Could Anthony Stolarz have been a number one goaltender?

Anthony Stolarz is having a great year with the Florida Panthers. Do the underlying numbers for the career backup suggest he could handle a true starter's workload?

Feb 29, 2024; Sunrise, Florida, USA; Florida Panthers goaltender Anthony Stolarz (41) defends his
Feb 29, 2024; Sunrise, Florida, USA; Florida Panthers goaltender Anthony Stolarz (41) defends his / Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

Anthony Stolarz has enjoyed a nice career as a NHL back up. A February 2019 trade from his original team the Philadelphia Flyers to the Edmonton Oilers all but sealed his fate as a number two.

Although Stolarz had shown flashes of being a number-one netminder, the Flyers traded him for Cam Talbot to serve as a mentor to their then-goalie Carter Hart.

Stolarz then spent four years with the Anaheim Ducks. He put up good numbers for a backup goaltender but never played more than 28 games in a season for the rebuilding Anaheim team.

Last season in Anaheim was only the second season of his career his save percentage fell below .900 at .897. It was also the only year of his time in Anaheim where his goals-against average was over 3.00 at 3.73.

The Florida Panthers are happy to have Anthony Stolarz in the mix

Stolarz signed with the cup contending Florida Panthers this season and his stats have rebounded ten-fold. For the season, Stolarz currently has a .927 save percentage and 1.97 goals against average in 22 games, six games away from his career high.

In his 28-game campaign with the Ducks in 2021-2022 he posted a similar .917 save percentage, but a goals-against average of .267 which while respectable, was off from his numbers from this year.

Could Stolarz have been a true number-one goalie? Did that trade from Philadelphia to Edmonton stunt his development and force him into a backup role? The easy answer to Stolarz's new shining stats would be that he’s playing on a much better team than his previous place of employment.

His 13.40 goals saved above average is the best of his career and the first time he’s hit double digits in that category, leading us to believe there might be something more under the hood.

Stolarz also ranks third in the league with goals saved above expected with 17.00 and is sixth in the league in save percentage on unblocked shots at 0.963.

To see if we should expect these stats to be sustainable or merely a South Florida mirage, we decided to compare the average shots against Stolarz teams faced since 2021-2022. He had only played nine total NHL games in the two seasons prior, so we left them off.

In 2021-2022, the Ducks were seventh worst in the NHL and allowed an average of 33.20 shots per game. In 2022-2023 the Ducks were last in the league and allowed 39.10 shots per game.

They were last by a pretty significant margin (almost four whole shots behind the next-to-last Columbus Blue Jackets, who allowed 35.40).

This season, the Panthers are allowing the third-best average shots per game in the league with only 28 shots per game.

Stolarz's "quality save percentage" is .750 this season (the league average is 53%). In 2021-2022 when he hit a career-high of 28 games, his quality save percentage was .652, so still above league average on a team that had definite defensive deficiencies.

Stolarz is making better saves this season all while seeing less rubber. Since Florida only has 11 games to go, he won’t exceed that career high of 28 games this season by much.

That looks like a major x factor. All the fancy and traditional stats are pointing toward Stolarz being a very good goaltender.

How would playing an extra 15 games per season affect these numbers? Also, since he is the backup to Sergei Bobrovsky, the Panthers have given him the team’s easier matchups.

Only seven of Stolarz’s 22 games this season have come against teams in a playoff position as of the beginning of play on March 26th. Even though Stolarz played in a December 14th loss to the Vancouver Canucks, he received no decision so we didn’t include that game.

The specific games in question are November 28th against the Toronto Maple Leafs, December 2nd, and January 27th matchups against the New York Islanders, January 22nd against the Nashville Predators, February 22nd against the Washington Capitals, and February 26th and March 24th matchups against the Flyers.

Stolarz's record is 4-2-1 in those games. The December 2nd game against the Islanders was the only game in that span that saw him allow more than three goals and have a save percentage under .900 (he finished the night with a .852 save percentage).

If Stolarz had the workload of a true number one, there are sure to be more games like that in his stats. Florida is perfectly happy with him being a reliable backup to Bobrovsky while Spencer Knight continues to develop in the AHL.

Stolarz's current deal is a one-year contract paying a very economical $1.1 million. With unrestricted free agency coming at the end of the season, Stolarz will have plenty of suitors and an almost definite pay increase.