Who Should Win the Mike Richter Award?

Matt Christians

A stats-based look at the best goalie in college hockey.

Back in mid-March the five finalists for the 2014 Mike Richter Award were announced. Those finalists are, in no particular order, Minnesota's Adam Wilcox, Wisconsin's Joel Rumpel, Denver's Sam Brittain, Mass-Lowell's Connor Hellebuyck, and Northeastern's Clay Witt. But who, statistically speaking, should win the inaugural award?

My way of looking at netminding is a fairly simple method I employed back in January. I cast aside the traditional Goals Against Average which has it's limitations. What I prefer is a Goals Saved Above Average metric. What GSAA does is subtract a goalies save percentage from the average of the league (or all of Division 1 in this case) and multiply that by the number of shots that goalie faced.

For instance, Adam Wilcox has as 0.934 save percentage this year and the national average is 0.911. Wilcox has faced 1,026 shots while in net for the Gophers. To get his GSAA, it's simply this:

(0.934 - 0.911) * 1026 = 23.6

The Gophers sophomore backstop has saved Minnesota over 23 goals over an average netminder.

Here's how the five finalists for the Richter Award stack up against one another.

Player Team Class Conf TIME % SHA SAVE % GSAA Rk Tm SF% Tm SF% Rk
Connor Hellebuyck (WPG) UMass Lowell SO HE 0.701 885 0.941 26.5 1 0.528 19
Adam Wilcox (TBL) Minnesota SO B1G 0.911 1026 0.934 23.6 2 0.561 3
Clay Witt Northeastern JR HE 0.858 1119 0.932 23.5 3 0.470 47
Sam Brittain (FLA) Denver SR NCHC 0.913 1217 0.929 21.9 4 0.479 42
Joel Rumpel Wisconsin JR B1G 0.763 832 0.929 15.0 9 0.507 30

Note: Time% is the percentage of a team's minutes the goalie played. GSAA is Goals Saved Above Average. Tm SF% is my shots-for percentage, which is adjusted for schedule. It's a proxy for puck possession and is just the teams shots on goal divided by the sum of all the shots in a teams games [so shots on goal / (SOG+shots allowed)]. Tm SF% Rk is the teams ranking in my puck possession proxy.

I included the puck possession proxy to help provide context. Northeastern relied on Clay Witt as much as any other netminder this season. Northeastern allowed the eighth most shots on goal per game this year, surrendering 34.6 per game. That, coupled with the fact that the Huskies were being out shot on most nights and the junior backstop was asked to do a lot for his squad.

Still, that impressive performance wasn't enough to overcome Connor Hellebuyck's fantastic season. He only played in about 70 percent of his teams minutes, a good deal less than the other goalies up for the award, but still saved more goals above average than the rest of the finalists. That's due to his incredible 0.941 save percentage.

We can illustrate the workload a bit differently and look at what each goalie would save on a nightly basis, given the number of shots per game their teams surrendered.

Player Team Class Conf TIME % SHA SAVE % SH/GP GSAA/G
Connor Hellebuyck (WPG) UMass Lowell SO HE 0.701 885 0.941 30.0 0.90
Clay Witt Northeastern JR HE 0.858 1119 0.932 34.6 0.73
Adam Wilcox (TBL) Minnesota SO B1G 0.911 1026 0.934 28.7 0.66
Sam Brittain (FLA) Denver SR NCHC 0.913 1217 0.929 31.9 0.57
Joel Rumpel Wisconsin JR B1G 0.763 832 0.929 29.6 0.53

Here, we see Hellebuyck still sits atop the rankings, saving Lowell about 0.9 goals per night above an average netminder. Where we see the difference, however, is with Witt and Wilcox. The two were nearly identical over the full season in GSAA, but when put into context of a nightly basis, Witt was saving a fair amount of goals more than Wilcox. This is due to the fact that Northeastern allowed about six shots more per contest than Minnesota. It's easy to surmise, then, that Witt was likely facing tougher situations every night given the quality of the team in front of him and the workload faced.

What makes the award so great is you can make a case for all five goalies, though I think Hellebuyck, Wilcox and Witt are the ones with the most merit depending on your outlook. There's an overall production guy (Hellebuyck), a guy with great production who played on a great team (Wilcox) and a guy for great production while facing a large workload (Witt). That says nothing of the stellar seasons -- and careers, really -- of Sam Brittain and Joel Rumpel.

If I had a ballot, I'd go:

  1. Connor Hellebuyck
  2. Clay Witt
  3. Adam Wilcox
  4. Joel Rumpel
  5. Sam Brittain

The Rest of the NCAA

If we open our scope up to all goalies in division one, we get, well, pretty much the same. Hellebuyck, Wilcox and Witt are largely in the top five no matter how you slice up the data. But, here's the top 25 goalies in the NCAA, per goals saved above average.

Rank Player Team Class Conf Yr TIME % SHA SAVE % GSAA
1 Connor Hellebuyck (WPG) UMass Lowell SO HE 2014 0.701 885 0.941 26.5
2 Adam Wilcox (TBL) Minnesota SO B1G 2014 0.911 1026 0.934 23.6
3 Clay Witt Northeastern JR HE 2014 0.858 1119 0.932 23.5
4 Sam Brittain (FLA) Denver SR NCHC 2014 0.913 1217 0.929 21.9
5 Jon Gillies (CGY) Providence SO HE 2014 0.855 1052 0.931 21.0
6 C.J. Motte Ferris State JR WCHA 2014 0.918 1221 0.928 20.7
7 Jimmy Sarjeant Mercyhurst JR Atlantic 2014 0.733 1089 0.930 20.7
8 Colin Stevens Union JR ECAC 2014 0.810 921 0.932 19.3
9 Joel Rumpel Wisconsin JR B1G 2014 0.763 832 0.929 15.0
10 Branden Komm Bentley SR Atlantic 2014 0.966 1169 0.923 14.0
11 Martin Ouellette (CLB) Maine SR HE 2014 0.926 1001 0.925 14.0
12 Zach Nagelvoort (94) Michigan FR B1G 2014 0.653 736 0.929 13.2
13 Zane Gothberg (BOS) North Dakota SO NCHC 2014 0.747 836 0.926 12.5
14 Jake Hildebrand Michigan State SO B1G 2014 0.858 1006 0.923 12.0
15 Cole Huggins Minnesota State FR WCHA 2014 0.754 801 0.926 12.0
16 Steven Summerhays Notre Dame SR HE 2014 0.920 988 0.923 11.8
17 Kevin Kapalka Lake Superior State SR WCHA 2014 0.543 697 0.927 11.1
18 Casey DeSmith New Hampshire JR HE 2014 0.868 1070 0.920 9.6
19 Matt Grogan Connecticut SR Atlantic 2014 0.677 791 0.923 9.5
20 Christian Frey Ohio State FR B1G 2014 0.420 507 0.929 9.1
21 Brody Hoffman Vermont SO HE 2014 0.506 546 0.925 7.6
22 Lukas Hafner Western Michigan SO NCHC 2014 0.430 483 0.925 6.8
23 Andy Iles Cornell SR ECAC 2014 0.957 844 0.919 6.7
24 Matt O'Connor Boston University SO HE 2014 0.578 737 0.920 6.6
25 Raphael Girard Harvard SR ECAC 2014 0.466 490 0.924 6.4

The goaltending was strong in Hockey East this year with four goalies from the conference placing in the top 15 and eight in the top 25. Christian Frey and Lukas Hafner are particularly impressive for showing up on this top 25 given that it isn't a rate statistic, meaning this list is geared towards guys who've faced larger workloads. On a per-night basis, here's the top 25:

Rank Player Team Class Conf Yr TIME % SHA/G SAVE % GSAA SHA/G
1 Connor Hellebuyck (WPG) Mass.-Lowell SO HE 2014 0.701 30.0 0.941 0.90 30.05
2 Clay Witt Northeastern JR HE 2014 0.858 34.6 0.930 0.73 34.57
3 Jimmy Sarjeant Mercyhurst JR Atlantic 2014 0.733 38.0 0.932 0.72 38.05
4 Adam Wilcox (TBL) Minnesota SO B1G 2014 0.911 28.7 0.932 0.66 28.67
5 Jon Gillies (CGY) Providence SO HE 2014 0.855 30.5 0.931 0.61 30.51
6 Zach Nagelvoort (94) Michigan FR B1G 2014 0.653 32.8 0.928 0.59 32.83
7 Colin Stevens Union JR ECAC 2014 0.810 27.6 0.929 0.58 27.60
8 Sam Brittain (FLA) Denver SR NCHC 2014 0.913 31.9 0.934 0.57 31.90
9 Christian Frey Ohio State FR B1G 2014 0.420 31.2 0.923 0.56 31.19
10 Joel Rumpel Wisconsin JR B1G 2014 0.763 29.6 0.927 0.53 29.62
11 Kevin Kapalka Lake Superior SR WCHA 2014 0.543 33.2 0.925 0.53 33.18
12 C.J. Motte Ferris State JR WCHA 2014 0.918 30.7 0.929 0.52 30.72
13 Zane Gothberg (BOS) North Dakota SO NCHC 2014 0.747 29.0 0.926 0.43 28.98
14 Martin Ouellette (CLB) Maine SR HE 2014 0.926 30.3 0.929 0.42 30.31
15 Raphael Girard Harvard SR ECAC 2014 0.466 32.6 0.919 0.42 32.65
16 Lukas Hafner Western Michigan SO NCHC 2014 0.430 29.3 0.920 0.41 29.33
17 Brody Hoffman Vermont SO HE 2014 0.506 28.2 0.926 0.39 28.16
18 Jake Hildebrand Michigan State SO B1G 2014 0.858 32.3 0.925 0.39 32.33
19 Branden Komm Bentley SR Atlantic 2014 0.966 32.3 0.929 0.39 32.32
20 Matt Grogan Connecticut SR Atlantic 2014 0.677 32.0 0.923 0.38 32.03
21 Cole Huggins Minnesota State FR WCHA 2014 0.754 25.3 0.924 0.38 25.29
22 Matt O'Connor Boston University SO HE 2014 0.578 36.3 0.920 0.33 36.31
23 Steven Summerhays Notre Dame SR HE 2014 0.920 26.3 0.925 0.31 26.28
24 Casey DeSmith New Hampshire JR HE 2014 0.868 29.4 0.923 0.26 29.39
25 Andy Iles Cornell SR ECAC 2014 0.957 27.6 0.923 0.22 27.56

Here, instead of using a goalies overall shots faced, I used what they faced on a per-game level. Christian Frey moves from 20th in the previous table to ninth. On a per-night basis, Frey was bringing great netminding to the Buckeyes, on par with Sam Brittain and Union's Colin Stevens. And a special tap of the stick to Mercyhurst's Jimmy Sarjeant who stopped pucks at a 0.932 clip and faced over 38 shots a game. Well done, sir.

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