Eddie Lack is Ready to be a Number One Goalie


With the Vancouver Canucks announcing today that Ryan Miller will miss at minimum 4-6 weeks, now seems like a good time to do some investigation into Eddie Lack’s capabilities as a number one netminder.

At this point, the back-story to Vancouver’s current goaltending saga is fairly well known, but I’ll do a speedy re-cap for context: after trading Roberto Luongo last season, Eddie Lack was forced into a number one role, without a real back-up behind him for support (Markstrom was being re-programmed by Rollie Melanson, and Torts didn’t trust him at all). In his brief time as starter, Lack faltered, posting an .892 save percentage in the final 17 games he played, from the Heritage Classic to the end of the season. However, many external factors played into this number: the entire team collapsed due to injury and fatigue in front of him, and Lack himself–unused to the excess workload–played through exhaustion as well as a back injury that was only disclosed in the off-season.

Still, in the eyes of a new regime taking the helm for the start of this year, Lack’s resume as a starter didn’t look all that inspiring. Instead of signing another, lower priced goalie to split starts with Lack, though, management opted to drive to the net with a power move, signing proven veteran Ryan Miller to be the undisputed champion of the Canucks’ crease. There were critics of the deal at the time, but most could at least agree that it provided the team with more stability in net, even if the cap commitment and term ($6 over three years) were a bit high.

So far this season, supporters and critics of the Miller signing have both had plenty of talking points in their favour: at times Miller has been great, and at others, he’s been kind of abysmal–rounding out to around average overall. Regardless of the up-and-down swings in his play he’s still been relied on heavily the entire year, with Lack logging a minuscule ratio of overall minutes as a result. (An amount we’ve argued should go up, even before Miller was hurt.)

In February, though, grumblings about the value of Miller vs. Lack have reached an all-time high, as so far this month Miller has posted an uninspiring save percentage of .893, while Lack, in his limited starts has posted a much prettier .930 in his six appearances this month.

Given the roll that Lack seems to be on, and Miller’s current rough patch, fans of #TeamLack will surely be arguing that the timing for this injury is fortuitous–it offers a drama-free way for Lack to show the Canucks exactly how good he is, without the media starting a “goalie controversy” fire-storm.

But is Lack really ready for full-time number one duties? (Spoiler alert: I very much think so, yes. I’m no good at suspense.)

Let’s look at some numbers to see what they say:

Overall Save Percentage:

First off, because sample size is of the utmost importance when examining goalie’s numbers, let’s take a look at Eddie Lack’s career save percentage, starting from his debut last year.

In all situations, in 61 career appearances, Eddie Lack has posted a .913 save percentage, in 3384.5 total minutes. By comparison that happens to be the exact save percentage Miller has posted for the Canucks this year, in slightly fewer minutes–so by the very basic numbers, Lack appears to be at least around the same skill range as Miller.

However, goaltending is still a highly volatile position, and there are so many variables that it becomes very difficult to analyze without maximum context. One way to help eliminate variables is by looking at…

Even Strength Save Percentage:

In the most recent studies on the matter, any goalie’s save percentage on special teams has been proven to not be particularly repeatable, compared to even strength. There are so many factors that can go into deflating or inflating a goalie’s sv% on either the power play (fewer shots, but the shots that are allowed tend to be breakaways or other high percentage chances outside of goalie control) and penalty kill (higher volume of shots in danger areas, highly team dependent), that any one goalie’s sv% on special teams can fluctuate wildly from year to year. Which is why it’s easier to predict future success with EVSv%.

When looking at goalies who have played at least 800 minutes this year, Eddie Lack’s .922 EVSv% ranks him 21st in the league. This isn’t elite, by any stretch, and his overall minutes are lower than a lot of other guys on this list, but it still places him higher than such name-brand netminders as (in order:) Jonas Hiller, Corey Crawford, Antti Niemi, Jaroslav Halak, Jake Allen, Kari Lehtonen and…our very own Ryan Miller, whose EVSv% is a not so sweet .917 for the year.

If we go back to last year, we also see that Lack’s career EVSv% is .924, while Miller’s is .919 in that same span. So, even in larger sample sizes, Lack seems to be able to repeatably outperform Miller in EVSv% on a consistent basis, at this stage in both of their respective careers. Additionally, given the difference in the two goalies’ ages and career development paths, it seems more likely that Lack will continue to grow, or at least maintain this average, while Miller’s numbers are already in decline.

Adjusted Save Percentage:

Finally, one of the best, most helpful developments in goaltender evaluation, is the invention of the adjusted save percentage. As per war-on-ice:

"AdjustedSvPct: Adjusted save percentage; this adjusts for the fact that some teams give up more high-quality shots, while others give up more low-quality shots. This is the weighted-average of SvPctHigh, SvPctMed, and SvPctLow, where the weights correspond to the league-wide percentage of shots from each of those areas. In other words, this is a goalies save percentage if they faced a league average proportion of shots from each of the three shooting zones (high, medium, and low probability of success)."

When adjusting for these external factors, we actually see that Eddie Lack has performed significantly better than his regular save percentage might suggest. Since the start of this season, for goalies playing over 800 minutes, Lack’s EV AdSv% is .933, good for 13th overall in the league. This places Lack ahead of guys like Henrik Lundqvist, Jonathan Quick, and Tuukka Rask, within that same time frame (albeit in a smaller sample size). For comparison? Ryan Miller’s .922 puts him in 13th to last place of all qualified goaltenders, and at 30th overall–which is Karri Ramo and Ray Emery territory.

Now, I’m definitely not suggesting Lack is better than Lundqvist or Rask (although maybe Quick, who is vastly overrated), but these numbers do suggest that Lack has some really strong potential to be at the very least, reliably effective, and at the very best, a top ten goalie in the league.

In other words, even if Lack’s numbers slide while Miller is out, he has proven he can at least be a viable option to fill-in and not torpedo the team’s chances to win–at the best, this opportunity could be a great showcase for Lack to earn the trust of the new management and surpass Miller on Vancouver’s goalie depth chart. But I can’t see any way that the media would be interested in that angle.

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