 55 +/- 10.  Dustin Tokarski might be 45+/-30.

The point is that Budaj is likely better than Tokarski (55 to 45), but in the peak it is possible Tokarski could be a 75 and Budaj can only be 65.  Its a bad bet statistically.  It is most of the time a case of striking out while swinging for the fences.  A walk or a sac fly would be worth more than striking out.

Posted by PuckStopsHere on 05/20/14 at 03:37 PM ET

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imageThe Puck Stops Here was founded during the 2004/05 lockout as a place to rant about hockey. The original site contains over 1000 posts, some of which were also published on FoxSports.com.

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