Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Varlavirth Should be Starting the Playoffs

...not Braden Holtby.

If you've been in the comments section on Japers' Rink, you've seen me say this in bits and pieces, but I want to reiterate again.

First off, we know Braden Holtby is on a hot streak (he's better than Hasek if it's for real). We can be pretty sure, moreover, that his true talent is below NHL average.

Consider this post written about James Reimer. At the time of writing, Reimer was 15 GP with a .932 sv%. Holtby now? 14 GP with a .934. In other words, the post is applicable to Holtby as well. Most goalies, in fact, are below average--you have a few above average guys playing lots of games, and a lot of below average guys playing only a few games each.

Additionally, would you expect Holtby to be ahead in development of Varlamov and Neuvirth at the equivalent times in their careers? Two years ago for Varlavirth is approximately now for Holtby (the first two were drafted in 2006, Holtby in 2008). Varlavirth were each drafted in the first two rounds, and each was a top-5 goaltending prospect as of summer 2009, if memory serves. Holtby was drafted in the fourth round. I doubt he could vault himself into the pantheon of top goalie prospects so quickly.

In my mind, even if Holtby may be reliable in the NHL, he's just too unproven to be a good choice in net. We need hundreds of shots to accurately differentiate between goalies: in any given year, luck accounts for the majority of variance in save percentage (I believe in the order of 70% or so, I vaguely remember reading on Hockey Prospectus). Meanwhile, given the amount of time and amount of shots both of them have faced, we can be pretty sure both Varlamov and Neuvirth are no worse than slightly-below average, and, considering their ages, smart money is on both being average or better (on the upswing in development). The difference between Varlavirth and Holtby may be .005 in save percentage, or, more likely, much greater than that (even the best-case scenario is likely that all three are roughly even, so putting Holtby in would be an unnecessary risk). Twenty-one year old goalies tend to not be all that great (remember all the disappointment surrounding Carey Price and his .905 in his sophomore season?). At least there is a pretty significant track record of twenty-three year old goalies being solid between the pipes. Putting in an unproven goalie is a risk, since we have no idea of his true talent, and on average such young goalies aren't so great. 

The last thing the Caps need is to build up a reliance on a below-average goalie and have him returning to his true talent level in the playoffs. When he comes crashing back to Earth, other teams review the film to get a "book" on him, or do something else to get him off his hot streak, the Caps would be royally screwed. Neuvirth and Varlamov have already been through that process, and have come out ahead of the opposition. We needn't worry they'll suddenly go on a cold streak any more than normal. Teams have been aiming for Varly's high-glove for a couple of years, and he still has an elite even-strength save percentage, for example. Varlamov and Neuvirth are much more proven, and each has already proven he can be relied upon for extended stretches of time (though not all that long).

One of them should be starting for the Caps in the playoffs, not Braden Holtby, and Holtby should be #3 in line.

Just one more note: given the relative lack of goalies in hockey, "average" means top-20 or top-25, about .915 save percentage at the cutoff. That rank among players at any other position is Olympics-worthy (unless you're Canadian). Calling Holtby below-average is like calling him Jose Theodore; I don't know about you, but I'm pleased if Holtby is that good right now.

I'm not trying to knock on Holtby using that terminology (or Neuvirth or Varlamov, for that matter); it's just the reality of playing goalie at this level.

1 comment:

  1. I find your comments a little fact, a lot of the goalie conversation of late has been intense. With a decent amount of hockey knowledge and a little understanding about goalies ('cause they ARE a different breed) you can be a little more rational about the Caps goalie situation. Age, NHL and playoff experience would dictate Neuvy & Varly are our playoff goalies...but as to who plays a big factor with Varly a bit rusty after a long injury layoff. Neuvy, consistent, solid and healthy (not talking about pucks and colds). As for Holtby...let's not get carried away. Too many people jumping on the bandwagon. Even with an amazing call-up run, he's not quite ready to lead the pack into the Stanley Cup playoffs. Let him have a Calder Cup run first. Don't get me wrong, I've been following him and I'm a huge fan and I truly believe he is a future starting NHL goalie! Just not yet. He was sent to Hershey for this work and not sit on the bench as a backup...and to be ready if we need him.