While watching the New York Rangers embarrass the Philadelphia Flyers Wednesday night, I heard a member of the broadcast team mention Henrik Lundqvist’s age (32). That was all it took to get the gears spinning in my head. The initial question I formulated was as follows:
Is there an optimum age and/or experience level for Stanley Cup-winning goalies?
Breaking the question down further, I wondered: When goalies of different ages and experience levels meet in the Stanley Cup Finals, who wins – the older, more experienced goalie or the younger netminder with fewer NHL games under his belt? Logic dictates that, in such a high-pressure environment, age and experience trumps youthful energy. Does logic apply to the Stanley Cup Finals? I decided to look at the 25 seasons prior to the current campaign, going back through the 1987-88 season. For each year, I noted the age and NHL experience (total seasons played) of both the Cup-winning and -losing goalie. When a team used more than one goalie in the Cup Finals, I took the average of both age and experience (I’ll admit it’s not a perfect system, but I didn’t have weeks to ponder this, so I went with the easiest solution). The results were not what I expected:
- Average age of a Cup-winning goalie: 28.64 years
- Average NHL experience of a Cup-winning goalie: 6.88 seasons
- Average age of a Cup-losing goalie: 29.92 years
- Average NHL experience of a Cup-losing goalie: 7.52 seasons
Over the last 25 seasons, Cup-winning goalies were, on average, 1.28 years younger and had played 0.64 fewer NHL seasons than the masked man at the other end of the rink. Looking at it from another angle, when an older goalie met a younger one in the Finals, the older goalie won 10 and lost 12 series, for a win pct. of .455. In addition, when netminders of differing experience levels met, the more experienced of the two went 10-13 (.435).
Obviously, a Stanley Cup-winning team is much more than just the man in the crease. Many factors beyond goaltending influence the outcome of the Finals. Setting aside all other factors, however, stamina seems more important than experience for goalies in the playoffs, where multiple-overtime games are not uncommon. As the last 25 seasons indicate, younger netminders have an advantage in the fourth, and final, seven-game series following an 82-game regular season. Older goalies can – and do – win the Cup: 10 of the last 25 Cup-winners were 30 or older…but older goalies lose more often, as 14 of 25 Cup-losers were in their thirties.
With the above numbers in mind, I decided to attempt to predict the outcome of the 2013-14 Stanley Cup Finals. I only considered the top three teams in each division (no Wild Card teams). Based primarily on the age and experience of the starting goalies for each team, I see the Conference and Stanley Cup Finals playing out like so:
Eastern Conference Finals: Boston (Rask, 27 yrs old/6 NHL seasons) def. Pittsburgh (Fleury, 29/9)
Western Conference Finals: St. Louis (Miller, 33/10) def. Chicago (Crawford, 29/6)
Stanley Cup Finals: Boston (Rask, 27/6) def. St. Louis (Miller, 33/10)
Is goalie age and/or experience an accurate predictor of post-season success? It’s not what I’d call the “Holy Grail” of statistical analysis tools, but it’s certainly something to think about…and if you’re now thinking about your team’s goalie, my work here is done.