Earlier this month, the Islanders traded for and then signed Jaroslav Halak. It’s not surprising that the Islanders traded for a new goaltender, as the Islanders were last in the league last season in terms of team save percentage.
According to my forecasting tool, a team with the Islanders shots on goal for/against ratio (which is actually favorable) and a 0.898 SV% should expect to reach 93 points–the amount needed to qualify for the playoffs in the East in 2013-14–only 4.5% of the time. In other words, the Isles would have been very fortunate to make the playoffs with the goaltending they had last season.
Jaroslav Halak has been, in my view at least, long undervalued by those paid to make and write about hockey decisions. Despite Halak having the 5th best save percentage among goalies facing 2,500 or more shots over the past three seasons, St. Louis paid a hefty price to “upgrade” to Ryan Miller and Buffalo later traded Halak to Washington for a song.
If you superimpose Halak onto the 2013-14 Islanders at his 0.921 SV% (both his 13-14 mark and his 3-year average), the prospects look a lot brighter. At that level (which admittedly is ignoring back-up goalie usage), 93 points or better becomes a 65% likelihood, keeping shots levels constant.
If you’re skeptical about Halak carrying his save percentage levels St. Louis to Long Island, I can understand. Evidence exists that suggests systems and coaching can have an effect on save percentage. Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott performed considerably better in the three seasons since joining up with Ken Hitchcock compared to the three seasons prior, though Elliott moreso than Halak.
Even if Halak were to revert back to his 2008-09 to 2010-11 save percentage of 0.915, which he accumulated under four coaches (Carbonneau, Gainey, Martin and Payne) that would put the Islanders at an expected value of 92 points, just on the brink of the playoffs this season. Splitting the difference at 0.918 would give an expected value of 94 points, past that invisible line.
Below, I graphed the expected points for the Islanders at various save percentage levels, with the 70% confidence interval (i.e. with the top and bottom 15% lopped off).
With an improvement in goal presenting an opportunity to move up aggressively in the standings, it’s a wonder the Islanders instead decided to throw a bunch of their eggs in the Thomas Vanek basket.