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11-18-2012, 09:33 PM
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Some voters seem to be getting frustrated with the continued fall of Bill Durnan, and as one of the voters who has not yet ranked Durnan in any round so far and does not currently plan to rank him in the top four this round either, I wanted to point out again the reasons why I strongly suspect that Durnan may be largely overrated in a historical context.

The biggest reason is that I think Durnan's actual performance relative to the competition is much less impressive than his trophy case suggests that it was. A big part of Durnan's case is based on those awards, as pretty much every summary of his career talks primarily about his Vezina Trophies and All-Star selections, and all those things certainly would have had an impact on rating his performances.

However, I am not a trophy counter (because I think the voters don't always get it right and because one season is really not a large sample size for goalies), and therefore I don't put very much weight at all on Vezinas or All-Star Team selection. Durnan's career also falls smack in the middle of the period where the GAA leader was always the 1AST (as long as they played at least 75% of the games), which means there is even less information encapsulated in his award history than usual. All that means I believe there is good reason to put a much heavier weighting on Durnan's numbers than on the awards he won.

I prefer to look at saves and goals against over multiple seasons rather than single season awards, and on that score there are definitely reasons not to be completely sold on Bill Durnan. I already presented some save percentage evidence, which was fairly questioned based on the issues of completeness and unofficial recording, but I think you can adjust for the missing data and assume some scorer undercounting in Montreal and still have to conclude that Durnan's save percentages were not dominant relative to the rest of the league in 1948-49 and 1949-50.

Even leaving those numbers aside, however, when you look at Durnan's actual GAA numbers vs. the rest of the league he is not quite as much of an outlier as one might expect given the number of times he led the league in that department. Looking at the five non-war years he played in the NHL, Durnan posted a 2.38 GAA compared to the league average of 2.95, meaning he allowed 19% fewer goals against than average. That is certainly excellent, but it's not an absurd number for a five season stretch, even among goalies who are generally ranked below Durnan. From 1928-29 to 1932-33, Tiny Thompson was also 19% better than league average (1.87 vs. 2.32). George Hainsworth from 1926-27 to 1930-31 was 27% below average (1.56 vs. 2.14). Yet because those periods overlapped, neither of those goalies was able to lead the league in GAA year after year like Durnan did. Nor were they able to rack up All-Star selections since the official awards didn't exist until 1930-31.

Other examples from this group would be Johnny Bower, 15% below league average over a ten year stretch from 1958-59 to 1967-68 (2.48 vs. 2.93), and Tony Esposito and Bernie Parent, who both had five year stretches at over 30% below league average (albeit in an expanded league).

From there we can get into discussions about team defensive strength and the depth of the talent pool and quality of the other goalie competition in the league. Maybe some points can be made there in favour of Durnan relative to some of the others mentioned, but the point is that the GAA vs. league average over multiple seasons framing puts Durnan at a very different starting point relative to the competition than if we begin the discussion with Vezinas and All-Star Teams.

To further support the argument, here are prime GVT numbers for the six goalies in this round who had their entire careers in the GVT era (1943-44 onwards). I took a minimum of five consecutive seasons for each goalie, and extended the period for goalies who performed at a consistent level for a longer period of time:

Parent: 5 seasons, 169.5 GVT in 262 GP, 0.65 GVT/GP
Bower: 7 seasons, 190.0 GVT in 345 GP, 0.55 GVT/GP
Esposito: 7 seasons, 223.1 GVT in 433 GP, 0.52 GVT/GP
Durnan: 5 seasons, 147.7 GVT in 283 GP, 0.52 GVT/GP
B. Smith: 10 seasons, 199.8 GVT in 419 GP, 0.48 GVT/GP
Belfour: 5 seasons, 138.4 GVT in 309 GP, 0.45 GVT/GP

In terms of GVT/GP, Durnan doesn't really stand out from the pack at all. Factoring in length of prime, playoffs, the size of the talent pool each goalie was competing against and possible shot prevention/shot undercounting for Belfour, I think there might well be a reasonable argument to rank Durnan last out of the six.

At the very least, this shows how Durnan needs to have his two war years (1943-44 and 1944-45) considered to be elite, all-time great seasons just to support the claim that he had a better prime than the goalies he is up against even in this round of voting. Durnan definitely had dominant stats in those two seasons, but the difficulty is that it is hard to isolate his individual contribution given that the Habs were just so much better than the rest of the league.

It was briefly mentioned as well last thread about Dick Irvin possibly being a coach that rode his players hard during the regular season, which would help a goalie's regular season stats. The Canadiens were less effective in the playoffs than their regular season results suggested, even though Durnan's regular season vs. playoff split was fairly typical for the period. To me that suggests that it was more of a team failure than a Durnan failure, which may mean that he shouldn't bear much of the blame for those playoff losses. Unfortunately, the flip side to that is the implication that Durnan's regular season stats may have been boosted. Newspaper articles during Durnan's rookie season talked about the Canadiens' backchecking and strong defensive play and debated how much Durnan was responsible for his ridiculous numbers. Durnan did not get to the NHL until relatively late in his career and he quit relative early, which just adds more uncertainty to his overall record.

In summary, I am still not sure that Durnan's peak really stands out that much among this group of goalies. That's a big problem given that he is giving up a big longevity edge to all of them and has a less distinguished playoff record than most. As a result, I still don't think that it is a open and shut case for Durnan being a top 16 all-time goalie.

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