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Behind The Numbers

Bower made statistical mark as one of all-time greats

Numbers show Hockey Hall of Famer among top five goalies in NHL history

by Rob Vollman / NHL.com Correspondent

Johnny Bower, one of the most dominant goalies in NHL history, died Tuesday.

Whether studying his overall numbers, the height of his peak, or the age at which he continued to play effectively, Bower has few equals.

 

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Bower had an NHL save percentage of .922, going back to when the data was first available for the 1955-56 season (prior to that, he played 75 games with the New York Rangers). That save percentage ranked first among those to play at least 100 games from 1955-56 to when Bower retired in 1969-70. That's especially remarkable given the competition. Six of the next seven goalies are in the Hockey Hall of Fame: Jacques Plante (.919), Glenn Hall (.917), Bernie Parent (.916), Gump Worsley (.913), Rogie Vachon (.913), Denis DeJordy (.913), and Ed Giacomin (.911).

Searching further to the present day, it requires four decimal places to separate Bower's NHL save percentage of .9219 from the all-time leaders, Tuukka Rask of the Boston Bruins (.9225) and Dominik Hasek's .9223 (minimum 100 games played).

Comparisons across eras aren't entirely fair, because factors including goaltending equipment, the rules, and the number of teams have changed. Consequently, the NHL-average save percentage has fluctuated from .919 in 1955-56 down to .873 in 1981-82 and up to .915 in 2015-16. Even when the appropriate adjustments have been made, Bower remains near the top of the list.

The Save Percentage Plus statistic measures a goalie's performance relative to the NHL average. Bower has a career SV%+ of 120.7, which means that his save percentage was typically 20.7 percent higher than the League average. Among those to face at least 1,000 shots, that ranks fourth since 1955-56 behind Ken Dryden (140.0), Hasek (128.0) and Tony Esposito (121.0).

Video: Johnny Bower led Leafs to four Stanley Cup titles

The impact of this elite performance can be measured in two important ways. The primary is the Stanley Cup, which Bower won four times (1962, '63, '64 and '67). Four goalies have won the Cup more times: Plante (six), Dryden (six), Turk Broda (five) and Grant Fuhr (five).

Bower's impact also can be measured using goals saved above average (GSAA), which is calculated by multiplying the League-average save percentage by the number of shots faced to determine how many goals a League-average goalie would have allowed and then subtracting the number that was actually allowed. Add it up for his NHL career since 1955-56 and Bower prevented 225.3 goals relative to a League-average goalie, which is 10th. Esposito is first with a GSAA of 476.7.

These results are even more remarkable when considering that Bower's NHL career began so late. Except for one season as the No. 1 goalie for the Rangers in 1953-54, Bower did not establish himself in the League until 1958-59, when he was 34. If Bower played in the NHL during his prime, then his GSAA could have been higher and possibly even the best.

Bower played 466 games past his 34th birthday, which leads NHL goalies. Among the seven goalies to play at least 300 games at age 34 or older, his save percentage of .922 ranks first, 10 points above the group's average of .912. The list includes Plante (.918 in 308 games), Hasek (.917 in 342 games), Martin Brodeur (.913 in 453 games), Dwayne Roloson (.910 in 408 games), Ed Belfour (.908 in 413 games) and Esposito (.893 in 371 games).

Based on an examination of Bower's peak between 1963-64 to 1967-68, it's possible to get a clue of what he would have achieved had he broken in the NHL sooner. In those five seasons, his .930 save percentage was first among those to play at least 100 games. The other goalies within fewer than 20 save percentage points were Hall (.921), DeJordy (.916) and Worsley (.913).

During this time, Bower's SV%+ was 130.7, which means it was 30.7 percent higher than the League average between ages 39 and 44. We can only speculate how much higher it would have been in his 20s, but his numbers are already perfectly sufficient to consider him one of the top five goalies in history.

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