With training camp a little under 3 weeks away, we thought we’d get things started with the MLHS Season Preview Series. Leading up into training camp, our writers will break-down and provide insight into each position. This week, we’ll start the series with a look at the Leafs‘ goaltending duo of James Reimer and Jonathan Bernier.
Next season’s tandem of James Reimer and Jonathan Bernier will be a focal point of discussion and debate. Moreover, the trade for Jonathan Bernier has already driven a wedge between those who a) see Reimer as the Leafs’ bonafide number 1 goalie deserving of management’s full confidence, and the trade and subsequent contract as unnecessary; b) believe Bernier was brought in to be the number 1, and c) think that fair and open competition between the two will ultimately decide who takes the starting job. I’m leaning towards c), but this piece really isn’t about my opinion on how the goaltending situation will sort itself out.
One of the “what if” scenarios involves a 50/50 (or something like it) split between the two goalies. Reimer and Bernier would get an equal number of starts. However, how well do these particular tandems, and their teams, perform? Better yet, do we have any recent precedents for how a young 50/50 tandem might fair? With these questions in mind, I decided to identify all the, let’s call them, split tandems between 2001 and 2012. I excluded the most recent season because its abbreviated nature might skew results.
Technically, a 50/50 split would involve both goaltenders starting the exact same number of games, namely 41 games each. However, in order to facilitate the analysis, I decided to depart from this rigid definition and began by determining what the “Games Started Threshold” might be for a number one goaltender. The threshold I used was 70% of a full 82-game season, roughly 55 games, and I came to this number through crowd-sourcing on Twitter and eye-balling historical goalie stats on NHL.com. So, any goalie with 55, or less, games started would fit the first sample criteria. The second criteria was that the goalie had to have started in, at least, 30 games. Since 30 games is nearly 40% of a season, I thought it would serve as a good floor. Therefore, I determined my sample by only including goalies who started between 30 and 55 games, from 2001-2012. One assumption I made is that any goalie who was traded mid-season was assumed to have played all games with whichever team he started the most games.
In total, there were 58 tandems in the sample. Some well known sample tandems included Potvin+Storr (LAK-2003), Lundqvist+Weekes (NYR-2006), Nabakov+Toskala (SJS-2006), Osgood+Hasek (DET-2008), and Halak+Elliott (STL-2012), just to name a few. From 2001 to 2012, on average, 6 teams per season employed split tandems and such tandems played an average of 79 games. Of the 58 tandems, 30 of them played for playoff teams (16 Eastern & 14 Western) and 2 were Stanley Cup Winners (DET-2008 and CHI-2010). Here is a table containing a list of all the teams, per year:
When you consider that 30 out of 58 (52%) split tandem teams were playoff teams, it doesn’t seem to suggest that such teams are any more likely to make the playoffs. Add in their average Sv% and GAA, and split tandem teams don’t appear to outperform the league averages:
Of course, Reimer and Bernier could outperform league averages. In other words, teams are generally no better off rolling two goalies, but that does not preclude the right combination of goalies from outperforming.
In perusing the data, I also noticed that the age ranges of tandems varied greatly. In fact, Dwayne Roloson and Nikolai Khabibulin popped-up numerous times in the sample. Since we’re focused on Reimer and Bernier, both 25 years old as of the writing of this article, I decided to see if precedents existed in my sample. I tried identifying other tandems where both goalies where between the ages of 23 and 27. This search yielded only 6 tandems:
This particular sample is too small to be useful in terms of calculating averages, but it’s worth noting that only 6 out of 58 tandems were within Reimer and Bernier’s age-range, and that 4 of the 6 like-aged tandems are found in the past 3 years. Oddly enough, 3 of them originated in the ‘old’ Northeast Division. Some may be tempted to point at Halak/Price or Halak/Elliott as successful tandems, but in most cases, a number 1 goalie emerged from the split tandem.
Finally, when you consider how much the Leafs are spending on goaltending ($4.7), relative to other Eastern Conference teams, it appears we’ve hedged the goalie position at a reasonable price for the upcoming season. If you had to put your money on split tandem goaltending, you might as well do it at a reasonable price. Despite his proneness to injury, Reimer should start the year as the number 1 goaltender, but Bernier, with all his upside, shouldn’t be far behind. All in all, the Leafs will have one of the youngest and cheapest duos in the East, along with nice upside.
There is, of course, a doomsday scenario here, too. Let’s first assume the Leafs don’t lose Franson because of the current cap squeeze, and that the addition of Bernier’s $2.9 mill doesn’t cost the Leafs a significant asset before he plays his first game. The one scenario where the Leafs could end up with some undesirable side effects is if Reimer puts a definitive clamp on the number 1 spot. Then, we’re looking at the prospect of considerably pricier goaltending, with a $2.9M back-up in a year where we’ll need to re-sign Reimer himself, Kessel, Phaneuf, Kulemin, Bolland, and Gardiner. Hopefully, Bernier still performs well in the games he does play in this scenario. While there’s little doubt the Leafs would be able to move Bernier if this is the case, it certainly looks bad if this is the end result and the Leafs don’t garner more than what they gave up in the trade.
Overall, last season the Leafs were tied for 7th in team Sv% (0.917) but placed 17th in goals allowed. It goes without saying that the goal will be for the Leafs to reduce the number of shots against and hope that Reimer and Bernier can sustain a top-10 Sv%. The combination of the two would alleviate some of the pressure on the offensive group to replicate last season’s 6th overall performance achieved with a league-leading shooting percentage. The Leafs still appear poised to be among the better offensive clubs in the league, however, and it’s a pretty tantalizing thought if that indeed remains the case all the while the full potential of their young goaltending tandem is also realized.
I think everything can be summed-up in the following points:
- Whether it is Sv% or GAA, there appears to be no discernible advantage in rolling two goalies
- There is barely any precedent for like-age split tandems that are similar to Reimer and Bernier, however
- Reimer taking sole-possession of the starter’s role could be an undesirable scenario asset management wise and maybe cap management wise as well, which puts fans in an awkward position.
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