Tuesday 17 July 2012

Jonathan Bernier: Is His AHL Success Meaningful

Some guy likes putting players on NHL 11 covers
 So here is Bernier!  From http://theheadcrusher.picturepush.com

Last night Andi Petrillo of HNIC tweeted that the Leafs had made an offer for LA Kings goaltender Jonathan Bernier.  This led many Leafs fans at PPP upset and had them ranting about why he was a terrible goaltender.  To be as clear as possible, I do NOT think trading for Bernier is a good idea for the Leafs.  That being said, I think he is a lot better than a lot were giving him credit for.

People were arguing about his ES vs total save percentage, the value of his draft position, his position stuck behind Quick, his junior (CHL and WJC) production, etc.  But for this post I want to specifically look at his production in the AHL.  So follow along after the jump if that interests you.

Jonathan Bernier played a starters load in the AHL at age 20 and put up reasonable but not special numbers with 54 GP and a 0.914 save percentage.  He followed this up however, with an outstanding 21 year old season in the AHL playing 58 GP and putting up a whopping 0.939 save percentage to win the AHL goaltender of the year (Aldege "Baz" Bastien Memorial Award).  To have such success in a professional league, while playing against men, at such a young age impressed me great.  However, two questions seemed to arise around this success:

  1. Is AHL  success relevant when attempting to predict future NHL success at goaltending?
  2. Is age relevant when looking at goaltending production (particularly at lower levels)?

I have decided to look at this in by looking at the Baz Memorial winners.

Here are the winners of the Baz Memorial Award since 1990 (from the AHL website)
2011-12Yann DanisOklahoma City Barons
2010-11Brad ThiessenWilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins
2009-10Jonathan BernierManchester Monarchs
2008-09Cory SchneiderManitoba Moose
2007-08Michael LeightonAlbany River Rats
2006-07Jason LaBarberaManchester Monarchs
Dany Sabourin
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins
Ryan Miller
Rochester Americans
Jason LaBarbera
Hartford Wolf Pack
Marc Lamothe
Grand Rapids Griffins
Martin Prusek
Grand Rapids Griffins
Dwayne Roloson
Worcester IceCats
Martin Brochu
Portland Pirates
Martin Biron
Rochester Americans
Scott Langkow
Springfield Falcons
Jean-Francois Labbe
Hershey Bears
Manny Legace
Springfield Falcons
Jim Carey
Portland Pirates
Frederic Chabot
Hershey Bears
Corey Hirsch
Binghamton Rangers
Felix Potvin
St. John’s Maple Leafs
Mark Laforest
Binghamton Rangers
Jean-Claude Bergeron
Sherbrooke Canadiens

So that list doesn't look to impressive does it?  It has Felix the Cat, Legace, Ryan Miller and a couple other good names, but for the most part they are outnumbered by either NHL busts or AHL lifers.  By my count there are 7 NHL goalies with NHL success from the 20 award winners from 1989-1990 to 2008-2009 (the year before Bernier won): Potvin, Carey (your call whether you would include him), Legace, Biron, Roloson, Miller, and Schneider (also your call whether you would include him).  That is a 35% success rate, which is pretty shitty.

But what happens if we look at only those goalies who achieved this success at a young age?  Here are the goalies who won the award at age 22 or younger (age as of January 1st of the playing season):
  • Felix Potvin, age 20
  • Corey Hirsch, age 20
  • Jim Carey, age 20
  • Jonathan Bernier, age 21
  • Martin Biron, age 21
  • Corey Schneider, age 22
  • Manny Legace, age 22
  • Scott Langkow, age 22
Now instead of a list of 20 we have a list of 7 (plus Bernier).  From this list, 5 of the 7 have gone on to have successful NHL careers (yes you can question Carey and Schneider).  All of a sudden the 35% success rate has gone up to a 71.4% success rate, more than doubling.

This list kind of reminds me of Hobey Baker winners.  In general it is an unimpressive list, but when you only take those players that won it at a young age you end up with a short list of guys like Paul Kariya.  So does winning this award at 21 guarantee Bernier NHL success? No, definitely not.  But it is a good sign.

As I said at the beginning, I don't think the Leafs should be going out to acquire Bernier because he simply isn't proven enough at the NHL level.  That being said, I have been impressed by everything he has done up to the NHL (and the age at which he did these things) and feel that his NHL performance thus far has been average.  I feel like he probably has a reasonable chance at NHL success and a team with an ageing starter (like Calgary or the Devils) would be smart to take a hard look at him.


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