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Andersen Wants To Be "The Man", But How Much Is Too Much Down The Stretch?

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The big Dane has shouldered a sizable workload this season, and it begs the quantitative question about how much it should be down the stretch.

Frederik Andersen has appeared in all but 9 of the Ducks games this season.
Frederik Andersen has appeared in all but 9 of the Ducks games this season.
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Heading into the All Star break Frederik Andersen stood between the pipes in his 38th game of the season. In a gutty effort battling not only the Calgary Flames but the flu as well, he took IVs during intermissions and made 30 saves to backstop his 26th win of the year.

Now on the other side, both of the break and the flu, Andersen has made it known through the Ducks broadcast that he wants to be 'the guy' for this team. Brian Hayward relayed how the goalie viewed playing through the flu as an individual test, as well as another opportunity to further strengthen the trust of his teammates. His desire to be the horse, the one who pulls the wagon almost every night is admirable, but it's also important to keep him fresh for what could and should be a deep run through the post season.

Thus, what exactly is the "best" usage for a starting goalie on a Stanley Cup competitor? Knowing that every athlete is different physically, mentally, spiritually (looking at Ilya Bryzgalov here), it's tough to make a blanket determination. We can however look to how teams that have won the trophy, as well as those who've made it as far as the Final to perhaps get an idea on were a baseline could be. Another angle to look at is how Bruce Boudreau has deployed his goalies over the years, perhaps as a hint as to what way he'll go this season.

First, lets examine the Stanley Cup Finalist goalies dating back to the first season out of the 2004-05 wipeout lockout to control for most major rule changes. For each season the goalie who played the most playoff games (thus having the biggest hand in the team making the Final) is the one we'll draw our numbers from. The percentage in the final column is based on the number of both regular season and playoff appearances by the goalie in relation to the total number of games (regular season and playoff) played by the team that year.

Percentage of Games Appeared In By Stanley Cup Finalist Goalies
Goalie Reg. Seas. App Playoff App. Total App. Total Team Games Percentage
D. Roloson '06 19 18 37 106 34.91%
C. Ward '06 28 23 51 107 47.66%
R. Emery '07 58 20 78 102 76.47%
JS Giguere '07 56 18 74 103 71.85%
MA Fleury '08 35 20 55 102 53.92%
C. Osgood '08 43 19 62 104 59.62%
C. Osgood '09 46 23 69 105 65.71%
MA Fleury '09 62 24 86 106 81.13%
M. Leighton '10 27 14 41 105 39.05%
A. Niemi '10 39 22 61 104 58.65%
R. Luongo '11 60 25 85 107 79.44%
T. Thomas '11 57 25 82 107 76.64%
M. Brodeur '12 59 24 83 106 78.30%
J. Quick '12 69 20 89 102 87.26%
T. Rask '13 36 22 58 70 82.86%
C. Crawford '13 30 23 53 71 74.65%
H. Lundqvist '14 63 25 88 107 82.24%
J. Quick '14 49 26 75 108 69.44%

The first thing that jumps out from the numbers is that there have been nearly as many workhorse goalies playing more than 80% of their team's games (4) as as goalies that played less than half of their team's games (3). The "workhorse" goalies went 2-2 in the Stanley Cup Final, where the "less than halfs" went 1-2. Jonathan Quick's 2012 stands out for how heavily the team relied on him, playing him 29.6% more than the total average usage of all 18 goalies (67.34%) over the 9 years. Also interesting is that years seem to cluster in how goalie usage breaks down, with 2006, 2008, and 2010 featuring Finals where each playoff starter played less than 60% of the team's total games.

In attempt to draw some conclusions, there have been three seasons where the eventual Stanley Cup winning goalie appeared in less than 60% of the team's total games while just two where the champion appeared in more than 80%. Having mentioned the average that all Stanley Cup Finalist goalies have appeared in 67.34% of their team's total games over the nine years, Stanley Cup winners have played in 69.41%. We can remove the high and low years as a means to try and lessen some of the skew that both 2006 (where Cam Ward and Dwayne Roloson combined to play just 41.32% of their team's total games) and Quick in 2012 (he and Martin Brodeur combined to play 82.69% of their team's total games)  provide. In doing so it bumps the average usage of all Finalists up to 69.02%, with Stanley Cup winners appearing in 70.13%. As a final note, of the nine Stanley Cup Finals since 2006, five of them have featured goalies that combined to play between 70-79% of their team's games.

When looking at goalie usage under Boudreau, thinks get wonky awfully quickly. In four of his six seasons behind the bench of a playoff team he's elected to play the goalie with the lower percentage of regular season games played in the playoffs, doing so three times in Washington and last year with Anaheim. Here's how his playoff goalies have compared in relation to the total amount of games his teams have played over his previous seven seasons as an NHL coach.

Percentage of Games Appeared In By Playoff Goalies Under Boudreau
Goalie Reg. Seas. App Playoff App. Total App. Total Team Games Percentage
C. Huet WAS '08 13 7 20 89 22.47%
S. Varlamov WAS '09 6 13 19 96 19.79%
S. Varlamov WAS '10 26 6 32 89 35.96%
M. Neuvirth WAS '11 48 9 57 91 62.64%
T. Vokoun WAS '12 17 N/A 17 22 77.27%
J. Hiller ANA '12 52 N/A 52 58 89.66%
J. Hiller ANA '13 26 7 33 55 60.00%
F. Andersen ANA '14 23 7 30 95 31.58%

It's rather shocking to see spelled out numerically how often Boudreau has elected to go with what he's deemed as the "hot hand" for the playoffs. It's a reasonable assumption to make that it has been a contributing factor in his teams winning only three series in in his six playoff forays. With Washington in particular, he started Cristobal Huet over Olaf Kolzig in '08 after Kolzig played 65.85% of the regular season, and went with Semyon Varlamov in both '09 and '10 after starting Jose Theodore for 69.51% and 57.32% of the regular season. Jonas Hiller had started 60.98% of the Ducks regular season games last season before Andersen was given the reins come playoff time, with John Gibson taking over following the injury in Los Angeles. With as much goaltending upheaval as his teams have undergone, it's difficult to completely blame Boudreau for swinging for the fences with a goalie he deemed to have a higher ceiling for the majority of his playoff runs. At the same time it's also illustrative of how unique this season is in his coaching career with his ability to rely on Andersen as the Ducks starter.

Knowing that Andersen is "the guy" is good in that it prevents the 'ride the hot hand' mentality of previous seasons for Boudreau. Also knowing the sweet spot in the area of the 70's as far as percentage of total game starts, it can give an idea of perhaps how heavily Andersen should be ridden down the stretch. Certainly one shouldn't pull back on the reins so much as to flag his confidence, but at the same time with the Ducks comfortably leading in the Pacific Division there should be ample opportunity to give him rest. With Andersen having played in 81.25% of Anaheim's games thus far it puts him on pace for 67 starts, which would mean playing in 28 of the remaining 34 games. That's a recipe for burnout before the playoffs and something that should be avoided.

The Ducks have 16 games remaining against Eastern Conference teams, with nine of them coming on the road. The team also has five more back-to-backs remaining on the schedule. There is plenty of opportunity to work Bryzgalov in to where the split could break 22-12 with Andersen still playing the majority of games and facing much of the playoff opposition. It'd still put Andersen on the high end when you compare regular season games played against previous Stanley Cup Finalist goalies, but at the same time would be more in the 70% ballpark while still allowing him to be the horse he wants to be.

A competitive thoroughbred like Frederik Andersen is what every NHL team looks for in net. This season he's proven reliable for not only his coach but his teammates and fans, and will be "the guy" that leads this team into the playoffs. But for a season much like the Triple Crown, it would be a shame for Andersen to wear down before the final leg in the NHL playoffs. Recent history has given us a gauge on how much championship caliber goalies are handled, and in turn a good working idea for the Ducks.

For a goalie who's battled through recovering from an injury last playoff, starting more than 20 games in a row this year, and the flu against the Flames, some additional rest down the stretch shouldn't be too much of an issue.