Recently, I have found myself intrigued by the notion of a goaltender going through a 'sophomore slump'.
The logic behind its occurrence definitely makes sense. As a young goalie you arrive on the scene, and benefit from the element of surprise. Shooters have never seen you before, and they don't know your tendencies. The results? Gaudy numbers, and high expectations. The same thing happens in baseball, when a pitcher who isn't necessarily all that talented succeeds in his first few trips through the league because of his quirky delivery.
It usually doesn't last, though. Teams get tape on you, and wind up establishing the so-called 'book' on you. They gameplan to attack your weaknesses. Then, it's up to you to make the necessary adjustments. It's the ultimate game of chess. If you think about it in that matter, there's far more credence given to Henrik Lundqvist's nickname.
Is there reason for Canucks fans to be concerned about Cory Schneider falling to the dreaded sophomore slump? Is the sophomore slump even a real thing? And can we look at recent history to get any sort of indication on what we can expect from him next season?
|Slump, or no slump, Schneider probably shouldn't rely on making saves like this.|
I went through the archives, and sorted goaltending stats since the lockout (from 2005-06 up until this past season). The goaltenders that interest us match the following criteria (for the most part) - they were somewhere between the ages of 22 to 27, had roughly 40 to 60 games of NHL experience to their record, and were coming off of a good season. What's a good season? Having an even strength save percentage hovering around/above league average. I did include a few players who may not have necessarily matched all of the requirements, in an attempt to paint a fuller picture.
|[via Bruce Peter, from 'Habs Eyes on the Prize'']|
Before we go any further, let's remember exactly what Cory Schneider's resume looks like. You'll want to have it as a tool for comparison, shortly. He's currently 26 years old, and has 56 starts in the NHL under his belt. His even strength save percentage last season was a whopping .931.
I essentially split the goalies into four separate groups:
a) Goalies who lit the world on fire in their first year, but had a rough go of it the following season. They're the ones who the people that believe in sophomore slumps would point to as proof.
b) Goalies who either continued their strong play, or in some cases, got even better in their second season (development is fun stuff).
c) Goalies who were highly regarded working there way up through the system, were shaky in their first year, but ultimately wound up improving in year 2 (I told you that development was fun).
d) Tuukka Rask. Just because he doesn't exactly fit into any of the other three, and he needed to be included in this discussion. In '09-'10, he burst onto the scene and registered a .937 even strength save percentage. In '10-'11, he regressed down to .925. What happened? Well, Tim Thomas (remember him?), the '08-'09 Vezina trophy winner, was finally healthy coming off of surgery, and took back control of the starter's role that he had relinquished.
Rask never really got a fair shake that season, but I'm sure the Bruins and their fans don't regret it. I hear that they wound up having a reasonably successful year.
So, what do those tables tell us, exactly?
Goaltending is incredibly fickle. There's hardly any rhyme or reason to it. All of which puts into perspective just how impressive a career a goaltender such as Roberto Luongo has had. It's difficult getting to an elite level, playing against the best players in the world. But it's infinitely more difficult staying there.
I truly believe that doling out hefty contracts to goaltenders is poor asset management. It's just not a smart investment. If you're giving a player a large amount of money over several years, you better be getting some sort of consistency in return.
And goaltending generally tends to be anything but consistent. You may as well settle for closing your eyes, and pointing to a name on a board in an attempt at guessing which goalie will wind up having an incredible year (that ultimately proves to be a blip on the radar).
|If there's one thing Cory can learn from Roberto, it's the consistency he has displayed.|
The stakes are awfully high for you to be doing that as an executive on a professional team, wouldn't you say? For those of you that aren't feeling that lucky, but still feel up for playing the guessing game, have a go at trying to figure out how my full name is spelled. That should keep you entertained for the time being.
Basically, for every goaltender that has fallen to the so-called 'sophomore slump', there have been two or three goalies who have somehow managed to avoid it.
More times than not, the goalies that people use as examples that the sophomore slump exists, simply aren't very good at hockey. It shouldn't be the sophomore slump. It's the sophomore exposition. Their relative lack of ability simply winds up catching up to them eventually.
Sure, there are goaltenders like Jimmy Howard, who hit a speed bump, before getting back to top form the following season. But that's the exception, not the rule.
Chances are that if you're truly an elite goaltender, you'll be able to make the necessary adjustments on the fly. Making those changes during the season prevents you from having the truly catastrophic season of regression added to your resume.
Why does this phenomenon exist, then, if there's no real statistical basis to it? Because it's funner that way. It shouldn't come as a surprise that fans, and even moreso, the media, would focus on the players who wound up struggling, rather than the ones who held true to form. Consistency is boring. False narratives on the other hand, are a huge part of the coverage of sports. It's the daily special on the mainstream media's menu. A daily special that just so happens to run every day of the week.
Now, if only we could find a goaltender who is somehow being clutch while in the midst of a slump that just so happens to be taking place in his second season. That would be fun.
|M.A. Fleury is clutch. He has a Stanley Cup ring. Who cares if he also benefits from playing with great players?|
I recently wrote about how Cory Schneider - and the Canucks - would benefit from a shortened season. I still believe that to be the case. It's quite possible that Schneider could struggle next season. In fact, if he is presented with a workload of 60-65 games, I fully expect his numbers to regress (slightly).
But if that does happen, it will be because of the challenges that accompany having to get yourself mentally prepared every night. As you increase the sample size, you increase the likelihood of there being rough outings where your best stuff simply isn't there. It will be because of the numbers, and averages catching up to him. There's also the fact that being able to handle the workload, physically, is a skill in and of itself.
What I can say for certain though, is that if next season doesn't go as smoothly for Cory Schneider, it won't be due to the sophomore slump. And don't let anyone else tell you otherwise.