Mike Smith isn’t just having a surprisingly good season for the Edmonton Oilers. He’s having one of the best season we’ve ever seen for a goalie his age.
It’s difficult to make statistical comparisons of NHL goalies over time, given how much average save percentages and goals per game have changed over the year. Having a save percentage of .900 in 1985 (when the average save percentage was .875) and one in 2015 (when the average save percentage was .915) mean two very different things, one much more impressive than the other.
But the primary job of an NHL goalie is to win the game and he’s got a huge hand in most outcomes. Ranking goalies by winning percentage does favour goalies on stronger teams so you’ll take this back-of-the-envelope study for what it’s worth, but it does give us some measure of Smith’s comparative success.
With 18 wins and six losses for the Oilers this year, Smith has a winning percentage of 75 per cent this year.
When we look at other goalies who started the season in their 38th year, Smith is tied with Gump Worsley for the best winning percentage. (Itshould be noted goalies in this modern era have some advantage, in that their over-time wins are recorded as wins, but their overtimes losses are essentially recorded as ties. This is why I say Smith is having one of the best seasons for a goalie his age, and not the best season, because it’s difficult to much such a claim based on their vagaries of various stats).
As for what we can expect from Smith in years to come, how qualified are any of us to judge that, given how few of us predicted
Smith would have a solid season this year? Almost all of us should be somewhat humbled, except for maybe Oilers GM Ken Holland and coach Dave Tippett, though it’s worth noting Holland was also ready jettison Smith should Jacob Markstrom have accepted Edmonton’s offer of a 7-year contract at $5 million per.
I thought Smith might play well if he wasn’t injured but based on how much he’d been injured in recent years, I had grave doubts heading into the season. But Smith has made a mockery of all the doom-saying and low expectations. Fingers crossed he can keep up his high level of play into the playoffs.
After that, who knows, but it’s interesting to see that a number of NHL goalies have continued to defy the league averages and actuarial tables and to put up solid seasons into their early 40s.
- Gump Worsley, who had a winning seasons at age 39 and 42
- Dominik Hasek, 40, 41 and 42
- Jacques Plante, 39, 40, 41, 42, and 43
- George Hainsworth, 40, 41 and 42
- Johnny Bower, 39, 40, 41 and 42.
- Ed Belfour, 40 and 41.
Is Mike Smith another Worsley, another Belfour, maybe even another Bower or Plante?
Almost all of us bet against him last time around. This time around it’s seems Oilers fans are far more likely to bet on him, at least for one more year.
In the Cult of Hockey’s current poll more than 70 per cent want to see Edmonton again sign Smith. I, too, am in that number.