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Is Mackenzie Blackwood For Real? A Look at Some Historic Comparables

Here we talk about Dave Parro and other historic comparables to Mackenzie Blackwood.

New Jersey Devils v Florida Panthers

Have you ever heard of Dave Parro?

No? It’s okay, neither had I when I sat down to write this piece. Dave Parro doesn’t matter. He’s irrelevant to pretty much any story you may want to tell in hockey. Dave was a kid out of Saskatchewan that played goalie for his hometown Saskatoon Blades before being chosen in the 2nd round by the Bruins. In 1979, he was poached by the Quebec Nordiques in the expansion draft, and traded to the Capitals. There, Parro finally got his shot.

After a decent first AHL season with the Rochester Americans, Dave had seen his performance fall off in the subsequent years. Nonetheless, he was called up to play for the Capitals, still in his young 20s and still with a lot to prove. In Parro’s first 10 games, he registered a 0.919 Sv% at a time where the best team in the NHL had a 0.893. The best Sv% for a starting goaltender that year was from the reigning Vezina Trophy-winner, Don Edwards, at a colossal 0.898 so Parro’s start was stratospheric. He would go on to finish with a 90 GA%- (he saved 10% more goals than the average NHL goaltender) and earn a starting goalie spot on the Capitals the next season.

He gave the Capitals 52 games of a 4.21 GAA and an 0.874 Sv%. After that, he’d see the NHL ice only 7 more times the rest of his career.

A 2nd round pick that took a couple years to make it to the NHL after struggling in the minors who would go on to light the league on fire with a magical first few starts on a struggling team — sound familiar?

Mackenzie Blackwood gave the Devils some renewed hope in the goaltender position after Kinkaid’s collapse and Schneider’s 3rd year of struggles. This was a fairly shocking development for him because in 2018 he was demoted to the ECHL after being one of the worst goalies in the AHL and even currently was still a slightly below average goalie with a GA%- of 102. For those who don’t know GA%- is a stat from Hockey-Reference that shows how many goals a goalie allowed relative to what a league-average goalies would have — 100 is average, 0 is allowed no goals, 200 would be allowed twice as many goals as league-average, etc. (more on this in a second). So when he IMPROVED to a GA%- of 91 in his time in the NHL over 23 games, it felt like 1) it had come out of nowhere and 2) he was finally realizing his draft potential.

But is that what’s happening? I mean, he didn’t really even keep it up the whole time he was up. According to NaturalStatTrick’s game log he closed 2018 on fire with a dSv% (Sv% - xSv%) of +3.9%, but would be a -0.9% the rest of the way. In other words, his save percentage was almost a full percentage point below what you’d have expected from the shots he faced in the calendar year of 2019.

So what have other goalies like Mackenzie Blackwood and, our friend, Dave Parro done with their career after similar starts? I ran a check on HR’s play index for goalies selected in the 2nd round with GA%- between 89 and 93 in their rookie season and these were the results. Blackwood and Philly’s Carter Hart just did it this year, so we don’t know about them, but here’s the careers the other 8 guys went on to have.

So, first thing I notice, is that almost every one of these goalies maintained a GA%- below 100 over their career. Now, some of those are a tad misleading as to the actual success of their career — Pickard has to be considered a dud at this point but his career numbers are buoyed by excellent numbers in his first two seasons as a backup. Pickard is still playing, if you want to call it that (his 2019 GA%- was a traumatic 139), but everyone whose career is over played at least 7 seasons and the average was 9.5. (10 without Pickard).

GPS is “Goalie Point Shares” and it’s hockey-reference’s attempt at determining the number of standings points a goalie’s performance was worth. This is workload-dependent, and when factoring that part of the equation into things, the results are less favorable. For instance, our buddy Dave Parro probably should’ve received another chance. The only two seasons where he qualified for GA%- calculation, he was an above average goalie.

So, in general, I would say that these are pretty favorable results! If the average goalie with Blackwood’s pedigree that puts up a rookie season like he did typically produces 10 years of slightly above average goaltending, I’ll absolutely take that. But the tale of Dave Parro should give us a little cause for pause — as should Calvin Pickard and Ed Staniowski. We have 88 games of thoroughly mediocre AHL play and 23 games of above average NHL play off which to base our expectations for Blackwood. With that information, there’s not a lot of certainty in projecting him. But with how much goalies matter in this league, his performance is likely the single most influential factor in determining how likely this team is to compete this year and beyond.

What are your thoughts on Blackwood? What do you expect from him this year? Is he the answer long-term? Is he even the #1 goalie (as Gerard asked last week)? Thanks as always for reading and leave your thoughts in the comments below!