Saturday, February 02, 2008

The Underappreciated Cristobal Huet (Stats Suite)

In scanning the blogs today, I came across one that I thought looked a bit more unique. Although Cristobal Huet was named one of the NHL's three stars for the month of January, his play has gone largely unheralded for much of the season.

This piece by considerate and well-written blogger T.C. Denault at HabsWorld, is an excellent read and I recommend it. The piece is very complete and considers most of the relevant material (basically a professional job of it); however, I did take the liberty of supplementing it with some stats, here below, to add to the argument myself.

(I should also credit Tobalev on this one, as he has been telling me about these stats for months on end, as a tireless Huet advocate and admirer)

With Huet, we somehow know the guy is good, but perhaps don't appreciate how good. I wanted to add to Denault's piece with some stats I ran this morning on Huet, and some thoughts.

1) T.C. recognises that:

For an idea of Huet’s value this year, consider this; his save percentage is equal to Vancouver’s Roberto Luongo, and is better than some of his more well known contemporaries, such as Martin Brodeur, Evgeni Nabokov, Rick Dipietro, Henrik Lundqvist, Marty Turco, and Dominic Hasek.

But also consider for a minute that Nabokov, Turco and Hasek have never had a better save percentage than Huet over these three seasons. When you add to this the fact that Brodeur, DiPietro, Kiprusoff, Giguere, Vokoun and Lundqvist have only outranked him in this category once, then you can see how well he has been able to do.

In fact, only Roberto Luongo (of all goalies playing enough games to be considered) has outdone Huet in two out of the three seasons including this one. Huet may yet remedy that as he sits one 1/1000th behind the Vancouver goalie at present (.924 vs. .923).

2) Cristobal Huet is one of 13 goalies to post a Save % of greater than .920 over the three seasons. He is one of 9 to maintain this stat at the end of a season. And, he is one of 2 among those who have achieved the feat in the past to be able to achieve that height again this season. The other, of course, is Luongo.

If you indulge the belief that Save % is the true personal statistic for a goalie (best estimate in any case) like I do, this fact is truly impressive. Particularly, because I feel that .920 is a mark of excellence in goalies, just as .900 is a nminimum standard to make an NHL living.

3) Finally, consider that Cristobal Huet has the best cumulative Save % of anyone not named Dan Ellis (only 21 GP), over the past 3 seasons (Top 10 goalies over 3 years of those that have outranked Huet at least once in Save %):

Dan Ellis
41 GA, 540 SA: .924

Cristobal Huet
259 GA, 3384 SA: .923

Nicklas Backstrom
150 GA, 1932 SA: .922

Roberto Luongo
479 GA, 5902 SA: .919

Tomas Vokoun
389 GA, 4777 SA: .919

Martin Brodeur
459 GA, 5505 SA: .917

Tim Thomas
368 GA, 4323 SA: .915

Mikka Kiprusoff
448 GA, 5496 SA: .915

Henrik Lundqvist
383 GA, 4496 SA: .915

Chris Mason
239 GA, 2802 SA: .915

JS Giguere
362 GA, 4228 SA: .914

Finally, it is interesting to consider that one knock on Huet is that his ability to win when things are on the line is questionable.

As we're keeping a better log this year of performances, both objective and subjective, I'd say that's just not true. He has been among the three stars as many times as anyone but Kovalev and Tobalev has picked him as outright player of the game 9 times in 51 opportunities. Furthermore, in games where he has faltered early, his ability to regain composure and "shut the door" so his teammates have a chance to come back has been impressive.

As for big games, we can look to the spring of 2006 as evidence that he has the ability to pull those off. His regular season heroics, where he eventually ended up posting the number one Save % in the league (.929) and taking the Habs into the playoffs all came in pressure games.

Furthermore, he went on to post an impressive .929 Save % again in the playoffs against the number two team and eventual Cup champions (Carolina), who also had the third best offense in the league to that point. Of course I remember the Williams goal that sealed the deal, but one could find similar evidence against any goalie who did not win the Cup in any given year (even Brodeur).

It's for that reason, I can look past the 82nd game of last season now, even though it has taken a while.

Basically, Cristobal has earned his redemption by reproving his worth this season. He has shown us that that Toronto debacle and those 5 losses in Feb 2007 were the anomaly, not his all-star selection, league leading Save % or regular season heroics in 2006. If I'm so bold, I would say that were it not for his injury in February last season, we would have made the playoffs, even with the scoring woes.

You can't pay too much top goaltending of this variety (not when the salary fits under the max salary anyway). And, as a bonus, Huet would be the perfect mentor for any young star goalie coming through, of which we have 2. If I'm Bob Gainey, I do make an effort to re-sign the French goaltender right away. And since Gainey has gone on record as saying there is no policy for not negotiating contracts in the season, I am sure that these discussions have already been broached. Whether Huet is pricing himself out of the Canadiens salary comfort zone is altogether another matter.

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