Just How Good is Ryan Miller? DIGR Stats Have Him on Top of NHL… Sort of

Get your calculators out. The scientific ones.

DIGR, or “Defense Independent Goalie Rating” is a statistical mechanism devised by Micheal Schuckers of St. Lawrence University. In a nutshell, it strips away the old reliance on save percentage to define just how good a goaltender is, and instead takes into account the difficulty of shots each netminder faces.

From the Wall Street Journal:

Schuckers mapped every shot each goalie faced last season, allowing him to isolate a goalie’s save percentage against shots from every location on the ice. He put those findings against a plot of every shot taken in the NHL in order to estimate how each goalie would fare not just against the shots he faced, but against the shots all the goalies faced—therefore putting them all up against the same shots. (Empty-net, penalty and shootout shots were eliminated.)

So which goalie fared the best when the statistical field was leveled out? Tim Thomas, whose DIGR was .931, was atop the list over Roberto Luongo (.927), Jonas Hiller (.927), Ilya Bryzgalov (.923) and Cam Ward (.923).  The bottom five listed were Nikolai Khabibulin (.900), Brian Elliot (.900), Peter Budaj (.902), Miika Kiprusoff (.902) and Dan Ellis (.904).

But what of Ryan Miller? Miller failed to make the grade for the top or the bottom five, and that is where this stat might falter – it does not take into account multiple seasons.

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Miller ranked first overall in this measure for the 2009-10 season.

From a slideshow detailing the 2009-10 season, all the math is laid out and presents the winner of that season’s DIGR Trophy to Ryan Miller.

It’s an interesting angle – any savvy hockey fan will tell you that a goalie will have a great game if all the shots are kept at the periphery. And there’s the problem.

What this stat really does is that it simply reminds us of the fact that, season by season, a goalie isn’t defined by himself in this team sport. Part of protecting the net, after all, is the work of the defenders and forwards in front of the man in the kevlar mask.

What makes a great goalie great is so much more than save percentages and DIGRs. It’s always fun to have a new way to analyze just how good our goalies are, but in the end, math always fails to take into account every human factor on and off the ice.

I guess that’s why we play the game on the ice instead of in a classroom. Class: dismissed!

Go Sabres.

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