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A statistical look at Keith Kinkaid’s new role with the Montreal Canadiens

Can Kinkaid help the Habs get into the playoffs by reducing Carey Price’s workload?

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Pittsburgh Penguins v New Jersey Devils Photo by Andy Marlin/NHLI via Getty Images

Free agency neither boosted nor anchored the Montreal Canadiens, as some other teams experienced. The much debated move made by the Habs’ front office was the offer sheet to Carolina’s Sebastian Aho, which either would have worked for the team and landed a star player, or it wouldn’t. The net result from the situation appears to be that Aho is staying in Carolina and Montreal moves forward with no penalty for trying, but no roster help, either.

One move that could pan out for the Canadienss went under the radar with all of the attention on the elusive offer sheet: the acquisition of a veteran netminder to help lighten the load of Carey Price.

Keith Kinkaid has been in the league for several years, starting off with New Jersey Devils in the final years of Martin Brodeur’s Hall-of-Fame career. Does he have what it takes to truly help the Habs bank a few more points in the upcoming season?

For most people, goaltenders are voodoo masters who may or may not perform due to a wide array of factors. It turns out that’s not quite true. Hockey Reference helps us get a better grasp on a netminder by providing a few extra stats to decipher the NHL’s masked men.

Hockey Reference

There are the numbers of games played (GP), games started (GS), wins (W), losses (L), saves (SV), save percentage (SV%), goals-against average (GAA), and shutout (SO). For a very long time those were the only stats to judge a goaltender.

We’ll be focusing more on the new stats such as quality starts (QS), quality-start percentage (QS%), really bad starts (RBS), goals-against percentage (GA%-) and goals saved above average (GSAA).

Most of these new stats comes from Rob Vollman’s Hockey Abstract. He’s the brain behind the development of such goaltending metrics. Here’s a quick breakdown what each stats actually mean:

QS: Quality starts are starts with a save percentage (SV%) greater than the average SV% for the year, or at least 88.5% on nights with 20 or fewer shots against.

QS%: Quality Start Percentage (QS%) is simply the number of Quality Starts per Games Started. This gives you a sense of how often the goalie has a good game. A good rule of thumb for this stat is that anything less than 50% is bad, anything over 60% is among the league leaders. The league average for an NHL regular is about 53.4%.

RBS: Really Bad Starts (RBS) is another stat that is “awarded” whenever a goalie has a save percentage in a game less than 85%. A team only has a 10% chance of winning when the goalie has a save percentage that low.

GA%-: This stat is relative to league goals-allowed percentage. Basically, the lower this stat is, the better. 100 is exactly average, 0 means you saved 100% of shots faced.

GSAA: Goals Saved Above Average are the goals this goalie prevented given his save percentage and shots faced compared to what you would expect with a league-average save percentage on the same number of shots.

A minimum of four shots faced per game is needed to qualify an outing for inclusion in most of these statistics.

How do Kinkaid fare?

Kinkaid’s last three years with the New Jersey Devils went fairly well — other than last year where everything was awful, save for winning the top draft slot in the lottery.

Hockey Reference

On average, Kinkaid had 15 qualiity starts during that period. His QS% oscillating between .522 and .395 isn’t great per se, as the average league-wide would be around 53%. Two years out of three, Kinkaid managed an okay QS% before a significant outlier in 2018-19.

His really bad starts the first two years were limited to four in each year, which is pretty good considering a 2017-2018 season whn he played in 41 games. Last year, 11 of them was a brutal performance.

GSAA is probably the one stat you really want to keep an eye on if you’re evaluating goaltenders. Obviously, every statistic is important to get a general idea of the player in question, but if you had to pick one who can tell you a lot at a first glance, GSAA would be the one. This is basically how many goals were prevented by the goalie. In the positive, that’s great. The higher the number, the better the goalie played, and for a sustained duration; enough to keep getting time between the pipes. Context is still key, though. In the first two years, Kinkaid had a 2.33 and 0.55 GSAA, which is decent, but not earth-shattering by any means.

For comparison’s sake, the year Price won every award possible for a goaltender, he saved 36.70 more goals than an average goalies. That’s approaching one goal every two games that the franchise netminder kept out of the net that an average goalie wouldn’t have.

Kinkaid’s GSAA in 2018-19 wasn’t good — I’d say even horrendous. Of the 271 goals the Devils allowed, 22 of them were the result of his inability to perform like an average NHL goalie.

Even a player like Price, regarded by many in the game as the top goalie in the world, can have a terrible year. His was in 2017-18, and had people all around Montreal nervous that he couldn’t be the superstar we were accostumed to. His stats weren’t as bad as Kinkaid’s last year, but they were well below average. Price had a QS% of .438, 10 Really Bad Starts out of the 49 he was given, a GA%- 113, and a GSAA of -17.49. The story was that Price was done being a star, right as a massive contract was about to kick in. How things can change for a goaltender.

In 2018-19, Price’s GSAA reached 14.94 — and that’s with a poor start that actually had him benched at one point. Pretty darn good if you ask me. Price also had 37 quality starts for a QS% of .578, and a GA%- of 92.

All in all, Kinkaid has usually looked like a decent backup option in net. He’s typically hovering around league average in most categories and should be able to net you a few extra points by playing to his usual standards and hopefully not to his 2018-19 play. There is evidence that a goalie can just experience an off year in an otherwise steady career.

The big picture

Kinkaid’s signing could mean that the Habs brought in some competition to battle Charlie Lindgren for the right to back up Carey Price next season; a challenge thrown at Lindgren to show that he is ready to bear the burden of about 20 games at the NHL level and perform in those instances.

Carey Price did state in an article on The Athletic how he would prefer a more veteran presence behind him for the upcoming season:

“I just want a guy that I can relate to; obviously, as a goaltender, you’re going to relate to whoever your partner is in some aspect. But I feel like I’m pretty compatible with whoever I’m matched up with. I’m pretty easy going in that regard. But it’s nice to have a guy that you don’t have to babysit or anything like that. I don’t really want to be a mentor at this point. I want a guy that I can work with.”

This quote may explain a lot as to why Marc Bergevin went out and grabbed Kinkaid. The pro scouting department saw some potential in Kinkaid and realized that last year looked to be an anomaly. With a stronger defence and a more robust defensive system, Kinkaid would have the opportunity to shine a little bit more.

Kinkaid had a disastrous year in 2018-19, there’s no denying that. Yet there is a real chance to get something more in line with league average from him based on his earlier career. Looking at everything he’s done so far, there is no reason to not see Kinkaid perform to league standards and be a reliable backup option in net. Add to this the idea that Kinkaid knows he’s a career backup, a great team player, and someone who always tries his best on the ice, and you have the foundation of a solid tandem in net with Price.

The final decision of who will backup Price could be played during camp and pre-season — or it may have been determined already. Regardless of that situation, Kinkaid will be using this one-year contract to show the Canadiens and the rest of the league he still has some good years left in him.