Sunday, October 19, 2014

Luongo's 67th shutout and the generational disparity with Patrick Roy

With his 67th career shutout, Luongo has bested Roy all-time.

After three straight wins and a shutout two nights ago, it is officially Miller Time in Vancouver. But hockey fans around here have obvious reason to follow the goaltending in Florida these days. And for that reason, it should be noted that Friday's showdown between the Panthers and Sabres had notable implications beyond Connor McDavid. 

Stopping all 18 shots against CoHo and company, Roberto Luongo recorded his 67th career shutout last night. In the process, he surpassed Patrick Roy for 13th overall on the all-time shutouts list.

Granted, that's not quite as shocking as other recent hockey news out of Florida. (If Lu had waited two more games to pitch the shutout against St. Patrick's Colorado Avalanche himself -- well, there's a legitimate story.) Nonetheless, passing one of the top three goalies of all-time and father of the butterfly in any major stat is a significant achievement. But there's a legitimate counter-argument worth exploring.

Although there is some time overlap between Roy and Luongo's careers -- the former Canuck began his career four seasons before St. Patrick ended his -- the fact of the matter is that the two Quebec natives played in very different iterations of the NHL. Roy broke into the league at a time when scoring was at an all-time high.

See the graph below for an illustration of what the median GAA was in the NHL during Luongo's career versus Roy's.

Mobile readers - tap graph for proper view.

So on account of the offensive juggernaut that was pretty much the entire NHL in Roy's heyday, shutouts were a far rarer feat. It's why in 1991-92, Roy topped all league goaltenders with 5 shutouts -- a palsy total by today's standards.  It's why a Hall of Famer like Grant Fuhr finished with just 25 career shutouts -- tied for 81st all-time with, wait for it, Roman Cechmanek.

It's why one could quite successfully argue that Luongo passing Roy in all-time shutouts is nothing more than a generational confound.

The league's annual leader in shutouts averages about double that of the mid-eighties to early-90's. It wasn't until the end of Roy's career that he started putting up the kind of shutout numbers that we see among elite goalies today. His career-high of 9 shutouts led the league in what was his second-to-last season (2001-02). Had Roy played his best years in the dead puck era, like Luongo or all-time leader Martin Brodeur (124 shutouts), it's not outrageous to imagine him finishing with somewhere around 90 or even 100 shutouts.

Open-and-shut case for diminishing Luongo's accomplishment, then, no? Well...

While Roy played in a far more offensively-centric league than Luongo does now, he also had the benefit of playing on championship-calibre teams for the vast majority of his career -- something that probably only applies to about five years of Luongo's tenure with the Canucks. The three-time Vezina winner only had to endure backstopping a non-playoff team once in his career -- the 1994-95 Canadiens.

And while Luongo obviously enjoyed playing on some very good Canucks teams, he is also now entering his seventh year with the Panthers -- all of them playoff-less. As a result, Luongo's career workload -- as measured by total minutes played and shots faced -- averages out to nearly 3 more shots per 60 minutes than Roy's (31.0 to 28.2).

See the graph below for an illustration for the shots against per game that Roy averaged over the course of his career versus Luongo.

Mobile readers -- tap graph for proper view.

Further illustrating the point is the fact Luongo is author to one of the most impressive and depressingly futile goaltending performances of all-time. His seven shutouts and .931 save percentage on a 2003-04 Panthers team that finished 12th in the East is a goaltending marvel. It remains a severe crime that Martin Brodeur and his .918 save percentage, while playing for the defensively-sound Devils team, walked away with the Vezina that year.

Now 35 and mired in Florida, Luongo's days posting elite yearly numbers are likely well behind him. But after being so good for so long -- in most cases, single-handedly carrying his teams -- his career stats have now positioned him to continue putting some of the all-time greats in the rear-view mirror. Currently nine shutouts behind Ed Belfour and Tony Esposito (tied for 9th with 76), it's conceivable that Luongo will be shortly cracking the top ten.

Playing in his seventh year with the Panthers and competing for little else besides the next NHL Draft, you'll know he'll have earned each and every one.



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