“Show me a good goalie and I’ll show you a good coach.”
You’ve probably heard that saying in hockey before, right? If that’s the case, what does that mean for Winnipeg Jets coach Paul Maurice then?
Exactly how bad have Paul Maurice’s goalies been over his career as an NHL head coach? Let me give you an idea by looking at all 51 of the goalies in the NHL who have played in at least 10 games so far this season.
Devan Dubnyk has the best save percentage in the NHL right now with a .940. That’s outstanding.
Four goalies are tied for the 10th-best save percentage with a .924. That’s very good.
Pekka Rinne has the 20th-best save percentage with a .920. That’s above league average.
Jacob Markstrom is 30th in the NHL this season with a .912 save percentage. Below average but not terrible.
These last three are key: Marc-Andre Fleury, recently-waived Jaroslav Halak, and Avalanche backup Calvin Pickard are tied for 38th with a .904. That is well-below league average.
Now get this: All of the goalies Paul Maurice has ever had over his entire head coaching career in the NHL combine for a save percentage of .904, but the weighted average save percentage in the NHL over his coaching career has been .909, so he’s received much worse goaltending than average.
How is this even possible? Maurice began coaching in the NHL during the 1995-96 season. He has coached 1,328 NHL games. Does Maurice simply never have a good goalie?
Now we get into some questions.
Is it possible that he makes his goalies worse?
If Maurice’s goalies have been below NHL-average in quality for 1,329 games, over 19 seasons, surely something must be up, right?
Andrew Berkshire of SportLogiq, who frequently writes articles here on Sportsnet.ca, took a look at the numbers and helped make a couple of charts for me.
When we started researching for this post, Berkshire asked a simple question: If Maurice’s goalies are always below league average, is he the one that’s making them below league average? It’s an interesting query. Maybe he’s too hard on his goalies or there’s something wrong with his systems. Whatever it is, there’s smoke here — maybe there’s fire, too.
We have 19 seasons and over 1,300 games of data to work with here so if Paul Maurice is making his goalies worse, the numbers will show it.
Over his career, Maurice has had goalies like Sean Burke, Tom Barasso, Cam Ward, and Arturs Irbe. Those are guys who had long resumes as NHL goalies in the league either before Maurice was their team’s coach, after, or both. By looking at how goalies performed with Maurice, as well as before and/or after, we can see whether or not Maurice makes them play worse than they would with another coach.
We can also look at goalies Maurice had and whether or not their save percentages were above or below what was considering “League Average Goaltending” when they played. The following chart looks at both:
The top right corner shows good goalies who were good for Maurice. The bottom right corner is goalies who usually had a below-average save percentage who were good for Maurice. The top left corner is good goalies who were below league average for Maurice. Last, the section on the bottom left is bad goalies who performed poorly for Maurice.
Using 19 seasons and over 1,300 NHL games-worth of data, and looking at goalies with a long resume of NHL games before and/or after playing for Maurice the answer to our first question is no, you can’t definitively say Maurice hurts his goalies.
One thing to consider with Maurice is that most of the starting goaltenders he’s had anywhere near their primes have given performances much better than the rest of their careers, yet the goaltending he has received is below league average. When the starting point for all of your goaltenders except one (and an old Tom Barrasso) in 19 years of coaching is below league average, how much blame can you take for that?
You can see that Maurice was doomed in Toronto. All three of Vesa Toskala, Andrew Raycroft, and J.S. Aubin were below-average goalies who performed poorly for Maurice. It’s also noteworthy that Ondrej Pavelec, who many Jets fans have suggested that the team call up from the minors, has generally performed poorly for Maurice.
On the bottom right, the likes of Ward, Irbe, Kevin Weekes, and Trevor Kidd were typically below-average goalies who performed a little bit better under Paul Maurice.
Manny Legace and Al Montoya are both league-average goalies who played for Maurice. Legace wasn’t great for Maurice, Montoya was much better.
The top left corner says Barrasso was typically a good goalie who Maurice “made worse” but it should be noted that Barrasso was at the tail-end of his career when Maurice had him. Maurice might have made Barrasso worse but it’s more likely that time did instead.
Last but not least, the only goalie Maurice ever had with a consistent, lengthy track record of being above league average and who actually played like it, was Sean Burke. Maurice had Burke for three seasons from 1995-96 to 1997-98.
In other words, the first and only time Maurice has had an above-league-average goalie in his career who actually played like one for him was 19 years ago when Connor Hellebuyck was four-years-old.
It’s simply mind-blowing.
Since Maurice’s career began in 1995, with the exceptions of only Burke, Barrasso, Legace, and Montoya, Maurice has always had below-average goaltending. That’s simply astonishing.
This isn’t to say some goalies have never had strong single seasons for Maurice. Pavelec had by far the best season of his career in 2014-15 with a .920 save percentage in 50 games. Ward posted a .923 while playing in a beastly 74 games for the 2010-11 Carolina Hurricanes. Weekes posted a .912 in 66 games for the 2003-04 Hurricanes, which was a blessing because the two guys behind him posted an .899 and .878.
With the exception of a few glimmers in net for Maurice though — oof.
So, how are this season’s Jets goalies doing under Maurice?
Hellebuyck and Michael Hutchinson both have a below league-average save percentage at 5-on-5 and in all situations. Despite recent struggles, Hellebuyck is still young and has proven he can be better than this. He posted a .918 in 26 games as a 22-year-old rookie last season. Even Hutchinson, who’s sporting an abysmal .896 so far, was a .907 in 30 games last season and .914 in 38 games the season before — all of that was under Maurice, by the way.
Maurice’s lack of goaltending throughout his career is a crazy statistical anomaly. With the Jets struggling but still within striking distance of a playoff spot, I’m sure Maurice would like to buck this trend.
Can Hellebuyck develop into what people think his potential is? Can Hutchinson recover? Will we witness the Pavelectric return of Pavelec? I don’t think Maurice cares who does it at this point. Just stop the puck.