In today’s goalie news, we’ll take a look at the new backup on the scene in Toronto, and we’ll look at who’s on top in goals saved above average (GSAA).
Dubas High on Kaskisuo
The Toronto Maple Leafs made a bold move earlier this week, waiving Michael Hutchinson and welcoming Kasimir Kaskisuo to the difficult role of team backup. The 26-year-old undrafted Finnish goaltender has slowly made his way through the ranks of the Maple Leafs’ system, and he’s now got his best opportunity to prove his long-term value to the team.
Kaskisuo certainly has been a journeyman since he arrived in North America in the 2013-14 season. He has played at almost every conceivable level of the game: he started in the North American Hockey League with the Minnesota Wilderness, then played in the NCAA with the University of Minnesota-Duluth. Since finishing there in 2015-16, he’s played at two stops in the American Hockey League (AHL) and he’s played parts of two seasons with the Orlando Solar Bears of the ECHL.
At times, Kaskisuo has seemed overlooked or forgotten, but in recent seasons, he’s seemed more likely to reach the highest level. In the 2017-18 season, on loan with the Chicago Wolves of the AHL, he had a .914 save percentage (SV%) and a 2.38 goals-against average (GAA) in 28 games. And though the 2018-19 regular season wasn’t kind, he had a .927 SV% in 12 postseason games and a .928 SV% in eight regular-season games this season.
That was enough for the Maple Leafs to at least take a chance on Kaskisuo over the struggling Hutchinson. Starting exclusively on the second half of back-to-back games, Hutchinson posted dreadful numbers, going 0-4-1 with a .879 SV% and a 4.44 GAA. Though Kaskisuo is likely to draw mostly the same assignment, Maple Leafs’ general manager Kyle Dubas seems confident that he can shoulder the burden.
The Maple Leafs are scheduled to play back-to-back games this weekend, so if tradition holds, Kaskisuo should make his debut Saturday night on the road against the Pittsburgh Penguins. It’s a brutal “welcome” to the NHL, but at least he won’t have to face two-time Hart Trophy winner Sidney Crosby, who unfortunately has been sidelined for six weeks after core surgery.
Stat Survey: GSAA Leaders
GSAA (or goals saved above average, as we mentioned at the top) is one of the most important hockey statistics that you might not know about. However, if you’re ever debating with your friends about the relative merits of two goalies, GSAA is a good starting point. It measures a goalie’s SV% on a certain number of shots versus the league average SV% on the same number of shots to generate a number of goals he’s saved more (or less) than his peers. According to Hockey-Reference, Tony Esposito is the all-time career leader with 498.
But goaltending is a notoriously fickle position, and a goalie’s situation affects his performance as much as anything else, though not always in predictable ways. For example, last season, with a largely respected defense around him, Winnipeg Jets goaltender Connor Hellebuyck was 20th in the league with 5.86 GSAA. Currently, he’s leading the league with 9.59, despite his defense seemingly being in shambles.
Rounding out the top five are three potential surprises, though two of the three were ranked very highly in our preseason NHL goalie rankings. Positions two and three are held by Thomas Greiss (9.18) and Robin Lehner (9.05) who shared the Jennings Trophy last season with the New York Islanders. Though Lehner has moved onto Chicago, they are building on their strong form, as they both finished last season in the top-five as well.
Finally, Darcy Kuemper’s strong run of form in the desert continues as he’s posted 8.52 GSAA with the Arizona Coyotes. And while there were concerns about Ben Bishop’s performance in the early going this season, he’s back up near the top of the league with 7.97 GSAA.
The other end of the spectrum is brutal. Currently, Jonathan Quick is the worst goalie in the NHL, and it’s not even close, with a league-worst minus-11.69 GSAA. Sergei Bobrovsky, Cory Schneider, and Martin Jones are all in the bottom four as well. And interestingly, the Jets’ backup, Laurent Brossoit, is fifth-worst in the league at minus-6.73. That represents the most severe tandem differential in the league and speaks to the strength of Hellebuyck to overcome an obviously porous defense.
Trip to the Archive: Mobile Goalies
Have you ever wanted to know more about why goalies do (or don’t) handle the puck, and who some of the best were at the art? Look no further.
Tabatha Patterson dove into the history of puck-moving goalies in the NHL, and we think it’s a terrific read for your Friday morning. Enjoy!
Stephen Ground is an author with The Hockey Writers and is co-host of the Two Guys No Cup Podcast. He enjoys studying the numbers and providing fresh looks at various stories.