Jake Allen “surprised” fans with an admirable performance in the bubble. While not perfect — no Blues were — Allen was one of the few consistent-positives (along with, somehow, Justin Faulk). And while he clearly didn’t take the throne from Jordan Binnington, instead simply performing well in Binnington’s relief, Allen’s strong play should still be praised. In fact, the advanced stats make Allen out to be, well, really good.
A Dive into Just How Good Jake Allen Was
There are plenty of holes with goalie stats. Both base stats and most advanced stats have holes that make them hard to trust. To simply save time analyzing these issues, I’ll link to an article I did on another site HERE (with interview from Evolving Hockey) and one done by JFresh HERE that both perfectly break down these woes.
But luckily, Cole Anderson and co.’s work at Crowd Scout Sports is among the best non-proprietary goalie stats available. They perfectly adjust for any-and-all holes that plague many other stats and use many different statistical theories, creative takes, and amazing tracking to mold some of the best stats. Using Cole’s raw data, we can get a great glimpse into just how incredible Jake Allen’s 2019-20 season was.
Also important to note: To try and keep things objective, I’ve ranked goalies in three categories. To my surprise, the numbers actually came out really well:
Starter: Faced >1400 Shots (31 Total Starters)
Backups: Faced x Shots... 1400 < x < 500 (31 Total Backups)
Forgettable: Faced <500 Shots (25 Total Forgettables)
Also of note, the “shots” being defined here are not the same as found on other sites. It’s a bit more complicated to define them here and would be beyond the scope of this piece.
GSAA (goals-saved-above-average) and GSAR (above-replacement) are two very common go-to advanced goalie stats. Many people have grievances with plain-ol’ save percentage, at least relative to advanced stats, so looking at how many goals a goalie saved relative to an “average” goalie or a “replacement-level” goalie would’ve performed in the same situation can help give an unadulterated view.
Well, Allen was great in these two categories. He ranked eighth in GSAA and 24th in GSAR. These are great rankings but they get much, much better considering these two stats don’t very much favor backup goalies. In fact, only five defined-backups rank within even 10 spots of Allen in GSAA (Kuemper: 4th, Khudobin: 5th, Halak: 7th being the ones above Allen).
This lack of favor towards backups is largely because of the small sample size they face. This smaller sample size creates a larger “standard deviation” for these goalies, meaning it’s harder to narrow down their exact statistic; while making it true to how they perform. In fact, all three of the backups that rank above Allen is GSAA faced many more shots than the Blues backup, helping favor their tally a bit more.
This isn’t to say their totals are any less true than Allen’s. In fact, it’s the exact opposite. But still, Allen’s high-end ranking in GSAA, and even his strong ranking in GSAR, helps prove his worth as one of the best backups in the league.
Bayesian Save Percentage Lift...
This sample size issue that plagues GSA stats also plagues, well, every advanced stat. This includes what we’ll dub BSv%, which, for all intensive purposes, can be thought of as a well-adjusted, much, much better version of save percentage. One that can actually bear weight.
It’s hard to say it’s the golden stat for goalies. With the difficulty of even gathering trustworthy goalie stats, there is no one stat that can paint the full picture. But combined with GSA stats, BSv% can show both sides of the coin: how a goalie performed based on the difficulty of their situation and how a goalie performed in a raw isolate.
With that in mind, Jake Allen’s BSv% was... good. Really good. His performance ranked fifth among all 87 goalies to face a shot in the NHL this season. That places Allen in the 94th percentile, easily inking his 2019-20 performance as ‘elite’ (for those fond of that term).
But it gets even better. Since 2010, there have been 905 different goalie seasons. A total of 905 data points. Among this list, Jake Allen’s performance this year ranked 64th in terms of BSv%. This puts him in the 93rd percentile.
While there are a bit of worries with his few shots faced (because he was a backup), his performance remains amazing nonetheless. In fact, among all goalie seasons to look similar to Allen’s, only two ranked above him: Laurent Broissot’s 2018-19 and Cam Talbot’s 2013-14 (they’re not the names I was expecting either). These two performances weren’t even far off from Allen’s either, falling within 0.0005 of Allen’s BSv% — 14 spots in the rankings.
Case-in-point, Allen was great.
This article isn’t meant to argue whether Allen should stay or not. That’s a whole other pack of worms. But he performed seriously, seriously well in his role this season. It coincides with the larger narrative that I’ve touched on before. Jake Allen isn’t an elite starter. He’s not even a good starter. But he’s an elite backup. He proved it in Peoria, behind Ben Bishop. He proved it in his 2015-16 platoon year with Brian Elliott — a year that ranked Allen in the top-third of the league (in that season) by BSv%. And he proved it again this year.
There’s a debate to be made to keep Allen. There’s a debate to be made to get rid of him. But through the fog of that, fans need to take a second to tip their cap to his 2019-20 performance. He was one of the best goalies in the league. For the first time in history, he was among the tippy-top of the league and that’s something to be admired. After a career of high hopes and missed bars, Allen finally succeeded this season. He was elite. Finally. Fans should take a second to truly appreciate that; to truly appreciate the blessing that Allen was this year.