What is NHL Average Goaltending?

There are a few reasons I’ve been meaning to write about what exactly “average” means in the NHL when it comes to save percentages. One of the main ones is that when it comes to talking about goalies it often feels like everyone has their own sense of who is average and who is elite (and who is terrible). Another is that there seems to be a sense that save percentages are skyrocketing–and a claim that this is a dire problem often follows from that. A little context can make a lot of difference in talking about these things.

Over the past five years, NHL save percentages have been climbing, but not at a shocking rate, and there are a couple of reasons why that is happening.

Lg Avg Sv % 5 yrs

Even-strength (ESSV) and overall save percentage are creeping up over the past five seasons. ESSV went from .9193 in 2009-10 to .9214 in 2013-14. Overall save percentage mirrors that rise, going from .9104 to .9128 in the same span. Both saw a brief rise in 2011-12 followed by a dip in 2012-13. ESSV was at a high of .9224 in 2011-12 and has not yet regained that mark. On the penalty kill, save percentages have gone from .8740 to .8782, a gain of about twice as much as the overall or ESSV, but the number of penalties has varied a great deal during that time as well, generally declining on a per game basis.

As I’ve shown before this rise is occurring mostly at the bottom of the save percentage range rather than at the top. Which is to say that the lowest save percentages in the league are getting higher much faster than the highest save percentages are, and there are a few reasons for that to occur. One of the biggest is the glut of well-trained young goaltenders for teams to turn to. There is simply more competition among players coming into the league and teams don’t have to stick with a player who isn’t performing well.

Another is that as older goaltenders leave the league, younger goalies with more intense technical training are making up a greater subset of the population. There is reason to think that this change will level off at some point as improvements in technique saturate the market. Eventually, all goaltenders from top to bottom will have similar training and the bottom of the league tables will stabilize.

That leads to the question of who is average right now. Taking all goaltenders who played at least 50 games over the course of the past five years, here are the top, middle and bottom ten in even-strength save percentage and overall save percentage. Fifty games is really too low a threshold for save percentage to even out, but this has the benefit of leaving in some of the younger goalies who simply don’t have many years in the league but who are worth keeping an eye on (such as Ben Scrivens, for instance.)

Not in the top ten in either category: Jonathan Quick, Corey Crawford, Sergei Bobrovsky, Ryan Miller, or Semyon Varlamov, which may surprise some people. Increasing the Games Played threshold to 100 games adds Jonathan Bernier and James Reimer to the ESSV top 10 and Jonathan Bernier to the Overall top 10.

Top 10 GP ESSV Middle 10 GP ESSV Bottom 10 GP ESSV
Tuukka Rask 191 0.9355 Ben Scrivens 72 0.9225 Nikolai Khabibulin 215 0.9095
Tim Thomas 321 0.9344 Niklas Backstrom 322 0.9225 Justin Peters 80 0.9094
Anton Khudobin 61 0.9340 Craig Anderson 364 0.9221 Dan Ellis 124 0.9091
Henrik Lundqvist 445 0.9305 Jimmy Howard 402 0.9215 Kevin Poulin 59 0.9083
Roberto Luongo 379 0.9295 Jose Theodore 147 0.9214 Jonas Gustavsson 141 0.9083
Braden Holtby 119 0.9294 Jason LaBarbera 75 0.9209 Curtis McElhinney 78 0.9082
Pekka Rinne 390 0.9282 Evgeni Nabokov 194 0.9203 Chris Mason 125 0.9079
Thomas Greiss 66 0.9281 Ray Emery 132 0.9201 Andrew Raycroft 50 0.9079
Carey Price 420 0.9276 Michal Neuvirth 227 0.9200 Jeff Deslauriers 52 0.9069
Cory Schneider 135 0.9275 Marc-Andre Fleury 426 0.9198 Pascal Leclaire 62 0.9014


Overall SV%
Top 10 GP Overall SV% Middle 10 GP Overall SV% Bottom 10 GP Overall SV%
Anton Khudobin 61 0.9285 Mike Smith 227 0.9138 Martin Biron 75 0.9021
Tuukka Rask 191 0.9272 Craig Anderson 364 0.9137 Chris Mason 125 0.9013
Tim Thomas 321 0.9267 Jimmy Howard 402 0.9130 Jeff Deslauriers 52 0.9007
Cory Schneider 135 0.9264 Jason LaBarbera 75 0.9129 Dan Ellis 124 0.8995
Henrik Lundqvist 445 0.9226 Evgeni Nabokov 194 0.9128 Mathieu Garon 137 0.8990
Roberto Luongo 379 0.9214 Michal Neuvirth 227 0.9124 Jonas Gustavsson 141 0.8985
Pekka Rinne 390 0.9210 Niklas Backstrom 322 0.9121 Peter Budaj 204 0.8982
Tomas Vokoun 302 0.9205 Jhonas Enroth 81 0.9110 Justin Peters 80 0.8982
Ben Bishop 109 0.9198 Jose Theodore 147 0.9102 Pascal Leclaire 62 0.8958
Braden Holtby 119 0.9197 Johan Hedberg 127 0.9101 Nikolai Khabibulin 215 0.8957

If you are interested, you can see complete data for all 69 goalies with at least 50 games in the past five years here:

This doesn’t really decide the question of who is an elite goalie in the NHL and who is average, as save percentage should only be part of the analysis. It’s not really a great measure of goaltender performance as has been noted in this space and elsewhere, but this does shed some light on how the numbers tend to go.