What Is The Most Important Position In Hockey?

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Without question, the goaltender is the most important position on a hockey team. Goalies can single-handily win any hockey game by recording what is known as a “Shutout”. A shutout occurs when a goalie does not give up a single goal in a hockey game. A majority of the time, NHL teams that win the Stanley Cup benefit from a goalie who finishes in the Top 12 in the league statistically.

In the 2021-22 NHL Season thus far, the average goals scored per game is 3.11. That means, on average, teams are scoring 3 or more times per game. Goalies can control the outcome of a game by maintaining a strong Goals Against Average, which in turn increases their Save Percentage. These two stats factor into a league-wide statistic that measures a goalie’s success compared to the league, known as GSAA, or Goals Saved Against Average.

If teams are scoring at a record clip, the only thing preventing them from a win is a strong netminder in the opposing net. The best goalies in the NHL consistently post Goals Against Average under 3.00. In fact, the best goalies maintain a GAA of below 2.00.

Making The Case For A Goalie As The Most Important Position in Hockey

To determine why the goalie is the most important position in all of hockey, let’s look at previous Stanley Cup Champions over the past 5+ years.

One of the most important stats used to measure how impactful a goalie is for a team throughout the season is the GSAA metric.

From 2014 to 2020-21, teams with a goalie who measured in the top 12 league-wide for Goals Saved Above Average (all goalies, no matter the number of games played) won the Stanley Cup 6 out of 7 possible times. 

Did a team have a player in the Top 10 in Scoring?

  • 2021: Tampa Bay Lightning, no.
  • 2020: Tampa Bay Lightning, yes. Nikita Kucherov 7th overall.
  • 2019: St. Louis Blues, no.
  • 2018: Washington Capitals, no.
  • 2017: Pittsburg Penguins, yes. Crosby 2nd overall.
  • 2016: Pittsburg Penguins, yes. Crosby 3rd overall.
  • 2015: Chicago Blackhawks, no.

Out of a possible 7 times, just 3 times did a Stanley Cup Champion have a player on their team finish in the Top 10 league wide in scoring.

2021: Tampa Bay Lightning

The Tampa Bay Lightning defeated the Montreal Canadiens, 4 games to 1. In net for the Canadiens during the series was Carey Price. Price maintained a .924 Save Percentage and a 2.24 GAA during the 2021 Stanley Cup Finals.

Goalie: Andrei Vasilevskiy

Where Andrei Vasilevskiy finished in League Standings amongst goalies during the 2020-2021 NHL Season.

  • Goals Against Average: 8th with a 2.21 GAA
  • Save Percentage: 6th with a .925 Save Percentage
  • GSAA: 1st with a GSAA of 21.97

Top Scorers:

  • Brayden Point: 37th in League Scoring with 48 points
  • Ondrej Palat: 42nd in League Scoring with 46 points
  • Victor Hedman: 45th in League Scoring with 45 points
  • Yanni Gourde: 85th in League Scoring with 44 points

2020: Tampa Bay Lightning

Goalie: Andrei Vasilevskiy

Where Andrei Vasilevskiy finished in League Standings amongst goalies during the 2019-2020 NHL Season.

  • Goals Against Average: 17th with a GAA of 2.56 (2nd amongst goalies that played more than 50 games, behind Jordan Binnington)
  • Save Percentage: 21st with a Save Percentage of .917
  • GSAA: 8th with a GSAA of 12.13

Top Scorers:

  • Nikita Kucherov: 7th in League Scoring with 85 points
  • Steven Stamkos: 23rd in League Scoring with 66 points
  • Brayden Point: 26th in League Scoring with 64 points
  • Victor Hedman: 53rd in League Scoring with 55 points

The Lightning had 5 players finish in the Top 100 in scoring, with Alex Killorn coming in at 72nd. Of course, The Lightning have been a dominant force over the past number of years, so the question of whether or not Vasilevskiy is truly the difference maker when it comes to the Stanley Cup is up for debate. It sure doesn’t hurt finishing in the Top 10 in GSAA.

2019: St. Louis Blues

Goalie: Jordan Binnington

Where Jordan Binnington finished in League Standings amongst goalies during the 2018-2019 NHL Season

  • Goals Against Average: 3rd with a 1.89 GAA
  • Save Percentage: 8th with a .927 Save Percentage
  • GSAA: 12th with a 13.74 GSAA

Top Scorers:

  • Ryan O’Reilly: 31st in League Scoring with 77 points
  •  Vladimir Tarasenko: 58th in League Scoring with 68 points
  • Brayden Schenn: 93rd in League Scoring with 54 points

The 2018-2019 Cup Playoffs are well documented, with the Blues turning from a bottom half team at the All-Star Break, led by the resurgance of goalie Jordan Binnington (for more on Binnington this season, read our article on Dave Rogalski). The Blues had just 3 scorers in the Top 100 this season.

2018: Washington Capitals

Goalie: Braden Holtby 

It’s important to note that Holtby split time in the season with Phillip Grubauer, who was in the top half of the league in the three statistical categories listed below.

Where Braden Holtby finished in League Standings during the 2017-2018 NHL Season.

  • Goals Against Average: 57th with a 2.99 GAA
  • Save Percentage: 58th with a .907 Save Percentage
  • GSAA: 54th with a -8.36 GSAA

Top Scorers:

  • Alex Ovechkin: 11th in League Scoring with 87 points
  • Evgeny Kuznetsov: 19th in League Scoring with 83 points
  • Nicklas Backstrom: 32nd in League Scoring with 71 points
  • John Carlson: 40th in League Scoring with 68 points

During the 2017-2018 NHL Season, the Capitals did not have a player finish in the Top 10 in scoring. They did have 4 in the top 50, with TJ Oshie coming in at 134th overall as their 5th leading scorer.

2017: Pittsburg Penguins

Goalies: Marc-Andre Fleury and Matt Murray.

Fleury played 15 games in the playoffs, while Murray played 11.

Where Fleury and Matt Murray finished in League Standings during the 2016-2017 NHL Season.

  • Goals Against Average Fleury: 69th with a 3.02 GAA
  • Goals Against Average Murray: 31st with a 2.41 GAA
  • Save Percentage Fleury: 56th with a .909 Save Percentage
  • Save Percentage Murray: 21st with a .923 Save Percentage
  • GSAA Fleury: 42rd with a GSAA of -4.80
  • GSAA Murray: 7th with a GSAA of 14.48

Top Scorers:

  • Sidney Crosby: 2nd in League Scoring with 89 points
  • Evgeni Malkin: 15th in League Scoring with 72 points
  • Phil Kessel: 18th in League Scoring with 70 points

During the 2015-2016 NHL season, the Penguins had the benefit of Sidney Crosby, who finished 2nd overall in League Scoring. The Penguins had just 3 players in the top 50, league wide. Their next leading scorer barely cracked the Top 100 this year, Connor Sheary at 82nd overall.

2016: Pittsburg Penguins

Goalie: Marc-Andre Fleury

Where Marc-Andre Fleury finished in League Standings during the 2015-2016 NHL Season.

  • Goals Against Average: 19th with a 2.29 GAA
  • Save Percentage: 21st with a .921 Save Percentage
  • GSAA: 8th with a 9.76 GSAA

Top Scorers:

  • Sidney Crosby: 3rd in League Scoring with 85 points
  • Kris Letang: 20th in League Scoring with 67 points
  • Phil Kessel: 49th in League Scoring with 59 points

During the 2014-2015 season, the Penguins had the benefit of Sidney Crosby, who finished 3rd overall in League Scoring. The Penguins had just 3 players in the top 50, league wide. It’s worth noting that their 4th leading scorer was Evgeni Malkin, who finished 53rd overall in scoring this year.

2015: Chicago Blackhawks

Goalie: Corey Crawford

Where Corey Crawford finished in League Standings during the 2014-2015 NHL Season.

  • Goals Against Average: 23rd with a 2.27 GAA
  • Save Percentage: 16th with a .924 Save Percentage
  • GSAA: 7th with a 15.77 GSAA

Top Scorers:

  • Jonathan Toews: 24th in League Scoring with 66 points
  • Patrick Kane: 30th in League Scoring with 64 points
  • Marian Hossa: 36th in League Scoring with 61 points

During the 2014-2015 season, the Blackhawks did not have a player finish in the top 10 in league scoring, with just 3 players in the top 50, league wide.