With the hockey world going into lockdown in March, right as the playoffs were about to kick off, I turned to EA Sports NHL 20 for my hockey fix. Using Sportlogiq data, I decided to rework the overall system and assign new attributes to every NHL player based on their real-life performance. In Part 2 of this 5 part series, I will break down the results for goaltenders. If you missed Part 1, in which I explained the process, click here to go give it a read to make sure you see the method behind the madness.
Reworking the goalie ratings system was the most fun part of the experiment for me. Rating skaters is difficult because they can be effective in vastly different ways. It’s tough to boil things down to one number to compare a defensive ace, like Anthony Cirelli or Phillip Danault, to a pure goal scorer like Alex Ovechkin or a speedy playmaker like Mat Barzal.
Goalies, meanwhile, have one job: stopping pucks. Yes, there are other skills like passing where a goalie can excel, but it all boils down to their ability to stop shots. A great goalie can carry a team on his back and a bad one can sink even the most talented of squads. There are also a lot fewer netminders than skaters, so it was easier to do multiple attempts with different formulas.
After pouring through the individual ratings for each goaltender, I started noticing a strange trend. While there is a good degree of variance between the best and worst goalies in the NHL, there is a total lack of strengths and weaknesses for each individual. It’s especially glaring when you look at what I will refer to as the “five save stats”: Five Hole, Glove High, Glove Low, Stick High, and Stick Low.
Braden Holtby is a perfect example of this. Here’s what his five save stats look like in the most recent EA roster update:
Glove High: 89
Glove Low: 89
Stick High: 89
Stick Low: 89
Odd, isn’t it? Just perfectly even all around. And this isn’t an isolated case either; most goalies have their five save stats in a very small range, if not identical like Holtby’s. After noticing this trend, I wanted to properly quantify it to make sure it was more than just an impression. I compiled a list of every goalie and classified them in two categories: those whose best and worst five save stats were within 2 points of each other, like Holtby, and those who have a delta of 3 or more between their strongest and weakest save attribute. Here is what the distribution looks like:
Nearly 80% of NHL goalies have little to no variation in their attributes. Only two had a delta of at least 5 points between their best and worst five save stats: Elvis Merzlikins and Carey Price. This means that no matter who’s between the pipes, there is no real purpose of targeting specific areas of the net. You can’t spot a weak glove hand and try to attack it or see a goalie that excels with High shots but struggles with anything that is sent down low and game plan accordingly.
Back to our guinea pig, Braden Holtby. With Sportlogiq data, we can track how goalies actually perform in all five areas of the net. Holtby was having a pretty tough season before the stoppage, with a sub .900 save % and a GAA over 3.00. He was also beat five-hole 23 times, second-most in the NHL behind Freddie Andersen, and ranked in only the 16th percentile in five-hole save % among eligible goalies. He was much better low on the blocker side, where he ranks at the 73rd percentile. Here is a full breakdown of where he ranks in save % per zone:
Five-Hole: 16th percentile
Glove High: 59th percentile
Glove Low: 11th percentile
Stick High: 37th percentile
Stick Low: 73rd percentile
The five save stats are the most glaring, but the other attributes have a similar pattern of being confined to a small range with little variation across the board. Once again looking at Holtby, here is his full rating card:
Of the 19 attributes NHL 20 has for goaltenders, only passing, puck playing frequency, and durability are not contained in the 88-91 range for the Caps starting goalie, none of which directly impacts his ability to stop pucks. The game could use some variety between the different netminders to better reflect real life and make each one feel more unique.
Using real-life data for each goaltender, I came up with new attributes that better reflect their real-life performance. I used only data from the 2019-20 season, so don’t be surprised if Jimmy Howard crashes down in overall or a few unexpected names jump up in rating. If you want to know in detail the process I used to rework the stats, take a look at the full breakdown in Part 1 here.
First, of the 19 different in-game attributes, there is a handful I decided to leave untouched.
Aggressiveness: I wanted to have data on how deep in their nets each goaltender played: the furthest out of their crease on average, the higher the aggressiveness rating would be. Unfortunately, the NHL’s plan to have chips on players isn’t yet fully implemented, so this one will have to wait.
Speed and Agility: Once again, the lack of tracking data makes it tough to assess the athletic profile of players through numbers only, so I chose to leave it untouched
Durability and Endurance: I only used data over one year, so I didn’t want to dock a usually durable player for a freak injury or prop up an injury-prone player who went through a healthy year.
Poise: Poise is one of those weird stats that tries to measure intangibles. In this case, it seems to influence mostly how one performs in the playoffs. Since I used data only for this past regular season, I decided to leave it untouched.
Breakaway: The sample size here was just too small over a single season and this attribute has a big impact on the final overall number, so I left EA’s ratings untouched here.
This leaves 13 attributes that were included in the overhaul, with a total of 31 data points taken into consideration for each goaltender. Some, like poke checking, were fairly simple, while others like rebound control and angles used 5 or more data points each. I also included a time played variable to stop Backups like Anton Khudobin, who posted a .930 save percentage, being rated as the best goalie in the NHL.
After running the numbers, all that was left was input the new data into the game and the results were very encouraging. Remember earlier when I said roughly 80% of goalies had their five save stats within 2 points of each other? Here’s what the distribution looks like after the overhaul.
What about our boy Holtby? What does his new player card look like?
Instead of 89s across the board in his save stats, he now has a much wider range, topping with his stick low at 92 and down to his five-hole and glove low at an 83. His overall also dropped from an 88 to an 86, which makes sense given his poor 2019-20. He was still used as a number one goaltender this past year, so his high ranking in minutes played kept his overall from plummeting and so did the stats I left untouched.
The effect is seen league-wide too. The distribution of the five save stats was turned on its head. The 80% of goalies with their stats within 2 points on the default roster has shrunk down to less than 2%. Over 80% of goaltenders now have a variation of at least 5 between their five save stats. This makes each goaltender a lot more unique, each having strengths and weaknesses. An 80 overall goalie could potentially have a better glove than a 90 overall, but be extremely weak everywhere else. I believe this could lead to a more dynamic playing experience, as you would need to adapt to each goalie you face.
Now, before I show you some of the more interesting results, I want to specify a couple of things. First, remember this only includes 2019-20 data. Name value or past accomplishments do not bring value outside of the few attributes I left untouched and kept the default EA number.
Second, while I played a lot with the weighting of different statistics for each attribute, I did not have a say over the final overall number. Some attributes, like Rebound Control or Recover, have a much bigger impact on a player’s overall. Others, such as vision, have a significantly smaller impact. Whether I agree or not with those weights is irrelevant, I had to go with what the game’s algorithm dictated.
With that said, here are the results, starting with the league’s top-5 rated netminders
TOP 5 GOALIES
Only 5 goaltenders made it into the 90 overall club and they’re all deserving candidates. Tuukka Rask led the league with a 2.12 GAA. Connor Hellebuyck is a lock as a Vezina finalist and is probably the favorite to take home the hardware. Corey Crawford might be the most surprising name with a 2.77 GAA, but the fact he was able to post a .917 save % while also facing the 3rd most slot shots per game and 5th most inner slot shots per game is extremely impressive. Binnington proved his Cinderella run to the Stanley Cup last season was not just a fluke with another strong season. And Vasilevskiy continued to do Vasilevskiy things. I was surprised to see his overall dip, but it was mostly due to an 86 Glove Low and 88 Recover, nearly everything else was at least a 90.
This is where I want to stress once again that 2019-20 was the only season taken into consideration. They might not be the first names that pop up when you think of quality starters, but all four names were able to put up respectable numbers behind some of the worst defensive teams in the NHL. They all had a big share of the workload, ranging between 34 and 42 starts, and faced a ton of quality shots, all falling in the top 21 in slot shots faced per game. In terms of goals saved per 60, all four cracked the top 20. These overalls would be a different story if we included multiple seasons, but that’s neither here nor there.
Devan Dubnyk had a difficult season as he dealt with off-ice family issues, so I don’t want to go too in-depth with him. Jimmy Howard started the season just 6 wins away from the 250 career wins mark. 27 starts later, he is still 4 wins away from the milestone. In fact, the last time a goaltender posted a mark worse than his 4.20 goals against average in at least 20 starts, Mario Lemieux led the NHL in scoring with 161 points. For the curious ones, it was Artus Irbe, who posted a GAA with the Sharks in 1995-96. The remaining four fallers all posted save percentages under .900 in limited appearances. Of the 61 goalies to have played at least 650 minutes, those 6 all rank 55th or lower in goals saved per 60 minutes.
IF YOU’VE MADE IT THIS FAR…
…I assume you’re as big of a stats nerd as I am. So here is a Google Sheet including all the new individual attributes for the 61 goalies included in this exercise if you want to import them yourself to your Franchise Modes or if you’re simply curious as to where your favorite goalie stacks up. I hope you enjoy!
Link to the spreadsheet:
Make sure to stay tuned for Parts 3-5 of this series. Up next is a breakdown of the results for skaters on Thursday, which will be followed up by a playoff simulation in NHL 20 with the new overalls and using the new return to play format next Tuesday. Then, to finish everything up, I will outline a few suggestions on how I believe the overall system could be tweaked and improved in future games.