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Monday FTB: Height bias is still real, just maybe not for forwards

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Smaller forwards are more acceptable now, but what about goalies?

Tampa Bay Lightning v Toronto Maple Leafs Photo by Kevin Sousa/NHLI via Getty Images

After writing tens of thousands of words about 2020 draft prospects that may be potential sleepers, one thing I often looked at was a player’s height. That’s traditionally been a point where a player could be underrated despite his stats, skills, and scouting saying he is very likely to be a star.

See: DeBrincat, Alex, or Robertson, Nick.

Now, I think we can all agree that smaller forwards are much more likely to make it in the NHL now than in times of yore. But that height bias still exists, especially for defensemen and especially for goalies.

I didn’t include a lot of goalies in my 6 articles looking at potential steals in the draft — in fact I only included two of them in the 50-ish total prospects that I chose to write about.

The two that I chose to write about were Dylan Garand from the WHL, and Joel Blomqvist from Sweden. Both had superb numbers this season among their peers, but didn’t seem to be getting a lot of credit for it. Part of that, according to various scouting reports I read, seemed to be questions about how likely they’d make it in the NHL considering their shorter height.

For the record, both are listed as 6’1” goalies. Compared to the 5’9” or shorter forward that is considered “short”, that’s much taller. But there is a more common perception that taller goalies are more likely to succeed than shorter ones. It’s still pervasive now, much more so than the same old bias against forwards.

But... is it true?

For shits and giggles, I looked at every NHL goalie who played at least 10 games in the NHL this season. Here are some fun facts:

  • 17 of the 66 goalies were 6’1” or shorter.
  • The average save percentage of those goalies was 0.910.
  • The average save percentage of goalies who were taller than 6’1” was 0.909.
  • Only 2 of the top 8 goalies in the NHL in save percentage (with at least 10 games played) were 6’1” or shorter.

So my very quick look at the stats definitively showed that shorter goalies are better! Except, not really? Only 2 of the top 10 goalies in the NHL in save percentage (with at least 10 games played) were 6’1” or shorter. So the very best of the best were taller, but the worst of the worst were also taller — only one of the bottom ten goalies in save percentage were 6’1” or shorter.

If you’re curious, here are the average save percentages by height:

  • 5’11” — 0.921 sv%
  • 6’0” — 0.911 sv%
  • 6’1” — 0.905 sv%
  • 6’2” — 0.909 sv%
  • 6’3” — 0.904 sv%
  • 6’4” — 0.914 sv%
  • 6’5” — 0.907 sv%
  • 6’6” — 0.909 sv%
  • 6’7” — 0.919 sv%

I don’t think any of this is particularly meaningful, to be clear. A lot of this was fun with numbers for a bit of a joke.

My larger point is that... maybe being a smaller goalie doesn’t matter that much? I’m sure being taller or bigger is an advantage to cover over a lack of mechanics, skills or technique. Whereas a shorter goalie has a smaller margin of error.

But that just means you shouldn’t just automatically praise or condemn a goalie because of their height. If they have good stats against their age group, and if the scouting for goalies backs up that they are athletic, have good positioning, good rebound control, and good anticipation but they’re 6’1”... maybe who gives a shit that they’re not 6’6” and draft them anyways.

You know who’s taller than 6’1” and had poor/meh stats as goalies for most of their junior and professional careers? Antoine Bibeau, Garret Sparks, and Zachary Bouthillier.

So fuck it, if the Leafs have a chance to take either Joel Blomqvist, Dylan Garand... maybe take them!

ONTO THE LINKS!

Back to Excited Episode 105: Mikko Lehtonen Signed, Paul McFarland Leaves | by Arvind and Fulemin

ICYMI: Paul McFarland leaving the Leafs to become head coach of the Kingston Frontenacs | by Katya

Sheldon Keefe on drawing inspiration from triangle offense in basketball, Nick Nurse & Bryan Murray | transcript from MLHS

Six possible candidates for the assistant coach vacancy | by Scott Maxwell at TLN

Cody Franson on ‘regrets’ and the lucrative Maple Leafs extension he passed up | by Joshua Kloke at The Athletic

AROUND THE HOCKEY WORLD

Mixed feelings around hockey about holding NHL draft early | by Sportsnet

Ducks sign Carrick, Guhle to extensions | by TSN

Fancy stats: Sidney Crosby ranked as NHL’s top center by data scientist | by Pensburgh

The big story that came out over the weekend was this brilliant bit of investigate journalism done by Kirsten Whelan, Melissa Burgess and Zoe Hayden at The Victory Press about conditions NWHL players have faced since the league’s inception. The highlight has to be players having to piss in a garbage can because... reasons.

Edited to add credit to Kirsten Whelan for the article below, because reading is hardd thouhg.

Have a great Monday everyone!